Thursday, 3 October 2013

National Poetry Day

"All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling" - Oscar Wilde

In the spirit of  National poetry day 2013, here is some of my own bad poetry, I just hope you can all spot the genuine feeling from whence it sprang. I wrote this whilst up on the ice cap and hope that you enjoy it.... or at least don't judge me too openly.


Tumbled stack,
Reaching up to peaks of black

Ice below,
Slowly flow,
Tumble rumble creak and groan

Sunlit sky,
Blue on high,
'Neath midnight sun no night is nigh

Rocky peak,
Icy creek
Sunsoaked ice cap ever bleak

Photograph by Emma Godson

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Week 3 : Managing Expectations

"The size of your success is measured by the strength of your desire; the size of your dream; and how you handle disappointment along the way" - Robert Kiyosaki

With thoughts of ‘our’ sunsoaked ice cap still fresh in our minds, My fellow TLs and I met with our mentor amidst the Glum faces and despondent demeanours of base camp. In the absence of further ice cap travel in the foreseeable future we had to re-arrange our plans as a group. Thus we received another lesson in on the recurring theme of our expedition leader training: Rolling with the punches.  Throughout our trip it became apparent that at all times when leading in an expedition context having the flexibility to abandon plans A through G  at a moments notice in order to make a new plan is a skill of paramount importance. With some amongst us still suffering with the injuries from the previous weeks and an advance base camp on the ice cap loaded with supplies and tents which were no use to man nor beast where they were, our original roster for our first week working with the Young Explorers (YEs) was subject to changes. The new plan resulted in some people returning to the ice cap with the tent rescue party, others remaining at base camp and still more of us heading out to various new locations with YEs to find adventure in the absence of the ice cap. 

 It was someones unenviable task to chase the storm battered remains of this beast 
around the ice cap.

I was going to get my first chance to work with the YEs this week and I couldn’t wait, although Id have to. They were heading out straight away and I still had umpteen thousand filthy socks and other bits and pieces to corral and clean and re-pack after our week away on the ice. So the (Gnarly Gnarly) Otters and their leaders set off for the NĊŻvvavum peninsular to the north west of base camp leaving us to our washerwoman inspired beating of socks on rocks. Me, the TL mentor and three other TLs were to set off to follow them the next morning. So I scrubbed and washed and soaked and cleaned, and eventually came to the realisation that on exped cleanliness is relative, and though my socks still wiffed faintly and looked as though they might up and walk them selves out of my tent at a moments notice, I could at last bear to be in the same tent as them, so that would do. The following morning dawned and I eagerly packed up ready to head off the 7k to the peninsular where we would be spending the rest of the week. For a short walk it  was not without its excitement. First after reaching the end of the ‘road’ we set off cross-country and up a neighbouring valley to find a river crossing site. Despite its relative proximity this valley was fascinatingly different, it was, as our geomorphologist informed us a former glacial lake which had broken fourth from its headwall and drained at some point this meant that in comparison to our ‘home’ valley it was relatively wet at seemingly fertile, extensive dwarf birch forests amongst the wetland and lakes. 

The neighboring valley.

As we climbed higher up the valley towards a gorge of the river, the land dried out and we started searching for a safe place to cross. Insert calamity no.1, some of our group were less confident in and around water and so I eagerly volunteered to help our TL mentor scout out some crossings and then get people safely across. In my eagerness to prove my competence (coupled with my eagerness to get in the water as any member of my family will attest) I hurried in to plant myself firmly up to my waist so that I could help my colleagues across moments later our mentor came across to put my pack on the further bank for me. As I helped her past me I spotted, firmly attached to the outside of my bag the lightweight fast drying pair of trainers which I had packed specifically for river crossings. I looked down and there, thoroughly submersed and fully soaking wet beneath the water where my feet, wearing heavy, leather gore-tex line B2 mountaineering boots….. Nightmare.

So we all got a cross and I soldiered on with now sodden feet feeling a prize idiot.  On the way back down the valley however we encountered calamity number 2. One of our group who had just been forced to miss out on the ice cap week due to an injured ankle , re-injured the ankle on the uneven terrain. This required evacuation to base camp. The evacuation came in the form of the chief scientist detouring the day’s oceanography study to pick up the injured party by boat. SO after waiting by the fjord side for a while and trying desperately to dry my socks out, we left minus one member of our crew to meet up with the others you on the peninsular. When I got there I was both pleased and surprised to meet a group of YEs with huge grins and excited attitudes.

Given that 36hrs before I had seen tears and anger from a number amongst the expedition I was not expecting to be greeted so warmly by the group. But to their credit (and I dare say that of the leaders who managed to keep them bus) the group was boyant and eager to investigate their ‘paintpot’ valley. 

 Home sweet home, the Otter's den !

