Marching to the South Pole

Fearless and daring, adventurer James Castrission is about to embark on his most challenging expedition

You can call James fearless, daring, reckless or even mad. It’s up to you. He prefers to be called adventurous.

In mid-October, James Castrission and his mate, Justin Jones, will board a plane destined for Hercules Inlet, Antarctica. The plane trip will finish there. This is the easy bit. A couple of days later, the two men will embark on a trek. It is not a trek for the light-hearted or those who easily get cold feet. James and Justin are planning to travel the icy road less travelled. They will walk completely unsupported from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole and back. It is estimated that the journey of some 2,200 kilometres will be covered in three months – if all goes as planned – while the temperatures they will have to endure will range between -40 to -50 degrees Celsius. If they complete their expedition successfully, James and Justin will be the youngest team to ever reach the South Pole – and they will have broken yet another world record. The 29 year old Sydneysider and his childhood friend are no strangers to extreme risk taking.

On November 13, 2007, James, Justin and Lot 41 departed Forster, Australia. 62 days later they arrived in New Plymouth New Zealand. They had kayaked 3318km, braved 10 metre swells, faced howling winds of over 50 knots, endured severe food and sleep deprivation, wasting muscles and adverse winds and currents to complete the first kayak expedition across the Tasman sea, as well as becoming the longest trans-oceanic kayaking expedition undertaken by two men. Recently I managed to catch up with James the… Great as I enjoy calling him. He and his mate were busy trying to “turn their bodies into absolute machines” as Justin said. Here is what James said in his exclusive interview with Neos Kosmos.

How did this expedition come about? There are many ‘safer’ adventures that you can embark on, why this one?

To both Just and I, Antarctica represents the birth of adventure, that’s where all the major big adventures like Scott and Shackleton and Mawson, who was an Australian, went. Now Just and I had set ourselves a goal, to go down there and really challenge ourselves. Those stories always inspired us and represented so much more to us than just adventure. Now that we’ve got the opportunity to go down to Antarctica and have our own adventure, we are both extremely excited.

When did you start planning this expedition?

It was probably six months after we got back from the Tasman. We’ve been working on this for a good two years now. I understand that one of the most important prerequisites for someone to set a goal like this, is determination, but there is a lot more to it in regards to the preparation necessary to get an adventure like this happening.

How are you preparing for this daring journey?

These big expeditions are really 90 percent planning, 10 percent execution. For years and years we have to plan for these trips, to make sure that the very last detail is thought out. We are really going there for a couple of months, but it is so important that we do all that planning and we get everything right before we head down. Just recently we got back from being very close to the Arctic circle, up in northern Canada to Iqaluit, to undergo Polar survival training where we had temperatures down to -44 Celsius which is about 30 degrees colder than a refrigerator. So it was really, really cold, so cold that your breath freezes in front of you. The moisture in your nose actually crystallizes and you’ve got ice in your nose. And at night time when you fall asleep, your eyelids are frozen shut and you’ve got to pull them open in the morning. So just getting used to those temperatures and finding what systems work, what clothing works and what doesn’t, is really, really important for our preparation.

How is it, to be in a place where temperatures are -44 Celsius degrees?

For us mere mortals, it is beyond comprehension. It feels like you are on another planet. It really does. Your body just cannot stay warm in this kind of temperatures, so you’ve got to constantly be moving throughout the day and when you stop for a break even, no matter how many layers of warm clothing you put on, you get cold very quickly. So your body has to constantly be moving and then when it comes down to set up camp during the night, you have to do it very quickly and very efficiently and get into that sleeping bed immediately.

Did you have a doctor accompanying you in Canada?

There were some people with medical training with us in Canada, but Just and I had some medical training as well.

Did you consult with your doctor before deciding to embark on this expedition? What are his concerns, if any?

The two big areas that he is concerned about is hypothermia and frostbite. So he has told us how to manage injuries, how to treat them but also how to prevent them which is even more important.

I imagine that keeping your energy levels high plays a major role in your survival. Will salami be on the menu during the expedition?

Of course we will be eating salami. We are going to be eating a lot of energy dense food. Because we are carrying our supplies alone, with all the food we have to cut it in bite sizes before we pack it as it will freeze when we get down there. So you should have the salami and the rest of the food in serves that you can put in your mouth and as you eat it, it will just melt in your mouth. Taking a bite of salami or whatever else is impossible once you are down there. In terms of the equipment you will be taking with you, I would think it has to be as little as possible, since carrying extra weight is not a wise option? Even as light as possible and with 90 days of food, each sleigh is going to weight over 160 kilos.

Are you scared?

I am scared. There is always an element of unknown with an adventure and I guess that is what makes it an adventure. You can prepare as best as you can but at the end of the day, things that you do not necessarily expect, can pop up. We want to be in a position and we will be in a position, with our training getting us to a level that we can cope with those unexpected events. You are going to Antarctica, to a territory that has not been explored by many. How did you study the territory you will be walking on? Yes, we have spoken to other people that had expeditions in the area and other similar areas, it is mostly an unknown territory. The biggest risk is going to be crevasses which are openings in the ice that you can fall down into. We do have some points of two crevasse fields on route to the South Pole. There may be other areas though with crevasses because not many people go down there, so we just have to be aware and cautious of this.

Will someone be looking over your shoulder? Will you be watched while marching to the South Pole?

We will have a tracking beckon on us and a satellite phone and there are a couple of bases in Antarctica that will be also tracking our progress. If there was to be an issue, we will be contacting them and depending on the conditions on the ground they will try to come to our aid.

How do your parents feel?

You know they are both quite concerned and quite worried. After the Tasman, they thought that was going to be the last one. So when I told them about my new plans they were a little bit anxious about it. But they realise now, that this is who Justin and I are. We love adventure. We love being out there and they know that we do these trips properly so they have every faith that we are going to be able to do it and do it successfully. Is there another expedition coming after this one? I think the one coming after this one will be the biggest and the most important of my life. I’ve just proposed to my girlfriend!

Neos Kosmos wholeheartedly wish James and Justin the best of luck in their efforts. You can follow James and Justin throughout their titanic expedition at