Norway: when the difference between success or failure is a slim as a single macaroon

Norway: when the difference between success or failure is a slim as a single macaroon

I’m snowed in. Not technically, more like I can’t drive the car out of the road, and everything in England is shut. I’ve enjoyed the training opportunities (and the strange looks as I dragged my not insubstantial children around town on my childhood sledge) but it’s also the ideal time, without distractions but will all things cold and snowy on my mind, to capture some of what happened on my Polar Expedition Training course in Norway last month. Wow, that makes it sound ages ago. It’s both fresh in my mind and one continual surreal memory where the days blur into one. You think you’ll remember each and every moment, but I’ll have to make do with the stand out memories (which clearly I’ve remembered for a reason!).

People have been asking about the food, so I’ll spend some time describing that, although I learned a lot of non-food-related lessons too….

First, a little about the course. Run by Hannah McKeand, who has spent years working and travelling in Polar environments, we couldn’t have been in better hands. I was intimidated by her reputation – she is Amazonian in stature and previously held the record for the fastest coastline to South Pole journey. I needn’t have worried – she was generous, gregarious and utterly fantastic – I think we were all a little bit in love with Hannah by the end! It was brilliant to have a woman course leader and another woman – Denise Main (also with an impressive Polar CV) as assistant. It wasn’t mentioned as remarkable and it being so normal was great.

The first week was spent in the fairytale surroundings of the Hotel Finse, at Norway’s highest railway station. We arrived weighed down with kit, and stepped off the train into swirling snow and freezing temperatures, the shock of it was probably the worst part of the whole trip! Aside from the hotel and a few cabins, there isn’t much to it, and the hotel was only a few paces from the station. With  turn-of-century grandeur in the dining room, and a dance floor in the basement made out of the hole left by a World War Two bomb, the hotel has a rich history. Nansen, Amundsen and Shackleton came here to train for their own Polar journeys, the Norwegian Explorers Club meets here annually. It was snowing hard, and the drift came up to the second floor windows. The hours of daylight were short, and when darkness fell, candles were lit in cosy corners and hotel guests gathered round huge open fires. If there was any temptation to stay inside, this hotel was surely it!

But we were straight into the course tasks, which started as we arrived. We’d taken over a class room and spent the first evening meeting each other and going over what we’d be doing during the two weeks to come. Week one was classroom work in the morning, learning how to live in a Polar environment, and week two was the mini-expedition itself – six nights out in the Hardagervidda National Park. I won’t go into too much detail about the course, as that would be giving away all of Hannah’s secrets!

Three of us had come together to train for our upcoming Greenland expedition. Lou, who had done South Pole journeys before, Pete, who owns a tattoo shop in Hereford and has had a colourful background, and me. Aside from that, Heshan was a Sri Lankan who moved to Australia and wanted to do a coastline to Pole journey, Leandro, who wants to cycle to the South Pole, Tasleem, who aims to be the first Yemeni to reach the South Pole, and Jan, who had already rowed the Atlantic and been to the North Pole (but a few years ago now).

We tried cross-country skiing and sledge (or pulk) hauling, tested out gear we’d brought and added to our expedition kit with a shopping trip to nearby Geilo. There is no road access to Finse, you can only reach it in winter by train or on skis. I’d brought my running gear, thinking I might run round the frozen lake or something. I was completely wrong about that. As soon as you stepped out of the hotel, you were almost instantly knee-deep in snow. There’s a reason Norwegians are so good on skis, if you want to go for a walk, you can’t. You must go for a ski.

Blog #1, the food edit:

So we set out, day one, with our pulks loaded up with tents, cookers, warm kit – everything we’d need for the next six days. The day before, we’d packed all our food. You need far more calories when you’re skiing and hauling for 8 hours a day, and expending energy keeping warm. I weigh around 57kg (I lost 3 while I was away and haven’t been able to put it back on yet, despite my best efforts with éclairs). A woman my size going about normal daily life usually needs around 2,000 calories. I eat a lot more than that at the moment as I’m training most days (and I love eating….). When we were out, I took around 4,000, and would probably take more for a longer expedition.

