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A DAY ON DENALI

A DAY ON DENALI

Below is one of my more memorable days on Denali. It definitely qualified as one of the most rewarding and challenging days on the mountain and I wanted to share it with you along with some chilly pictures. Step into the world that is Alaska... 

The snow had finally melted and the water trying to boil. Once poured into the food bag we’d have 10 more minutes and then fuel to feed the furnace that is our tummies.

It had been a long and exhausting day on Denali. The mountain was starting to show it’s menacing side.

With the temperature below -40C, things were serious. I hold the bag waiting for the food to hydrate. I can tell the food is losing it’s heat already. I’m cold, tired and clumsy. I caress the food bag in my lap but don’t realise my grip is too tight. The bag opens and water spills out into my sleeping bag. The food is now losing it’s heat rapidly. I give it a try anyway in the hope for some much needed calories. Cold. Crunchy. Inedible. I look over at Tim. He is having the same problem. We have our toes in the same sleeping bag trying to share what little heat we have. Our full down jackets are on and never have I worn so many clothes and still be the coldest I’ve ever been.   

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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."

Anti-Aconcagua scare

Anti-Aconcagua scare

I have woken up early this morning because of the sun shining through the jeep's windows.

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I've been sleeping in a 4 X 4 the last few days... No, I'm not (yet) living on the streets because I spent all my last savings on the last trip, I am infact in Iceland on a filming project with the boyf. The view outside is spectacular as I write this, we drove off road to get to where we are now and today we plan on scaling one of the higher peaks to get some cool drone footage on the ridges. I'm an expert drone pilot now!

I digress. Anyway, I woke up thinking of Argentina and the tales to document on here. This to me is like an online, saved forever, diary so it's good to note some of the big events in life.

Tim and I woke up early in anticipation for summit day. We were climbing in Cordon del Plata. It's home to endless 5000-6000 metre peaks and no one heads there because everyone flocks to Aconcagua in order to cross out one of the seven summits.

We had gone to Argentina with the intention of climbing it but were told when buying permits that the price had gone to winter prices (£1000!!!) and that we couldn't go without a guide. Screw that! It's not worth it! So on we went to seek out a less commercialised area with no rules, permits or people. We found out about Cordon del Plata and knew we'd hit the jackpot.

Getting there was a bit of a faff, we had to find a local with a 4x4 and pay him to take us up the mountain to 2900 metres. Next we had to ferry 2 bags up and down to each camp because we had so much camera gear and food (we were staying 2 weeks).

Finally, all our kit was in one place high up the mountain at about 4200 metres and now we could focus on summiting some mountains!

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First we went for Mount  Rincon and had such a great day. The clouds were beneath us and everything looked simply gorgeous. I felt so strong that day, everything was fitting into place nicely.

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After a rest day by the stream, we decided to head for Mount Vallecitos.

It wouldn't be a super long day but it had a reasonable altitude gain in a short period of time. I was game, I had felt strong on Rincon which was a much more technically demanding peak than Vallecitos so Vallecitos should be  piece of cake yes? No.

The morning of summit day I woke up weak. I'd been developing a cough that would get incredibly aggressive when I stopped moving or attempted to sleep. It would exhaust me in seconds as I struggled to catch the little oxygen there was.

A delicious, hefty breakfast of 800 calories worth of porridge by Bewell expedition foods and I thought I'd be raring to go just like usual.

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We began our summit bid. Tim went ahead at his comfortable pace as I attempted to put one foot in front of the other. Climbing at altitude is so hard to nail down to those who haven't experienced it. Every step with a pack on uphill drains the energy from you. I was having to concentrate incredibly hard just to persuade my brain to move my legs up the hill.

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After the first twenty minutes, my legs were starving from oxygen more than usual. They were empty.

As I crawled up, I could see Tim had stopped for some water. That must be it I thought, I must just be dehydrated so I'll have a drink up where Tim is.

It's always a mission in itself to get enough fluids in at altitude and my pee was sure enough not clear.

As I approached Tim, he was getting his pack on again about to leave.

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My heart dropped a little, I needed to stop, just for a little while, before we made our way up the steep 90 minute climb that would bring us up onto the ridge.

I very feaberly called out "I just need to stop and get a drink." Tim looked back at me and was obviously happy to wait for me.

Then the panic struck.

