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Back to the Arctic... But on a budget

Back to the Arctic... But on a budget

We didn't have much time. KP works as a teacher so February half term was our only option after promising to one another after a glass of wine too many in December. I get a feeling about whether a trip is going to happen and I got it with this one so it happened. It's a gut feeling - is it worth it? Am I fully committed? I get this feeling because I'm the type of person who can't help but go full steam ahead on an idea that I fall in love with. 

So we made a cheers and a pinky promise to start our plans to go back to the Arctic and sure enough, the next day I had made the calls, planned the best dates and got our basic route figured out. It was on. 

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What 2018 holds

What 2018 holds

This year is already looking action packed and adventure filled. With the main event being the Highest Dinner Party on the North Col of Everest in May, there will be other trips going on that I look forward to telling you about.

Next month I’ll be jetting up North to the Arctic once again where myself and my good friend KP (Katherine Pears) will be doing a week long ski expedition on the cheap. It will be fun to share how Arctic expeds don’t have to eat away all your savings. I met KP on my first ever Arctic expedition in Svalbard 2011. We shared ten weeks together and a year after we completed the Haute Route (Chamonix to Zermatt). We have been talking about going back to the Arctic for years and as they always do, the decision was made and shook on after a few to many wines… Now’s the time, I can’t wait!

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My Top Kit Picks for the Cold

My Top Kit Picks for the Cold

We spend so much money and time trying to get the perfect kit to try and make a hard expedition that little bit easier or those photos a little more trendier.

Here's a couple of my top picks from my recent Denali expedition. 

Rab 1200 Expedition Sleeping Bag. Rating: -35C (RRP: £770)

A pretty penny indeed but this bag became my safety net. At first glance it seems over bulky but this is a brilliantly thought about feature. It's not heavy for the warmth it provides; weighing in at 1850g. 

Made for cold weather, it works best when wearing clothes otherwise there is too much empty space and in those temperatures you simply can't warm up. It has enough space for a full down suit just in case the temperatures get wildly life threatening. On a few EXTREMELY COLD nights on Denali and when up in the high Arctic in January, I had to wear my Rab Expedition down jacket inside it for the entire night. The combo worked together brilliantly and probably saved my life. The foot compartment is spacious enough to not only allow for big down booties to be worn inside but also so that you are able to fit the many objects you need to stop from freezing during the night. I put gas canisters, my liner boots, socks, gloves, water bottle, suncream, toothpaste, batteries and pee bottle inside. Somehow the bag's space means that you can still sleep comfortable even when sleeping amongst so many uncomfortable objects!! Other great features include the awesome hood (you can pull the cord so that only your mouth is exposed to the cold air) and the fact that because it is hydrophobic down, it drys quickly.

Every morning on Denali I would wake up with ice all over the area around my mouth on the bag and once the cooker is on this ice melts and wets the bag. However time has gone by and you've packed up for the day ahead the bag has pretty much dried itself so thankfully no packing away wet. Pretty neat. 

Páramo Torres Medio Insulated Jacket (RRP: £210)

For temperatures as cold as the Arctic or high altitude mountains, this jacket acted more of a mid layer than an outer layer which is what it is ultimately designer for. I didn't take this jacket off on Denali. I slept and climbed in it. It is surprisingly breathable considering it only has the main front zip for venting. At first I wasn't sure on the fit of it as it isn't exactly athletically fitted like it's competitor jackets but instead has a long, wider cut. This actually proved very practical because when climbing with hands above my head or pulling my sled, it wouldn't ride up meaning my torso was always kept warm. The hood is great at keeping the elements out and the feel of the jacket is very cosy and comfortable providing a little bit of luxury for hard environments.

I definitely recommend this jacket but just remember to take extra layers if you are going in temperatures below -5C and for temperatures lower than -15C never forget your expedition down jacket as that is when they come into their own.

Note: It looks like the women's version of this is no longer available.