That 4,000 is made up of dried meals – breakfast and supper, powered whey protein and hot chocolate, and grazing bags. You don’t stop for long between legs. You ski for 60 minutes, stop for five minutes. While stopped, you need to pee, take on food and water, adjust any layers, and you’re off again. There isn’t time to stop and cook up a proper meal, so you take high-calorie snacks which should be a good balance of the nutrients you need. I’d carefully bought and weighed out six grazing bags full of exactly that. Day one, when I stopped to shovel some snacks into my mouth, it all tasted lovely. By day three, just the smell of the snack bag made me want to retch. I’d used far too many savoury things – chilli peanuts, dried peanuts, crisps, cheese. Even the little chocolate I’d brought had peanuts in it. I can even smell the grazing bags now, sitting here weeks later! I had to eat, so there was nothing for it but to shovel some down and get on with the day. I learned a valuable lesson though. I definitely didn’t eat as much as I should have, as I didn’t much care for it. I’ll be taking all my favourites next time. Buying them in the UK before I go will be a definite. Shopping in the Norwegian supermarkets was a bit of a lottery (Fruit Skum anyone?)

The dried meals were better, but I’d added lots of butter (too much) to up my calorie intake. I’m also vegetarian, so all my meals were yellow; macaroni cheese, salmon and cheese, you get the idea. Yellow, buttery slop every night wasn’t the most appealing, but it was hot, and so I ate it. The first night, I added whey protein to boiling water and ended up with it separating into a watery mess with lumps floating in it. Hannah watched me struggle with it for a while until she took pity on me and told me she’d brought spare!

The hot chocolate was, I’m glad to say, problem free and tasted fantastic with breakfast.

On the morning of the second day, we were striking our tents from our campsite on a frozen lake when I saw a little brown furry ball scurrying across the snow. It was so easy to spot against the white. We think it was a lemming – and given that we hadn’t seen another living thing for 48 hours, it caused great excitement. Clearly it hadn’t seen many humans before, on skis or otherwise, as I was able to get really close to it and take some pictures.

The next morning, in a location around 10km from the day before, we spotted another lemming (or maybe it was the same one who had hitched a ride?!) in the tent. He was casually scampering in and out, and I wondered what the attraction was. I soon found out – when I looked at my snack bag from the day before, it had a little hole nibbled in it. I was soon almost hand feeding him with chilli peanuts – at least someone liked them!

Day 4- the macaroons. This was a momentous moment. A lot of expedition accounts revolve around the weather, the distance covered, the food, and back to the weather again. This account revolves around the single most important one of those: the food. We’d run short of cooker fuel and descended to the nearest station to pick up a resupply. We were also saying goodbye to Tas, who’d done all she could and was heading back to Finse.

We spotted Denise from hundreds of metres away, heading towards us with supplies. As well as the fuel, she had a huge bag of buns and other goodies. In the station, someone had left us hand-made macaroons.

One of my fellow Greenland team refused the extra supplies, and I could totally understand why. The moment it’s easier, some of your resolve leaves you. Some people went into the station to warm up or to use the loo, but I was unwilling. If I enjoyed the warmth, would I want to go back out onto the trail, or would I feel like heading back to Finse with Tas? I didn’t want to risk it, so I also declined the macaroons. Hannah couldn’t understand why, but encouraged everyone to eat them. I refused unless my team mates did too. Hannah gave them such a hard time about not eating them that eventually they accepted. Once they did, I could too. I fell on the buns and ate till I felt full. But then I ate a macaroon – they were sweet, salty, soft, crunchy, cinnamon-y mouthfuls of pure heaven. I think I ate about four in the end, despite being full, and they were the best things I’d ever tasted.

I think if I hadn’t eaten them, I wouldn’t have made it to our campsite that night, which was a hell of a climb back out of the valley from the station.