I was 5 meters from Tim and I stumbled. An easy mistake to make I thought? I bent over and put my pack down in a flustered state and as I stood up again my vision failed.

I could no longer see straight. I couldn't focus in the centre of my field of vision and the edges were blurry and distorted. The light was bright on my eyes and it shocked me. My hands went up to rub my eyes in an attempt to clear my sight. Nothing.

Even though I was in a confused state, I had full consciousness and was aware Tim had seen me having some kind of problem. I remember him moving closer and me desperate to look at him for reassurance but my eyes just wouldn't focus. It got to the point where he was standing up close to me looking at me directly in the eyes yet my pupils were darting about the place, everywhere but at him. My balance was going fast. I felt as if I had been spinning round and around.

It all came as such a surprise and of course I wanted to tell Tim I want having problems seeing and being spacially aware. I opened my mouth to say "I can't see" but nothing came out.

I couldn't talk now either.

Somewhere in my head, the signals from my brain to my mouth had got tangled. I had no control of my mouth which then developed to having no control of my whole face.

I remember feeling confused and worried, I knew things were not right and were worsening.

Tim would say "look at me Lucy, look at me, talk to me Lucy, talk to me." His voice comforted me. He was remaining calm and collected but after the second time asking if I could talk, his voice cracked and I could sense he was getting considerably concerned.

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I was deteriorating fast. Tim grabbed my bag and put it on my back. "We're going down. Hold my bag and follow." He turned me around and I held as tightly as I could to his rucksack so not to stumble further.

We descended fast, I mean bloody fast. The oxygen levels got higher with every step and my balance began to come back and my level of confusion was getting less.

It only took 200 metres or so and my speech returned. Shortly after my eyesight settled down and went back to normal.

I had come uncomfortably close to a much more serious situation that day. It felt exactly as I imagine a stroke to feel like. It felt exactly like the onset of the terrible Cerebral Edema. For those who don't know what that is, it's pretty much when your brain gets a hemmorhage and it's one of the common killers at altitude, alongside pulmonary edema which is the build up of fluid in lungs. --- Altitude is fun, eh?!

I don't quite know what happened that day but I do know that without Tim, I may not be here today. He got me down and took lead when I was in no state of doing either. A hero.

Will I climb at altitude again? Of course. I've been fine in the past. Things like this can happen to anyone and all you can do is  learn from it, know what to do, and climb with others.

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All I have left to say on this post is - Sorry mum and dad that I do these things. I hope you appreciate me keeping these horror stories secret until I'm safe at home.

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An adventurous year

An adventurous year

2015 is over and we are well into the epic year that is 2016. I thought I'd take a look back at 2015 with all of its highs and its lows. And although it went like the clappers, I managed to fit rather a lot in.

Fairly well into the start of 2015, my world crashed down on me a little. Relationship status changed/crashed and burned and job contracts came to their end. However, all of this, which at the time seemed like the doom of all dooms, worked out to be the very best thing that could have happened to me.

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If I hadn't have had those gloomy days, I don't think I would have been so in search of adventure and, dare I say it, 'finding myself' and remembering what makes me happy again. Sorry that's cheese but true.

So there I was, feeling a little sorry for myself when I decided to grab my laptop and have a Google  of what possible expeditions I could do in Patagonia.

Ta da. The Patagonia Expedition Race was on my radar from then and there on. It fitted the bill perfectly because it involved so many things I couldn't do and so would have to learn, thus taking my mind off everything that had happened and proving something to myself in the process. Little did I know that it would turn out to be the hardest challenge I've taken on and I still don't know what the outcome will be... One month to go.

Then my mind wandered. Yes I had this to look forward to but it was March 2015 and Patagonia was in a years time. I needed a cheap adventure immediately.

I was standing on the tube with a rucksack on my back and then I realised that with a bag on my back, I feel so much more like me than I had been feeling. I needed to get away from everything and walk. Now.

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Why did I choose Spain? Well I hadn't really explored it much and that seemed like as good a reason as any. I fancied a long trip that would have lots of unknowns. I wanted to go alone just to get that sense of responsibility for myself back again. I got all of the above, and more.

I set off a couple of days after my job ended with a rucksack that weighed over 26kg (that's the trouble when you choose to go alone with somewhere that has very few resupply points).

