South Pole Solo 2019
In 2019 I'll be skiing from Hercules Inlet to the Geographic South Pole. Dates are yet to be confirmed as the exact timings will be dictated by a number of factors. The journey covers a distance of about 700 miles, give or take a few miles (I'm hoping to avoid adding any extra). During the course of the ski I'll be climbing to a height of about 3,000 metres. Temperatures can dip as low as minus 40 C (and lower, but let's not think about that). In order to keep the cold at bay I'll be wearing lots of warm layers and eating an awful lot of fat and sugar, including chocolate - who said there are no plus points to skiing such a huge distance.
To be honest, I'd quite like to stop and talk more about chocolate, but you want to know about this epic journey...
Why are We Going to the South Pole?
No, that isn't a typo - we are going to the South Pole. So many amazing people have worked, and contiue to work, hard to support this journey and I felt it rude not to find a way for them to share both the limelight and the experience. The tried and tested way of recounting any kind of expedition is through show and tell - a bit like being invited over to see your friends or relatives holiday photos (it’s a mere 30 years after the last time this happened and I still shiver at the thought). We do love photos and stories. We live in an age where internet access is available almost everywhere in the world which is why we're going to do something a little different.
There's internet access in the polar regions. But don't get too excited - connectivity is via satellite and the current speed is about 2.4kbps - 0.0024MB (slower than the internet connection I had back in 1999)!
The good news is that, even with a slow connection, you'll be able to follow along. I'm currently working on a way to gather some key data (heart rate, calories burned, distance travelled and GPS waypoints) that will be displayed on a tracking website. Nobody has done all this before. Yes, many explorers have published their GPS tracks, but not all of the data I've detailed.
In addition I'll be taking email questions and answering them via satellite call. Sorry, I'll only have time to answer a couple of questions each day - stuff like eating and sleeping get in the way of replying to you all. Audio updates will be posted on Soundcloud.
Back to the reason why
I'm skiing to the South Pole for these reasons:
To raise awareness and donations for several charities that focus on mental health:
Lindengate - a Buckinghamshire based mental health charity that offers specialised gardening activities to help those with mental health needs in their continuing recovery.
The Hoplite Foundation - a Herefordshire based charity which aims to help ex-servicemen and women suffering from the effects of PTSD.
A children’s mental health charity who I am unable to mention right now.
To create a documentary that details the effects of isolation and loneliness as a means to help better understand how these factors impact those who suffer from mental health issues AND their carers.
Because it's there!
Solo, Unsupported and Unaided
The journey will be long and lonely (that latter description being a key factor). There will be no resupplies and no equipment e.g. kites, snow scooters, etc will be used during the ski. Currently, only about 26 people have completed this epic journey.
Crazy? No, definitely not. Here are a few comments from friends and relatives:
"I wish you the very best and look forward to sharing a few cold ones and hearing your stories when you return." - Ollie.
"That's nice. I can imagine it's going to take you a few days to get there." - A geographically challenged relative.
"Daddy, we are very proud of you." - My daughters.
"What?" - My hard of hearing father.
The list is huge and I'd love to add everyone's voice to the mix on this page. Instead I'll create a blog post dedicated to all of your lovely comments.
Raising awareness and funds for Lindengate, the Hoplite Foundation and a children’s mental health charity..
Creating a documentary that helps us all better understand the effects of isolation and loneliness.
A world first - heart rate, calories burned per day, distance travelled and GPS waypoints collected each day and uploaded to a website for you all to view.
In October 2017 I decided to postpone my ski to the South Pole. Due to a number of factors a key sponsor fell by the wayside and the agreed sponsorship didn’t materialise, which was disappointing and left me feeling pretty low. And it’s in these moments that we find hope.
For several weeks I withdrew into myself and started to examine all that had gone wrong in an attempt to find my bearings and kickstart planning for a new attempt at the South Pole. During these many hours of digging into the reasons for failure I pretty much ignored all my emails and social media messages. Many people felt let down by what, at the time, was a very negative attitude on my part and I understand why at least a few stop talking to me for a while.
That last paragraph isn’t a search for sympathy - it’s simply an acknowledgement of the facts. I was miserable; my dark mood was apparent to all; some people disassociated for a while and let me get on with things. Solitude and time to think was appreciated so thank you to all my friends who gave me space. Apart from one!
Thinking back, I can’t recall how many new message notifications I received from one particular person I’d met via Twitter. Message after message arrived and rather than block him I decided to read the IMs he’d sent over the course of two weeks. At the heart of those conversations he’d started was news of a team looking to cross Greenland in May 2018. More exciting was the fact they were looking a final team member. Even more exciting was that I’d served in the Army with the organiser.
After thanking Ash, I found Lou Rudd’s telephone number and we talked. The team was now complete, but he would ask the others if they were willing to let me join their expedition. A week later the okay arrived.
Fast forward 5 months (May 2018) and our team landed in Kangerlussauq, Greenland. We took a day to prepare our gear before setting off on a journey the likes of which I never thought I’d experience: rabid storms, one of which was so powerful that it destroyed my tent and left me stranded in a whiteout and facing the near certainty of death; deep snow that made pulk hauling arduous to the point that I nearly collapsed at one point; sights and experiences that to this day defy my ability to fully explain them.
28 days after we set off on our expedition the team of six arrived in Isortoq, the official end point for this crossing.
Rather than detail events here I’m going to write a series of posts on the blog.