I’ve learned I like favourite things, and variety. I’ll be including lots of sweet things (some of those macaroons would be rather good – they fared excellently in low temperatures). When we head to Greenland, it’ll be a long 570km with yellow slop and peanuts every day, and I can’t rely on lemmings, or any other wildlife, to help me out!

lemming.jpg

Seven things Polar expeditions can teach us about snow days

Seven things Polar expeditions can teach us about snow days

I’ve seen a few people on social media posting about cabin fever in recent days, but as long as you are not snowed in – literally snowed in, as in, can’t open the door and walk outside – you can make the most of snow days. Everything looks better, cleaner in the snow. The silence is huge. Your regular running and hiking routes turn magical. I’m only sorry I don’t have my skis right now, or I would have been *that* person, skiing into town with my sledge for supplies. As it was, I walked into town, dragging my not insubstantial children on the wooden sledge that was mine when I was little. So, no cabin fever required; with a bit of forethought you can get on your gear and get out!

1.       Layers. Just like your grandmother told you. Start with thermal base layers – merino wool from Aldi did me very adequately yesterday – but tights and a thermal top or long-sleeved top would work too. After that, fleece, then a light down or other warm jacket, then a waterproof over. Hat, gloves, buff, scarf and walking boots to top it all off. You don’t need anything super-expensive (although those things are nice too). For little ones, add extra gloves and maybe surgical gloves between to keep their hands dry.

 

2.       Stay cool. It sounds counter-intuitive, but if you were out for any length of time, the last thing you want is to have sweat freezing under your waterproof. With all that lot on, you’re going to get warm quickly. Remove layers as you start to heat up, even if that means taking off your jacket at -5. Maybe your fleece, plus a hat, minus a buff equals comfort at that moment. (with thanks to the awesome Hannah McKeand, on the benefits of being ‘comfortably cool’)

 

3.       Bring supplies. You might only be going to the nearest town centre, or to friends round the corner, but it’s good practice to have a hot drink (hot blackcurrant in a flask is my current favourite and the kids love it after sledging), a few extra layers, a fully charged phone and something to eat.

 

4.       Look after each other. Small people (and big people) can get cold easily. Check each other for sock wrinkles inside boots (super-annoying and can cause blisters) or freezing toes (which could be serious in low temperatures).

 

5.       Keep moving. As soon as you stop, all the heat you’ve been generating will quickly leave your body. If you have to stop, add a layer, turn with your back to the wind, and make it quick.

 

6.       Improvise. Your buff could be a wrist warmer, your spare socks could be mittens, shopping bags could go inside boots as a waterproof layer. What do you have with you that could do double duty as something you need? Yesterday I used a giant kit bag as a sledge bag so we could buy lots of food and not have to carry it back home. I used the bags shoulder straps to attach it to the sledge, which kind of worked and was good enough to get everything home (apart from one squashed muffin).

 

7.       Have fun! Snow days don’t happen very often in the UK. Make the snow angels, take the risky route on the sledge, say hi to strangers, get soaked. Then get home and get dry and warm again.

Private sorrows and private joys: the solo efforts of team training

The task was simple: drag a 20kg tyre along the length of the Brecon - Monmouth canal in mid-winter. The last big training session before a trip to Norway.
 
Even I, with my rudimentary navigation skills and frankly hopeless sense of direction couldn’t get lost. I’d prepared warm, waterproof gear and definitely over-catered with snacks; bananas, quavers and peanut M and Ms (so, all major food groups).
 
Four of us met at the basin of the canal in Brecon. The sky was dull and the wind was gathering itself to blow hard. I’m pretty used to clipping myself into my specialist harness (soon to be used to pull a real pulk, not a Land Rover tyre) and I was quickly ready to go. I tucked in second but I was overtaken within a few minutes and fell into third place. Our fourth team mate was handicapped by a new tyre and rope set up, and had to stop a few times to get it sorted. 
 
The first half hour was a much faster pace than I’m used to. Dragging the tyre to start with, months ago, I was working at 1.5miles per hour. I’m now up to roughly 2.5mph, but we were off at a swift pace even without a tyre, and I was sure I couldn’t keep it up. 
 
