Heading to the Poles

by Jennifer Pritchett
Northern News Services

NNSL (NOV 27/96) - Lukas Grobler is on a hunt for a companion to ski to the ends of the Earth.

The 22-year-old South African medical student is in the NWT to prepare for scientific expeditions to both poles in 1998.

"I will be possibly selecting someone from Canada or Norway because people can relate to the snow," he said. "South Africans can't imagine what something like this entails."

Grobler describes himself as a bit of an adventurer who has wanted to travel to the far reaches ever since reading about explorers as a child.

He left for a nine-day jaunt to Tibbitt Lake from Yellowknife on Saturday. While making the 180-kilometre journey, he'll be spending nights in a tent, eating chocolate bars, cereals and other nonperishable foods -- all carried on his back in a 30-kilogram knapsack.

The journey is not an easy one -- particularly for someone who just came to 35 degrees below zero from a climate where the norm is 35 above.

His aim is to cross the Antarctic in October 1998, to study the effects of extreme cold on the body.

Grobler is compiling the scientific data for a research team at the University of Pretoria, where he is a fourth-year student in the faculty of medicine.

Researchers will use the data to find ways of treating patients who are malnourished -- a leading cause of death in Africa.

"You come back from these journeys pretty much starved," Grobler said.

Scientists believe that the body, after such a trek into the polar wilderness, ends up in a malnourished state similar to starved Africans.

"I'm going to see how the body provides itself with enough substance," he said.

His trips to the NWT and the North Pole are preparation for the southern expedition -- a 2700-km journey he expects to complete in 50 days.

"It's all working toward the South Pole," he said. "That is, if you can call a trip to the North Pole, preparation. The Antarctic is really the prize."

It will take 100 days to reach the South Pole -- by far his longest journey.

Most of his four weeks here will be spent in the bush.

As part of his research, he will have blood samples, throat swabs, and other tests done at the public health clinic in Yellowknife. He'll bring the results back to Pretoria.

Even if he doesn't choose his travelling companion here, Grobler may return to Canada's North, after finishing medical school, to set up a practice.

"I hope to come back as a missionary doctor up here in Canada," he said. "I think it would be great fun."

In Yellowknife since Nov. 16, he will return to South Africa in mid-December.