The trip was fantastic but boy did I get my alone time. There was no one in Spain! Occasionally there would be some sleezy men outside the bars but other than that, Spain was closed.

I had so many people looking at me with my big bag in confusion. The only hikers in Spain are the ones that follow the normal Camino. Not me.

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I got lost plenty of times, I stayed at strangers homes, got woken up by gun shots, ended up in snow, camped in abandoned factories and got incredibly sweaty in the 35 degree heat! No one spoke English which made things exciting, especially when hitch hiking...

I was happy to return to London after 500 miles of Spanish walking but it wasn't long until I was ready to try the hardest trek in Europe, the GR20.

It was just before the GR20 that sadly, unforeseen circumstances led to my original Patagonia team taking a swift exit which meant that as I left for Corsica, finding team mates was on my mind. Patagonia team mate, Tom, I'd found just before leaving and by chance I hitch hiked with Marty once I was in Corsica - who is now on the team because of that chance meeting!

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Whilst all of this was going on I was going through some exciting progressions career wise...And still am. (Even if things do take forever and there's endless hoops to jump through.)

The GR20 was an experience to say the least. Simply put, it was a 2 week rock climb with no ropes.

By the end of the GR20, it was September. I was back in London and one of the first things I did was go to an event with the Explorers Club, this is where I met Tim. A team was made!

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I haven't looked back since.

I've travelled the UK top to toe and met so many interesting people with a lust for life and learnt so many new skills in preparation for this Patagonia expedition and beyond.

Surrounding yourself with enthusiastic people is the key to success, drive and happiness in my opinion.

I find that when I am on these adventures or even planning/have adventures on my mind, the true and best Lucy comes out and I grab every opportunity there is. I approach everyone and am incredibly trusting (to an extent) with anyone I meet. Getting out there and doing things is really the way to see the best in humanity. People are nice (hint to look at my previous blog post called 'People are Nice').  

So that was 2015. 2016 - from what I know is coming - is looking very exciting indeed. I just have to make sure a few things happen on my return from South America which will hopefully allow my years to continue to roll as well as they are now.

To see videos of my Spanish and GR20 adventure check out here:

 

Two girls alone in the Arctic

Two girls alone in the Arctic

We were just two ordinary 18 year old girls, with a German Mauser bolt action rifle, pulking through the Arctic...

I thought I'd write something about what it feels like to be at the mercy of the environment. So often in this day and age, people forget what it's really like to lose control. It's ever so easy to feel unimportant once you're out in the wilds. I find this sad, because it's the wilds where I feel most at home, it's the core from where we've come from. Yet it's somewhere if slightly messed with, it can kill you. Easily.

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Ellie and I were 2/3rds of our way through our most exciting adventure yet. It was 2011. We'd been in the Arctic of Svalbard over a month by this point, and were really starting to understand what how to live out there.

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It takes a lot of discipline, managing yourselves and looking out for one another. The people you sleep next to are the ones that you must be willing to risk your life for.

Ellie and I were on our way to what was called the 'goose hide.' This was an already set up tent in a specific position to count various kinds of geese. It was all part of the ongoing science our group were doing out in Svalbard. Now it was our time to leave the safety of our fellow team mates and fend for ourselves and get on with the science.

We were excited to be independent. I love Ellie to pieces and we both work so well as a duo. This was a great excuse to put our skills to the test and have a little peace and quiet at the same time.

Svalbard is a beautiful place. I honestly think it's the most beautiful place I have ever set foot. Every day spent there was pristine beauty. This day was no different. We left base camp with our skis on and headed north following a compass bearing.

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Despite leaving base camp for a couple days, our packs weren't light. Arctic travel involves enormous amounts of kit and food for one to even have the remote chance of surviving. Ellie and I were used to pulling heavy pulks and carrying heavy loads by now, so this was no biggy. Our bodies were so much fitter than when we'd left Heathrow. We had both become very petite but still incredibly physically and mentally fit. The fittest we had ever been. I'd lost my bum (completely) and even the tightest of my clothes would hang off me yet Ellie's thighs had increased in muscle so much that she was excited to test them out when she got home to dance on them again. Ellie also developed an incredibly fetching sunglasses tan!

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We were skiing uphill, laughing and joking about how funny it was that here we were, two 18 year old girls, alone in the Arctic. We were proud of ourselves and our compliments bounced off one another giving us this overwhelming sense of achievement and positivity for the future. "We can do anything we want to do" we told one another. It was true, it is true and not just for us, for everyone.

It was that moment that we both stopped simultaneously. We both looked to the ground, then looked at one another, then back at the ground.

It was a print. A huge animal print. We'd seen these before when with the team, yet this was fresh, this print had been made very recently. It was, of course, a polar bear print. It's claws were easy to make out as it had lifted its paw off the snow and taken another pounding step. The prints went up the hill, right  in the direction that we were headed.

Action stations. Ellie took the rifle from my backpack and handed it to me whilst I  reached into my front pocket to get my bear flare. Ellie retrieved hers too. A bear flare is the size of a pen. All of our team carried one. If the back of the pen is pulled out, it fires a small flare at your target. It is a deterrent more than anything.

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I unzipped the rifle case and took the safety catch off. We both slowly and hesitantly continued uphill. It could be just at the top of the hill, we didn't know. It could be waiting for us, was it hungry? Could it tell we were coming? Should we retreat? No. We were very much going by the thought that we were here to get on with the job and polar bears are just something to yes, be weary of, but no they should not stop us from doing things. As we skied up, we came up with our plan. Ellie would fire the flare and if the bear showed even the slightest interest, I'd shoot. I believe that the law in Svalbard states that if one shoots a bear then they have automatically committed a very serious illegal crime and will be sentenced unless it can be proved that the bear was a threat and under 25 metres or less in distance. They treat it like a murder case. (As they should of course.)

We kept our cool. This wasn't a time to freak out, it was us that were responsible here. We skied past a point where the bear had obviously laid down and possibly rolled about, I think I even remember there being hair stuck on the snow.

Finally, we got to the top of the hill, no bear. Thank goodness. We could see the tent for the goose hide but this didn't mean we were safe.

Our brilliant team work and trust for one another came into use as we swiftly set up the bear flare trip wires, then the comms (wires set up in the right direction towards base camp so that we could make radio contact later on that night). Finally it was just the loo to dig out and jump into the tent. I had cleaned the gun before we had left so we didn't risk taking that apart that night!

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It was obvious we had to have a bear watch check throughout our stay. We would take it in turns to look out the tent at night to check there was no bears checking us out. Luckily Svalbard's 24 hour day light presents itself to this and makes things a lot easier.

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We got down to counting the geese and recording what we had found although geese weren't really at the forefront of our minds!

It wasn't until 8pm that we could make contact with the others as that's when we all switch our radios on. We decided that we should let them know about our print encounter, even though we knew it would cause worry.

It was my job to inform them. "On the way up to the goose hide, we saw, what we suspect to be very fresh polar bear prints." Silence. I looked at Ellie, she looked at me. We smiled nervously as this whole scenario seemed a tad bizarre. "Are you happy to continue? Over." Ellie prompted me to say that we were "as happy as larry". The others trusted us, and that was that. The radio was off.

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The night went by and nothing out of the ordinary happened. We had breakfast and headed off. We were fine and our respect, friendship and proudness (that's not a word) for one another increased even more. As we left the goose hide, a herd of reindeer moved in to the area we'd been. It was a beautiful sight.

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We both found out on our return that when our group leader, Neale, had heard of our findings on the radio, he had headed out from his tent immediately and kept watch from on top of the hill. What a guy.

Polar bears are the masters there, not us. If it had been around and fancied a quick snack, then we would have had little control in the end. This was reinforced further when we had just all returned home and on the news reports of the tragedy that was the death of 17 year old Horatio Chapple, who was plucked from his tent by a starving polar bear.

It's all too real when you're out in the wilds. Respect of the environment makes risks smaller. Respecting it means you understand the dangers and will not fight it but instead try to go with what it throws at you.

Polar bears are dangerous but as we all know, we are the biggest threat to them with our pollution. I won't even get into how angry all of that makes me.

There's a lot to be said that it was just us at that moment. If we had been in a bigger group, perhaps we wouldn't have taken on the responsibility to take action and protect everyone's lives. The fact we had no choice made us stronger as individuals and confident in ourselves to a point where whatever life throws at us, we can keep our cool and do what needs to be done.

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Check out our ridiculous video whilst at the goose hide. Skip to 2 minutes in to find when we were letting the others know about our findings oncomms: