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adventurer

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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ADVENTURE ADDICT

ADVENTURE ADDICT

I've got major cold turkey. Adventure is my drug and I'm a self confessed addict. Oh how I long to be struggling in the extremes, to be questioning why I decided to push myself so far and to be overcoming adversity. 

Pretty sure it's not too good for my skin!

Pretty sure it's not too good for my skin!

It's an odd relationship I have with expedition life. I am desperate to be out but at the same time hoping I last to tell the tale. There's no hiding that the expeditions I do are hard, life threatening and at some times miserable. However those traits go hand in hand with rewarding, living and enlightening. I can't have one without the other (short term memory helps with forgetting how hard it actually is) and now I just want them all now now now. 

I find myself chatting with people and i'm looking at them, nodding my head and making the right noises but really my mind has wandered and I'm deciding on how I'm going to make my next idea of an expedition happen. 

For those people who just don't get the whole 'put yourself in challenging environment with an absurdly hard goal' I can only try to share my experiences and the benefits it has as a whole.

Really though, "why do you do it?" They ask. My answer could fill a book capable of competing with the seventh Harry Potter book. In brief; to create memories, to grow as a human being, to inspire my future self, to get perspective, to appreciate, to see the planet, to honour the planet, to live, to fill me up, to explore. I could go on.

It's an obsession that puts my life in danger, takes my money, hurts my body, strains relationships, builds relationships, takes my free time, distracts me and leaves me wanting more. Despite all this it is an obsession that I am proud to have and I think that everyone has their thing... For some, they simply haven't found it yet. What is yours?

Holiday? What holiday?!

Holiday? What holiday?!

“Going on another holiday again?”

People often think I’m off on another holiday when I commit myself to another expedition.

Truth is, I haven’t been on a holiday since 2011. Expeditions of my type are not a holiday. They are everything but. Yes, I look forward to them and get a sense of escapism from city life, but those are the only comparisons. They are hard going, they take grit and determination to get to the other side and a lot of questioning on why I’m doing it. They are often uncomfortable, scary, exhausting, make me hurt in ways I didn’t know could hurt, involve lack of sleep, (lack of oxygen a lot of the time too), are too hot or too cold, take a lot of brain power worrying and then there’s the making of quick life determining decisions. I cannot say enough how far away from a holiday they are.

The last time I went on a holiday! The difference!

The last time I went on a holiday! The difference!

Not looking my best! Sunburn, no shower, cold!!!!!

Not looking my best! Sunburn, no shower, cold!!!!!

On Denali, myself and Tim swore to each other that our next trip would be a beach holiday with no bag carrying. I can’t see that beach holiday happening anytime soon but I must say I do long to be by the Mediterranean! Of course at the same time I look forward to getting my teeth well and truly into the next big trip. It’s what I live for and I’m not complaining in any way about the toughness of them... The tougher the better!

Coughing my way up! Feeling pretty exhausted on this photo. Not a holiday but a test!

Coughing my way up! Feeling pretty exhausted on this photo. Not a holiday but a test!

The feeling of vulnerability and having to roll with whatever nature throws at you is a humbling experience. You have to know what you're doing otherwise things can easily get out of hand. Knowing you have a situation under control is a rewarding experience however, if anything goes wrong it's easy for that rewarding experience to turn nasty and life threatening. 

I know it’s a privilege to be able to actively put myself into such a challenging and extraordinary position but it is something I work hard for in order to make happen. I thrive on the better person I become after each trip and I am addicted to making wonderful, proud, incredible memories and addicted to the bonds I make with teammates that go on to become the closest friends life can give.

So next time someone uses the word holiday to describe one of my expeditions I’m going to crack down on them. I came back from Denali and it took me over a month before I had caught up on sleep and recovered. A month of bad sleep, lack of oxygen and being cold does that to you. I could not keep my eyes open after 12 noon and had to retreat to bed for 4 hours! Thankfully, I’m over that now and I’m now back after that hardship again.

This is what we woke up to every morning. We breathe in the night, our breath freezes to the tent, it snows on us in the morning. Not a pleasant start to the day and I'll never complain about getting out of bed again.

