Exhausted and exalted, ten teenagers flew back into Glasgow Airport on Thursday (7 April) having completed a life changing 10 day, 100km arctic expedition with the charity, The Polar Academy.
The International Arrivals hall at Glasgow Airport was crowded with proud parents and siblings awaiting the expedition’s flight from Reykjavik (Iceland). 3 year-old Terry Somerville, brother of 15 year-old sister Iona (Gracemount High), beamed as he held aloft a home-made ‘Welcome Home’ banner.
All aged between 15 and 17 years old, the 6 girls and 4 boys are the second group to benefit from The Polar Academy, a charity set-up in 2013 by expedition leader and Tiso ambassador Craig Mathieson. Chris Tiso, CEO of the outdoor retail specialist Tiso Group is a founding supporter of the charity that aims to inspire Scotland’s youth through exploration.
During the expedition, temperatures at night were as low as minus 25C as the pupils, sheltered by their Bergans of Norway tents, huddled in their technical sleeping bags. Yet during the day, faces were covered in Factor 50 sunscreen as the determined pupils skied over sea ice and one of the highest glaciers in eastern Greenland.
Selected from St Augustine’s, Liberton, Gracemount, Forrester and Tynecastle High comprehensive schools, everyday the Edinburgh pupils hauled their own 45kg sledges as they played an active role in navigating across sea ice, setting up camp and tracking through remote mountain passes on x-country skis.
Julia Sanderson celebrated her 17th birthday on the final day of the expedition (her parents plan to present her with an ‘igloo’ cake. Said Julia: “It was amazing, breathtaking, challenging and hugely rewarding. Everyday brought new experiences and challenges. Day three was a big one as we skied over a glacier. That was tough, but we just kept motivating each other and pushing on and were rewarded with amazing views. I saw the stunning Northern Lights and we even ate a traditional Inuit meal of raw narwhal skin. It’s actually quite nice with a taste like parmesan cheese but chewier!"
Iona Somerville, a 15 year-old pupil at Gracemount High, added: The silence of the arctic is such a contrast to the noise of the city. It's both unnerving and beautiful. At first I found it quite hard to sleep. The scenery is spectacular and it's true - the Northern Lights are pretty amazing. I feel I can do anything now that I've done this. Working together as a team has really helped my self confidence."
47 year-old Mathieson, named in 2013 by the Royal Scottish Geographical Society as Scotland’s first Explorer in Residence, commented: “I’m so proud of the whole group. Throughout the expedition, all ten pupils have shown tremendous grit and determination and worked really well as a team. Over these 10 days and during the months of hard physical training, they have all grown in confidence and know what can be achieved with determination and hard work.
“By taking that first step with the Polar Academy, each has broken the mould to realise that life really can get better. They are ordinary pupils who have achieved the extraordinary and the living breathing proof that dreams are attainable. Huge thanks to Chris Tiso, CEO of outdoor retailer Tiso, Bergans of Norway and all of the other organisations which have contributed to helping give these pupils a truly life changing experience.”
Chris Tiso, the CEO of Tiso Group, fellow adventurer and Hon President of Scouts Scotland, added: “The teenagers have shown tremendous commitment and grit to undertake the tough physical training required to journey in the arctic. Through The Polar Academy and with the support of their school and parents, these ordinary pupils have hugely gained in confidence and achieved the extraordinary.” Now back in Scotland, the pupils’ next task will be to relate their personal experiences to peer-groups in Edinburgh schools with the aim of inspiring thousands of other kids across Edinburgh and Scotland.
Meet the Edinburgh expedition team
Chloe Hogg (15 – Tynecastle HS), Natasha Hoffmann (15 - Liberton), Ryan Hume (15 - Liberton), Sara Michno (15 - Tynecastle), Iona Somerville (15 - Gracemount), Julia Sanderson (16 - Gracemount), Nathan Stewart (15 – St Augustines), Gregor Whitlie (16 – Forrester HS), Alanna Laing (15 - Forrester), Scott Coomber (16 – Forrester HS) and Samantha Clarke (Teacher - Tynecastle).