Ridges, glaciers and crevasses

12-14 Feb

When the last blog ended we were high above Shackletons’ pass, a few km west of the Trident mountain range and hunkered down for the night in three small red tents dug down deep into the snow; Since then a lot has happened that I will try and capture with the help of several of the team who made the crossing. I apologise for the delay to the blog and beg your forgiveness but if I’m absolutely honest, following that first night on the Island there was rarely time, inclination or satellite connectivity to get much more than a quick location report back to the boat. With the length of this last entry we have, hopefully made up for our tardiness in getting it out.


In the Blog on the 11th, matt spoke eloquently of the teams’ high regard for the efforts of Shackleton, Crean and Worsley; Over the last few days our respect for these truly remarkable men has grown ten-fold. Indeed from the very start, one of the founding pillars of this expedition has been to celebrate those incredible achievements in the 100th anniversary of their crossing. However, It has also been to celebrate the continued presence of similar grit, resourcefulness and resilience in today’s Sailors and Royal Marines; Adventurous Training in its purest form must offer genuine challenge if the individual is to dig deep within themselves and learn from the experience. I can say with a degree of certainty that the last 3 days have provided that challenge in spades for one and all. Completing the crossing at this time of year in these conditions has undoubtedly been hard, harder perhaps than we had anticipated, but with that came greater anticipated benefits and I’m confident that the lessons we learnt about ourselves, about the rest of the team and about remaining strong and in good spirits in the face of adversity, will stay with us for a long time.


So much occurred during the course of the crossing that it would take more than a few lines in a blog to tell the tale properly. For now I will constrain myself to the barest of outlines and leave others from the team to add their own personal bit of colour.


Resuming where Matt left off, the strong winds he spoke off built during the night to epic proportions as the wind accelerated over the glacier to strike the sides of the tents. To provide some degree of shelter from the ravages of the wind we’d dug the tents in, working hard to provide individual snug snow pits. For the rest of the evening and into the early hours we worked hard to dig them out again. Spindrift filled the pits as fast as we could clear it and snow accumulated pressing down heavily onto the tent sides, bending even the double poles of these fantastic Helleberg tents and dramatically limiting the space available inside. One group even packed everything up in anticipation of a collapsing tent. Needless to say, for most another night without sleep, although Doc and Josh seem to have remained remarkably oblivious to their tent disappearing under a mountain of snow, emerging only as the snow started to cut off the air……


Tired but determined we resumed our yomp up to the Tridents, three dark triangular peaks spanning the centre of the Island, or more specifically the high saddles between the peaks. The only problem was we were immediately faced with next to zero visibility and high winds. Marching on a compass bearing across a white surface, into white clouds under a white sky demands patience and concentration and the lead man on each rope had to frequently be brought back onto bearing after a wild swing to left or right, all the time swearing they were still heading in a straight line. Finally through a brief clearing in the cloud Dan spotted the hard outline of the central peak and guided the two rope teams the last few yards into the northern saddle. A brief pause to congratulate each other on the ascent and then all eyes turned towards the descent………….. the ominously steep descent. I’ll leave Matt B to describe the detail but Matt H certainly earned his ML pay that day with a bold down climb.


As we reached the top of the trident I was relieved, it was downhill from here which was a nice thought, until I saw what we had to descend. Cleverly we had taken the slightly easier angled ascent of the two in order to reach the top of the trident saving energy for the long day ahead.


Tony’s rope team went first lead by Matt H, I lead the second rope team with molly in the rear to help keep the less experienced of our rope team in balance between me and him. It began with traversing a snowy face on the trident but we soon had to turn to the front points of our crampons as terrain steepened in order to gain a ridge down the centre of the trident. It was very exposed and one wrong step here could’ve been tragic. We were able to turn to face forwards and walk down stomping our heels into the snow for a while now until we reached a band of fresh snow, lying on top of a layer of hard ice making the avalanches threat that much greater so we traversed again aiming for a rocky outcrop.


The terrain steepened and turning to the front points of our crampons again was the only option. It’s a simple yet very effective technique where you kick in your front points – left foot – right foot – axe – hand – repeat – moving sideways upwards or downwards the technique works very well. Left foot – right foot – shovel handle – repeat! We carried on and made it to a rocky outcrop without causing an avalanche or having anyone slip. We now came across the other team lowering off one by one over a tricky rock section with another severely steep snow slope below. Our rope chose perhaps an easier descent back on the snow but first we had to take care traversing a lot of loose rock. Again we made it unscathed and began the final down-climb starting on front points then switching to heels as the slope eased. Phew we made it, so far no injuries! Matt B


Safely down on the snow field we refocused on the next task, the Crean Glacier just a KM or two of deep snow breaking away.


The Crean Glacier is an immense mass of ice crashing down from the centre of the island and out into Antarctic bay. Glaciers come in all shapes and sizes but generally they can be classified either Dry or Wet (bare ice or snow covered). Crossing either type comes with its own challenge. Dry glaciers the crevasses are exposed and so you can reduce the risk of dropping into one by threading a convoluted pattern across the ice. Of course this means the route takes significantly longer and inevitably you reach a point where there is no longer a way across without risking a snow bridge crossing between the patches of hard ice. On a wet glacier, snow conceals the crevasses and therefore you can take a much more direct course across the glacier, oblivious to how many snow bridges you are crossing. The mental challenges are unique, On the one hand approaching a visible snow bridge on a dry glacier you have to summon up the nerve to gently probe the snow bridge in front of you before nervously lowing your weight onto it. On a wet glacier the drop into open space just comes as a surprise and every step is something of a lottery. With the above in mind it should be clear why we travelled for almost three entire days constantly roped together in a four and a five man team. The principle being that if one man ‘punches through’ the remainder of the team hold his weight long enough for him to climb out or for a rescue system to be set up.


