A 63-Year-Old Conquered the South Pole

Adventurer Simon Murray made a 683-mile trek through Antarctica.

(Photo: Mike Stone/Reuters)

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Sep 22, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Tosten Burks is a contributor for Passion of the Weiss. He has written for The Fader, GOOD, Grantland, and VICE.

Simon Murray’s trip in 2003 to the South Pole was meant to be a family affair.

The British businessman hoped to celebrate Christmas there with his wife, Jennifer Murray, who in 2000 became the first woman to circumnavigate the globe in a helicopter. Both aspired to new feats of adventure: Jennifer planned to fly from the South Pole to the North; Simon, 63 at the time, aimed to be the oldest person to complete an unsupported overland trek to the geographic South Pole.

Only one of them made it. Jennifer and her copilot crashed during a snowstorm on their flight into Antarctica, forcing them to spend the next few weeks recovering in a hospital in Chile. Already en route, Simon completed his mission on Jan. 28, 2004, entering the Guinness Book of World Records.

“It’s not exactly my idea of a winter holiday, but there was a strong sense of achievement arriving there,” Murray told the BBC after he returned.

The 683-mile expedition, which Murray undertook with famed polar explorer Pen Haddow (who earlier in 2003 completed the first unassisted solo mission from the northern edge of Canada to the North Pole), was indeed no vacation. The two launched from the Zumberge Coast in December during the beginning of the Antarctic summer, when the temperature hovers around minus 30 degrees instead of minus 60 degrees.

“The worst thing was the wind—100mph winds that took your face off,” Murray told The Independent.

Murray and Haddow both dragged behind them 300-pound sleds carrying the entire journey’s worth of supplies and food. One of their sleds broke along the way. With 200 miles left, Murray lost his skis in a whiteout. The trip took them 58 days.

“Slogging along in snow that deep without skis is like climbing deep, soft sand dunes,” Murray said. “It was very tough, but we were very well prepared.”

It could be said Murray had been preparing for decades. At 20, the Leicester, England, native joined the French Foreign Legion, the elite wing of the French Army that was created for foreign nationals. He served in a parachute regiment during the Algerian war. At 25, he turned down an offer to attend officers’ school, instead moving with his wife to Hong Kong to begin a long career in international business. He has worked throughout Asia, Europe, and the Gulf Coast. At 60, he ran a 150-mile super-marathon across the Moroccan desert.

Though his wife couldn’t join him, Murray credits her for his record-breaking accomplishment. It was her idea in the first place, he said, prompted by a question she asked him over breakfast one day: “Why don’t you walk to the South Pole?”