Trip to the top of the world

Pupils in Devon are in training for an ambitious journey to the North Pole. Sophie Kirkham reports

It must be one of the most adventurous school trips ever: eight students from Exmouth community college in Devon are off to the north pole this year and are undergoing rigorous training for their journey.

In April the pupils will fly to the magnetic north pole to join a group of marines who will have trekked across the ice-caps as part of a commemorative Polar Quest.

They will plant flags from sponsors and use the latest technology to beam back information to the school's website for live updates, while enduring the perils of - 40C.

The pupils have undergone selection tests for mental agility, communication skills and physical fitness on the assault course at the marine base at Lympstone. They have also been lectured on frost nip, frost bite and how to stay safe in the presence of polar bears (huddle together in a group and try to look big).

"We will try to keep dogs with us when we are there and we will have shotguns," said Andrew Davis, deputy head, who is leading the student team.

"It is really quite nippy there - your eyes freeze if you face into the wind and the hairs in your nose freeze as soon as you step outside.

Without the military kit we have to wear it would be a big problem."

The school was invited to join the Polar Quest, which will see marines going to the north and south poles in 2006 after a local marine talked to a class about arctic living.

During the two-week trip to Resolute Bay, 400 miles north of the arctic circle in northern Canada, the pupils will keep in contact with the marines via satellite phone.

When they hear that the marines are nearing their goal, they will be flown in a small twin-engine plane to meet them at the finishing line of their 300-mile journey, the magnetic north pole.

They will spend an hour at the top of the world and use satellite phones and global positioning satellite (GPS) systems to relay live updates to the school for an interactive website. Then it is back to Resolute Bay and time to study the Inuit way of life.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity - not just going to the north pole but also learning about how to live in such harsh conditions," said Kizzie Peters, 14, a keen gymnast and rock climber.

"I can't believe I am doing this at only 14. I would love to do the overland trek one day."

Head boy Harry Gates, an enthusiastic skier who plays waterpolo, hockey and is hoping to study geography at university, said: "This is way beyond a school trip.

"We have been doing lots of training with the marines, which is a whole new level of fitness. I am not sure I am one for a 9-5 job, so this challenge really appeals."

The pupils will set up an exchange with Qarmartalik school, a 50-pupil school in Resolute Bay, and build and sleep in igloos for two nights.

They will trek on sea ice, go on a snow mobile trip and sample local delicacies such as caribou stew and polar bear. They will also attend a memorial service on Beechy Island where past explorers are buried.

The college is still raising funds and hopes to reach a target of pound;25,000 out of the pound;200,000 cost of the Polar Quest.

Organisations interested in sponsoring the school, or any other schools interested in collaborating on the college's interactive website, should email Mr Davis:


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