On the dry Crean Glacier Matt H again stepped up and led the way across numerous snow bridges. After a long laborious crossing we finally reached the other side and a well earned hot wet cooked up in the lee of a small ice ridge. Moving off again Molly soon demonstrated more of the risks associated with glaciers, firstly miss-judging a leap across a crevasse and badly tearing a calf muscle and then being blow off a ice ridge down into another deep crevasse.


With the day well advanced and the wind again climbing towards gale conditions we began another race to find shelter. At the far side of the snowfield in front of us the northern end of the Cornwall mountain ridge eventually buries itself in the ice and it’s final rock spur seemed to offer the perfect shelter. All that remained was to get there……… Trail breaking in deep snow can be extremely energy sapping and this crossing was no exception, Regardless of how long we walked, the ridge simply didn’t seem to get any closer; darkness fell and the spindrift lashed at us all until each man retreated into a private battle with themselves to keep moving forward. At 2230, we finally turned the corner and managed the winds dropped to a manageable level, alarmingly dehydrated and dead on our feet we threw ourselves into the task of digging platforms for three tents and getting the stoves going for hot wets and the first proper meal since breakfast……..Dan did have to be woken up to eat food and fell asleep holding his flask upright.


The next morning brought bright blue skies and soaring morale. It also brought another long yomp across Fortuna Glacier and up to Breakwind Ridge (clearly a cartographer with a sense of humour). A wet glacier, we were able to make much better time across the Fortuna, progress slowed only by the repeated ‘punch through’ into concealed crevasses. Fortunately none were further than a drop through to the waist but it was still unsettling to be hanging with nothing under your feet and the effort involved in scrambling out again took its toll. The reward for all this effort however was some amazing wide vistas across this land of ice, snow and rugged black mountains. An early start had ensured that by mid-morning we had crested the final major ridge line and were set to begin the decent into Fortuna Bay. The descent itself turned out to be a little more ‘challenging than anticipated as Dan describes below.


With climbing experience limited to a few school days out, an RN team building day and the AE16 training package a 1000ft ice down climb was a big ask. I have no fear of heights having quite happily chucked myself out of perfectly serviceable aircraft numerous times, however put me on a rope and place me on an edge and I become a nervous wreck.


So after an early start and trekking through the day until 1300 I was to be greeted with an awe inspiring panoramic view of the North East mountain range that stood over the whaling stations of days gone by. This view is not available anywhere else in the World and has reminded me how pretty insignificant we as humans are, when you consider these giants have been here for millions of years. Initially walking off the summit of Breakwind ridge (at 631, thanks to Donald’s watch that has everything-perks of Doctors pay), down a gentle slope that wouldn’t look out of place on a “blue run” at a European ski resort; This soon vanished and became a never ending descent of snow in to Fortuna Bay, which at the time looked like a distant refuge from the towering gargantuan we had to climb down.


After crossing the face of the mountain using a side stepping method, the angle of the decent rapidly increased to what I would call ‘terrifying’. This caused us to face the snow and ‘Front Point’ down the snow slope, this is done by kicking your feet in to the snow, one hand is punched in to the snow and the other hand plunging the ice axe into the slope face. The enduring pain of a cold wet left hand gripping the snow, an aching right wrist/arm from using the axe and the repetitive kicking in of both feet cannot be underestimated. There was an ever constant fear of losing grip and falling, potentially putting the rest of the team in great danger ensured there was no time to look at the views behind and below me.


As a team we descended really well, each moving together to keep the ropes tight therefore limiting the possibility of someone falling if they lost their footing/grip. Tony managed to find us a rocky outcrop for a quick rest, for me this gave me time to contemplate what I had just done and how there is no other method of getting off this bloody great giant of rock and snow, except by carrying on. We continued our downward journey kicking in and hanging on until we encountered a mass of rock that prevented the now perfected technique. This is where the Mountain Leader branch of the Royal Marines became a necessity. Matt H took constructed a rudimentary anchor point using his own body as a counterbalance to individually lower us over the edge of rock face and down 25-30m. Once lowered on to another outcrop I took the time to get warm kit on, some well needed scran and more importantly pose for a steely photo that will undoubtedly become a Facebook profile picture!


This outcrop for us was also the last part of the decent that was technical. The final 100 or so meters to Fortuna Bay was akin to a skiers “Black Run” which is quite blasé of me to say, but after conquering what was above the outcrop I can safely say we achieved more mountaineering in that day than most will experience in a lifetime. Descending the final snow slope at an easier gradient, Kris took the opportunity to use his boots as skis (one of his crampons having failed during the lowering over the rock edge) dragging the rest of his rope team along at an uncomfortably fast walk – much like being pulled along by a large dog.  


This was a personal achievement that I don’t expect to be replicating anytime soon; for someone with next to no knowledge of mountaineering or climbing this experience has been a baptism of fire. This is the point of AT, taking someone out of their comfort zone, placing them in an environment that exposes them to risk whilst challenging the individual mentally and physically


Leading the team down off the hill was a particularly challenging period for me constantly balancing risk and trying to ensure the team remained confident and assured in their own ability despite so many of them being so far outside their comfort zone. The palpable release in tension on safely reaching the valley floor and finally unroping and stepping out of harnesses for the first time in three days was significant; smiles all round and a genuine sense of achievement. Safe and successful the descent had never-the-less taken almost 4 hours and darkness was rapidly approaching. Head torches on and a renewed sense of purpose we strode out across the glacial moraine and down into the flat bottomed Fortuna bay for what turned out to be the most magical wildlife encounter of the entire trip. Kris puts it in his own words.


