What I'm Planning to do in 2017

You know what's like: you've recently finished an amazing journey and you head back to the office, full of life and stories. Within weeks the disillusionment starts to set in and you look for ways to get back out into the wilds. So I posed the question, "What next?" And I came up with this - a full distance, solo, unsupported and unaided ski to the South Pole. Nothing like going big.

Start date will be November 2017 (lots of planning and funding to raise hence announcing now; 17 months before I set off). Distance is about 683 miles and one I'm aiming to complete in under 30 days (there, said it so now there's no going back on the timeframe).

In between now and the South Pole I'm planning a shorter 350 mile through Norway. This will allow me to test gear, work on skiing skills and validate my fitness levels.

I think that's all for now. I'm for a pork pie (valuable calories...).

One more request: I've set up a page but, due to changes made by FaceBook I can't change the @ handle until I have 25 Likes. Can everyone that sees this message share it across their list of friends, Like the page and ask their mates to do the same? Thank you all. Here's the page:

https://www.facebook.com/North-By-South-2017-1389085037774023/

What is the Lifespan of Your Dreams?

Happy little dreamer.Top view of happy little boy in pilot headwear and eyeglasses lying on the hardwood floor and smiling while wooden planer and briefcase laying near him Picture this: you’re standing on the tailgate of a C130 Hercules flying at just over 10000 feet. The smell of vomit is faint now, whipped away by the blast of air that accompanied the opening of the huge ramp. On your back is a parachute and strapped to your legs is a rucksack that weighs about the same as a teenage child. Your rifle is tied to your body, the metal length sheathed in canvas.

The lamps – traffic lights for airborne troops – switched from red to green. A thumbs up from the dispatcher and you leap. And what a jump it is.

Memories of your first freefall descent are mashed and mingled with a rush of adrenaline and mental checks as you plummet towards Earth. This is good. Better – this is the pinnacle of your dreams. Once more you are at the apex of personal ambition.

And then you land.

Reality reminds you that, even though your body may ache and complain, there is still a job to be done.

A few years back you’d never considered the thought of growing older and even about your ability to continue meeting the physical demands of an arduous life. Now it's very different. You feel the bone jarring landing and a little voice in your head makes its presence known.

In a few years that constant companion in your mind will be loud enough to acknowledge: the dream is over – time to hand back your parachute and leave the hard life behind. Thanks for your time – you are now a has-been!

Wow! That cuts deep. Your dreams were real for a time and now they are about to be consigned to the ‘once upon a time’ box of memories you carry inside you.

Regardless of background we are all susceptible to the decline that come with age. Disease, injury and, most notably, death, have a cruel habit of taking the train set of our dreams – that labour of love you build in the garage or spare room of your head– and smashing it against the wall.

Now you stand amongst a scene of utter carnage. The locomotive, a powerhouse fueled by your own drive and belief, lies wrecked and broken. Carriages, containers each carrying echoes of your past desires and future hopes, are broken, crushed by Mother Nature's huge fist.

Worse, the track – the path you had chosen and built – is buckled and twisted with no hope of repair.

So that was life. It was fun for a time, but now you've succumbed to the inevitable. All you have left is a few memories, maybe a box of souvenirs and most notable of all the aches and grumbles nestled in your bones and muscles. Your dreams are at an end.

Wait! Rewind, please. Yes, we are all in agreement: the body declines and those lofty goals we once set and achieved are now passed on to the next generation, but you still have so much to give.

Your mind is a well of experience and one ripe for tapping. Memories can be molded, repurposed into cautionary tales and stories. Or better, insights made into the great things we can achieve when mind and body work in unison and towards a common goal. Rather than inspiring by doing, we mentor and nurture with the skills we have learned and honed over the years.

There are countless children out there in need of a guiding hand to help see them through the tough times. Take your knowledge of the arduous and what it takes to overcome, wrap the lessons learned in your life and fashion them into a form to be consumed, digested and acted upon. Make those who need help understand the power of they already carry inside them.

Time moves fast and has no respect for your dreams – the ticking hand of the clock and the passing of years are nothing more than a reminder of how fast your life will rush by. Those seconds, minutes and hours are also the lifespan of your dreams – almost endless. And even after the inevitable day comes your dreams will live on in the mind, body and values of those people you chose to nurture.

