A long walk to the South Pole

Ghazala Ahmad-Mear (Guy’s, Dentistry, 1986) with Rob (left) and Barney (right) Swan.

You may remember reading about Guy’s alumna Ghazala Ahmad-Mear’s preparations for the South Pole Energy Challenge (SPEC) in the Class Notes of our Autumn 2017 issue of InTouch. Well, we’d like to congratulate Ghazala and the whole team on reaching the South Pole on 11 January, on what was the first polar expedition in history to use only renewable energy!

Ghazala and her fellow ‘Last Degree-ers’ set off on 6 January to join father and son team Rob and Barney Swan for the final 60 nautical miles of their 600 mile, 57 day expedition across Antartica. Using NASA, Siemens and Shell technology, Ghazala and the team relied solely on sun, wind and biofuels to help with tasks such as melting ice and creating electricity. You can find out more about Ghazala’s adventure (and see some pretty stunning photographs) on her website.

Ghazala is married to the mountaineer Roger Mear, who made the first unsupported walk to the South Pole with explorers Robert Swan OBE (one of the leaders of the SPEC expedition) and Gareth Wood in 1986. Ghazala found herself at the South Pole on the 32nd anniversary of this original expedition, and was able to locate the exact area of ice they had stood on - though the glacial movement at the South Pole moves the pole that marks the spot by about 10m every year.

Upon completing the challenge, Ghazala remarked, 'the Antarctic Plateau is an incredibly beautiful but unforgiving place. The constant stinging wind is like no other. Where the monotony of sled hauling and bizarrely, the scenery which remains constant day after day, the fixed vista of white/blue horizon with sun, allows one to think that no progress is being made other than the co-ordinates from our GPS. It opens the corners of space within oneself to much discovery. Allowing me to place perspective on what my husband’s team experienced for 70 days/900 miles with no communications whatsoever 32 years ago. My time there was a huge privilege but humbling.'

Her resilience and physical strength have been put to the test before, running the Sheffield Marathon a year after being treated for Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1996 when she had a 30 per cent reduction in lung capacity. Since then, she had a successful hip replacement three years ago. She prepared for the challenge by building up her thighs and core muscles through aerobic training. Ghazala’s regime included mountain bike riding, swimming three to four miles a week and tyre hauling – a classic training method for sled hauling.

Ghazala explains, ‘the South Pole Energy Challenge 2018 aims to change attitudes and behaviour towards energy consumption on a business and individual level. By showing what can be achieved through the use of clean, green energy under extreme circumstances, the SPEC team hope to demonstrate how the use of energy can be better understood and used more sustainably in everyday life. Some of their suggested modifications include the installation of solar, wind and or geothermal infrastructure in homes and businesses, the use of hydrogen, electric or hybrid transport and encourage less domestic waste.’

Ghazala gives talks on climate change within her local community and has engaged local schools by offering to take their flag to the South Pole. She has also raised awareness of her hospital Trust’s commitment to reduce carbon emissions and to be more sustainable.