Mentally it does strange things to you, what your team mates are doing. As soon as they were round the first bend in the canal I settled down to my own pace. It was difficult terrain for the first few hours. The canal had flooded and the path was strewn with muddy, stick-filled debris ideal for building up in front of and inside the tyre. Stopping every few minutes to clear the tyre delayed me further and I began to doubt wether I could make it through the first hour, never mind the whole day. The first leg was to Gilwern, which we’d figured as 15 miles away. I was working in blocks of time, to most closely replicate the skiing routine I can expect in Greenland and eventually Antarctica. I hauled for 70 minutes, and stopped for a five-minute break to take on food. By the end of the first leg I couldn’t see anyone and I was already feeling the pace. Stopping felt wonderful - I sheltered from the blustery weather under one of the many bridges and readjusted - took layers off, ate and then the five minutes were already up. 
 
I settled into a routine after that which went something like this: clip into harness. Reset watch to zero. Switch on music and begin. I began to make deals with myself - that boat up ahead? You can check the time after that boat. You’ve hauled for 20 minutes? Great! Only another two lots of 20 minutes and 10 more to go till the next break. Think about using your walking poles more. Try placing the poles wider. Try placing the poles closer. You can have a sip of drink now. Planning what I was going to eat on the next break. You can check the time again now. Remember to enjoy the view! This place is beautiful! And so on. And on and on. 
 
I began to get an insight into what it was like for the guys crossing Antarctica. Although we were a team, it’s actually very much a solo effort for a lot of the day. You’re on your own. My private sorrows; the pain in my ankle, the fatigue, the horizontal rain, were balanced by private joys; a beautiful, full rainbow, a robin who hopped onto consecutive fence posts as I moved along, the fragile, architectural lichen on the branches. And sometimes the surroundings worked as a distraction; remembering to notice the smell of the woodsmoke from cosy house boats, the scent of wet bark in the woodland alongside the canal and the picturesque mix of wooden locks and brick-built bridges. This used up a lot of time. And some legs I didn’t even notice maybe ten, maybe twenty minutes going by. A few times it felt like all I’d ever done was drag a tyre. 
 
Then, around half way, I could see two of my team mates stopped up ahead. My heart leaped with happiness - just seeing the others buoyed me and I was determined to arrive looking cheery. Then one of them clipped back into his harness and was off. My heart sank. They were off again. I thought they’d wait for me. But one was walking back towards me. He’d been feeling unwell and had opted to ditch his tyre behind a wall and come back to pick it up later. ‘You could ditch your tyre here too,’ he offered. 
 
What went through my mind was, first of all, ‘great. I’m so done with this. He’s taken his tyre off. Now I can too.’ But team mate number one was off again, already five minutes ahead. I was 34 minutes into a leg. ‘I’ll just finish this leg. Then I’ll stop.’ I thought to myself. Actually I hoped Pete, the guy in front, would give up, and then I’d give myself permission to do the same. 
 
The time to take a break between legs arrived. There was no sign of Pete, so I thought ‘I’ll just do another leg.’ And so it went on. Just like the route. We’d started at bridge 161 (or something. At the time it wasn’t too important). But I began to live for the next bridge. I knew we finished the day at bridge 106. I started noticing bridge numbers at around the 140s. I remembered to appreciate them. After that I wasn’t appreciating then, I was counting them down. I met a few folks who asked what I was doing. ‘I’m walking to Gilwern.’ ‘Oh. That’s quite a long way.’ ‘Oh really?’ I replied. By this point I’d past the 10-mile point and was sure I was nearly done. ‘Oh yes, it’s a long way from here.’
 
And so it was. It wasn’t the fifteen miles we’d thought - the canal weaved around and the route was in fact almost twenty miles. I began to check out places where the canal was near the road, thinking I could dump the tyre and call ahead to say I’d had enough. 
 
