In late September last year, I saw the chance to squeeze in one last big journey before 2014 drew to a close. Within a few weeks had I put together the logistics, roped in a couple of friends and we were off with barely time to catch our breath and question what was going on...just the way adventures should be!
Our destination was the Rio Santa Cruz, the last free-flowing glacial river in Patagonia. It begins life in Lago Argentino, at the foothills of the Andes in the west of Argentina, then winds and meanders its way across the country to the Atlantic Ocean. We hoped to begin there, at its terminus in the east, and follow it upstream to the source just as the first explorers had tried to do.
Our journey was inspired by the story of that first comprehensive European expedition along the river, undertaken by Captain FitzRoy in 1834. FitzRoy had been charged with charting the coastline of South America, and his crew included a very young and very impressionable Charles Darwin who fancied himself as a bit of a geologist and amateur explorer. Both FitzRoy and Darwin left detailed writings of their journey along the river which, unfortunately, ultimately ended in their failure to reach the source (though they came heartbreakingly close.) Together with Tom Allen (who I travelled to Iran with earlier in the year) and an Argentinian friend, Jose, we hoped to use these diaries to make a journey in the footsteps of FitzRoy and Darwin. Patagonia is a land than can only be truly traversed on horseback, so we prepared for the expedition by acquiring five horses which we hoped would carry us all the way to the Andes.
There was another reason for our trip, too - in February 2015, construction is due to begin on two dams, which will flood huge sections of the valley and change the ecosystem and landscape completely. Somewhat sadly, it seemed we would not just be following in the footsteps of the first explorers; we would perhaps simultaneously be the last explorers ever to see the Rio Santa Cruz before it changes forever.
Below are a few pictures to give a hint of the journey. Watch out for more writing, and news on the film, coming soon. Enjoy!
At the end of June I'll be riding around the British Isles on a folding bicycle, climbing the highest peak in each of the six major regions (want to know more? Check out this page!)
From this week onwards I'll be starting to update my website with progress (or lack of it) as I get ready for this fun summer adventure right here in the UK and Ireland!
You can follow me on Twitter and Facebook, and also via my Punkt interactive map - this will be where I post most of the photos and videos as I go, so check it out. Click on the map above to access the Punkt content.
Finally, if you'd like to meet me at any point along the way to climb a Peak or ride a few miles (or bring me presents) send me a message here!
Wilfred himself in 1947
It’s now just a few days until Alastair Humphreys and I set off to explore the Rub' al Khali, or Empty Quarter desert, on foot. Al has written a great blog post explaining some of our motives and what we hope to achieve on this expedition. We will follow the British explorer Wilfred Thesiger – literally in that we hope to roughly retrace the route of his 1947 crossing of the Sands, and metaphorically in that we are seeking some of the same escape, fulfillment, joy and ascetic misery he was searching for in the largest sand desert on earth.
We won’t be blogging during the trek. Instead we’ll be filming the whole journey extensively, with our main aim being to make a great documentary at the end of it all. We’ll be tweeting using our SPOT tracking device to give some basic updates on our progress.
Our start point is Salalah, the second city of Oman. Having never been there I can’t comment on it too much, but it certainly seems a beautiful and relaxed place. With help and guidance from those much more experienced than us, Al and I have settled on a design for our desert cart. We’re using quite a simple but robust structure, and doubling up the wheels on each corner for increased surface area on the sand (to stop us sinking.) Onto the cart we will load jerry cans of water, bags of food and the rest of our personal equipment. Everything will have to be exceedingly minimalist, as it seems dragging a heavy cart through sand in 40 degree heat will be rather tiring.
We hope that the total weight will not be much more than 250kg, and we’ll tandem pull. Every two weeks or so we will resupply with water, but the food we carry from Salalah must last us until Dubai, our end point, 43 days later.
The challenges of this journey are probably rather clear. Heavy cart, deep sand, relentless heat. Potential for sandstorms. Infrequent, if not complete absence of, human contact. Spending 6 weeks walking just inches away from each other, with no escape. Long, hard days of trekking with monotonous scenery. A diet of dates and couscous. No (or heavily rationed) whisky supplies.
Last week I wrote about trying to avoid wishing away time by wanting to be somewhere else. I have slowly grown to find a reasonable level of contentment in London, buoyed by once more being surrounded by loved ones and the comforts of city life.
Today my mind is on fear and excuses - some the biggest barriers (for me, at least) to personal happiness. In the past I can pinpoint the moments in my life where opportunity has come calling and I have either seized it, or let it pass me by. The times when I have done the former have been those which have shaped me as a person and led to greater fulfillment, and the latter are those which I regret. Opportunity comes in many forms, and often represents a big change; a shift to a lack of stability. My psyche certainly, and I would imagine most people's, does not readily accept change - a move away from the comfortable and the known, into the murky depths of uncertainty. While this can be terrifying, it's also at the very heart of living an adventurous life. Seizing upon opportunities to escape routine and to broaden horizons is what adventure is all about - to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield! Pushing personal limits and seeing what we are capable of. It is possible, of course, to make opportunity for ourselves by luck, judgement, skill and determination. But it is equally important to recognise that opportunity when it comes along, self-made or out of the blue. It is crucial to think beyond the initial fears, excuses and cop-outs.
I'm currently in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, preparing for my new Walking Home From Mongolia expedition.
For the next 6 months this website will only be updated periodically - for the most up to date info check out www.walkinghomefrommongolia.com
Rob Lilwall and I are planning to trek 5000km from the Gobi Desert to Hong Kong, making a TV show along the way. We're really excited about it, and are expecting lots of thrills and spills along the way, so please do check it out!
You can also follow us on Facebook here and Twitter here.
Feel free to drop me a message - it'll be a welcome bit of support during the long days of hiking!