Kris’s bit – 


So as we stood in the shadow of the beast we just conquered, we then looked upon our new challenge. We had to cross a large beach colonised by penguins and seals with darkness soon upon us. We stepped off as 9 adventurers buoyant and excited by the challenge in front of us. The closer we got to the beach the noisier it became and the stench was over powering even more so than 8 smashed up adventure loving men and Emily. As we approached the beach darkness fell completely the beams of our head torches only adding to the tension. Nerves were twitching and bodies were tired but we set off onto the beach. Thousands of Penguins were waking up to see a strange blob of light cast by 9 head torches approaching them, their response varied, some stood transfixed, some simply ignored us and some waddled off in all directions, rather slowly. These were magnificent king penguins in the middle of fattening up for the winter so they certainly won’t be challenging Usain Bolt anytime soon. Seals on the other hand are deceptively quick and can be aggressive. As we moved through hundreds of penguins and seals we assumed a defensive formation checking all of our flanks and Emily checking our rear, most seals weren’t interested by us and tried to get out of our way but the odd one took exception to a blob of light waking them up. They charged us but soon backed off as we shouted at them to scare them off, our American team mate holla’ing them like he was back in the hood. We did our very best to avoid disturbing the wildlife too much but there wwere simply too many penguins and seals to avoid them completely and a fir seal bite is a serious thing that we couldn’t afford to risk. The beach stretched for nearly a mile and in the dark and the rain it took a lot of concentration to avoid any nasty encounters. Just when we thought the end was in sight we come across what can only describe as an absolute monster of an elephant seal. Matt Hoey cried out “ what the f*** is that!!!!!!” it was almost like a the bad guy at the end of a computer game, one last foe to conquer. We moved left, he moved left, we moved right, he moved right, it was a stand-off of epic proportions. We sold him the right shoulder faint and swung round the left. Just as we all seemed to be past the great beast he takes a lunge and myself and Matt Hoey, we backed off like scared little school girls. As we stared down the eyes of the beast with our hearts in our mouths and beads of sweat wetting our brow we pulled ourselves together and made a bolt for it, scraping narrowly through with all our parts intact only to be greeted by an anticipated river crossing. With a massive elephant seal behind us making moves towards us and only one way to go we stepped forth into a thigh deep river of freezing cold glacial run off water. In the dark the water seethed with seals and penguins all dashing in different directions and in the middle of it the nine of us arms linked fording the river. It was a strange sensation to have the dark water curling around our thighs and then glimpse a seal pup nibbling at one leg and feel the sleek body of a penguin strike the other, Straight away we almost had our first issue as Emily took a tumble spinning around to face the wrong way as she tripped, luckily for her she was saved by 2 marines and a mine clearance diver, Every women’s dream. With a bit of persistence we made it across safe and sound, laughing but soaked to the mid-thigh and rapidly getting cold. Kris C


After the adventures on the beach we were all feeling the effects of a very long day on the mountain and the unavoidable dunking in the river and we still had the steep climb up over the next saddle into Shackleton’s valley down to the old whaling station at Stromness. After a quick consultation over satellite phone with Tim back on the boat we made the decision to try and find flat ground and get the tents up again for another wet night out in the field. Warming everyone up again was the first priority and gathered in a circle in the dark punching the air and sprinting on the spot we must have presented a strange sight for the resident wildlife.  The second priority was finding a flat spot to camp. The hundreds of fur seals in the valley bottom ruled that out as an option and so compasses set on due east we yomped off into the dark climbing the far side of the valley scanning for the first bit of flat ground capable of taking the three little red tents. Eventually a shout from above indicated the two matts had identified a suitable spot, wet but flat and with a clear water source nearby…… Tents went up in double time and it wasn’t long before the stoves were roaring away and the team settled down for a few hours rest.


The morning sun rose high in the southern sky, revealing the huddled sodden campsite of our gallant Antarctic explorers. A few short hours spent sleeping, admittedly in soaking wet kit for some, had restored our spirits and partially renewed our tired bodies.


Stepping forth from the tents we were greeted to a view of Fortuna Bay and the hordes of wildlife which we had passed through on the previous night. Looking above us, towered the remainder of the Shackleton Trek rising to the east. Over shale hills and rushing mountain streams we trekked, fully enjoying the morning and knowing that soon the journey would be over.


Suddenly, there at the top of the rise, was the vision we’d all been waiting for. To the east in the crisp, cold morning air was Stromness, the tiny little whaling station which was the culmination of Shackleton’s hopes. Little imagination was required by our team to picture the sense of relief felt by Sir Ernest as he stood atop that rocky outcropping and looked down upon Stromness, knowing that his arrival meant salvation for him and his men. There, riding at anchor in the harbour, was our jaunty little cutter; our home away from home.  A sense of joy overcame us all as laughter rang out across the vale. Hands were shaken and congratulations exchanged. No event of this magnitude is complete without the obligatory photoshoot, so we clicked away with a half a dozen different cameras; Kris had to have his Shackleton model photo taken and our Royals would not stop pouting until someone took a picture of them each wearing the single green beret which Matt H. had dutifully lugged halfway around the world.


