John Wilton-Davies was a 44-year-old financial consultant in Exeter with two young children when he decided one day he wanted to ski alone from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole.
“I think the word ‘midlife crisis’ sums it up quite well,” he says, explaining he had been gripped by an urge for adventure “before family life sucks me in to middle age”.
He would have been only the sixth person to achieve such a gruelling solo feat, and the oldest. But as is so often the case in Antarctica, things did not turn out as planned.
At first all went well. His wife was “generally supportive”, even though the venture — which included training trips to the Arctic — took him away from family life for months and cost tens of thousands of pounds.
He arrived on the ice in late 2006 and initially thought his biggest problem would be boredom.
“You’re just walking along on your own every day with no one to talk to, nothing to listen to,” he says. “I saw two aeroplanes the whole time and not a single living creature, not a bird, not an insect.”
About 35 days in, he hit trouble when his skis suddenly fell through the ground and he was horrified to see blue holes below “disappearing into the distance”.
He had stumbled into a heavily crevassed area, a frightening situation alone. He survived and went on for nearly another month but, eventually, a mix of bad weather and other factors conspired to force him to stop — just 70 miles from the South Pole.
“I’m probably easily the person that’s walked the furthest without getting to where they wanted to get to,” he says.
So would he go again? “I would love to, but it’s a very expensive place,” he says.
“What would be nice is if a nice wealthy client came along and said, ‘You’ve got experience in this, would you be my guide?’ Then I’d be delighted.”