Now put yourself back on the tailgate and ask where all of this is going to lead: a few years of fun following only your dreams, or a lifetime in which you bring on the next generation and help them to reach those pinnacles you've have already visited?

The North Pole Lies Below

So, I am here: the North Pole. Last night we camped about half a mile away from the geographic North Pole and slept. This morning we woke and skied one hundred and fifty metres to the point where this is no latitude, no longitude - masses of man made lines converging into a single point.

How does it feel? Amazing and, above all else, a privilege. Out of around seven billion people in this planet only a few hundred have visited this place. Less have skied any significant distance to stand at the top of the world. I am one of a few who now have experienced the serenity and perfection of this barren and beautiful region.

Soon I will ski away from this thing that has for so long been just a dream. I will be picked up by a Russian helicopter and flown to Barneo ice station and then on to Svalbard. The Pole may be behind me, but the memories and images will remain with me until my final day.

I thank you all for following this leg of my path. I will post a series of photos when I return and look forward to hearing your thoughts and comments.

Until then...

Chicken Curry and Random Thoughts on Polar Exploration

Cracking day - 21.52 km covered. Terrain was a little more forgiving than in recent days - only a couple of small pressure ridges to cross - and the snow has a hard crust making travel faster. Current latitude is 89 degrees 43 minutes 8.5 seconds. What that means is: less than 17 nautical miles to the North Pole!

So there are now only two days left before this journey ends... assuming the weather doesn't turn into a whiteout, trapping us in the tent for several days. I have mixed feelings: sadness and elation.

I'm sad because, in a way, this journey feels like it has only just started. I've developed a routine for life in a tent, for skiing at two hour stretches and taking food breaks where necessary. That process has only just been hammered out and solidified into one I don't have to think about - the steps are now a habit, and one I will soon discard until my next, bigger journey.

There is a sense of melancholy over the fate of the Arctic ice. The increasing instability and rate at which the polar ice cap fractures and melts may preclude future expositions to this beautiful place. If this is the case then the world will be a much poorer place.

Putting aside my sadness, I look forward to arriving at the pole, drinking a small bottle of whisky and taking a number of promised photographs. More than the end point, I can't wait to have a shower (there is a slightly less glamorous side to trekking and one I'll leave to your imagination). I want to hug my children. And I want to start planning the next trip.

Now you'll have to excuse me - my freeze dried chicken curry awaits, as does my hot grape juice.

I'll have one more update for you all and will post from the North Pole.

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Crossing the 89th Degree and More

There are small moments in life; there are big moments in life. For me, crossing the 89th degree was both: symbolic yet a small step on the way to the North Pole. Crossing the 89th was a momentous occasion as it demonstrated the resolve required to travel this far. Climbing twelve foot high pressure ridges and dragging a pulka over the same obstacle is physically demanding and many of those ice formations have been crossed to reach the 89th degree. And there in lies the symbolism - an acknowledgement of all we have achieved so far.

But boundary; this crossing from one time zone to another is a small step along the way. There will be many more pressure ridges. Vast plains of thin ice lie ahead and will be given a wide berth (an act that will possibly add miles to the journey). Open stretches of water will cut from left to right and may require us to swim across the gap and set up a pulley system for our pulkas. And then there are the fields of ice rubble that force constant changes in direction, adding miles to the trek! Now you understand why the 89th is also only a small step.

And now the journey is over halfway complete. Shortly after midday, just before hauling gear over a monstrous pressure ridge, we crossed 89 degrees and 20 minutes latitude. Another mini celebration and then on to an expanse of deep snow lay on top of freshly formed ice!

Distance covered today: 16.4km

Mood: upbeat, but tired.

Now I'm going to get my eight hours of sleep in preparation for another hard day

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Porridge and butter for breakfast!

Last night a handful of skiers boarded an Antonov 74 at Svalbard airport and flew the three hour journey into Barneo and temperatures of minus 27 C. Unpacked, kit ready to go, we have a quick brief and were flown out onto the ice. Conditions have deteriorated and the many open stretches of water now make achieving the full two degrees unlikely. Instead the distance will be 1 degree and twenty minutes (about 90 miles).