It was all downhill from thence, both figuratively and literally as we made our way down from the craggy heights above to the riverbed leading to the sea. Boggy lands bordered the little stream which meandered down from the glaciers above, tumbling over rocky falls to the valley floor until it finally reached the harbour. Along its bank we trekked the last few kilometres onto the beach. Wildlife was in abundance as we threaded out way through fur seals and young King penguins whilst albatrosses and giant petrels soared overhead.


Finally in the late morning we reached the stony shores of Stromness. The beach was littered with sleeping seals which would awaken only to either snarl or snort at us. Some would run others would sit up and blink at us as we strolled past. Once we got to the water’s edge, the babies would waddle up out of the sea and sniff our bergans. Three particularly inquisitive chaps surrounded Kris’s pack and began to tentatively nibble and taste the strange object. When chased away they sat in the surf looking at us, fully reminiscent of the ‘see no evil, say no evil, hear no evil’ monkeys.


I was the last to leave the beach that morning. Whilst sat there waiting on pickup by our intrepid skipper the magnitude of what we had accomplished settled upon me. This will be a story we tell and retell for the rest of our lives. (-Josh)


For me personally the trek across South Georgia has been a fantastic experience that will live with me for years to come. There were serene moments surrounded by fabulous vistas but also challenging ones, in particular leading the team off the hill down a very steep snow slope and then across a dark rain lashed beach through the most magical wildlife. What really impressed me however and will stay with me the longest is how well the rest of the team rose to meet their own individual challenges in such hugely demanding conditions. I learnt a little more about myself during the last few days but perhaps more importantly I also learnt that those qualities Shackleton and his men displayed so abundantly are very much still present amongst today’s Sailors and Marines, especially amongst this fine team of Sailors and Marines that I am proud to have shared this experience with.





The View from Xplore.


Stephen, Shady and I were responsible for taking the yacht round from King Haakon Bay to Stromness, remaining in touch with the shore team to ensure that we were close to the prearranged drop-off points on their route, should they need to take an early exit for any reason.  The passage round was fantastic, taking in sightings of a humpback whale, penguin colonies on Bird Island, quiet bays for overnight anchorages and finally Stromness itself.  Although I was getting regular updates on the team’s progress from Tony, it was still a nerve-wracking experience waiting in Stromness Harbour for their arrival, while keeping watch on the weather threatening both our anchorage and the team’s ability to make it down from the mountains.  My relief when I spotted the red jackets of the team on our side of the saddle was palpable – they had done it and were on their way in!  An extraordinary experience in itself, although much less physically demanding!

Hit the beach

It would only be fitting that the first two members of the team to hit the beach in South Georgia were an LC and an ML.  We quickly established the beach head and soon realised that a look out for the enemy needed to be posted.  Only on this occasion, the enemy were a pack of ferocious fur seals that appeared from the tussock grass, hungry for a piece of bootneck meat.   Once all the team were shoreside, we made our way up the moraine to the start of the glacier that leads to the Shackleton gap.  Via use of a map that was basic, to say the least and a little bit of jedi force, the team made its way up to the Briggs Glacier.  Movement was slow, due to a number of factors, not least having five people tied together, wearing crampons and doing knees to chest açross the glacier.
As we moved higher, the snow depth increased, making it harder for the lead man to see the crevasses and inadvertently finding himself wedged waste deep in a crack.  Much to the amusement of the person behind.  Although it does have a serious outcome, should the correct drills not be applied.  As the day progressed, the weather turned for the worse.  The wind increased and the snow got heavier.  By this point we’d been trudging through waist deep snow for 7 hours and legs were tired.  Especially for the team that had come straight from watch on the yacht.  We have now sought refuge and dug our tents in.  The tents we have are a thousand pound each and well designed to withstand the battering that they are currently taking.  The plan now is to get some rest and rehydrate ready for a first light start.  That is if Kris can avoid kicking me in the face every time he gets cramp.
The irony is not lost on me that as I sit here, typing on an ipad and sending a blog from a tent, via a satellite phone, that we are not just a century away from Shackleton but light years!  Tweed jackets have been replaced by down.  Hemp rope has given way to man made synthetic, kernmantle climbing rope and the screws that he put in his boots to grip on the ice are now precision manufactured crampons, that cost a years wages in equivalence to his time.  This can only make me think that he was not only super driven, motivated and determined to raise the alarm for help but he was also one nails human being!
Matt  H

Eat, sleep, sail, repeat

Eat, Sleep, Sail, Repeat

The monotony of being at sea is slowly starting to creep in with the team. The never ending routine of waking up and timing your jump from the bunk on to the cold damp cabin floor, whilst getting in to a position a contortionist would be proud of to get dressed, at the same time as being thrown around up and down left and right never fails to make me smile as I remember I volunteered for this!!! Then there is the fun of trying to get your food to the table let alone eat it. As both Shady and Matt B have found out, the galley floor is a precarious place. Imagine walking down a train carriage with a bowl of soup in one hand and the other hand for steadying, the train suddenly moves a different direction, yet you move the opposite. The result is comedy genius for those witnessing it, not so much for the victim. I blame our British sense of humour!