Then I caught sight of Pete up ahead. It looked like he’d stopped, but I couldn’t see that far ahead to see what had happened. He was moving again but I was catching him up. Soon he’d stopped again and when I caught up with him he looked in pain. His knees were shot and he’d found some improvised walking poles from the woodland. I gave him some painkillers washed down with Lucozade. We discussed our options. We were the last two out with our tyres. We estimated Gilwern to be about 3 miles away. Pete said he’d crawl on his hands and knees if he had to. I believed him. Which meant I had to press on. 
 
Being in front spurred me on, and for a while I surprised myself with my brisk pace. I kept to 70 minutes hauling, 5 minutes break, like clockwork. I began to check my watch every five minutes. The breaks seemed to get shorter. Gilwern was a long way beyond 3 miles away. Dusk was gathering and it became increasingly difficult to tell canal from path, bridge from branches. (There were a lot of branches which I’d hoped were bridges). I came across one ruined bridge which - gloriously - still counted as a numbered bridge. I reached bridge 107. One to go! I called ahead as the others had walked to the finish sans tyres and were at the end point. ‘No, it’s not bridge 106. It’s bridge 103.’ Had I misheard (deliberately to fool myself?). It was at least another 70-minute leg. If this was what the days were like in Greenland, I doubted my sanity in signing up. I trudged on into the darkness - the lights of Gilwern far ahead in the distance. I chanted my new-found mantra. Some people favour Shackleton’s ‘by endurance we conquer,’ or some other well-known maxim. But the word ‘endurance’ seemed too negative. I went for Captain Oates’ (rather less famous quote) ‘We came here to fight, not to surrender.’ (From his days in the Boer War, rather than his Polar journey). Weirdly, it helped. Whatever keeps you going. 
 
I took a break - ostensibly to switch on my head torch and add a few layers but I was struggling and a breather was what I really needed. I called ahead again. I was two sodding bridges away still. The rest of the team offered to come down and meet me, and walk in with me. That kept me going for another bridge, and then I saw bobbing head torched coming towards me. It was a wonderful sight and suddenly I knew I was home and dry. My speed increased to a remarkable rate. One I was unclipped from the tyre I felt like I was literally and physically waking on air. I’d made it back. I was the first home. The confidence it gave me - that I can make it though, by counting minutes, or bridges, or sips of water, by talking to myself or repeating mantras. Whatever it was, I’d made it.
 
The plan was to do the rest of the route - at least another 13 miles - the next day. But none of us had done anything like the distance before and we’d under-estimated the effort involved in the first 19.6 miles.
 
I spent a restless night worried that we would go ahead with the second leg the following day, wondering how I’d ever begin to clip in and set off again in the morning - so it was with some relief that the consensus was to come back and do the second leg separately. When we got together that night (in the bar, where else) that’s when we shared our stories of rainbows and robins and aches and pains. 
 
And that’s where the team had my back - it wasn’t a solo effort anymore. It was ok to call it done for now. And like everyone knows, the decision of the collective team is almost always better than that of the individual. 
 
 
IMG_8695.jpg

New Sponsor Announced

Brunsfield, a specialist in the letting and management of residential property in London, has come on board as the latest sponsor of the expedition. Thank you to Henry Powell-Jones and all the team - looking forward to working with you!

Brunsfield-Logo-03.jpg

Writing a new chapter in Antarctic history

This really is the most incredible experience. The tv crews have disappeared, the photographers have packed up and I’m sitting alone in Shackleton’s original cabin aboard the RRS Discovery.

It is a decent size, with a desk (at which I am now sat), a bench and cupboard in burnished wood, and a cabin bunk. Although it is very quiet now, after I have given a series of interviews about my expedition, and posed for photographs outside the cabin bearing Shackleton’s name, I can imagine the ship alive with activity; men in the ward room, making plans or recording observations, Dr Wilson sketching.

There is, even after all this time, still an air of expectation, of promise, to the ship. It was beautifully designed and was fitted with the best technology of the day; portable stoves, matching crockery with the British Antarctic Expedition insignia, a smart, brass-lined ship’s wheel.