Our sun-soaked little corner of norway, 'Paintpot valley'

Over the next week I would come to know all of the group better. They taught me to fish (although I was very unsuccessful) they taught me the words to their ‘marching’ song ‘the gnarly gnarly otters’ and above all they taught me (although I’m not sure they new it) a huge amount about leadership in an expedition context. Simply by working with them I learned a lot about myself, about where I am successful in leadership, and where I am less so, areas to work on and which habits to maintain and which to see off rapidly. Above all by watching their interation with their leaders and the other TLs who were working with otter fire and other fires, I learned that as a leader, you must never assume the respect of the people you are leading. With all the experience in the world and 15 everest summits under your belt if you neglect to give a group the time and attention they desire, or if they become aware of your weaknesses or shortcomings, then even the (seemingly) nicest group of people can turn on a person. 

Learning invaluable lessons from a seasoned and accomplished outdoor leader.

As well as learning through experience with the YEs, I was very lucky in that Otter Fire had a most excellent leader team. Comprised of the Deputy chief leader and the Chief scientist, there was no shortage of experience or expertise, and I was very fortunate to get to work with them both and learn a lot from each of them. The DCL, is a seasoned outdoors man, bushcraft instructor and serving member of the RAF, so I managed to glean, by watching him working with the YEs, Brilliant methods for taking the more military style of leadership that I learned working with the Air Cadets, and tweak those skills to apply them in a civilian context. as a Mountain Leader, Winter ML and soon to be international ML he also had an encyclopedic knowledge of knots and practical outdoor skills to teach. The Chief Scientist has spent years working as a career, outdoor science teacher, taking young people on exciting but none the less scientific, trips into Scotland's wild places. In essence my dream job which I was previously un-aware of the real world existence of. From him I learned about the variety of exciting options opened to me, asd well as some invaluable tips about delivering scientific teaching in an outdoor context, and keeping a groups focus when you are literally surrounded by distractions. Two fascinating and thoroughly inspirational outdoor leaders whom I feel privileged to have worked with.

A pretty epic place to study science and have adventures

Our Job as TLs was made particularly difficult by our relative closeness in age to the YEs (some YEs were older than a few members of the TL group) without the bonus of respect through seniority in years, I witnessed particular members of the TL programme struggle to earn the respect of the YEs and others who earned too much of their ‘respect’ and became overly friendly  rather than acting as ‘leaders’ during this time. and I hope I managed to learn from their short comings and treat the group with a mutual respect that indicated to them that my intentions were honest and despite our closeness in age that I had earned my place as their ‘leader’ (although I actually found that by establishing a careful balance between being their equal and being ‘in-charge’ as it were, I managed to get the best out of the group[I hope]).

All in all I was simply thrilled to spend an exciting week in a fascinating place, getting to work with a thoroughly Excellent group of young people who most certainly handles their disappointment with grace and a brilliant attitude.

I leave you with the view out too sea from my humble Bivvi Bedroom.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Week 2: A certain sense of satisfaction in being shattered

'I've got a great ambition to die of exhaustion rather than boredom' - Thomas Carlyle 

The second week of our expedition was one of the more difficult in terms of physical exertion. A combination of the sheer physicality of the activities and my fitness being lower than some within our group, left me, on most evenings well and truly worn out. However I have found the feeling of complete physical exhaustion to be very rewarding. As strange as it may sound (indeed if you had said it to me six months ago I would have laughed in your face) the knowledge that your exhaustion was hard earned brings one a certain tranquil sense of satisfaction that that it is difficult to find elsewhere.
An early night (photo by Moya Macdonald)

This week was certainly not lacking in this feeling. It began with the arrival of the Young Explorers (YEs) on an ominously misty day. As they emerged from the mists like the undead in a low budget horror film it was great to feel the growing sense of purpose buzzing about Base Camp.  They were after all the reason we were all there. It was also refreshing to re-engage with the ecitement of discovering the area for the first time. After a week at BC it was already feeling like home in our little shanty town. The YEs however arrived Fresh-faced and wide-eyed into the surroundings we had come to be somewhat blase about. THis was the first time I came to encounter the enjoyment that one can get simply from the enjoyment of others. As I would learn over the coming weeks this is a key part of expedition leadership. I experienced this phenomenon from the other side during this second week as I will divulge soon.Shortly After the YEs arrived we found out that we (the trainee leaders [TLs]) would be travelling around the ice cap. This would reduce the over crowding at BC whilst the YEs settled in and allow us to hone our ice skills before hopefully returning with the YEs in the near future. 