This is the area where Shady and Matt B have been covered in food.ATT00099


The sailing part is easy if some of the crew were able to hold a course. It would seem we have a couple who believe the yacht has to manoeuvre around imaginary obstacles in order to reach South Georgia. This enables the food in the oven to gain momentum to leave the oven and end up on the worktop. Today I baked an orange and raisin cake, I am sure the Great British Bake Off team has nothing to fear from this entry. Preparation was to decipher Spanish instructions, luckily my guess of three eggs and 200ml of milk were correct for the cake mix. Next I had to mix the contents whilst the yacht was being steered by a madman on the helm. Then there was the baking part….easy if you are in a Victorian terrace, not so much at sea. As you can see from the picture you need to prop one edge of the baking tray with an empty tin and a spoon to wedge the tray in. I’ll leave the comments from the expert panel of critics onboard the yacht to pass judgement in tomorrow’s blog.ATT00101



My baking steadying device, AKA tin and spoon method.

Today was shower day, the last one was at King George Island 4th Feb and looking at the picture it looks an easy feat, but that’s because the photo isn’t moving. The routine is to shut the door, strip, on water and rinse, off water lather body with soap, on water and rinse. Easy enough at home if you were tight and didn’t want the water meter to run away, on here we are limited by the ability of making our freshwater from sea water. This is all aided by the yacht moving around, it would be easier if you had just got inside a washing machine and went for a quick spin-cycle.

This is the shower area, great if the yacht was stable!0213619c-aeae-48f4-a690-645cda76ba6b

As I type this blog we are currently aiming to get the yacht to King Haakon Bay, South Georgia. This will enable the team to depart the yacht and set up a base camp tonightbefore setting off on our yomp retracing Sir Ernest Shackleton’s footsteps. Dinnertonight is a beef stew and my cake, our last cooked meal before we transfer ashore and move on to ration packs, provided by Real Foods. Not that anyone will be complaining the menu and standard of food is second to none.

Just to add it would seem we have our own Lara Croft Tomb raider, unfortunately for us this has come in the guise of Molly Macpherson Fridge raider at midnight. He would have pulled the raid off if hadn’t been for the brassband that came marching out of the fridge as the yacht heeled over and alerted Stephen the skipper. Molly’s response…… I was reorganising the fridge, unfortunately the Philadelphia cheese in his beard blew his cover. What made this worse was that only an hour beforehand we’d all enjoyed a pancake for Shrove Tuesday on the watch changeover, mass produced by Emily.


Disclaimer:  Over the last few days, there has been some artistic license during blog writing! I would like to point out that inter-watch banter is key to building team cohesion and spirit.  That said, one should never let the truth get in the way of a good story.  Secondly, in the words of Sir Winston Churchill – Don’t always believe what you read on the internet!


Life on the ocean wave

Mon 8th Feb
Sat in the saloon (or as Molly would have it – the front room of our Victorian terrace) wedged against the bulkhead hanging on tightly to the laptop as it repeatedly dances across the table heading for the far wall. The reason I’ve put myself here when I could be sleeping is to try and capture what it really means to be crossing the Southern Oceans in a 67ft yacht. It’s a difficult ask, Molly compared it to Christmas with all your in-laws in a tiny Victorian terrace house, I might suggest it’s more akin to a family break in a caravan with a wonky wheel and a leaking roof………
Just to pick up on some more of Mollys’ observations from yesterday, we are now settled into a relatively ‘slick’ routine where everyone instinctively knows what needs to be done to make the boat function and lives on board that bit more bearable. That said the routine is a demanding one that saps strength and tests resilience on a daily basis. Just getting out of your bunk after  the on watch ’terror shake’, can be a mission in itself , as Matt discovered this afternoon, emerging with a bloody nose after an altercation with his cabin door (at least that’s what he’s claiming gave him the nosebleed). The next challenge is getting dressed for the Antarctic in a wildly pitching cabin. Thermal base layers, are followed by a fleece of some description and then for most people either the excellent Shackleton woolly jumper or the white submariners jumper of WWII vintage. Say what you like, but wool really is warmer than any high-tech manmade fibre and there’s something comforting about looking like an extra from ‘The Cruel Sea’ as you make your way up top. Having managed all of this without knocking yourself out, it’s time for the Musto mid-layer which is effectively a big furry baby-grow for adults. Next, a Musto mid-layer Jacket, or a down smock and on top of that comes the Gortex salopettes and ocean Foulie jacket then Two hats, neck warmer and gloves or mitts to complete the picture. By this time you’re in a race to get to the upper deck before you overheat or sea sickness claims you. If it’s a watch change at a meal timing you’ve got a decision to make; eat down below in the warmth and risk not holding your lunch down, or eat on deck in the cold and wind and risk scattering your lunch over the southern Oceans…… either option brings much hilarity to the rest of the team when it goes wrong. Shady opted to combine the two today, slipping as the boat hit a particularly big swell and throwing warm soup and burrito all over himself and most of the galley………
As you may have picked up on from my previous blog, good food is central to all of our morale, but making it does not come easy. For starters the cooks face the constant challenge of a heaving deck and no horizon to combat sea sickness and the extra heat of a confined galley. On top of that there is the constant task of discovering all of Stephen’s secret hiding places. Food for 40 days for 12 people takes up a significant amount of space and rations are crammed into every conceivable hidey-hole on the boat. Fresh vegetables are under the floor in the rear of the saloon, cheese and pasta packed next to the bilge pump, Tinned tomatoes and yeast for bread making behind the mid-cabin seats, and biscuits rather suspiciously, in the Commander’s cabin………. Once cooking starts it’s a a game of chess trying to balance the right pans on the right burners at the right time and you can guarantee anything you put down on a flat surface, won’t be there any more just a moment later. All of this has to be completed while doing an abdominal work out just to hold yourself in place.
All of us are distinctly aware of the stark comparisons with Shackleton’s crossing to South Georgia and fully appreciate the extreme hardships he and his crew endured, but as they grew and learned from their experiences, so too are we. Adventurous Training is about proving to yourself that you can find a way through difficult situations and that you can then draw on the experiences to help you through tough times on operations; whether it’s repeatedly dragging ourselves up onto a bucking upper deck in the freezing cold of the southern oceans or stealing ourselves to two hours trapped below in a hot heaving galley despite the sea sickness, we are all learning where to find that little extra motivation and that additional hard core of resilience  that will no doubt stay with us long after we return to the UK.
In a final correction to the last blog  ‘Mimicry is they say the highest form of flattery…………. there is only one Alpha watch on this boat…….!

