It's not always plain sailing

I was told a memorable bit of advice when on an expedition in Svalbard for 10-weeks in 2011. For the whole team, it was the first long haul expedition we had ever been on. We had no outside contact at all, were completely self-sufficient in the Arctic wilderness. We were moving, climbing and partaking in science work for the duration and it took some of the team more time than others to adjust to this life. We were told that it would take each person different times before our 'spirit' traveled from the UK to Svalbard.

The idea being that our spirits would be left at home when we arrived in Svalbard whilst we adjusted to life in the Arctic. But when we were in the swing of things and the expedition became our world, our spirit would return to us and we would feel whole again. It would take even longer for our spirit to return to us when we got home. For many months post expedition it would be left in Svalbard as we adjusted to civilian life again. Thing is, I don’t think my spirit ever came back, my spirit is essentially always on the next adventure. That’s not a cry for sympathy, I love my civilian life but what makes it so great is that I can keep adventure a part of it. Without it I would have a big piece of me missing.

I am not yet a full-time adventurer. I try to be as much as I can, but I still work within the television industry with a job I enjoy. Being freelance makes going on longer expeditions easier in one respect because I can take time off and harder in the fact that I need to organise, train and promote the adventures at the same time as working a 10-6 job. (Yes, 10-6 because we are cool and hip in the telly industry you see.)

Having to juggle a working life and an adventuring life is something I love to do although I admit it doesn’t leave much time for anything else. The critical period before an expedition comes around the 5-3 month mark before I leave for the adventure. To many this seems like a long time, to me, this is a ticking clock and every day counts. I am now 2 months away from beginning my climb to Denali. That’s 8 weeks. 8 weeks is nothing when there’s a goal of that size approaching. 

 PC Matthew Carmel

PC Matthew Carmel

Every day I wake up, fit in a workout which usually consists of run-commuting or cycle-commuting to work then after work is finished, I race home, and fit in another workout, like stairclimbing with a 55lbs+ rucksack and a core session before dinner. After dinner, I fit in some expedition and personal work admin then it’s an early bed for my early workout the next morning. Sounds dull to some but this must happen in order to give the highest chance of expedition success.

As most know by now, my next expedition is Denali otherwise known as Mount McKinley. The highest mountain in North America. A seven summit. Known as the highest mountain to climb due to the ascent from bottom to top beating Everest. (From where you start on the glacier BC to the summit on Denali is higher than Everest BC to summit) It is known as the coldest mountain because of the Arctic weather (wind chill often gets in the minus 100 degrees centigrade at this time of year) and toughest as no Sherpas so this one you take all your gear, which means a lot of double carrying up and down the mountain.

Denali is a mountain where preparation counts to the max. The idea of me getting the BC having not done as much as I could have humanly possible to give myself the best chance of a summit success is painful. And it WOULD be painful and dangerous if that was the case. Denali is a serious SERIOUS mountain. We are going as an independent team, we are our own guides, our own responsibility. Safety is paramount so I must ensure I am as prepared as I can be. Deaths occur each year for one reason or another, if that’s not an incentive to be as prepared as possible, I don’t know what is.

There are a lot of aspects to expeditions, everything has to be thought about. 

You see, an expedition doesn’t just happen. These large expeditions are a full time job so with another full time job, time is limited. There is so much to prepare, physically, mentally and preparation wise. I have to avoid cluttering my brain with worrying about anything else. When I’m at work, I’m at work and any other free time, I am focusing on Denali. I’ve found myself in a little bit of a muddle. I am so busy being Denali focused, I am finding it hard to have anything unrelated in my life right now. Balancing my life that is not adventure related is tricky at a point so close to an expedition and I most definitely have not found the answer yet. I simply wish there were more days in a week to fit other things in.  I admit I am engulfed by expeditions this close to one and it is an aspect of me that I am aware is not all fun and games. I accept the obsession because it helps give me the incentive to train (and by joy I need to fucking train train train in these last months before Denali.)

I think what I am trying to get across is that sometimes I have to remind myself that doing what I do is not ‘normal’. (I hate that word but it works here.) More and more of my sociable life is being taken up by people within the exploration world so I often forget others may find it harder to relate. Adventure isn’t always positive, friends are sometimes left wondering why I am off the grid as another expedition takes hold once again. Sometimes it is hard for friends and family to understand the lack of contact between you and them so I want to say I am sorry but I have to do it this way for now as I haven’t found an alternative. What is even harder to understand is that this will happen again and again. Sure I come back from an expedition and have free time for ‘normal’ sociable things but give it a max of 6 months and I’ll be planning another trip again and sure enough the critical 3-5month period pre-exped will come around and I’ll be obsessed once again.

I am looking forward to returning from Denali in June and having other aspects to my life. I’ll have more time to meet up with the friends I haven't seen in a while and I can visit places that have absolutely nothing to do with Denali and not feel guilty. Think of all the fun bbqs, nights out, gallery visits etc! But for now, that isn't where I'm at and I have to accept that it can be hard on me and those around me. I have to say no to lots of fun dos and invites and it pains me but it's how I'm handling the enormity of the challenge - staying focused 90% of the time (we can't all be perfect).

I guess I'm still waiting for my spirit. Actually, I think I'm chasing it. Cheesy as that sounds but hey, I like cheese.

Occasionally there's room for a little more play on the less challenging trips! 

Featured photo credit: Liv Engholm