Arctic adventure in tracks of a pioneer

UNDER brilliant skies and surrounded by the majestic beauty of the Arctic ice cap, Louise Scott really was on top of the world.

Exhausted after spending 23 days trekking on skis across the frozen north, dragging her 220lb sled behind her across 335 miles, she savoured her personal achievement close to where, 40 years earlier, another adventurous Scotswoman had also stood.

Exactly four decades had passed since Myrtle Simpson became the first woman to ski across the Greenland ice cap. And while their experiences are strikingly similar, they are also poles apart.

Both in their 30s, each grasped a gruelling challenge with relish despite the physical and mental pressures it would bring.

They each completed their incredible task - one with only the most basic of equipment, the other armed with modern satellite communications - placing them among the few people ever to brave the Arctic.

Today, Louise relaxes at home in Old Dalkeith Road after an astonishing journey which took her in the tracks of the first man to ski across Greenland, Norwegian explorer Fritjof Nansen in 1888, and the first woman, Myrtle.

"It was a massive personal achievement," agrees the computer company boss. "There is a lot that is unique about Greenland and there are a lot of reasons to avoid going there. And even with modern support, there are still a lot of expeditions there that fail."

That's not surprising when Louise, 38, recalls long, freezing days spent hauling her sledge over an ever-moving ice cap - the first 13 of them uphill to the summit of a 2500-metre glacier, trekking for eight hours a day.

"Those first two weeks were by far the most physically challenging," she recalls.

"The coldest temperature we recorded was minus 22 - that's without adding in the wind-chill factor. But we were very lucky that we had no storms or any major scares."

It was a chance remark by a tour guide while on holiday with her husband in Iceland ten years ago that set Louise on her journey.

Fascinated by the ice cap - she is among the few golfers to experience ice golf, playing three times on an island 600km into the Arctic circle - the guide's mention of skiing across Greenland seemed lan obvious thing for her to do.

She made her decision last summer and there followed months of gruelling training: running, hill-walking, cycling and weightlifting. Her training schedule reached a peak with arduous hikes up Hillend carrying a 15-kilo pack, while a Anyone who happened to be in Princes Street early enough may have been surprised to see Louise racing up and down the Playfair steps on The Mound 20 times before 7am.

The training paid off. Louise and her team, put together by a New Zealand adventure firm, completed their traverse in 23 days - five days faster than they had predicted. Yet while Louise takes time out to reflect on her life-changing experience, her achievement has brought the memories flooding back for one-time Edinburgh resident Myrtle.

She was a 35-year-old mother of three when, with husband Hugh, - the great, great nephew of James Simpson, the Victorian physician who gave his name to Edinburgh's maternity pavilion - she embarked on just one of her many incredible journeys. Yet while Louise's 5700 trip was meticulously organised by a holiday firm who provided almost everything, from guide to satellite phone, tents to personal locator beacons, Myrtle's adventures were much more DIY.

"My husband had spent a lot of time in Antarctica and we both wanted to follow in Nansen's footsteps," says Myrtle "Part of the trip was for medical research - Hugh was a pathologist and he wanted to research the body's reaction to stress - while I planned to collect flower samples for the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh. But we really had no support at all," said Myrtle, still to be found climbing hills and canoeing in the Arctic at aged 75.

Myrtle, Hugh and two fellow adventurers, navigator Roger Tufft and William Wallace, gathered their own equipment together, first pleading with a Greenock-based company to make them suitable anoraks and then having to travel to Norway for their skis.

"Of course nowadays you can just go to a shop and buy them," laughs Myrtle, "but the skis we needed were only available in Norway. Then we had to make our own bindings which would last for the long journey.

"Our tent was exactly the same kind that Scott of the Antarctic would have had. And we only had one sleeping bag for four of us - married quarters were at one end, the other two went in the other direction. When it came to toilet needs, well, put it this way, the men had it easy. I was always the last one out of the tent."

As for food, Myrtle and the team found themselves blazing a trail - dehydrated food in the Sixties was, like swathes of the ice cap, unchartered territory.

"We had to make our own dehydrated food," she remembers. "We took steaks to Aberdeen University where they were doing some research into it and had the meat dried. We also managed to get a supply of fruit from a farm which we had dried too.

"The meat tasted ghastly but it was light, which was all that mattered when four of you are pulling a 500lb sledge."

For Louise, 40 years later, the food was less of a problem. Modern technology provided her team of six adventurers - strangers from Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Canada who met on the eve of the journey - and their two Icelandic guides with a varied menu which included dehydrated chicken curry and stew, salami sausage and dried fish, all washed down with hot chocolate, isotonic drinks, and Snickers bars.

And while they travelled the same route - from Ammassalik in the east to Sondre in the west - again there were striking differences. Louise and her team were taken to the ice cap by plane and helicopter. But the 1965 Scottish Trans-Greenland Expedition had to first charter their own plane from Iceland and then negotiate with local Greenlanders for the use of a boat.

"We couldn't use the boat until the ice had lifted and opened up a route," recalls Myrtle. "And then our problem was that no-one had actually been on that particular part of the ice cap before.

"It was very difficult to navigate. You couldn't use a compass that far north, nor was a sextant any use because we weren't at sea level. Thank goodness we had a good navigator with us or else we'd still be there!"

Today Myrtle sent a message of congratulations to Louise from her home near Aviemore.

"It is great that she wanted to do it and that she did it," says Myrtle. "And while there are big differences between today and our experiences back then, when you compare us to the likes of Scott, then we probably had it quite easy."

GOT A CREDIT CARD? YOU MAY BE GONE SOME TIME

IF you've got the cash, the world really is your oyster.

All today's adventurers really need is a credit card and an internet connection. So where can you go... and how much does it cost?

• Modern "explorers" can buy themselves a trip to the ends of the earth from the adventure company that arranged Louise Scott's trip. Adventure Consultants offer a 1200km trek from the edge of Antarctica to the South Pole.

COST: 37,000 (adventureconsultants.co.nz) or 21,000 (icetrek.com).

• Everest towers over the world, but even the globe's highest peak is not out of bounds to the modern adventurer.

COST: Prices range from 30,000 (adventureconsultants.co.nz) to 6700 via the more difficult North Col route with just basic support (7summits.com).

• Don't fancy the cold? Well how about trekking up Kilimanjaro. COST: 2000 (adventureconsultants.co.nz)

• Or follow in the footsteps of missionaries and explorers by sailing the Amazon. COST: Just under 1000 (greentracks.com).