Drake passage

59⁰ 23.2336’ S ,  53⁰ 57.1100’ W

Exactly, where on earth is that? Well I can tell you, it’s between Elephant Island and South Georgia on a bearing of 025-030 and about 619 nautical miles from South G in the expanse of Drake Passage.  If you look closely on any recent satellite image you will see a small yacht with Kris Cunningham running around making Matt Hoey’s wets (drinks)!

By Drake Passage standards in these parts of the World, the weather has been kind to us.  We still require 7 layers of clothing, belt fed hot chocolate and the odd biscuit to keep morale up, but we are making good speed, averaging about 8 knots.  The first 18 hours or so still required a very sharp look out for ice: the ‘Growlers’ were still around and these combined with low mist (and poor visibility) and the speed of the boat kept the mind, eyes and brain sharp.  When you consider that a 1 meter cube of ice weighs approximately a tonne and many  are much bigger than this, you don’t need a health and safety lecture to work out the implications of hitting one in a structure where water on the outside is a good thing and on the inside (in any great volume) is mostly undesirable and best to be avoided!

This morning we had a short service on the upper deck; Commander Tim donned his cassock in the role of the AE16 Fleet Chaplain. We now realise that the addition of his Captain Birdseye beard actually fits many roles, Master and Commander, Monk and International Frozen Fish Monger.  He is a man of many guises and talents!  Once we had established if Josh Cowart (from Georgia, USA) was happy to continue without the presence of a rattle snake, we continued.  The service was short and to the point, but also actually very apt and appropriate.  We took a minute to reflect that somewhere near us 100 years ago Shackleton and his men were in a small open topped boat at the mercy of these heaving, cold and merciless seas!  Today we lost all readouts from our wind gizmos on the boat, no big issue as resorting to the basics is both OK and working, especially since Shackleton and his team didn’t have any; they had a jury-rigged sail, had to work out the weather from cloud formations and the wind and navigated with a hand held compass and a sextant trying to hit the equivalent of a needle in a haystack.  If they missed it, the next stop would be certain death and being washed up on a South African beach.

When you are literally following in their footsteps (and wake) you get a real and powerful understanding of their determination, courage and extraordinary achievements in the face of uncertainty and danger – it’s just simply awe-inspiring.

On completion of the service, we awaited with baited breath for some wine, unfortunately the Monk had reverted back to Master and Commander, we weren’t even offered a fish finger sandwich – oh well!

A few people have asked about the living conditions and routine aboard.  Xplore is 67ft long by 17.4ft at the widest point (the Beam), so consider a single story Victorian terrace where 12 people work, live, sleep, cook, eat, wash and use the bathroom.  However, in this space you also have your garage contents, all the extra boat stuff, spares for everything (if it breaks, we fix it), a big engine, generator, 1600 litres of fuel (your family car takes approx. 50 litres), gas, emergency equipment and enough food and fresh provisions for 12 people for 40 days; on top of this 12 x mountaineering bergans, tents, ice axes crampons etc, you get a general idea!  The upper deck, where the boat is sailed from and a study just below which is the control centre for navigation, electronics, radar, warning systems, control panels for engines, lights, fire systems etc.

We’re split into two watches; obviously our watch is the best and is known simply as the Alpha watch! The shift system is two 6 hour and 3 x 4 hour watches per day, regardless of weather, health, interest, or if you think your morale bag is toppers and you can’t possibly fit any more in, you can and you will! Within these watches we take it in turn to cook meals, clean and maintain as required.  We are all in two man cabins with someone from the other watch which does give you some space to sort your stuff out; although I’m sharing with Matt Hoey, the other Mountain Leader, I’m a size 11 and he is a 9.5 boot, we still managed to wear one of each for a watch.  WO Taff Davies, our expedition admin lifestyle coach, we need you!

So how best to sum that up, imagine living in a two up two down with 12 adults for 40 days, only two sockets to recharge, minimal heating and the contents of your garage.  Add to this the requirement to go and stand on your patio or decking for regular periods while someone sprays you with salt water and continually tries to push you over, and you won’t be far off; except for the sea sickness, you won’t get that in a Victorian terrace, neither will you have to pump your toilet 30-50 times to get waste to your sewage system!  Now imagine that the 12 adults are in fact the in-laws and outlaws that come over for Christmas, now you understand fully why such great care was taken by Tim and Tony in the selection process!

Anyway, hopefully that gives you a feel.  In short we make it work, you have to, there is really no place for “me”, it doesn’t work, selfish attitudes or tendencies are highlighted very quickly, not tolerated, managed or changed and then the team emerges as a cohesive unit.   We continue on our journey, so until the next Blog farewell.

