“Why do you do this?”
Why indeed. The reasoning underpinning what we have achieved so far has, at times eluded us as much as any baffled onlooker as to why two men would continue to battle their way through such an eclectic medley of hardships.
Maybe, perhaps. It was certainly true at the start for sure, although I myself am quite confident my ego is still lost in the Bornean jungle, scrabbling up the gelatinous mud cliffs terrified that the big cheque he wrote with my life is about to bounce. I hope he’s doing alright out there though; I am grateful beyond words for the lessons he taught me about how truly pathetic this big scary elite commando veteran could be.
Not ego, then it must be for the adventure?
Well hell, who doesn’t love an adventure, a rambunctious, rip-roaring, sit down by the fire, tell your grandchildren about it adventure, it could be that. Though as cool as a story is about swimming through rivers ripping all around you, desperately bargaining within any deity that will listen to make sure that this patch hasn’t got any of the crocodiles your guides sister was eaten by a few weeks previous, you’d probably sacrifice the story at the time to be warm and safe in a bed with a full stomach.
Not ego, not adventure, that’s it I’ve got it, you guys are martyrs. You are doing this because the passion you feel for the military, veterans and the charities you are raising money for, that’s it?
Sorry mate but I’m probably going to have to disappoint you again. As much as we feel a passion for raising money for our mates and the charities that do a wonderful job supporting lads injured in service of their country, if we are honest and completely honest with you the charities exist because of a huge void in the standard of care and services that exist for veterans and soldiers. It is not something that fills me particularly with pride, as it is something I personally feel should not exist. If our democratically elected government can take their peoples mandate to spend young men and women’s lives on whatever grease they need to lubricate the military industrial complex, then they should 100% be able to use that same mandate to look after the ruins that return from their freedom protecting overseas jaunts that have left a generation of servicemen husks of human beings.
Alright mate, I give up. Why?
It is because we have seen the alternative.
Forgotten relics of a dirty war left to rot in a society that values the most shameless attributes of humanity. I now have lost more friends I served with to suicide than I did to the Taliban. Those numbers don’t lie. My band of brothers and I once shared a purpose, we lived the simplest of lives, saw the best and worst of each and everyone of us and we would have died without blinking for the lad stood next to us. Closer bonds than we could ever hope from a family member were forged in the dusty sands of Helmand. Out there we had each other, we had structure, and we had a purpose. Here we have Instagram, bills, and The Kardashians.
It’s this drive for purpose, this yearning for something other than what society tells us that has driven us this far and continues to do so. I’ll give you it’s an audacious attempt to try and obtain a purpose in our lives, but we’re bootnecks we’re cuffing this shit the best we can.
So here we are, four islands down, Mad Explorers to the end, on the cusp of another “rambunctious” adventure. We’ve all been through the last two and half years of bullshit together, so I need not go into too much detail over the delays we’ve faced other than they have been plentiful.
Three and half years ago I led my half blind best mate out of a maze of crevasses on Greenland ice fall and out onto the land. A fitting end to what had been a monotonous journey skiing across a baren icecap. We left thinking that we would shortly be heading to Baffin Island to finish our series of adventures.
And then a tosser ate a bat.
Fast forward to today, in the morning we fly to Toronto, and then on to Iqaluit the capitol of Baffin Island. You may ask, how have we got here? Well, I guess the answer to that is quite possibly been the same throughout all our expeditions-with a little help from our friends.
Financially, Greenland put us well and truly on our behinds, crossing the icecap without using a guided company involves a lot of permits, bank guarantees and things that cost some serious dough. We had up until Greenland done our best at keeping the expeds ticking along on a shoestring budget and maximising the donations we had received from various corporate sponsors. However, when you start doing stuff in an Arctic/Antarctic environment the costs go up significantly. Post Greenland, the cupboard was almost baren and the lads were well and truly in desperate need of a rethink to box of their final trip. In addition to this we had hoped to upgrade some of our gear as we knew the journey ahead of us is going to be a monster.
Enter the legends that are Nick and Giles English. From day one of our adventures, they have shown tremendous belief in the two scruffy little urchins that rocked up at their boutique in Mayfair and explained the maniacal series of expeditions we had dreamt up. And now four islands down despite us not having a social media following the likes of which other adventurers have, Bremont have opted to come onboard as our headline sponsor to ensure we can finish the crazy tale we started six years ago together and we can’t wait to get the final island of Bremont Expediton Five in the bag.
Lads in serious need of some R&R
As for kit, a huge player on our last expedition and since day one has been Trekitt. Much like the team at Bremont, they have always been enthusiastic about our adventures and also invested heavily in us for Greenland and Baffin Island.
However, we knew the technical challenges we will face in Baffin would require a new and fresh approach. For one we are trailblazing a completely unproven route onto an ice cap, and if there’s one thing we learnt from our last dalliance with an ice cap, it was that you really don’t want a roped pulk if there’s open crevasses for it to pull you in. After doing our homework we approached our good mate Matt Williams who runs Brigantes Consulting ltd. If you can ever imagine any kind of space in the outdoor/military market this chap can and does fill it. His network of outdoor clothing/equipment suppliers he has built up is unparalleled. When we approached him and asked if he can help us source a pulk capable for the challenges we have ahead of us he replied with “Is that it?”
