The new Scot of the Antarctic

SCOTLAND’S first expedition to the South Pole has been successfully completed three days ahead of schedule, it was revealed yesterday.

Craig Mathieson, 35, an accountant, reached the pole late on Tuesday night after a 730-mile hike across Antarctica, according to organisers of the Scot 100 expedition.

Mr Mathieson called his wife Michele to tell her the news. "He was hugely relieved and glad to be there, really pleased that after a very long journey he’d achieved what he set out to do," said Mrs Mathieson, 33.

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She also revealed that for the final leg of the journey, Mr Mathieson was one of a party of five - a guide and three others, each on their own expeditions.

"It’s a big relief, and I’m really proud of him for what he has done," she added.

Mr Mathieson, a father of three from Bo’ness, had set out on the expedition from Glasgow with fellow accountant Fiona Taylor in late October.

The plan was for the pair to pull a 150lb two-metre sledge, starting from the Hercules Inlet in Antarctica.

The attempt was reduced to a solo effort, however, after Ms Taylor, 35, from Dunfermline, was forced to return to the base camp suffering the effects of hypothermia and frostbite.

Enduring the worst weather seen in the region in three years, Ms Taylor had been forced to wrap her hands in thick bandages in an attempt to limit the damage caused by frostbite, which can disfigure limbs and result in amputation.

Despite losing his partner, Mr Mathieson pressed on, with the intention of reaching the pole on New Year’s Day.

The pair kept an online journal during the arduous journey, recording the obstacles and travails they faced.

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Within the first few weeks, experiencing conditions Ms Taylor described as "brutal", she related the effects of the sub-zero conditions that forced her to return home.

"The team at base camp said that this had been some of the harshest weather that they had experienced in 15 years at the start of the season," she wrote.

"Sadly, I suffered the consequences of this. Fortunately, the wonderful Doc Martin was on hand. The doc diagnosed that I had ‘chronic hypothermia’, and even four hours after being diagnosed, being changed out of my clothes and into warm things and stuck in a warm room, I was still cold and my temperature was low."

She continued: "I have frostbite on both thumbs and two fingers, and I have frostnip on at least three others, but they should be OK ... if I look after the dressings over the next four weeks or so I will not lose any ‘tissue’ (that’s fingers and thumbs to you and me)."

Mr Mathieson struggled on alone, only to face further horrendous conditions. He recorded: "We haven’t moved from our last position due to total white-out conditions and temperatures down to -50C in the chilling wind.

"To travel in these conditions would be extremely dangerous, not only making navigation difficult, but significantly increasing the ever-present danger of frostbite. We also have had a tent blown away, ripped from its anchors by the wind. I tried my hardest to run after it, but the wind was just too strong - after a few minutes I just fell to my knees with exhaustion, watching the tent disappear into the white."

Despite such problems, the organisers of the expedition confirmed that Mr Mathieson had reached his destination a little over three days earlier than expected. The accountant’s next goal was to fly the Saltire at the South Pole.

Mrs Mathieson said that her worries for her husband had eased as he got closer to his goal. "I never had any doubt that he could do this. He is extremely focused, and he had done 18 months of training and preparation," she said.

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She added that their children, Layla, eight, Jake, six, and Ruari, 23 months, were also pleased with his achievement, saying: "They are very proud to have a dad that has done something like this, and they are looking forward to having him home soon."

In a final dispatch to the expedition website, Mr Mathieson wrote that he was less than 12 nautical miles from the pole.

"It feels very strange tonight, all these weeks of hauling my sledge hundreds of miles across this frozen wasteland now coming to an end," he noted. "In a funny sort of way I think I’ll miss the daily routine of surviving on the ice - it’s certainly going to be strange entering the ‘real’ world again."

Organisers said that throughout the 58-day expedition, Mr Mathieson had to endure the harshest weather conditions for 15 years.

"Pulling a sleigh weighing 150lb and burning 6,000-8,000 calories per day, Craig’s efforts in these treacherous conditions were the equivalent of running a marathon each day," the organisers added.

Ms Taylor was said to be recovering well and is now working with the project team to raise as much money as possible for its chosen charities: Cancer Research UK Scotland, ChildLine Scotland, MS Society Scotland and the Scottish Huntington’s Association.

The expedition has been recognised as a Scottish first by the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, because it was the first time that a Scottish team had man-hauled sledges to the South Pole.

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