I am disappointed, but this change reflects the fragile nature of the arctic ice.

After a short ski of one and a half hours, we put up tents and caught up on much needed sleep.

This morning I had porridge and butter for breakfast, a hot toddy and chocolate. Bliss.

Today's ski will be broken down into four one and a half hour sessions, the aim being to cover about fifteen kilometres.

Aside from the landing and watching the helicopter leave yesterday, one of the most amazing aspects of this place is the utter silence and Covina the North Pole. There is an almost perfect nothingness that pervades the atmosphere (bar the polar bear tracks detected by the guide, Audun).

Sad to say, even the sound of skis on ice is like a pollutant in this serene place.

On that note, I will leave you to your thoughts.

Next update in a few days times.

Leaving Svalbard Tomorrow

  At least - we have the green light!

After eleven days and many false starts the news is we fly tomorrow, 13th April 2016!

The is a huge sense of excitement in the air and the various teams are ready to go. But there is an issue : the original plan to trek from the 88th degree to the north pole is effectively dead due to the conditions on the ice. Many stretches of open water have been seen by the Russian aircraft crews during their flights over the region. Adding in the recent delays there is now no chance of walking the intended route.

Instead, we will ski from the 89th degree to the north pole. When we arrive at the 90th degree we will turn around and head back to the 89th. Not ideal and a departure from the original plan, but Mother Nature and, probably, global warming have played their respective hands.

So disappointment turns to a racing pulse. Tonight I will go to bed early, sleep and rise at 0600 to load my pulka onto the plane.

Next update will come from on the polar ice.

Until then, here's some huskies ready for the off during a recent race, Trapper's Trail, held every year on Svalbard.

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Update from Svalbard...

I've now been in Svalbard for four days. During that time I have packed gear and prepared for my upcoming trip. There have been some delays due to the ice runway cracking: this meant heavy aircraft carrying supplies and equipment were unable to land. The temperature at the north pole had dropped to about minus 42 C and the runway was repaired by the Russian team at Barneo. The flight in is now scheduled for tomorrow afternoon, a delay of a day and a half.

Here in Svalbard, the lowest temperature was in the mid minus twenties (balmy when compared to the north pole).

I have now acclimatised to the cold weather and am now more than happy wearing only a t-shirt, one fleece, and a shell jacket (plus hat and big gloves)!

Over the last couple of days I have taken my equipment out for a test run, practised erecting the tent I will be living in and perfecting the art of lighting an MSR stove aka the flame thrower.

Now I have a little time for reflection on the events that led to this day. After,I'll be working on mentally preparing for the journey ahead.

Future images will be smaller as my satellite communications system is low bandwidth and prevents larger images from being sent.

 

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Skiing the Wilds of Finse, Norway

Well, there's only a matter of days left before I head off to Svalbard. Once there I will spend a few days acclimatising before flying off the 88th degree and the start of my 225km journey. Before the day arrives, I thought I'd better recount a little more of my journey to Finse, Norway.

Norwegian Sub-zero Temperatures

In March 1914, explorer and icon Sir Ernest Shackleton departed for a rugged, mountainous region of Norway called Finse.

The area is well travelled by many Norwegians, both in summer and winter, and recognised as a training ground that closely resembles the terrain of the South Pole – Shackelton’s intended destination.

Now, as then, the many routes through the mountains and hills are peppered with huts in which travellers can shelter from the extremes of the Nordic snow and sub-zero temperatures.

Shock to the System

At 19:14 on 10 February 2016 I clambered down the step of the SNB (Norwegian State Railway) train and shivered as the cold bit deep.

The temperature was, according to the thermometer on the platform, a bone chilling minus 12 Celsius. This was the first shock to my system.

For several weeks I’d been planning this trip – a test of the coming event in April 2016 – and had obsessed over average temperatures in Finse. The online charts suggested a constant minus 5 to minus 8 Celsius across the last ten years. I remember my thoughts: ‘it’s OK, just a blip. The weather will improve.’

Hills and Valleys Norwegian Style

The next morning didn’t feel warmer. In fact, I could feel the first signs of frostnip (first degree frostbite) developing in the tips of my fingers as I cooked breakfast.