PS: Blog Correction, you may have noticed the last blog was written by our intrepid Scots diver Kris?  Correction “Matt ye canny be afraid of a wee Matelot (Navy)”?  And his elbow didn’t slip!



Pots and pans, and fun and games

The blog 6th of February

A tale of hard luck

I have to start in on the evening of the 5th of February. We had just enjoyed a lovely meal prepared by Matt B and Donald, The latter being highly supervised by head chef Matt. We all looked at each in anticipation of the big event, dicing to see who cleans all the pots, pans, plates and cleans up after everyone. This was a colossal evening for anyone to lose the dice, the washing up was stacked ten high after enjoying Barbara the sheep’s 2 hind legs. Person after person diced, each time the tension grew in worry that it might be them that lost the dice until the ship’s funny man Dan Hill threw a double one. There was no coming back from this, it seemed he was destined to have the washing up. Thoughts turned to who would get the second lowest as they also would get the washing up. Again person after person continued to throw until alas the dice were finished and our plucky young Scottish Diver Kris unfortunately lost.

Dan and Kris got to work feeling a little hard done by but being happy go lucky guys they carried on with the job in hand until the villain in this tale of hard luck enters the fray. Matt Hoey a Royal Marine mountain leader of more years than he cares to remember takes it upon himself to mock our jovial friends until the smiling Scotsman has had enough. He stands up for all that is good and right in this fair yacht and challenges our heinous villain Matt to an arm wrestle. If Kris wins Matt finishes off the washing up but if Matt wins Kris and Dan continue with the washing up and Kris makes Matt cups of tea on demand for the rest of the week. The crowd gasped as these 2 titans of the yacht entered their arena; but who would win? Good vs evil, Marine vs Diver, Scotsman vs Englishman. Both challengers settled down into their starting positions, Matt with the one man fog horn Molly Macpherson and fellow marine Matt B in his corner and Kris with fellow dishwasher Dan in his corner. They’re off !!!!!! Matt Hoey the bookies’ favourite takes a storming lead in this epic battle but the plucky Scotsman comes back from the death and pulls it level. Matt knows he’s in a match now and is scared! He can’t hold back his emotions any longer “I think he’s got me” cries the proud Marine until hard luck hits our young Diver. When in the heat of battle his elbow slips on the table and a triumphant Hoey capitalizes and beats the plucky challenger, the crowd were distraught calling for a steward’s enquiry or at minimum a rematch but the victor running scared retired to his bed safe in the knowledge he had secured his cups of tea for the week.

Dan and Kris’s plight was not helped by the fact the yacht was not generating any hot water. This proved to be a source of great frustration for our favourite 2 sailors, continually having to put the kettle on to generate clean hot water. They slaved over the kitchen until 11pm and then slipped off to bed knowing it would only be a short sleep until they were up again. Kris was up at 4am for his anchor watch and Dan at 5am for his and then both were up at 7am to help get the yacht ready for setting sail.

7am came and the ship’s company was up bright and early. Woken by slight winds, glorious sunshine and the faint call of a happy penguin. Today was the day, the day they set sail for South Georgia and to walk in their heroes’ footsteps. They all had been dreaming of Sir Ernest Shackleton which only added to the buzz of excitement sweeping across the yacht. Work had to be done first, Shady’s watch were first up for weighing anchor and setting sail. Shady’s watch comprises of Shady their glorious leader , Josh our jovial American friend , Donald our Scottish heart throb, Matt B our talented head chef and Major Molly Macpherson the gentle giant with a story or ten to tell. The anchor was raised with little to no problem under the stewardship of Shady and with great delight the gallant yacht Xplore set sail for South Georgia to make the dreams of these courageous sailors led by their fearless leaders Tim and Tony.




No-one expected to see a convoy of Chinese BV’s moving along the shoreline, as we exited the King George Island ridgeline this morning.
Once back on the yacht, the inevitable admin whirlwind of 9 people trying to clean and dry their expedition kit, in a space the size of a prison cell was in full effect.
This afternoon has been fairly relaxed, filled with dit spinning (story telling) and general banter.  Food preparation and some minor yacht repairs to the generator, have taken up the time of the duty stoker (Shady).
Depending on the weather, we are aiming to depart for South Georgia within the next 24 hours, which will be our longest passage yet.  The prospect of hitting the beach in King Haakon Bay is an exciting one.
Another week’s time and we will be embarking on foot, to cross the the island, following in the footsteps of Shackleton himself.
Nine months ago, we were all still just hopefuls in the running to be an AE16 team member.
Seeing the messages that have come through the website has been very encouraging and the team are very grateful, especially to the children of Dalgetty Bay Nursery, who have been following our progress.
Before we depart, there are still a number of jobs to be done, such as stowing away the Zodiac that took us ashore, checking of weather, planning of the passage and personal admin.
Leaving King George Island for the next stage of the journey, will be a milestone and time to take stock of the incredible journey that we have already undertaken.
Once at sea, comms will be limited, due to the amount of movement and lack of stability that is needed to transmit on the satellite.
If we make best speed, we could be in South Georgia as early as Thurs 11th Feb.
Matt H

Part two

04th Feb Blog (part two).
Tents up, scran eaten and the prospect of 14 hrs in our sleeping bags staring us in the face………. clearly time to go exploring! Whilst Kris, Molly and a little yellow duck set off to escort the commander back to the yacht (apparently some very important ‘stuff’ to be done back on the yacht) the rest of us set out to investigate Horatio’s stump, a large flat topped promontory jutting out at the far SW corner of King George Island and rather appropriately offering a great view of Nelson’s Island – or at least it would if it wasn’t wrapped in a thick freezing fog. The peak itself is a steep sided igneous rock protrusion with several challenging scrambles up its flanks and at least one of the team was clearly thankful that the fog effectively concealed the drop down to the ice choked seas below.


