The Youth Development Charity and expedition organisation British Exploring Society runs yearly expeditions to a range of wilderness environments, from jungle to extreme arctic, which are open to 16-25 year olds. The expeditions have a strong scientific element, as young explorers take a proactive role in research of the wilderness by gathering data and taking samples to be sent to laboratories for analysis. To do this research the 65 or so young explorers were divided into ‘fires’ (groups of 12 people) according to preference of field work study: the 5 fires were Glaciology, Geology, Geomorphology, Marine Biology, Atmosphere. All worked separately, trekking to isolated locations with a experienced mountain and science leaders.
The personal development element starts long before the expedition embarks; there is first the challenge of fundraising, in this case over £3,000 for 5 weeks; thus by the time you rendezvous in the airport, you have all overcome a common challenge.
A defining feature of the BES is the diversity of young people it attracts onto expeditions; in the basecamp, one could often hear an array of voices representing all corners of the United Kingdom, which was quite a quaint experience in itself. This of course also presented its own challenges, for example when working together as a rope team on the ice, putting your trust into a relative stranger hoping they would be ready to catch you if a snow bridge collapsed or an unseen crevasse swallowed you.
In terms of physicality, the expedition gave everyone the chance to push their minds and bodies harder than usual. For example, besides one’s own kit, there a pile of group kit had to be carried, including communication systems (including a 9kg radio), medical and survival equipment, specialist individual and group mountaineering and ice gear, science equipment, 3-man Arctic grade tents, as well as food for up to 8 days each, when ascending a steep glacier. It certainly wasn’t easy for anyone, but in fact it proved deeply invigorating, especially when turning back to see a pristine glacial landscape below.
A highlight of the expedition was the endurance challenge, circumnavigating the Oksfjordjokelen Ice Cap, taking no tents or surplus food. 10 of us walked from 11.00 till 23.30 on the first day, resting briefly at intervals for nourishment. The weather was kind, and stayed so for the 2 days. At the end of day one, we found a ledge half way down the north-east glacier, and slept in our bivi-bags under a shoulder of ice, waking to the occasional collapsing of an ice bridge or ice stack. The second night found us camping upon the edge of a several hundred metre high cliff. We settled happily, 100 metres above the unbroken cloud that lay thick like a great blanket across the entire peninsula. We ate our rehydrated rations as we sat waiting for the sunset of a lifetime, and our first visible sunset for 4 weeks because the area experiences 24 hour sunlight for a 2 month period. As the sun sank We All howled, like a pack of wolves from our rocky perch, across the cloudy abyss. In that moment one could not help but feel a truly profound sense of fellowship and freedom. At that moment, all the stress, strain and labour were worth it.
I cannot thank enough those who supported me in getting there; Canford School, my CCF CO, The Michael Garvey Trust and The Ulysses Trust.