Viewing entries tagged
extreme

Adventurer in the city

Adventurer in the city

The presumed opinion is that to enjoy a life of adventure, one must reject the 9-5, the fast pace of the city and the seemingly superficial lifestyle to then resort to the sticks, become a vegan and hike all day and night. This is fine to do if that’s what you want but it’s not the way I have created my expedition orientated life.

I’ll be honest, I know I’m young and relatively responsibility free (I am fully aware that many people have more commitments) but I wasn’t born with it all mapped out for me. I had to create my own path but I made it how I wanted it to be. I’m fortunate enough to have a full-time job that I enjoy and that challenges me when I am not in the remote corners of the world but a job that allows me to take the time (within reason) to continue my exploration career.

I enjoy the glitz of the city just as much as the peace and beauty of the wilderness.

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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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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:

Patagonia is creeping up. Fast.

Patagonia is creeping up. Fast.

Oh my, oh my. The weeks are flying by. Even though I am packing training and planning into every single day, it still seems like there isn't enough time to feel at ease. This weekend we were back in Dartmoor in the snow, wind, rain and even, sun. It was another chance to test out our kit and admin skills. We did a lot of navigation work and strategy planning.

Dartmoor is the perfect training ground. It's wet, the ground is rubbish to walk on and the wind bites through any layer. As I sit and write this I can feel I've got repercussions from the wind and snow in my eye... Goggles/good glasses needed. Noted.

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I am always so confident when we are all together but when I have nights alone, my brain has a freak out about everything I need to do.

We are a strong team. We just need to keep our cool and keep on plodding. We aren't trying to win, we just want to be able to get as close to the finish line as possible.

A few weeks ago we were down in Cornwall for sea kayaking practice. Sea kayaking does not come naturally to me. It's a nightmare on the shoulders and hip flexes. I know it will come down to me gritting my teeth and getting on with it. Why do I put myself into this pain??

Sea kayaking in a tandem takes concentration and those things can really catch the wind. Patagonia is wind central so we are going to have an effort on our hands.

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For me, this week consists of some cycling and walking with team member Tim, some running and circuits with my supreme trainer Greg Whyte and back to the Royal Geographical Society for a talk led by Ranulph Fiennes. It's all go.

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Jungle Jaguar Jeopardy

Jungle Jaguar Jeopardy

I'm about to explain the scariest moment of my life to this date. The moment lasted a whole night and brings shivers to me even now.

Last year I went to the Amazon jungle. I chose to go to the most pristine part of the interior (interior= jungle) in Guyana, to get the full Amazon experience.

I was to first complete a survival course then I'd leave with two Amerindian tribe members for a hunting trip that would take me deeper into the bush.

I was nervous about the nighttime in the jungle. I'd heard horror stories about the nonstop noises that would be so loud you couldn't sleep. It wasn't like that though.

Let me first outline the nighttime sound:

 The noises at night are specific. There's an ongoing insect hum but after that, layers of other sounds make up the total jungle orchestra.

Howler monkeys that sound like screaming madmen go on for hours, huge branches of trees crash down making even the tribe men anxious, thunder cracks, frogs ribbert, fish splash, birds sing and tapirs plod.

All of these you begin to get used to.

I'd lay in my hammock and try to shut off my ears to these sounds.

One sound I hadn't anticipated before I'd left was that of a jaguar. I didn't even know what a jaguar looked like before I'd left.

Thinking back, I was naive.

A jaguar is not a puma (as I'd originally thought) the majority have leopard print but a small percentage are all black. They are the third largest cat after tiger and lion.

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They are unique because of their sound and their killing strategy. They use their sabourtooth teeth to attack from behind. They then rip off their prays scalp or insert straight into the brain. This is unlike the usual cat killing method of going for the throat.

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Their sound is similar to a leopard. A groaning noise (note the image used on here looks more like a leopard I think. (Not sure though):

Scared yet? That sound makes me sweat.

After finding all this out the day before heading out into the bush, I googled the sound to know exactly what they sounded like.

Jaguars are rarely seen and like so many creatures, they are more scared of us than we are of them. I knew that nothing in the jungle was out to get me so I repeated this in my head whenever I got nervous.

The first night came. The darkness was pitch black. I'd drank a small amount of rum with some of the tribe and survival team in the hope that it would help me sleep.

I cautiously made it back to my hammock and on the way passed a snake. I ignored it, just as it did to me.

I got into my hammock confidently. I zipped up the mosquito net, pulled the blanket over me and switched off my head torch.

I heard others stumble back. They'd drank more than me and would for sure sleep well tonight. They slept about fifteen metres away.

Silence.

I began to drop off. Proud of myself being calm in the jungle.

Then I heard it for the first time.

The same sound I had heard the night before on YouTube. The sound of a jaguar.

"No, it can't be" I thought to myself. I was convinced it was my mind playing tricks on me. Then I heard it again. This time, closer.

"It will be a frog" I kept saying this to myself, but felt myself getting hotter and short of breath.

Again. Louder. It was coming closer.

"No way, no fucking way is there a jaguar a few meters from me on my very first night in the jungle. Not. A. Chance."

Again. This time, at a different angle. Was it... Circling me?

I felt sweat on my face as I tried as best as I could to logically think through what was happening.

The sound was not a frog, monkey nor a bird. This was a cat. A big scary saber tooth cat.

My bow and arrow and machete were outside of my hammock. The only weapon I had to defend myself was a small Swiss army penknife in my trouser pocket.

I slowly reached for it, trying my best not to move in the hammock as it would be like teasing a cat with a string.

I opened it up and placed it pointing behind my head. If the cat pounced from behind as I had been told, then maybe, just maybe I'll stab it in the mouth. Ha, unlikely but worth a go.

The sound went on every so often. Making me shake. I couldn't scream. No sound would come out of my mouth. My throat was dry but my cheeks wet from tears. I was terrified of what was about to happen and felt cowardly as I waited to be pounced on.

I held my torch in one hand. I couldn't see anything because of the thick mosquito net. I didn't want to see anything. If I had seen eyes pointing at me, I don't know what I would have done.

I remained still as the creature outside moved around my hammock making occasional growls.

I started to say goodbye to my mum and dad and accept that I had had a good life and that it was about time something bad would happen. It was my turn now. My luck had run out. I just hoped it would be quick.

I shivered for hours. The tears stopped as I accepted my death. My hands still above my head holding the knife tightly.

Then, a kerfuffle. Just meters away. Movement and animal noises. A growl and a loud yelp followed by creatures running into the bush. I waited.

No more cat sounds. It was gone. It had caught something near to me (probably what it had been stalking the whole time). It had ran off. I was safe.

The sun came up just an hour or two after. The leafy floor was disturbed. I had got away... Or just been in the way of a kill.

Either way, I felt so lucky to be alive. I was also absolutely petrified as I still had a months worth of sleeps in the jungle to go.

I later described this to one of the tribe and they agreed that there had been a large cat there.

Never have I appreciated bedroom walls as protection so much in my life.

The rest of my time in the jungle, I slept with my machete inside my hammock, and made sure I was as close as possible to the tribe.

Video of the Amazon can be seen HERE