Lowe Alpine Cerro Torre 65:85 (or 75:100) Rucksack (RRP: £200)

On cold expeditions your bag needs to be able to fit a lot inside it. Usually if you're in the Arctic, Antarctic or on an Alaskan expedition you'll also have a sled behind you too but the bag will be just as important. I use this bag because of it's simplicity and comfort. It's heavier than some bags of the same size (the 65:85 comes in at 2.75kg) but this weight is due to the structure it provides. When packed well the weight is piled high rather than side to side making for more balanced weight distribution. It has a useful extendable front lid for when you are filling it to it's max but will also pack down small for lighter trips. It has two sizeable side pockets, a hip pocket on both hip straps and a front pocket which is big enough to put a map in. 

MSR Reactor with 2.5L Pot (RRP: £180)

Everyone thinks that gas doesn't work in cold temperatures and high altitudes. However if it is looked after it can out perform liquid fuel. The Reactor is so efficient that no heat is lost (a down side if you are looking to heat up the tent whilst cooking but great for saving fuel). You do need to keep the current gas warm when you are not using it so that would mean keeping it in your sleeping bag at night and wrapping it in a jumper in your bag during the day. It's a fragile stove so when not using always pack away. Even though this sounds like a lot of faff compared to liquid fuel it really isn't when you consider with liquid fuel you have to pump it, clean it and avoid getting fuel all over the tent and fingers. The Reactor us so light and fits easily in a pot. As a back up, always take another stove e.g a Pocket Rocket. 

Balancing work and play... Or in my case, not very well

Balancing work and play... Or in my case, not very well

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.

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A typical Arctic night

A typical Arctic night

Happy Valentines Day! 

If you're sat at home or on the way to somewhere and looking for something completely un valentines related and not romantic in any way, look no further! Here's a little snippet from my latest expedition that I had in January - I headed back to above the Arctic circle to ski along the Norwegian-Russian border...

"It’s past midnight and it’s snowing. I should probably get out and clear the snow off the tent. I struggle out of my enormously warm sleeping bag only to be met with the cold and fresh arctic air that lingers. I close my sleeping bag in an attempt to trap the heat that I’ve created in there. With only one person in the tent, the tent only provides protection from the elements, not the temperature. 

I don’t bother with my trousers and just go out in my down jacket over my base layers with my boots on loose. Sure enough, the snow has covered the tent so I shake it off. It’s not too bad, but being awake I may as well clear it now before I can’t physically get out of the tent.

My team mate and furry friend, Snø, is curled up and covered in snow. It’s something like -32C outside, I don’t know how he is able to keep warm. I have to remind myself he’s a working dog and this is what he’s built for but I can’t help comparing him to my dog at home who has very similar characteristics to him.

It’s so dark but the stars light up the sky. I don’t see any northern lights but I don’t want to wait up, I’ve already seen some spectacular ones on this expedition and all I can think about is that I don’t want any more heat leaving my warmed up sleeping bag.

Snø hasn’t budged. He was anxious when I first climbed into the tent and left him outside. He’s not used to being alone and so let out quite pathetic yet super sweet cries. It made me feel a little uneasy with him being so antsy though. He was focused on starring into the forest I’m camped next to as if there’s something in there.

There’s so many animal tracks around us that I’m sure he’s right to think there are things out there although I’m more nervous about the other direction, Russia. I can see it, it's metres away and this whole time I’ve been skiing along its border being sure to not even breathe over to the Russian side at risk of being taken by the Russians... seriously. I've already had the Norwegian border control come by and warn me of the consequences. The soldiers, rifles in tow, asked me questions, checked the rope I had attached to me and Snø then let me be on my way.

They skidooed off. If they are skiidooing then the ice is definitely secure enough for Snø and I. It's not until I edge off the border inland towards the weaker part of the lake that the ice becomes a little more questionable. Snø refuses to go the direction I want to go by cowering behind me. I'm sure he is just frightened by the sudden crunch of the snow pack compressing onto the ice but I decide to trust him and find a different way seeing as he spends almost every day of his life running on frozen lakes and I don't.

I get back inside the tent. Strip my boots and realign my sleeping mat and thermorest. I do the usual silent cry as I remove my down jacket to get in to my sleeping bag- cold! I then do a kind of bum hop to shimmy into my sleeping bag and sleeping liner. Before shutting my eyes I make sure everything is where it should be. Pee bottle - check. Head torch - check. Large knife for protection - check. 

After a few minutes of trying to get what essentially is just under the duvet, I'm in. It's such a palaver this winter expedition business, but I love it."