Progress Reports

Training with Conrad Dickinson

Conrad Dickinson No, I'm not lazy. I have a day job, write fiction in my spare time as well as training like a Spartan and running as much of the social media aspect as I can handle. Updating my blog every two weeks seems reasonable right now as there isn't a huge amount to tell. Or is there?

Well yes, there most certainly is, but that's all the motivational work that sustains me and my team members. We'll dig into more of the psychology in upcoming posts.

Now, the part you really want to know: Who is Conrad Dickinson?

Conrad Dickinson, Polar Explorer and Bit of a Legend

The subheading says it all! Conrad is a polar explorer. He has over thirty years experience trekking some of the most arduous cold weather destinations in the world. He's the only British explorer to complete the 'Polar Grand Slam' of walking to Greenland and the north and south poles (but watch this space... :) ). On top of this, he and his amazing wife, Hilary, were the first married couple to ski the full distance route to the south pole.

Yes, I did say his wife. A fantastic woman who probably has more resolve and determination than many men I've met. Oh and she's also a great conversationalist, cracking host and the food she cooks is fantastic.

Pretty impressive credentials, no matter how you look at it.

On top of clocking up more ice hours than most of have hot breakfasts, Conrad also runs polar training courses. For anyone interested, you'll need to go here:

On Conrad's advice, and given my previous experience, I attended his 'Polar Fast Track' course. I'm not going to reveal the exact details of the course, for obvious reasons. Needless to say, the weekend was effectively a brain dump of everything Conrad has learned during his time guiding and trekking. The tips on how to get a tent erected fast, no matter the weather, were priceless as shelter really is a life saver at the poles.

Conrad kindly agreed to put up my tent for me!

Other Polar Travel Skills

I've traveled to many places, usually by the dead of night, under cover of rain or flitting between the ambient noise. For ever destination and theatre my map and compass have been a lifeline; those two items really were, and still are, the difference between life and death. Conrad taught me something more valuable: faith in navigating without a map.

The north pole is a pretty flat, featureless place. The polar ice is constantly on the move and there's little point in trying to create a map of a place that is ever shifting.

So how do you get to the pole without a map? Easy - a GPS and a good, old fashioned compass that reads in degrees, NOT mils (anyone that undertands how to navigate accurately can be forgiven for having heart palpitations). For those of you who don't know, mils are far more accurate (6400 mils on a compass, as opposed to 380 degrees on other models).

Using a GPS, you work out the next leg of your journey, take the bearing and then transfer it to your compass. GPS goes away to save battery life and, having picked a reference point, you walk on a bearing. Easy, yes? I thought so too. Give it a try sometime (and you have to use a compass with degrees around the dial).

Any Other Lessons?

Yes, lots. The weekend was one big, never ending stream of information. Instead of feeling overwhelmed, it was the most enjoyable training package I've ever taken. Even the dreaded PowerPoint slides held my attention without me ever looking away or experiencing the usual  feeling of loathing or bleeding from the eyes!

If any of you are thinking of doing any kind of cold weather trek, then you really must go on one of Conrad's training courses. If nothing else you'll get to see the Roman ruins on Hadrian's wall, not far from his home (part of the navigation exercise).

First North Pole Training Video

It's been a few weeks since my last post as I've been busy with a pretty heavy training programme, work, meeting the charities I want to support, etc. All good stuff, I have to admit, but one of the key requirements for getting to the North Pole is having a very specific type of fitness: long distance walking pulling heavy loads in a pulk. The past few weeks training have involved more distance work. I'm still running between five and 13 miles per day, although two of the originally planning days have been dropped in favour of trek training.

Yesterday, armed with my new sports camera, I hit the Chiltern Hills with my tyres and harness and did a couple of hours training. Here are the videos from that session:

North Pole Training Video 1

North Pole Training Video 2

North Pole Training Video 3

I'm first to admit that, when I initially looked at those two tyres, the training was going to be a little too easy. I was wrong! As you can probably tell from my stumbling and grumbling the workout was harder than anticipated.

