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Heading for the South Pole: Bidwells’ managing director Catherine Spitzer to tackle gruelling expedition at -35C




It is the wrong one to see Father Christmas, but for Catherine Spitzer the South Pole is beckoning.

She will trek to the bottom of the world in temperatures down to minus 35C, dragging heavy kit uphill for 68 miles (111km).

Catherine Spitzer training in Norway (24944956)
Catherine Spitzer training in Norway (24944956)

The Cambridge-based managing director of Bidwells is taking on the challenge as part of the property consultancy’s 180th anniversary fundraising campaign.

And it will complete a pair for Catherine, who has already tackled the North Pole.

“We have 11 days to do it. I don't want to take that long, though,” she says. “The North Pole took eight. But because of the altitude, during the first few days we're going to start slowly to acclimatise. It's a gradual incline.

“I don't think it's particularly perceptible, but it is constant and uphill. It’s around 2,800m but because of where it is, it feels like about 3,800m, so you've really got to acclimatise.”

By day three, Catherine expects to be walking for eight to 10 hours a day. It will be gruelling work.

Catherine Spitzer training in Norway (24944960)
Catherine Spitzer training in Norway (24944960)

She has just returned from a training camp in Norway where she was “getting used to the cold” and the kit again.

“The clothing is quite complicated, and you end up wearing a lot of it, and you have to be very careful,” she says. “If you get too hot, you sweat, then you get wet, then you get very cold. Not such a problem in Norway at minus 2 but at minus 35, it’s a big problem.”

Catherine Spitzer training in Norway (24944963)
Catherine Spitzer training in Norway (24944963)

Early in the new year, Catherine will fly to Santiago, Chile, then head on to Punta Arenas.

“From there we’ll fly on to a place called Union Glacier which is the main base for the ALE - Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions. Then we fly to our start point at 89 degrees and we get picked up 11 days later from the South Pole base at 90 degrees. I think it’s quite a small plane that gets us there and back as there's only three of us going.”

The Bidwells team celebrate a £50m turnover milestone. From left MD Catherine Spitzer, Mike Derbyshire, head of planning, Julie Archer, director of people and change, and Patrick McMahon, senior partner. Picture: Keith Heppell
The Bidwells team celebrate a £50m turnover milestone. From left MD Catherine Spitzer, Mike Derbyshire, head of planning, Julie Archer, director of people and change, and Patrick McMahon, senior partner. Picture: Keith Heppell

This, in itself, is unusual, as it is normally larger groups that take on such a trek.

“It’s the same guide I went to the North Pole with,” says Catherine. “It’s kind of special bond when you're in that kind of extreme circumstances with others. I only really wanted to do the expedition with him.”

They will be trekking in round-the-clock daylight - but Catherine says that won’t get in the way of much-needed sleep.

“Trust me, when you’ve pulled 40, 50 kilos for 8 to 10 hours, sleeping in the daylight is not an issue! Some warm food and an eye mask and I will have trouble staying awake,” she adds.

Catherine Spitzer training in Norway (24944972)
Catherine Spitzer training in Norway (24944972)

The biggest challenge, she suggests, will be a mental one.

“The North was a lot more physical because of the open water and ice boulders. The environment in the South is constant and consistent, I think it’s going to be more like being on a treadmill and a real mental battle to keep going in the extreme environment.

“You can see the South Pole base a couple of days out. But never appears to get any closer until you are there.

“I’d underestimated the mental side when planning for the in the North Pole expedition - I just focused solely on physical - and it was tough. It will be about really being there, being present, letting it all sink in. You are nobody out there – it’s very humbling.”

But she admits she has “no idea” of the likelihood of reaching their target.

Catherine Spitzer training in Norway (24944969)
Catherine Spitzer training in Norway (24944969)

“My guide is second to none and if we can make it he will get us there, but if the weather comes in or one of us gets hit with altitude sickness, who knows? Whatever happens it will be an amazing adventure – it’s about the journey not the destination,” she says.

Catherine will carry with her a kit weighing an estimated 80kg, containing items such as a tent and sledges, along with a 150cm by 90cm centimetre flag bearing the names of her sponsors: Bidwells, Estates Gazette, Meyler Campbell, SDC, Softcat, Barnes Construction and Rapidity.

Bidwells’ 180th anniversary ‘Grand Challenge’ tasks each employee with raising £180 for the company’s chosen charities of the year – Maggie's Centres and Scotland’s Charity Air Ambulance.

Trekking in Antarctica (24945004)
Trekking in Antarctica (24945004)

Catherine’s South Pole expedition has already raised £3,250 for Maggie’s Centres, which offers free, practical, emotional and social support to those affected by cancer from bases including one on the Addenbrooke’s site. This includes a £1,000 donation from SDC, the building contractors.

Support Catherine’s expedition by donating at https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/Bidwells180.

A map of Antartica (24945029)
A map of Antartica (24945029)

Quick-fire questions

Number of layers? 8

Lowest temperature? -35C

How do you go to the toilet? Quickly

What is actually at the South Pole?A ceremonial pole and a bunch of flags.

The landscape of Antarctica (24945031)
The landscape of Antarctica (24945031)

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