I’ve been fortunate to have been allowed special access aboard the Discovery in Dundee, after earlier this year I was granted permission to wear Scott’s original sledging harness, recovered from the tent which became his final resting place after reaching the Pole.

Here then, in this cabin, is where Shackleton’s Antarctic story began, here at this desk. And it is here that I begin mine. As I write these words, little bolts of excitement shoot through my body – here is a ship which has been to the mythical continent of Antarctica, which at the time was not on any map, was untouched by human presence.

I’m wearing clothes based on Shackleton’s and Crean’s originals, and I couldn’t be closer to Ernest himself. I wonder what he would have thought about a woman on an Antarctic expedition. If I’d made it aboard the Discovery in 1901; perhaps Lady Markham [wife of Sir Clements Markham, then president of the RGS, and the woman who launched the ship],  had an unmarried younger sister, a scientist maybe. Could that have persuaded Scott to take a risk and take a woman? Perhaps they might have allowed me to cook or clean, certainly I would not have been invited to join the parties who struck out into the unknown from the huts after the sun returned to the continent. How might it have been, to overwinter? Without sight or sound of home, without light or life outside of the hut where they spent the dark months of the Antarctic winter?

And how is a major expedition viewed now, now we have satellite mapping, tracking beacons and emergency get-outs? I’m pioneering a new route to the geographic South Pole – is it still about the way into the unknown?

There must have been times when Shackleton, when planning future journeys, despaired of ever raising the funds to set sail, but Antarctica was in his heart, and so he found a way.

And once there, once I step onto the blue ice of Union Glacier, will it consume my soul, as it did for Shackleton, Scott and latterly Henry Worsley, as Everest did for Mallory. This week, Henry’s ashes will be scattered in South Georgia, and a simple stone erected in his memory. It will be place on a hill above the grave of Shackleton himself. A more fitting tribute to a man who loved Shackleton cannot be imagined.

When it comes to imagining – Antarctica exists, can only exist at the moment, only in my imagination, only in my head. What kind of place is it? My head tells me it’s desolate beyond imagining, harder than I can conjure up, more testing than I can replicate on training sessions at home.

Yet my heart tells me it is a place beyond wonder, of beauty which no Wilson painting or Hurley photograph can ever really convey. And in this, Antarctica takes on that mythical quality; a place of extremes which must be witnessed; dreams realised, fears confronted.

As I sit here, and turn-of-the-century music drifts from the men’s quarters, stepping into Antarctica will, for me, bit almost like stepping back in time, to Shackleton, Scott, Amundsen and Mawson’s stories, but adding a few lines to the next chapter in Antarctica’s story.

The hardships these early Polar pioneers endured cannot be imagined, certainly we would not want to replicate them, but that hardship is something which is undeniably attractive, which draws me in.

So why go somewhere so desolate, so difficult and, in all honesty, so dangerous? That is a question for British Polar explorer Wally Herbert:

“And of what value is this journey?”

“It is as well for those who ask that there are other who feel the reason, and never need to ask.”

·  With thanks to https://www.dundeeheritagetrust.co.uk/ The Shackleton Company, InLine Risk Solutions, Brunsfield Property Management, and Euphoria Freefly

03_Shackleton_Searle_AR.jpg

British woman launches world first polar expedition

A unique expedition which will pioneer a new route to the South Pole launched officially on Sunday, August 6.

In the spirit of the great British Polar explorers, a team will be taking on a world first with a 400-mile route up a never-before-climbed glacier to reach the heart of the Antarctic continent.

Set to take up to 55 days, and with pulks (or sledges) weighing up to 120kg, the team will face temperatures down to -50, crevasses, white-outs and blizzards, in one of the most isolated places on Earth.

Travelling from the Ross Ice Shelf, across the Transantarctic Mountains and then to the Pole, the epic journey harks back to the golden age of Polar exploration.

Wendy Searle, a mother of four from Salisbury, Wiltshire, is organising the expedition. A veteran polar adventurer will act as team guide to ensure the expedition reaches its finish point – the geographic South Pole.

