Australian adventurers Justin ‘Jonesy’ Jones and James ‘Cas’ Castrission were completing their gruelling journey by kayak across the Tasman Sea in January 2008. After three months of extreme weather, equipment breakdowns and circling sharks, the New Zealand coastline was barely in sight when James suggested they make Antarctica the site of their next expedition.
“I almost hit him in the back of his head with a paddle,” Justin said with a laugh to the enthusiastic audience who had come to hear the pair’s adventures at the Sydney Theatre Company on Saturday morning, a session appropriately titled Human Endurance.
“I blew up at him. I honestly couldn’t stand it, just the thought of it – I thought, mate, we’re on this expedition that we haven’t even finished, and you’re talking about doing another trip? I just can’t deal with you right now!”
Three years later, after trips to Alaska’s Baffin Island to acclimatise to minus-40C temperatures, and lugging tires around Centennial Park to build strength, the two set out in November 2011 to attempt to be the first to ski unaided from the Antarctic coast to the South Pole and back.
With only six months skiing experience and towing loads of up to 160 kilograms each, the two endured 2,275 kilometres of treacherous terrain over 89 days, battling disorientating weather, crevasses, frostbite and mental exhaustion. Between them they lost 56kg of body weight.
For all the highly entertaining and impressive feats of physical and mental durability discussed by Justin, the audience was perhaps most captivated by the unbreakable mateship between the men, who have been best friends since high school. Justin spoke with incredible warmth about his partner James, who was unable to attend the festival as he is busy trekking in the Himalayas.
The video showing Christmas Day celebrations during the Antarctic trek was particularly heartwarming. It showed James surprising Justin with a supply of bacon, secretly accumulated from their rations. Justin, his face ridden with frostbite and his eyebrows crusted with thick ice, barely contained his excitement at the gift, then presented James with his present – a penguin beanie.
The audience laughed once more, delighting in the capacity of these remarkable men to keep up such cheerful banter in the middle of one of Mother Nature’s most brutal landscapes. When Justin recounted their journey’s final stage, where they were so physically weak they fell on the ice after every few steps, the audience applauded as footage showed the triumphant pair boarding their flight home.
The hearty applause was not entirely in recognition of the pair’s athletic endurance, mental agility and adventurous fortitude – but for the unshakeable bond between them, a friendship that contains reservoirs of inspiration much deeper than Antarctic crevasses.