Hi Yann, how’s it going?
Incredibly well. I have just returned from my Arctic adventure and all I can think of is going back.
So you’ve been on a three month expedition: where was it based and what did you get up to?
The expedition I went on was based on Svalbard – an island near the North Pole (it’s Europe’s northernmost territory). The main aim out there was to explore and conduct scientific research, however the first few weeks were dedicated to simply surviving the harsh arctic winter and undergoing snow and ice training, such as crevasse rescuing.
Polar bears, -30° temperatures, no connection with the outside world… some would say you’re crazy! Why did you choose this expedition?
Those are precisely the reasons why I chose to go to Svalbard – in fact that’s why I took a gap year. I live in London and find it really hectic. I had just completed my A levels and wanted to break away from the everyday stress. I have always dreamed about go to the Poles and found this trip would bring me one step closer to that dream. A benefit of going to a cold climate is that there are no creepy crawlies! I also reckon that when you are cold it is much easier to warm up than cool down if you in a hot country. I loved being disconnected from the outside world. That said, I was miserable the first week; caught in a whiteout and stuck in my tent!
You needed to raise £3,900 for the expedition – how did you reach this target and how do you find fundraising?
In total I had to raise over £6,000 as the equipment needed for this trip did cost a considerable amount. In order to reach this target I got myself a job, wrote to charitable trusts, sold stuff I didn’t want on eBay, and created a money bin where I would put all my spare change. Overall I found it a lot easier than expected.
Space must have been pretty limited on the trip – so what did you take with you?
Going on a trip like this teaches you how important it is to pack light, as I obviously brought too many things. As there was lots of snow, we would pull ‘pulks’ (snow sleds) to transport all our equipment, which made the task a lot easier. Even though we were all told to bring as little as possible, the following items were compulsory: down jacket, waterproof jacket, sleeping bag, salopettes, plastic boots, warm boots (similar to après-skis), rucksack, gloves and mitts.
Once there we were given skis, mountaineering equipment (including ice axe, crampons, helmet), ration packs for several days and we all had to carry group equipment such as radios, ropes and medical kits.
Any luxury items? Chocolate, maybe, to break up the routine diet of reindeer meat and snow?
I brought a few luxury items including spices and cinnamon. I also had a bar of white chocolate that I shared with my tent buddies during a horrible whiteout. We needed to bring 500g of high energy food – something that would last us 24 hours in an emergency. I therefore chose to bring vanilla fudge, chocolate and fruit bars – however most of us broke into our emergency packs before the expedition had even ended.
Seriously though, did you eat reindeer?
No! We had a ration pack of food everyday. This typically consisted of porridge, two flapjacks, two Mars bars, peanuts, raisins, a soup, two main meals, a pudding, a beverage pack, crackers, jam and squeezy cheese. This would amount to over 6000 calories a day! That may sound a lot, but in order to simply keep warm our bodies needed that much energy.
What did you enjoy the most and the expedition?
I think my fondest memories are of the people I lived with for three months. We literally did everything together and had to work as a team to make the expedition a success.
What did you dislike the most?
When we first arrived it was unbelievably cold. At night my breath vapour would condense against the ceiling of my tent and instantly freeze. As soon as the slightest gust of wind hit the tent, frost would fall on my face – that is possibly the worst feeling ever.
You experienced 24 hours of solid daylight, how you filled all that time, and if you managed to sleep?
Being at such a high latitude (78° North) means that the sun never sets during the spring and summer. At first it was weird – and I would constantly wake up during the night thinking it was the morning – but you soon get used to it. Time in the Arctic is irrelevant. For safety reasons – the snow was firmer on glaciers – but also for the fun of it, we decided to shift our body clocks by exactly 12 hours (we did this for about a week). We would therefore go on excursions during the night, which was effectively our day.
Tell us more about BSES Expeditions, what kind of people do them and how are they structured?
BSES is a youth development charity. Unlike many other gap year organisations, BSES will ship you off to some of the world’s most remote regions. The people who join come from all different walks of life but generally have a common desire to explore.
Finally, can you sum up your adventure in five words?
Five words aren’t enough, but here goes: inspiring, epic, crazy, cold, challenging.