As well as treading a path which has never been walked before in history, the team will be working with scientists to bring back environmental data on climate change in this fragile and remote environment. In partnership with Exeter University, and using cutting-edge voice and facial recognition technology, the team will also be taking part in research on mental resilience at the limits of human endurance.

Modern-day explorer and star of the Walking the Nile, Levison Wood, is lending his patronage to the expedition.

“It’s so important to support each other. Ultimately we are all trying to keep the great traditions of British exploration alive and we are all on the same side.

“The major challenge of polar travel is dealing with the relentless landscape, which doesn’t change for days, or even weeks on end. This is pretty unique – even the desert has some variety! You’re out there in the icy cold with very little support and completely at the mercy of the weather.”

Women are in a minority when it comes to Polar journeys; one of the aims of the expedition is to inspire young women and girls to take more risks, and to accept more opportunities.

“I’ve never thought that being a woman could ever be something which could hold me back in any way – that’s never occurred to me. When I started researching Antarctica I fell in love with its mythical beauty. It has become something of a mission to reach the South Pole and bring back some useful work, just as the original Polar explorers like Scott, Shackleton and Mawson did,” Wendy added.

The launch was held at Gilbert White House in Alton, Hampshire, which holds the Captain Oates collection, the Polar explorer on Scott’s fateful journey to Pole in 1912 who famously sacrificed his own life to try and save his team mates.

Expedition patron Patrick Cordingley OBE, who was at the launch, said:

“Wendy has the spirit of a true adventurer – courage, passion and optimism. Mounting an ambitious expedition like this is no small undertaking. Partnership work with companies who have a similarly ambitious outlook will ensure the expedition achieves its aims.”

For more information, or to support the expedition, visit www.southpole2020.com

Exclusive interview with expedition patron and adventurer Levison Wood

As part of the launch of the expedition, patron and adventurer Levison Wood gave an exclusive interview on inspiration, women in adventure and why he's never done a Polar journey...

On surprises in adventuring..

 

Incredibly, I am still surprised. There are so many places that defy expectation and defy the stereotypes that have built up around them. Countries like Iraq and Afghanistan get all sorts of attention in the media, often for all the wrong reasons – but the people in both countries are some of the most friendly and hospitable that I’ve met. There are surprises around every corner when you travel – I recently saw some incredible views in Russia that I hadn’t expected and in Mexico I chanced across unknown pyramids.

 

On inspiration..

 

Most of the people I meet are pretty inspirational – and I’ve been lucky enough to meet some real heroes on the road, such as being invited to a audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Most recently though, my friend Alberto has taught me a lot about life and been a great inspiration. At the drop of a hat, he left his life as a studio photographer behind and came on the road with me – walking from his home in Mexico, the length of the Americas, to reach Colombia. He’d hardly walked before and certainly wasn’t versed in expeditions or the challenges of that. But he embraced it all with such a sense of adventure and fun, and most importantly an incredible sense of humour.

 

 

On female role models in adventure travel..

 

Sadly there aren’t enough women getting the opportunities in adventure travel and of course I’ll always encourage them to get involved. But there are some great role models – from the historic greats like Freya Stark and Gertrude Bell, to modern day heroines like Nepali mountaineer Pasang Sherpa, who has achieved incredible charitable work in the aftermath of the earthquake, as well as her impressive summit feats or Hanli Prinsloo, a free diver who founded a marine conservation charity alongside her underwater record-holding adventures.

 

 

On Polar travel..

 

I suppose in truth I am more of a warm weather kind of person – but polar travel is definitely on my bucket list.

I suppose I’d see the major challenge of polar travel is dealing with the relentless landscape, which doesn’t change for days, or even weeks on end. This is pretty unique – even the desert has some variety. You’re out there in the icy cold with very little support and completely at the mercy of the weather.

 

On the importance of adventurers and expeditioners supporting each other..

 

It’s so important to support each other. Ultimately we are all trying to keep the great traditions of British exploration alive and we are all on the same side.

 

 Image: Levison Wood

Image: Levison Wood