FOR most teenagers, the Easter holidays will be spent relaxing with family, playing computer games and catching up with friends – not undertaking a 100km Arctic expedition.
Yet ten lucky youngsters have swapped their school bags for 45kg sledges, and their warm homes for -20C temperatures, for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
The teenagers – selected from St Augustine’s, Liberton, Gracemount, Forrester and Tynecastle high schools – flew out yesterday to Greenland on a ten-day trek with the Polar Academy, a charity set up in 2013 by expedition leader Craig Mathieson with the aim of inspiring Scotland’s youth through exploration.
Mr Mathieson, 47, from Bo’ness, was named in 2013 by the Royal Scottish Geographical Society as Scotland’s first explorer in residence, and is a veteran of several successful expeditions to the North and South Poles.
He said: “I set up The Polar Academy to help kids with the same challenges I faced at school – feeling invisible. It’s a chance for kids who lack self-confidence and self-belief to understand that life really can get better. You can break the mould but you have got to want to take that first step.
“In the coming days, each pupil will grow further in self-confidence as they journey through truly wild, challenging terrain. They will camp and cook under the stars, visit abandoned Inuit villages and pass under countless unnamed peaks within one of the remotest places on earth. It will be a positive and life-changing experience for all.”
The pupils, aged between 15 and 17, have undergone months of tough physical training but will be supported by three expert guides and a doctor.
They will play an active role in navigating across sea ice, setting up camp and tracking through remote mountain passes on cross-country skis. Each pupil will burn at least 3000 calories a day as they conduct scientific field research on ice samples.
On their return, they will relate their experiences to peer groups in Edinburgh schools.
Mr Mathieson said: “The personal accounts from these pupils will inspire thousands of other kids. They will be the living, breathing proof for Scotland’s youth that by taking that first difficult step, dreams really are attainable.”
Julia Sanderson, 16, from Gracemount High, will celebrate her birthday on the trip which will end with a helicopter flight to the edge of the Arctic sea ice.
She said: “After months of really tough physical training, including hauling tyres filled with sand and hiking up to 30km a day, I can’t wait to set foot on Greenland’s sea ice. It’s going to be hard but really rewarding and we’re all right up for the challenge ahead.”
The Polar Academy needs to raise £170,000 for each of its annual expeditions, made possible by the input of individuals and organisations, including Chris Tiso, chief executive of Edinburgh-based outdoor retail specialist Tiso Group and a founding supporter of the charity. Bergans of Norway, the city council, Cornhill Building Services and private donors also support the charity.
Mr Tiso said: “The teenagers have shown tremendous commitment and grit to undertake the tough physical training required to journey in the Arctic.”