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BBC's Peter Hunt reports
"Victory against the odds"
 real 28k

Fiona Thornewell talks to the BBC
"We can't put it into words - it's phenomenal"
 real 28k

The BBC's Sean Brickell
"At one point Catharine Hartley suffered serious frost-bite"
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Wednesday, 5 January, 2000, 12:26 GMT
Double Pole record set

Record breakers: Fiona Thornewill and Catharine Hartley


An expedition has succeeded in getting the first British women overland to the South Pole.

Catharine Hartley and Fiona Thornewill have become the first British women to complete the journey on foot.

The two women are part of a nine-strong team which set out to reach the Pole almost two months ago. They arrived at 2145 GMT on Tuesday night.

Fiona's husband Mike also made the journey, apparently making them the first married couple to successfully complete the trek.

Fiona and Mike: Pole's first married couple
Immediately after they arrived Prime Minister Tony Blair sent a message praising the new record.

"Many congratulations on your magnificent achievement," he said.

"What a wonderful start to the millennium."

Speaking by satellite phone shortly reaching the Pole, Catherine said: "This has been an immense struggle every day.

"I can't quite comprehend that we are the first British women to have walked to the South Pole - I'm just so happy to be here now."

She said the team are due to be picked up by place and flown back to their base camp.

"I'm just looking forward to a couple of days off," she said.

Blue Peter

Catharine, 34, who works for the BBC's Blue Peter programme and planted its flag at the Pole, is the only member of the team with previous Polar experience.

Blue Peter's editor Steve Hocking said he and the rest of the team were very excited about Catharine's success and hoped she would appear on the programme when back in London.

"We are all delighted for Catharine," he said. "It is a great achievement.

"We can't wait for her to return to the Blue Peter studios to tell us about her adventure."

Fiona told the BBC: "I am in total disbelief, I can't put it into words - its phenomenal, absolutely amazing."

She said the terrain had been harder going than expected, but both had been determined to make it to the Pole.

Fiona, 33, is a recruitment consultant from Nottinghamshire, and her policeman husband celebrated his 37th birthday during the trip.

Sub-zero temperatures

Fiona and Mike are raising money for Marie Curie Cancer Care in memory of Mike's father who died of the disease in 1983.

They plan to renew their wedding vows at the Pole, with Mike's police uniform and a dress for Fiona flown out to them.

The service will be performed by fellow explorer Graham Murphy from Australia who is acting Reverend during the expedition.

Another team of British women are also making their way towards the same goal, but they are understood to be some way behind.

"We're not going to be able to take any champagne with us so it looks like we'll be celebrating with a good cup of tea," Fiona told BBC News Online before setting out on the landmark adventure.

The record attempt has not been without its problems.

Frostbite

Severe frostbite almost put an end to Catharine's part in the trek near the start of the trip.

At one point it was considered airlifting her out of the area was the most sensible course of action.

But her condition stabilised and she continued the journey.

During the trek each member of the team has had to haul a 100lb sledge containing supplies while wearing special skis which help grip on ice and snow.

The route has taken the party to heights of more than 9,000ft across glaciers, ice caps and mountain passes.

Each day the team walk for between eight and 14 hours in temperatures which can drop as low as minus 48 centigrade.

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See also:
04 Jan 00 |  UK
Tyre training puts women in Pole position
31 Dec 99 |  Sci/Tech
South Pole is moved
06 Sep 99 |  Sci/Tech
Explorer's relics unfrozen

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