Hope you enjoy the videos. I'll get some more up soon.

The Kit List: My First Progress Report

It's been a hectic couple of weeks. Training continues at a steady pace and I'll be updating the training page later this week. I'm keen not to overdo the build up as I know how it easy it is to burn out or pick up an injury which would throw my plan in disarray. As you've probably guessed, the cost of specialist equipment is one of the largest financial factors of any polar expedition. Take something as simple as a pulka (think: big sledge. Larger than the one you had as a child, but infinitely more fun) - the cost for a kevlar model can be anywhere in the region of £1,000 and upwards. That's a lot of money for what is effectively a very large toboggan!

 A pulka is a little more advanced than this!

Ski boots are another major cost. The average price seems to be about £300 per pair. Add in skis, cold weather gear, tents, bindings and all the other equipment we'll need and you can see how the price spirals upwards.

So what happens when a gift horse meanders into your living room (or, to be precise, your email inbox)? You grab it with both hands and hold on for dear life.

And that's exactly what I did.

I'm not going to reveal the donors name just yet. What I can say is that the organisation behind the offer have been incredibly kind and I really can't find the words to express my gratitude for this offer.

From a simple call to discuss basic requirements such as visas, routes in, etc, came an offer of equipment. An awful lot of kit. Needless to say the offer was accepted.

Bottom line, we now have the a large chunk of the equipment we need:

Pulka x 2 Skis, poles, boots and bindings Cold weather gear Survival kit Emergency shelter Pots and pans (an obvious requirement, and easily overlooked) Fuel bottles and a lot of other miscellaneous items.

We're off to a good start. Now we have to find the rest of the kit on the list.

What We Can Expect at the North Pole

I've dropped this post under the 'progress report' category, if only for simplicity. The trek is still some way off (about a year, to be precise). There are still funds to be raised and training sessions to be organised, but I thought I'd start giving you an idea of what my team and I will be up against.

Temperatures at the North Pole

HInt: colder than this.

It's cold, but how cold? Temperatures as low as minus 60 Celsius have been recorded on the polar ice. Having experienced temperatures as low as minus 40 Celsius in Norway I can confirm it's not a nice feeling being out in this kind of weather.

For anyone who hasn't experienced this kind extreme low I'll try and put it into perspective for you. Here in Europe food sellers, restaurants and supermarkets have to refrigerate their stock. The requirement is for foodstuffs to be kept at a temperature of minus 18 Celsius. Only another 42 degree drop and you'll match the worst of the what the North Pole weather has to throw at you.

Conditions Under Foot

The going is far from smooth. The surface of the ice is rugged and it's unlikely we'll experience much in the way of 'easy' skiing or movement. To add to this are two other obstacles we will need to overcome.

The first is pressure ridges. These are ridges formed when ice plates grind together and create ridges anything up to 10 ft, and greater, in height. Unless there is a clear route to either side the accepted navigation method is to quite literally haul the pulks over the ridge.

The next obstacle we will encounter is the 'open lead'. The polar ice cap is constantly moving. This movement causes the ice plates to pull away from each other leading to open lanes of water. If possible, we will find a way around the leads. If we are unable to find a way around we will cross the leads in dry suits - a very chilly and physically demanding option.

Wildlife at the North Pole

Cute, but not very cuddly.

Considering the polar regions are incredibly cold and inhospitable places, you might be surprised to learn of how many animals have made their homes in North Pole. Beluga, Killer Whales and Narwhals are just three of the marine creatures that have made the Arctic ocean their home. On the ice, Walruses are seals are two of the most common creatures encountered by explorers.

But the one we're most interested in is the Polar Bear. Up to 700Kg (1540 lbs) in weight, these relatives of the brown bear are classed as vulnerable due to the effects of global warming. Incredibly inquisitive, the polar bear has been seen in both inhabited areas and close to the pole. For obvious reasons, we aim to avoid these creatures.