Still undaunted, I set about packing up my tent and collecting fuel and a pulk from one of the local guides (a Norwegian introduced by a mutual friend).

Two hours later, with 50kg of equipment packed in my pulk, I set off on the first leg of the planned 32km country ski of the day.

The route I’d mapped out for this entire training trip would take in three huts and around 75km of hills and valleys through which to ski.

Now, that’s 75km with accurate map reading rather than assuming the people travelling a parallel route to me are going to the same destination as I was! More on that next time.

Very cold

Due to a late start, I missed the first hut by about four kilometres; daylight was failing and an arduous climb in near darkness was an adventurous step too far.

I was pleased that I’d managed to cover about 28km in 6 hours, but irritated I was short of my intended mark. Still, a night out in the tent would present an opportunity to refresh some skills and practise the all-important tent routine.

That first night the thermometer hit a low of minus 22 Celsius. I was cold. Very cold.

Numb feet

As I lay in my sleeping bag, my numb feet elevated up to prevent the blood from welling and cooling, I reminded myself why preparing for the very worst of scenarios is the best option – irrespective of whether this be in the working environment or planning a trip to the North Pole (my destination this April).

The temperatures there, at the top of the world, will be closer to minus 30 Celsius, and probably lower. And pretty much the same as those I encountered on my next day in Finse, which I’ll detail in my next post.

 

Some Thoughts on My Trip to Norway

A stunning sight - Finse, Norway at dusk. I pulled this from my FaceBook page as the words encapsulate much of what is going on in my mind right now.

Tomorrow I'll write a detailed post about my trip to Finse, Norway.

It's been four days now since I returned from Norway and I thought it time to get my thoughts down in writing.

First I'd like to thank everyone who has, and will, support me on my upcoming journey. Sat here at the keyboard, I'm aware that, nearly 20 years ago to the day, a group of friends and I set forth on a similar journey. Not to a cold, inhospitable place, but still a leap of faith. We were young and determined and our passage through that long year took us in new directions and grew us as men.

Looking back, the process we went through was not dissimilar to the short Norway trip and the forthcoming journey to the pole.

All of us chose to volunteer to push our bodies and minds to the limit. We accepted the likelihood of failure, yet we still volunteered. Following completion, we were shaped and moulded into something more than most of us could have ever imagined. Newfound confidence and skills manifested themselves on an almost daily basis.

On that day when we blinked our way out into the morning sunlight, each of us was a different person to the one who started the journey.

How does this translate?

Even though many years have passed, we're still all very capable human beings. I'm sure that, like me, the need for adventure is still alive in all those who elected to subscribe to the demands of the job.

History has shown we are all capable and determined. Every one of us is prepared to push that little harder to achieve their goals.

My trip to Norway was a spur of the moment decision, although the notion had been there for several months. This fact alone is reminiscent of the path we chose.

Living in the extreme cold, if only for a few days, and experiencing arduous conditions was a pure thrill, even if some of my preparatory work was less than well executed! Note: always prepare for the worst and NOT the average temperatures depicted on a graph!

Choosing to make a break from the norm and go it alone was both exhilarating and liberating. Whilst not totally isolated, the sense of being away from day to day office life was an experience that has captured my imagination and will spur me on to greater things.

Allowing myself the freedom to become truly independent reminds me of how resilient and determined we all can be when carrying a cause in our hearts.

And there's more.

My family are forgiving of my ever so slightly selfish ways and, for that, I am grateful beyond that which words can convey.

The true irony is that, in many cases, and with a family to think about, it is not possible to become independent without support. This one fact hit me hard.

I ate for ten men, pulled hard on the hills and revelled in the barren beauty of Finse.

This journey, my first true physical test in a very long time, was a defining moment. And, much like that day 20 years ago, has reignited faith in myself and the belief there is more to life than simply money and an office job (although both go towards paying the bills).

My message? Time has moved on. That matters little. What counts is the fact we all have some hidden, burning desire; a searing itch that demands to be scratched. I've raked my nails over the first flare of irritation and now look forward to the next.

For all of you that know me: I did this. I will do more. So can you.

Thanks.