I was lucky enough to become involved with expeditioning way back in 1998, just after my A'levels. Since then, expeditions have been regular fixtures on my calendar.
For me, an expedition is about being somewhere where the only people around for most of the time are the expedition party. That way, everything you do rests on these people, and I have learned to really trust some people in this way. Duration is also a consideration - an expedition needs to be long enough that you can forget about home and completely settle into a new way of life. There's a point during a trip where it stops being a holiday and starts being a routine, and once that point has been passed, that's where the real accomplishments can happen.
Of course an expedition is also about physical challenge, living in a remote environment. These places are usually uninhabited for a reason, which is that they're difficult to survive in. Part of the experience is witnessing how the plants and animals that do survive have adapted, and how they manage in the harsh conditions. With that comes a responsibility not to deliberately harm them if that's possible.
Like many people I keep a diary whenever I'm on expedition (in some cases I've typed it up, and put it online with the expedition information). It's a great way to learn about yourself and to express your thoughts. Often I've written down what I think I'm feeling only to discover that it either looks very naive or isn't right - either way it has helped to clarify my thoughts
It's easy to see that I've been heavily involved with BSES Expeditions - a youth development charity which takes groups of students aged 16 and above to wilderness locations, to experience an expedition for themselves. These people are doing great work introducing young people to the wilderness, and teaching them about the environment.
BSES Greenland '98Top
Greenland '98 was my first trip away with BSES, as a Young Explorer. We flew into Mesters Vig, an airstrip in the North East Greenland National Park. The strip provides easy access to the Stauning Alps, a particularly breathtaking mountainous region of the park. For 6 weeks in the Summer we studied a glacial river, taking cross sections and measuring sediment transfers. During the study we explored the mountains and glaciers of this beautiful region.
As my first try at expeditioning this was at times quite a shock - the experience of staying with the same 12 people for 6 weeks was something I had never even considered before. I wouldn't even say I enjoyed all of it; the going was hard and feet were constantly damp from river crossings or glacier melt. Our fire became quite fragmented in a way I wasn't mature enough to handle at that age, so there were some hard times emotionally, as well. In contrast there was some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen on expedition, and weather which was for the most part absolutely magical. On return I remember noticing how clear everything sounded, after the silence of the arctic - there was a real joy in rediscovering the music I owned as I put it on for the first time after my return.
Cambridge Greenland Glaciology Expedition 2002Top
I joined this expedition very early on, in the initial stages of planning when there was a need for an experienced team. Five of us planned the trip to Louise Boyd's Land in North-East Greenland, each specialising in one aspect of the trip. In the run-up I was responsible for the website, and during the expedition I was the medical officer. Gladly, nothing too serious happened so my responsibilities were not tested to any great degree, but I certainly learned a lot in the courses I took in the run-up to the trip. The expedition itself was an 8-week trip, during which we lived almost entirely on the glaciers.
During this trip we all found ourselves doing things we'd never otherwise considered doing, and we only did them because there was no other choice (paddling across a 10-m glacial river on a raft strapped together out of sleds is a good example). As they say, though, it was good character-building stuff. We managed to spend three weeks studying the join between two glaciers with some surveying equipmnent, and looking at the geology of the region at the same time. Once that was done, and because we were students and couldn't afford the plane fare home, we trekked 200km South, following the edge of the Greenland Ice-Cap. The trip was difficult, as we moved over some of the worst ice conditions we have seen, towing loads that at the very least approached our body weight. Of course it was all worth it, and there are so many happy memories there, even of the bad times. My first steps on solid rock after seven weeks on ice will stay with me for a long time.
Read a version of my expedition diary.
View my Greenland 2002 expedition photos.
BSES Greenland 2003Top
When I discovered that someone was looking into taking me on as a BSES leader, I jumped at the chance. I have never looked back! Everything came together for this trip - great company from the other leaders, and some of the most fun young people I have had the privelege to work with. The expedition itself was in Liverpool Land, just North of Scoresby (the main Inuit settlement in Greenland), and it was a great experience to be exposed to that different culture.
This is a great area with extremely varied terrain and some good access routes. The weather was (by and large) beautiful, with blue skies throughout. For our science work we were meant to be examining the distribution of fish parasites between the saltwater and freshwater fish. Sadly we didn't find any fish so couldn't look inside them for parasites, but we did do some fascinating work on bees, bugs, and plants. The lack of fish did leave us with some good chances for climbing and trekking, and despite some injuries in the group we achieved a remarkable amount. Best of all, we had a great time as well. Of all my expedition experiences this is the one I least wanted to leave.
View my Greenland 2003 expedition photos.
BSES Svalbard 2004Top
Svalbard 2004 was another great experience for me, this time as a mountain leader. As my first experience of Svalbard it was clearly different from Greenland from the start; the weather was much colder and damper. Based in Templefjord, we spent half of this trip on the ice, studying the changes in atmospheric condition over different terrains.
We experienced some truly nasty weather, finding ourselves fogged in for days at a time, but we learned a lot about ourselves and each other as a result. As always the hardest days were the best, when we really realised what a team of people could achieve. One highlight was towards the end of the expedition as we moved off the ice and onto the rocky ground, walking amongst the reindeer and above the nesting puffins. It's amazing how much of a contrast there is in such a short span on the map.
Read my Svalbard Diary
View my Svalbard 2004 expedition photos.
BSES Greenland 2006 & TrekTop
The 2006 expedition to Greenland was a combination of BSES leading, and a trek between two of my favourite airstrips. The 6-week trip provided a complete break and a huge variety of experiences.
Flying into Mesters Vig again gave me a great “homecoming” feeling, despite the fog-bound nature of the place and a delayed flight, it was still the place I'd left in 2002 and vowed to return as soon as possible. Despite that, we had to leave immediately. Our objective was Constable Pynt, an anticipated 9 days and 200km walk. We carried everything with us from the start - so bags were heavy and the going was tough. As usual, rivers provided the most adventure, with some exciting wades saving an entire days walk. Covering so much ground in a short time gives you a real perspective of the changing landscape in Greenland, and helped to put my previous trips into context.
When we arrived at Constable Pynt, the BSES Expedition arrived. The location this year was close to that in 2003 - but we were able to cross the Kalkdal river and put base camp up in the North of Hurry Fjord. That opened up a whole series of new possibilities, from reaching the hot springs of Norrefjord, through to paddling our feet in Carlsbergfjord (with no joke this is probably the best fjord in the world). Yet another great bunch of young explorers, and an amazing amount of distance covered made this an absolutely top trip.
See the Greenland2006 photos