This is what we woke up to every morning. We breathe in the night, our breath freezes to the tent, it snows on us in the morning. Not a pleasant start to the day and I'll never complain about getting out of bed again.

Having hardship means that you appreciate everything again which is another addiction of mine. One moment that sticks with me after Denali was when we flew out from the glacier. A very short plane ride from the bottom of the mountain back to Talkeetna was out of this world. We went from full expedition mode in freezing temperatures on a barren mountainous landscape to landing in Talkeetna to their summer.

Leaving the mountain behind!

Leaving the mountain behind!

It was full of greenery, the smell of flowers was in the air, warmth on our skin and we were met by Sheldon Air Service crew who carried a plate full of fresh fruit all cut ready to eat! I’ve never felt so high in my life! If ever I’ve felt immensely happy to be alive, that was it!! That’s the closest that came to a holiday! (And knowing a shower could finally be had!)

The world's coldest mountain

The world's coldest mountain

Denali lived up to every expectation. The first word that springs to mind is COLD. Bloody frickin cold. After the freezing temperatures came stunning scenery. It was beautiful, mind blowing. The most unimaginable beauty I have ever seen. Finally it was hard work. All of it was hard work even the rest / weather days. 

So to summarise: COLD. STUNNING. HARD WORK.

This May saw the coldest temperatures for decades and the rangers compared them more like early April conditions. You’d think this would make the crevasses safer - for those who don’t know what crevasses are, they are deep cracks in the glacier that move everyday. They can be tiny slits in the ground or they can be as big as a house and as deep at 70ft. They are not so dangerous when you can see them (although they are incredibly intimidating to look down into the abyss) but the danger falls when snow covers them up.

Now on Denali we were always walking over them. You have to as there are so many you’d get no where if you didn’t. But you walk over them in the hope that the snow bridges that have formed are thick enough to hold your weight. You could see a safe place to cross that looked like a decent snow bridge from first look but actually be only a few centimetres of snow and if you step on it, you fall straight down. Thats why we rope up and have crevasse rescue ingrained into our head. If one or two or three fall in, the other can set up a standard pulley system to get them out.

The temperature was cold from the get go except from when in the midday sun.

On the first day we each carried loads of about 200lbs. This is more than the average person but we took extra food and fuel in order to wait out any storm that came our way and boy were we right to take that extra weight!

It was hard going with that load but the training I'd done really prepared me for it. I felt so ready for taking on Denali. I never felt out of control of a situation neither did I feel it was too much. This is a testament to my training and our small little team of four. Looking back the conditions we faced were brutal.

To give you a taster, once we got to 14,200ft camp we were stuck in our tent for two weeks solid because of temperatures of -40C and a hard hitting storm making it too dangerous to go up or down. After two weeks of inactivity and when it warmed up to a balmy -35C we ascended up the mountain.

I'll go more into detail on the different aspects of the expedition over the next month but here are some photos to start.

 

Making decisions!

Making decisions!

Descending the fixed lines

Descending the fixed lines

Getting some fresh air at camp 14,200ft during the 2 week storm.

Getting some fresh air at camp 14,200ft during the 2 week storm.

The Fog

The Fog

It's incredibly foggy today. Not 'weather-foggy' but politically foggy. As individuals in the modern world we are weighed down by unnecessary things. Social media, political issues, media, public transport, schedules, meetings etc. 

I say this today because today we all woke up with an uncertain future. As we watch what is happening in the states, we feel helpless and disappointed with the choices of some and the fog in our heads gets thicker.

Going on expeditions clears that fog. All that useless worrying doesn't matter when you're out in the wild. To be honest, it doesn't do a lot of good worrying when in civilisation either. 

Now I have my concerns for the future, one of my biggest is the fear of stepping backwards with our progress in tackling climate change and embracing electric cars, (three hip- hip hoorays for Elon Musk) green energy like solar (again, Horray Musk) and educating people about it. However worrying won't help me, it's all about actions now. So I urge you to be rational and problem solve the things you are worrying about and to not let the modern day fog get in the way of the things that matter. Get outside into the hills and the mind will be foggy no more.