In November 2020, Tom Warburton will become the youngest person in history to complete a solo crossing of Antarctica. At the age of just 22, Tom will ski 685 miles from coast to coast - carrying all his equipment in a sled behind him - as he battles sub-zero temperatures and hurricane-strength winds.
With just over a year before the start of his expedition, we caught-up with the Nottingham-based university student to see how preparations were going.
Ok Tom, let’s start from the beginning. What was your inspiration for starting the expedition and how hard has it been to plan everything so far?
"Scott Sears was a big influence, his expedition gave me the kick up the backside that made realise I could actually do this! Planning has been 100 times harder then I expected, particularly with funding, it’s a constant worry for any big expedition. It’ll be strange when I get to Antarctica and the emails and phone calls suddenly stop for 50 days!"
We see that you do a lot of work with a number of different charities ranging from Help For Heroes to organisations like the Glacier Rescue Project. What makes these two charities in particular special to you?
"So I’m raising money for Help For Heroes and Great Ormond Street. The military has a strong connection with Antarctica with the forefigures of Antarctic exploration being part of the military so it’s nice to give back to that legacy. Environmental awareness is also a key part of the expedition and Team Polar Endeavour, the group I created to help encourage adventure and environmental awareness. It’s clear not only in Antarctica but everywhere that more education and solutions to the environmental crisis is needed and if we can help in anyway then that would be amazing."
We saw that you made an appearance on Sky News recently. Can you tell us how that came about?
[laughs] "I woke up one morning and had so many missed calls on my phone. Laura Patterson from the Press Association has written about me and it kind of exploded over night. It’s led to loads more publicity for the expedition and raised awareness about our charity endeavours so that’s great! Unfortunately I was thinking so much about the interview that I forgot to smile so just looked miserable throughout..."
Let’s talk training. We see a lot of tires being dragged around, how heavy are they and how close can you compare it to the real thing?
"The tyres aren’t that heavy, but they do replicate pulling a sledge on ice quite well. If I manage to up some leaves as well it adds some resistance. The only downfall is that it doesn’t replicate my skis. Maybe I should start roller skating with them, but I get enough weird looks already."
You’re expedition manager, Vendagi Kulkarni, is the youngest woman to cycle around the world. How did you manage to get her help and how much of a benefit is it having her knowledge at your disposal?
"It was quite random, she messaged me out of the blue about helping out! She’s been invaluable, especially with the things you don’t really think about, like transparency in funding etc and brochures."
One thing a lot of people might not realise is that you’re actually still a student. How do you find a balance between school and expedition planning and preparation?
"It’s actually quite hard, the life of a student is quite unpredictable with very little day to day routine. Trying to get up early for training is hard especially when students have a reputation for going out most nights, I’ve had to make sacrifices but ultimately it’ll be worth it."
This ones for the tech geeks… What equipment are you bringing with you? Tent, skis, jacket - we want to know it all.
"Apart from a lot of your stuff! I’ve still not decided on all my equipment, I don’t want to choose something then find a little niggle so I’ve been testing various stuff out. My skis are Fischer E99 Crown Xtralites at 190cm. My polar suit is a Mountain Equipment expedition jacket and pants. My boots are pretty cool, Baffin 3 pin guide pros by a cool company called Koolbox."
We love our geography, what’s the trip looking like just to get to Antarctica?
"It’s pretty cool actually, unfortunately I’ll be busy with preparing rather then enjoying the sites. I fly to Santiago, Chile then off to Punta Areneas, which is like Antarctica’s waiting room. I’ll chill there probably with other people heading to Antarctica waiting for our flights to Union Glacier (the big camp run by ALE near the South Pole). After my expedition I think I’m going to spend a few days hanging around Chile!"
Last spring you travelled to Arctic Norway for a practise expedition. How did this go and what did you learn that you didn’t know before?
"I went both in January and April. I never realised how cold it would be especially in the morning! Loneliness was something I learnt about myself. I thought I was pretty mentally resilient but 12 days solo affected me more then I expected. But both trips went well. I’m off again in a few weeks time for some more so that’s a good sign!"
Appears as though you like a good book? What are you reading at the moment and will you be bringing any reading material with you on the expedition?
"I read a lot! At the moment I’m reading 'The places in between, by Rory Stewart. I tend to read more political and history books, especially at the moment as most of my time is filled up with expedition prep. I’m going to bring a kindle. I brought some books last time but they froze in the cold!"
A few quick fire questions for you Tom…
Norway or Nottingham?
"Can’t watch [Nottingham] Forrest in Norway."
Scott or Amundsen?
-30º or +30º?
"At the moment - 30, no doubt post expedition plus 30!"
North Pole or South Pole?
"I hate ice fields definitely South Pole."
You do a lot presentations to different groups ranging from primary schools and scout groups to Oxford university of all places. What is this like and do you have to contain your excitement about the expedition at times?
"I don’t always take things seriously, hence the banana suit! So when kids are asking ridiculous questions about expeditions it’s quite fun. My family’s quite bored of me non-stop talking about it too!"
Apart from keeping a spoon in our jacket pocket, have you got any other tips for us?
[laughs] "Little tricks mainly around going to the toilet... silk ribbons on my sledge to know wind direction, and keeping my tent ventilated."
For all the “foodies” out there Tom, what’s a standard meal going to be looking like on your expedition?
"I’m lucky enough to have paired up with some nutrition specialists who are helping me out with carefully tailored kind of rat packs to suit my body type. They’re pretty much similar to dehydrated boil bags you might get from a mainstream adventure food company. Apart from them a lot of Snickers!"
And lastly Tom, any chance we can get a smile on the next Sky interview?
On behalf of everyone at iceland_greenland_antarctica, I would like to wish Tom and his team the best of luck for his incredible expedition and we'll be watching on closely as his preparation continues. If you are interested in helping Tom accomplish his goal of becoming the youngest person to cross the South Pole unassisted, you can donate to his expedition here. For just the price of a pint, you can buy a mile of his incredible journey.
Tom, thanks for taking the time to sit down with us and answer our questions - it's been our pleasure!