‘The polar regions are more hostile to life than any other part of the Earth’.
I listen to Sir David Attenborough announce as I watch an episode of Frozen Planet sitting on the train heading to Dartmoor for 10 days training for an expedition to the Arctic.
When I first decided to commit to The Last Pole expedition I knew I was signing up for a seriously difficult undertaking. I was clear in my head that I would need to learn a lot of new skills as well as improve my overall fitness and stamina way more than I ever had.
The Ice Warrior Core Skills is the first step. 10 days in Dartmoor being immersed in everything we would need to perfect in order to function as part of an effective team.
When thinking about how I would write this post about my time on the course, I initially thought I would take you through each of the course in parts, ‘Day one I did this… Day two I learnt this….’ Boring!
So instead I’m going to write a little about my feelings towards the expedition, how the course has opened my eyes towards the undertaking and what I’ve learnt about myself.
Our first 4 days were First Aid. I’m sure many people have been on First Aid courses for work, or just because you wanted to be better prepared, and as far as the fundamental theory or skills go, I doubt this was much different. What was very different though, was that with every part of the course, the discussions around each topic would inevitably lead to ‘what happens in the Arctic’, ‘what happens at minus thirty’ or ‘what happens when you can’t radio for help, hundreds of miles from the nearest (but still extremely remote) base camp!’ The realities of our undertaking were really starting to become clearer. The scenarios we were discussing were at times quite brutal and scary. The skills we were being taught will only do so much. The hostile environment we are preparing to venture into will be dangerous and we will be at it’s mercy if anything goes wrong.
Apart from the realities starting to set in, I was also overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information I was having to take on board. I honestly have no idea how I will retain it all and then put it in to practice when it’s really needed. I find this a worrying situation. It was joked that, ‘the hope learning first aid is the biggest waste of time you’ll ever have!’ However I need to know it all and so I’ll need to regularly swot up and keep my mind refreshed. When we are out on the Arctic ice we need to be confident in our teams individual abilities and know we are safe in each other’s care.
The final training scenario for this part of the course cleared up something in my mind. When the shit hits the fan, I really want to be prepared. The panic brought on by intense situations can lead to serious problems where we are going.
What was amazingly positive about the first four days was how complete strangers started to bond, laugh and begin to work together. I felt really privileged to be learning these new skills with a bunch of great, like minded people.
Our remaining time in Dartmoor was dedicated to the core skills we’d need on the expedition. These loosely broke down in to the following areas: planning, navigation, mental resilience, camp craft and rope work. What I loved about this course was it’s flexibility, the conversational nature and the practical application of the skills I was learning.
For me, the most enlightening part of these six days were not the actual skills we were learning. They were interesting, fun and engaging of course. No, for me it was the new found self awareness that really got me. There were two key moments early on, that were then at the forefront of my mind the entire time, present at every decision I made and then afterwards even more.
The first was when we were all sitting round the map table in Basecamp and Jim was talking about Ice Warrior and #LASTPOLE. He asked us to introduce ourselves. The twist was that he also asked us to share the worst thing that had ever happened to us.
Now I’m not going to start sharing the personal stories we listened to. What I will say, is that the process of doing that broke down barriers between the people in the room. Sharing, allowed us to become closer. It was incredibly powerful for me. However for me personally, I was surprised at the story I shared, as I had never asked myself the question, “what’s the worst thing to happen to me’, but in doing so, it allowed me a perspective on myself that I had never had. And that really helped to uncover and work on some things that I needed to address.
The second thing was the morning we spent with Dr Fiona Beddoes-Jones, our expedition psychologist. She talked to us about Resilience. This was truly empowering for me. Discussing what makes people and teams resilient really helped to focus what we need to do in order to become effective members of the team. Our expedition is going to be a long and tough slog across the sea ice, in harsh conditions putting pressure on us every step of the way.
It’s vital that we are resilient for ourselves and the team, but also we must be aware of and look out for each other. We will all have low days, and the pressures will get to us all. How we deal with those times and how we support each other through them, will be central to our success as a team.
If you think about what the expedition will require of us all; 10 hours a day, pulling our own body weight, constantly subjected to extreme cold, polar bears, and moving sea ice in the most remote location on the planet. Most people would think we’re bonkers mad! However, during Core Skills one truth was reinforced time and time again. Planning and preparation are vital. Plan for every possible scenario, no matter how improbable.
What if you found out more?
I really need your help, so if your company want’s to talk about how they can benefit from supporting myself the expedition please get in touch.
Read all about the expedition on these links
Thanks and please follow my journey via this blog and my instagram @anywherejhy
Thank you to the following organisations that are
supporting me personally in this endeavour: