To infinity and beyond for teen Scots explorers

The Polar Academy expedition on its 100-mile trek in Greenland, where temperatures dropped to as low as -20C. Picture: Contributed
The Polar Academy expedition on its 100-mile trek in Greenland, where temperatures dropped to as low as -20C. Picture: Contributed
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SMALL steps by Scottish teenagers in the wilds of Greenland could lead to giant strides for the space industry.

Although the main aim of the charity taking a selected groups of Wishaw schoolchildren on the expedition is to boost their confidence and widen their horizons on a 100-mile trek through ice-bound mountain passes, the youngsters are conducting important scientific experiments.

Polar Academy is the brainchild of 46-year-old Craig Mathieson, who is passionate about the positive impact exploration can have in shaping young lives.

Before setting foot on the ice for their ten-day adventure, the amateur explorers undertake months of rigorous training. On their return they publish their work and present an account of their experiences to thousands of fellow pupils.

The first expedition took place in April and the ten youngsters who took part are still bursting with enthusiasm about their experiences.

Rhiannon Walker, now 17 and hoping to study veterinary nursing, was a pupil at Coltness High School in Wishaw when she took part.

“The whole experience of ­being selected, training for and then going on the expedition was unbelievable,” she said.

“For me it has certainly been life-changing. The chance to train for the expedition and then actually to pull our own sledges for days across the sea ice and snow in Greenland has given me huge belief in my own abilities.

Steve Lee, a trustee for the charity and founder of Musselburgh-based space technology firm AstroSat, provides cutting-edge communications gear for trips. He has also tasked the teams with collecting ice samples as part of work the firm is doing for the European Space Agency.

The youths’ contribution will help create a colour-coded satellite map of the region, showing the age and stability of the ice sheet.

Lee believes carrying out real experiments in the field will open the teenagers’s eyes to new career options.

“Maybe when they come back they will want to work with the British Antarctic Survey, or become astrophysicists and space engineers. Maybe they will get interested in tele­communications.

One of the expedition’s highlights was a spectacular display of the Northern Lights above their camp.

“At that moment it made all the months of hard work and training we had undertaken seem so worth it,” Walker said. “It was an unreal, almost magical moment.”

The expeditions, which cost around £200,000 a time, are paid for by sponsorship and donations, with Scottish outdoor specialist Tiso and Bergans of Norway supplying gear worth thousands of pounds.

The youngsters are presenting a public talk on their experiences at Tiso Edinburgh Outdoor Experience on Tuesday evening.