Hardangervidda, Norway 2017
Following my journey to the North Pole, I decided take some time out and prepare for the next big adventure. After a year of recovery and a slow build up back to fitness, I set off for a two week ski in the Hardangervidda National Park, Norway. The aim of this trip was to reassure myself I can ski solo and live for long periods of time in an extreme environment.
The journey didn't start well. Britain's 'favourite airline' lost my skis and delayed my start by two days. Several more days were lost to severe storms that rolled in from the West, the soft, warm snow soaked my gear and forced to divert and spend another 2 1/2 days in my tent. As you can imagine, this was pretty frustrating.
My original intention had been to cover about 350 miles in two weeks. With 4 1/2 lost this wasn't going to happen and I was concerned yet more delays might reduce further the distance I could travel.
On the fifth day, the sun arrived. Most people would be happy. I was not.
The temperature rose from an average of about -12C and hovered around 0C. For anyone who doesn't know, this makes the snow very soft and incredibly stick and, as consequence, you end up 'walking' on your skis (whilst pulling a 70Kg pulk full of food and equipment). All in all, the next few days were a pretty miserable time for me.
After two days of what felt like stifling temperatures, hard work and many curses, the sun finally faded and the temperature dropped to -23C. Happy days!
For the next 8 1/2 days I skied across the Hardangervidda, camped in my tent and ate freeze dried food.
At the end of my journey I had covered about 250km - a long way short of the intended distance, but not bad considering the conditions. More important, I came away knowing that I am capable of completing the South Pole solo ski in December 2017.
North Pole 2016
In March 2016, I will embark on the last two degrees (88th to 90th degrees) trek to the North Pole. This huge undertaking is scheduled to take up to three weeks, although we intend to complete the trip in 14 days. All food and equipment will be hauled by me, on a pulk. The 'last two degrees' is a ski trek over a distance of around 136 miles (about 225km, without any negative ice drift). The sled I will be pulling is heavy and the conditions will range from difficult to arduous and daily time on skis will be significant. Then, at the end of each day, I will set up camp and sleep for around sixto eight hours. This routine will be repeated for up to 21 days.
The end of the journey will be at the Geographic North Pole which is a pretty desolate and very cold place to be (averages temperature is about -29 Celsius).
This journey, the first of many planned for the next few years, is aimed at helping raise funds for the following three charities:
Diana Award: set up as a legacy to Princess Diana provides vital support, training and motivation for young people; helping them to achieve their maximum potential with various projects including a nationwide anti-bullying programme.
The Royal Signals Benevolent Fund: supporting Signallers, past and present, and their families. Their mission is to give something back to those who have made sacrifices for their Corps and country.
Walking with the Wounded. This charity raises funds for members of the Armed Forces who have sustained injuries during conflict.
In addition to raising funds, we're all seeking to highlight the deteriorating polar environment and will be running a live daily broadcast from on the ice.
For more information or details on how your company can help, email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Update: On the 21st April 2016 I reached the Geographic South Pole. I was met immersed in the utter serenity and solitude of the place. Now my understanding of those who went before me is complete.
In late January 2016 I travelled to Finse, Norway for a five day ski along the edge of the Hardangervidda National Park. The aim was to get a little time on the snow and practise some of the skills I would need for my ski to the North Pole a short time later in April 2016. Over the years I have gained a huge amount of experience working in extreme environments, in particular within the Norwegian Arctic Circle. As a soldier, I spent a great deal of time exercising in a region of Norway known as Poersanger.
The environment in Poersanger is harsh and, during the winter months, very cold. I assumed that my years of experience as a soldier would serve me well. How wrong I was.
Travelling South from Finse, I hit my first snag: Hell Hill. An it was just as horrendous as the name suggests. At first the hill rises in a lazy, gradual climb. After about 100 metres the gradient increases with a massive leap to about 20% (1:5 for anyone like me who stills works on the old measurement). For a distance of about 200 metres I sweated, cursed and sometimes cried. At times I found myself being pulled back down the hill by a pull weighing about 70kg. At the time I was not a happy skier. Looking back at those 90 minute slog, and having hauled my kit over the summit, I realise that one hill made me realise what I am capable of.
The following day was good. I skied hard and fast. A steady breeze blew in from the West, the cold edges snagging at any exposed flesh I had been careless enough not to cover up. Something didn't feel right. That night I came to learn the reason my spidey sense had been going haywire - a storm blew in.
And this was no ordinary storm. Later, after finishing my journey around the region, I was chatting to a Norwegian women. She was amazed that anyone would camp out in what was, apparently, the worst storm in 10 years.
On that fateful night, I lay in my tent and listen to the elemental fury of the tempest only millimetres away from the cocoon of silk and down in which I was wrapped. Temperatures dipped and I felt the first twinge of frosting in my fingers. Within 20 minutes the tips were red and throbbing. Worse, my feet were starting to feel the bite of winter.
It was at this point that I realised my careful planning had not factored in the extreme swings of Norwegian weather. My sleeping bag wasn't rated to temperatures that dropped below -27 C. I had options: frostbite and hypothermia, or ski through the night and find a sheltered camp site away from the brunt of the wind.
In the morning I was shattered, but alive. The fire in my fingers had given way to a dull throb. My toes still had some sensation in them.
I decided to call it a day.
After breakfast, I packed up my gear, clipped the pulk onto my harness and headed for Finse in the North.
I had skied for about five days in total, covered about 100 km, experienced the first sharp pains that come with frost nip and, finally, lost an awful lot of weight. Some people might consider the trip a disaster. Not so; I learned some valuable lessons that stand me in good stead on my ski to the Geographic North Pole.
When I arrived back in the UK, I was tired and even more determined.