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In Amundsen's footsteps

The South Pole is an unlikely destination for a school trip. But in December next year students and lecturers from West Nottinghamshire College will follow in the footsteps of Amundsen, Scott and Shackleton.

Steve Bull, head of the college's outdoor education department and co-organiser of Polar Challenge 2004, and Daniel Geraghty, who is currently studying an NVQ level 3 in Outdoor Education, will make a 1,127km journey from Patriot Hill in Antartica to the South Pole - a journey of some two months.

Gary Dodds, the other expedition organiser and head of the centre for foundation studies, and Robert Dunn, who who has recently completed a three-year learning support course, will be travelling 160km across "the last degree" to the pole. This will require a journey of between three and four weeks.

Bull, a former RAF officer, has already led several expeditions to Iceland, Norway and Greenland. Dodds has run many mountain and river expeditions with young people with learning difficulties in Scotland, the Alps and the Pyrenees. But both men are confident that the teams are up to the challenge.

"Between us we have 40 years' experience of taking people into adverse environments on land and water," says Gary Dodds. "We have a good training programme planned. We have researched it well and we will have all the right back-up."

Their planning has been aided by Crispin Day, the technical consultant for the project. The former Royal Marine has spent several seasons with the British Antarctic Survey and has been involved in a number of arctic expeditions.

Participants have already started their training regime which has been devised by HND sports students at the college. And they will be further toughened at a military training centre in Devon. Next spring, the team will acclimatise themselves with trips to the Greenland ice cap and Norway.

Steve Bull will also be attending another expedition to Antarctica in December and January to get direct experience.

This ambitious project has already had a big effect on the students involved, says Gary Dodds. "It has made a significant difference to their lives. They have had to look for sponsorship and do interviews with radio and TV. Confidence has improved and ambitions have been raised."

Steve Bull says that the group is planning to involve the whole college in the project. As well as the HND students organising fitness training, students will be in direct contact with teams via a satellite link, and they will be producing information for the expedition website. The electronic links will allow other students to follow the progress of the teams online as they battle across the continent.

Curriculum materials relating to the expedition will also be made available online.

Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Britain's most famous explorer, is patron of the expedition. Money raised from the endeavour will go to the learning disability charity Mencap.

The latest information on the expedition can be found on the project website at

* Antarctica is the coldest, windiest, highest and driest continent.

* Its lowest recorded temperature is minus 89.2 degrees C.

* Ice covers 98 per cent of its land mass, which is one and a half times the size of the United States.

* It has no native population and most wildlife is found in the coastal regions.

* The Norwegian Roald Amundsen was the first person to reach the South Pole, in December 1911.

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