18th October 2018
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Whiteness bairns enthralled by polar explorer’s amazing tales

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David Hempleman-Adams

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Polar explorer David Hempleman-Adams has climbed the highest mountains, conquered both poles and survived a confrontation with a polar bear.

But his latest expedition saw him come face-to-face with dozens of excited youngsters at Whiteness Primary School on Tuesday.

The adventurer is an old school­mate of Whiteness school janitor Maureen Small, who grew up in the West Country of England. She emailed him when the primary 4-5 pupils were studying Antarctica – one of the harsh habitats which Mr Hem­pleman-Adams has con­quered.

Much to her amazement, instead of sending some pictures, he said he would come to Shetland in person.

For his visit on Tuesday the whole school assembled in one of the classrooms. Mr Hempleman-Adams told them about some of his adventures starting with the fact that he is the first person to have completed “The Adventurers’ Grand Slam”. That means he visited both poles as well as both magnetic poles, added to which he has climbed the highest mountains on all seven continents.

He pointed out that Antarctica was so cold the liquid in one’s eyes could freeze. He spoke about the difficulties of traversing both polar regions and told the children about how good the polar bear’s sense of smell is and how dangerous it can be to humans as well as seals.

Mr Hempleman-Adams was asked about his own close encoun­ter with a polar bear. He explained that he had been in his tent when a large and very hungry male lunged in. With a degree of remorse he said he had had to shoot it before it attacked him.

He then provided an insight into the process of climbing Mount Everest and explained that in order to reach the summit it was neces­sary to take a long time acclimat­ising and to reach the necessary level of fitness.

He told them that one had to make several journeys between each of the camps before finally attempting to reach the highest point.

He also told the pupils that suc­cess was a matter of luck owing to the very changeable weather condi­tions. Altogether an attempt on Everest would take about two months.

He described how when he did his first climb of Everest sending a letter home could take two months and required the use of a “runner” to get the letter to the nearest post station.

When he last visited the peak two years ago he had a mobile phone and was able to send a picture of himself and his Sherpa guide instantly.

Mr Hempleman-Adams asked the children if they had any ques­tions, prompting some embarras­sing posers including: “Why did you crash in some of your hot air balloons?”

With good humour and total candour he explained that very big hot air balloons were extremely difficult to land, especially when windy.

However, he said that despite all his adventures, the most dangerous place, in his opinion, was to be on horseback.

One of the children asked: “What was the hardest mountain to climb?” He replied some in the Alps and Greenland but also Scafell Pike, the highest point of England. He had attempted to climb this when he was still quite young and had found the going to be difficult.

The final question was: “What is the scariest thing you ever did?” Somewhat surprisingly he said it was going on a school camp to Wales at the age of 13.

He had never been away from home without his parents before. But he went on to say that the experience and his involvement with the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme introduced him to adven­ture. From then he has not looked back.

Doug Forrest

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