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The Polar

Tom Crean, the Irish heroic explorer from Annascaul in Co.Kerry. Grew up surrounded by poverty due to the lingering potato blight, left school at the age of 12 practically illiterate to support his family on the farm. To run away from home at the age of fifteen and begin a life at sea, full of adventures.  This is the very man who went on three voyages to the Antarctic in his life time, and the man who inspired the Crean Challenge expedition.


The Crean Challenge Expedition is a six month venture for 20 scouts in Ireland, and is concluded by a week-long expedition in Iceland. The aim of this challenge is to push scouters to their potential by completing two projects for the duration of the time, six hikes over 15km to be completed and logged and three intense training weekends. This entire expedition is inspired by the cutting voyages to the Antarctic by the remarkable Irish seaman, Tom Crean. I am lucky enough to be one of the twenty scouters in Ireland to be a participant of this year’s Crean Challenge Expedition. In my last article I wrote of the physical challenges I’ve had to face, my second training weekend and gear I must obtain for my adventure to Iceland. I have bettered yet again since my last article, I have attended the third training weekend, finished my hikes and have generally prepared for Iceland. I have also explored the life of Tom Crean in attempt to gain knowledge regarding the inspiration of the challenge that has enhanced me as a scout.


The time is drawing nearer and nearer to the expedition and in preparation for it I attended a training day in Dublin. Here we did a detailed gear review, I travelled up to Dublin with my bag packed as if I were flying out that day, I then unpacked it carefully so our mentors could see what we needed to obtain before the trip. We also had a log-book review to see how much progressed we’ve made since November. After all the formal activities we received our official Crean Challenge jackets. It was a positive weekend that only left me more eager to arrive in Iceland.  I have made good friendships and feel prepared both physically and mentally to take on this glorious expedition. I have also managed to get all of my 6 hikes completed and logged. My log books are ready to go!

I have been supported massively by the people around me, some have lent gear, some have listened to my worries, some have helped me manage and some have done all these things and been all-rounded brilliant and kind towards me. I truly feel the love and happiness from family and friends and now the desire to succeed is not only for me but also for all of them.


Now the expedition only lies around the corner and as I continue to pack my bag, finish logs and my projects I think of Tom Crean. In 1901 Tom Crean set sail on a voyage to Antarctica on the ship Discovery. Crean actually only happened to be a part of the voyage because they were down a crew member and Crean stepped up to the challenge. On this expedition Crean took part in 5 sledging trips, and reached 79º 15′ S, this is the furthest South any human being had been at this time. Crean had felt temperatures as low as -54 C, fallen into freezing waters twice nearly dying and lived in the harsh conditions of ship for two years.


In 1910 he embarked on his next journey to the South Pole on the Terra Nova. The Terra Nova sailed through a treacherous hurricane and eventually found its way to ice. One night on the expedition Crean and two others decided to pitch tents, little did they know the next morning they would be afloat, drifting away and circled by a group of killer whales. Crean rescued himself and the others.


Less than one year after the Terra Nova Expedition, Crean set off again to Antarctica on the Endurance. Before the crew had even reached Antarctica the ship was stuck in ice in the Weddell Sea for months. The ship eventually sank and Crean and the crew marched across the ice with all their gear and supplies, they stopped at two camps named by themselves. At Patience camp the ice began to crack below their feet and and Crean led the crew on a 7 day voyage to Elephant Island on lifeboats.


Tom Crean was heroic and had a skill for leadership. Crean fought in World War 1 and later retired and moved back to his home town. Crean never discussed his exploits and unfortunately left no written memoirs. He opened a pub called The South Pole Inn. Crean was killed during an IRA attack in 1920.


It is now very clear why the Crean Challenge Expedition is named and inspired by this heroic character in Irish history. Tom Crean endured so much in his life time and really understood the sense of adventure. As I leave for my first ever expedition to Iceland, I keep him in mind to motivate me. I want to show the same courage and dedication Crean did, I hope I succeed.


One of the memories that comes to me from those days is of Crean singing at the tiller. He always sang while he was steering, and nobody ever discovered what the song was. It was devoid of tune and as monotonous as the chanting of a Buddhist monk at his prayers; yet somehow it was cheerful. In moments of inspiration Crean would attempt The Wearing of the Green.’ ~ Sir Ernest Shackleton


By Lucy Gilmartin

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