Adventurous Training is about taking people out of their comfort zone and allowing them to build self confidence and reliance on their team members in a controlled risk environment. Sailing through the southern Oceans has already taken most of us a considerable way outside the comfort zone and Horatio and his stump does the same for others. The climb proves worthwhile as much for the sense of achievement as for the rather truncated views and feeling of genuine exposure. Now all we’ve got to do is come down again and there’s no gentle grass slope to walk around. Scrambling down the same route we came up the team work well together with Matt H and Matt B providing one on one coaching to those more closely resembling bambi on ice than seasoned mountain goats.

Mini adventure complete we cross the snowfield and dive back into the snug red tents and the inevitable kit explosion. Matt B get’s the stove on again almost before the door is zipped up, and begins a remarkably impressive food-athon that seems to involve cooking and eating 24hrs worth of food in just 24 minutes, whilst Dan starts chasing satellites across the southern skies in an attempt to tweet, blog and facebook simultaneously while also downloading the football, rugby and cricket scores. Next door the old married couple (Josh and Doc)  seize the opportunity to curl up together and get some sleep while the ‘ditling gun’ Macpherson is away at the beach. The respite is short and Molly and Kris soon return having had their own mini animal adventure with a host of dive bombing petrels and a very inquisitive fur seal. It takes a little while longer however for them to reveal that while back on the beach they snaffled a couple of hot bacon sandwiches delivered to them in ‘ziggy’ by a rather warmer shady lane.  This adventure stuff is great but when it comes down to it, it’s all about the food…..!

Horatio Stump

04 Feb 16 Part 1

Following on from Shady’s first now last ever blog, we ate like kings (and one queen) last night with a three course dinner on the yacht. The home-grown Antarctic cucumber was used in the Tzatziki and the spring onions were a welcome addition for the main course in Josh’s momma’s soup (American accent needed for effect). Dessert was panetone with custard, a random choice! This was all washed down with a some Spanish red wine; we dine with class down here 😉 The evening at anchor was a great chance for all to get a full night’s sleep as there was no threat of ice in Maxwell Bay opposite the Chinese research station.

We awoke this morning to a yacht full of smoke courtesy of the Doc (Donald) cooking a fried breakfast. The morning was spent packing kit and enjoying the sight of a few kit explosions from certain members of the team, no names mentioned. The team was ferried ashore in Ziggy the zodiac, who ensured that the Gore-Tex was fully tested before we even stepped ashore. group beachOn the beach we were welcomed by a committee of penguins curious to see the strange people in matching red and black outfits with huge grey backpack thanks to one of sponsors Mammut.ascent stump

Once all of the team were ashore, we started our walk to Horatio Stump on the other coastline of King George Island. We were followed by two Petrels for the whole journey who insisted on flying close to our heads. The walk consisted of walking through hundreds of years’ worth of bird poo and boggy soil. The epic scenery of rocky outcrops and snow slopes made up for the previous.

ascent horatio stumpOnce we had navigated to our destination it was up to our resident Royal Marine Mountain Leaders to find an ideal spot for us to pitch the tents in snow, in preparation for out trip to South Georgia.pitch tents3 tents

The tents were pitched on a snow slope to avoid the Westerly winds and were put up in quick time to ensure lunch was prepped. Lunch was dehydrated ration packs provided by Real Drytech Foods from Norway, with interesting menus such as Reindeer soup, chicken curry, pasta bolognaise and lamb mulligatawny. All in Norwegian and much better than our UK versions for cold weather meals.Dan scran

To be continued……..tent kit

shady’s first ever blog

03 Feb 16 – Shady’s First Ever Blog

After years of ignorance I finally get to join the blogaverse; Tony has given me the task of fitting 24hrs into four or five paragraphs, this will prove a real challenge.

Picking up where Molly left off as the pod of Orcas

dive out of sight. We departed Antarctic Sound in the evening although you could be forgiven for thinking that it was high noon as the sun reflected off the snow and ice. The uncharacteristic smooth seas and crystal clear visibility set the scene with the gigantic Weddell Sea icebergs, lined like a squadron of enormous dazzling white battleships standing guard at the entrance to the sound, witnessed our departure.
The plan was for a short dash across the Bransfield Strait to King George Island; however, as any military personnel will tell you, “no plan ever survives contact with the enemy” and true to form the weather hadn’t read the plan. The passage was punctuated which numerous changes of sail as the wind changed direction and strength on a regular basis and just for good measure the fog closed in, bringing the challenge of weaving around barely visible icebergs. Finding shelter in Maxwell Bay at the Western end of King George Island the team dropped anchor in a sheltered cove and spent the morning catching up with some much needed rest.

The team had a pleasant excursion over to the Great Wall Chinese Research Station in the afternoon. Envious stares were cast over the seemingly luxurious accommodation, by comparison to the cosy confines of Xplore (apologies Steve, she’s lovely honest). As a treat the Chinese gifted some Antarctic-grown cucumbers and spring onions from their specially adapted greenhouse, which went down well for dinner.

Dan, Kris and Josh at “The Great Wall” Antarctica Research CentreIMG_0133[2], King George Island.


Kris and Matt H inspecting Chinstrap Penguins on parade.