So, in good old necky bootneck fashion we came back with a shopping list of desirables such as a new tent, sleeping systems and an array of other bits and bobs which he and his marketing manager Justin wasted no time in going to work on.
Added to this was the caveat that he would like us to come and train up at his rented lodge in northern Norway to test some of the gear. I obliged and we had a wonderful week together, filming and me treating the Brigantes team to some of my amazing downhill skiing prowess. Not only did Justin and Matt deliver on all the gear, they also somehow managed to obtain sponsorship from Acapulka in the form of two Acapulka pulks to use on this exped. For anyone not familiar on pulks Acapulka is the Bugatti Veron of polar sledges. Like I said, Brigantes is an extremely resourceful organisation.
Any trip to Norway would not have been complete without a trip to where the second phase of Bremont Expedition Five began, so on my way back I stopped off in Trondelag to pay a visit to Petter Thorsen. It was an extremely beneficial trip and I also got to meet his oldest daughter Mari Thorsen who was in the first ever batch of Jegertroppen, Norways all female special forces programme , of a batch of 300 potential soldiers only 12 make it out as badged soldiers. Being a badass must be in the genes. In the evenings after spending afternoons out in the mountains near his home I got to tap into the full depths of Petter’s polar knowledge and spent hours each night talking over the route we had planned and going into meticulous detail for every piece of kit we are taking. Human beings are notorious for thinking everything is going to be ok and having someone who is an expert in their field willing criticize and examine your planning is crucial in any field to achieve success. In addition to this, he contacted his friend Vincent Colliard a notable polar explorer who spent time in Baffin Island crossing the Penny Ice cap along with Borge Ousland as part of their Ice Legacy series of expeditions. His advice and knowledge has been invaluable and as we have said throughout these journeys it is only thanks to us using the advice and knowledge of experts in their field and locals that we have been successful. It has been reassuring to hear from someone with such credentials that they think what we have planned is a clever and remarkably interesting route.
Back with the boss
So, what is the route?
Great question! When we first dreamt this series of journeys up, we knew that we had to leave Baffin until the end. For one, our experience operating in a polar environment was non existent (unless you count Dartmoor in January). It was for this reason we aimed to “cut our teeth” in the polar sense on our expedition across Greenland. Hard and demanding as it was, it was along a proven route, the ice sheet has been crossed by a multitude of adventurers though still far far fewer than Everest. Crossing Greenland honed our skills and made us aware of what we lacked and what we could not take for granted in Baffin.
What we have opted for is ambitious to say the least, though it is not without it’s checks and balances. Gone are the days where we ignore the local warnings and yomp headlong into the jungle fuelled on a heady cocktail of narcissism, grit and determination. That shit will get you killed, just ask Captain Scott and his mates.
We have opted as far as we can, to utilise a series of waterways and the Penny Ice Cap in order to traverse the island. Purists will tell us it is not a true crossing as it is not between its furthest points and to them we say good luck with that. We have done what we can to do justice to what is essentially a gimmick we dreamt up, but if someone wants to try and drag a pulk across the 2200km rock strewn mountainous land of Baffin with the supplies needed to do so, I will buy you a drink on the other side. Also, if your family raise the cash, I’m sure me and Lou will come collect your carcass as well.
So, we have opted for an ambitious, though not impossible route, we will arrive in Iqaluit on the 29th of March. From here we will spend a few days with Ted Irniq our local outfitter before travelling 500km on snow mobiles to our start point at the mouth of the Koukdjuak River. The intention is to head east covering as much ground as we possibly can for the first few days, putting as much space between us and the polar bears that should be out hunting on the sea ice. After 75km we will reach Nettling lake, the largest island lake on the planet, which we will ski across, local reports have come in saying some small patches of open water have been spotted by local fishermen around the entrance to this lake so timing and execution will be key here. After crossing this behemoth is when the uncertain factor of this expedition really comes in. We leave the lake at its northeast corner, potentially slightly north of where the river we intend to journey up meets the lake. We do this as there is a strong chance given the volumes of water entering the lake at this location there may be open water again in this location. We will probably opt to cut 10k north onto the river however we will make this call on the ground. From here we intend to travel 270km up this waterway all the way to where it reaches the Penny Ice Cap. My thoughts are if we make it up as far as the Penny Ice cap, we will be in a good position to successfully complete our journey. However as stated before this river is a huge unknown, the Inuits I have spoken to who live out in Baffin travel a lot in the winter but mainly around the lakes and utilising the sea ice between settlements that are all along the coastline. This route gives us security in the fact that between the first and last few days of our expedition we should be safe from polar bears. With just two of us, 200kg of equipment between us and a need to cover at least 20km per day, trying to crack a bear watch throughout this trip would simply not be sustainable.
So, apologies for the sheer weight of this blog, we’ve got almost four years of catching up to do. I promise the next one will be half the size as we will be up to our eyeballs with vacuum sealing meals in Iqaluit. If you can’t wait for our next blog post, head on over to our instagram.
As always, I will leave you with a request that if you have enjoyed reading this blog, following our adventures or are simply inspired by what we have accomplished so far we would truly appreciate you “Chuck us a Fiver” via the button below to the Royal Marines Charity who do incredible work at rebuilding veterans lives. All the funds we raise from the public link go straight to mental health initiatives within the RM Charity (our bigmac fund for the finish comes from the corporate bigwigs so don’t be concerned you are funding our shenanigans)