Why do explorers still take risks to reach the Poles, even when most ‘firsts’ have been claimed and records broken? Avid Pole-seeker and featured contributor Leon McCarron explains.

When I was 10, I wanted to go to the South Pole. When I was 15, I decided that I’d like to go to the North Pole too. As yet, I haven’t done either. It’s taken me 31 years to even make it to the Arctic. While it’s not quite to the top of the planet, this year, I journey further north than ever before.

From Longyearbyen, the main town on the biggest island of the Svalbard archipelago, I step onto a boat and sail west out of the ice fjord towards open water, then north through a channel with Spitsbergen island on one side and Prince Charles Foreland on the other.

I’m traveling with a film crew from Northern Ireland, and we’re here to follow in the footsteps of Lord Dufferin who, in the 1850s, had sailed from Scotland to Svalbard. He was an early adventure tourist rather than an explorer, but his journey was nevertheless one of guts and gall and sheer bloody-mindedness; and indeed, one driven by the desire to see the great empty wildernesses that lie at the ends of the world.