Home from Home

So the TLs were attached to a crack team of leaders and sent of on our merry way to have adventures atop the ice. We had our grizzled and indomitable Chief leader (they say that whilst we merely adopted the ice he was born of it, Molded from it), Our man of the mountains 'Gandalf', Our ice cap GP Dr 'Doc' and last but by no means least the poor soul who had to take responsibility for our sorry team of reprobates, the TL mentor 'H'. And I learned different things about leadership from each of them. I saw the Chief Leader turn from serious and thoughtful to excited and adventurous as situations required and it was great to see how important it is to be able to vary ones approach to leadership. I also realised that even in the lofty heights of chief leadership one must never forget the thrill of exploration and adventure as see through the eyes of your charges. Next our mountain man 'Gandalf' To compare him to an encyclopedia is to give significant and unjustified credit to the encyclopedia and the quantity of knowledge there in. It was fascinating to work with a man with such an extensive and all encompassing knowledge of the outdoors. From technical skills to meteorolgy, botany folklore and everything inbetween, a day on the hill with our 'Gandalf' should be on everyones bucket list. Dr 'Doc' was a walking talking lesson in the importance of maintaining morale. Coming from a military background I'm sure Doc has had to keep chins up in significantly more difficult situations than ours. However Be it some lunacy at the end of a long day, a song to keep heavy feet trudging or just a well timed and seemingly heartfelt compliment or comment on your effort in X Y or Z task I realised how easily you as a superior can bolster the moods of others. Finally from 'H' our poor embattled mentor, I learned not to work with us, as a group we were self important to the point of insolence and over excited bordering on hysterical for such a significant period of time that I fear if we had spent 24 more hours  longer on the ice cap 'H' may have run off into the wilds of Norway and lived in a commune with mooses (is it meese?).

Dr Doc was keen to tell anyone who would listen about his massive..... fish

Over the course of the five days on the Ice we traveled from nunatak* to nunatak  bivving out under the midnight sun. WE were gifted with wall to wall blue skies and blissful warmth for 4.5 of the 5 days. I must say that the time we spent up there was one of the most truly fascinating times of my life. Seeing and engaging with a completely alien landscape for me as well as learning so much about leadership. As previously stated I spent plenty of time pooped out by the physical (and mental exhaustion) from climbing, walking dragging sledges, picking up fallen sledges, cursing at sledges, giving up on sledges, and generally having a good time. We scrambled up rocky pinnacles, tramped over rolling Icy 'hills' and even fell in the odd crevasse (it certainly keeps you on your toes) before finally having to confront the sad reality of coming down. As ever I had my Gnome and my Dwarf to pick me up mentally when I was getting low, and In this time in particular their company was invaluable to me. As partners in lunacy, anchors for my sanity and generally great bivvi pals I couldn't have wished for a better pair (if only the Home Bird had been able to come to the 4 amigos would have been complete).
Me, Dwarf and Gnome Bivving at Loppy-toppy (Loppatinden)
 (photograph by Nathan Magnall)

The final day dawned foggy as we packed up our gear and prepared for the hopefully speedy trek down. It became very quickly apparent however that we were going to pay the price for 5 days of unseasonal warmth and sun. The snow that previously covered the glacier and made the crevasse fields navigable had ablated. Leaving our Chief leader with the unenviable task of leading 16 people off the ice amongst large crevasses in a fog that only gave brief glimpses of the people on the front of your rope team let alone anything else. it was a slow paced, but hugely exhilarating as we nervously threaded our way along sometimes 1 person wide ridges between plunging crevasses either side. I was treated  to one of the most terrifying moments of my life when a certain TL, with a penchant for DOD-gy beanie hats, who was on the rope team behind mine, came hurtling past me down the slope. Given that I was in no way connected to him and their was nothing I could do naught but watch and hope I looked on in fear as he slid to what I assumed was his inevitable icy demise It was all I could hope that someone stopped him before the other three on his rope followed. Gratefully he found his way into a blissfully shallow divet in the ice some 6 meters down slope of me and came to a rest in there before springing up and carrying on as though it were nothing. 

Eventually, slowly we made it down and despite tired legs and my clumsy nature leading to some frustration on my behalf we continued our way to mountain camp. Here where we were briefly briefed on the fact that the glacier was no longer safe to travel on. Only for the fact we had to travel down that day no body would have been on the ice in the condition it was in. Which lead to the horrible situation of bumping into/ greeting YEs with wide eyes heading up to mountain camp with minds set on getting up the ice and having to nod and smile along not wanting to let on anything before a full brief as given my the Chief leader that evening (a task which some in our group seemed to struggle with, a little to eager to be in possesion of 'classified' information and not really considering its effects on 'hearts & minds'). We stood spread amongst the leader team facing the YEs at that briefing which did come, and it was the single worst bit of the trip watching their faces as they were given the bad news. I felt truly guilty for the fantastic time I had shared with the TLs on the ice. Many people retired early and tears were shed by the disappointed young people. A real low point for me.

 A joy I was very disappointed not to share with the YEs

* Nunataks are the peaks that emerge from the ice.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Week 1: Loads and loads of carrying loads.

"Arriving at one goal is the starting point of another" - John Dewey
Up until the 16th of July my goal was to be mentally, physically, fiscally and equipmentarily (it is a word... now) ready to disembark on the adventure for which I had been preparing all this time. Physically I wasn't as close to fighting fit as I had planned, having spent 6 weeks immediately prior to leaving in a sling to treat the broken collarbone which has forced radio silence on the blog for sometime now. Fiscally life kept getting in the way and consequently I left having not technically cleared the entire balance that I owed the Society, They were good enough to permit me to go on the agreement that I pay up on my return. Equipmentarily I was very very lucky indeed to receive generous help from Multimat UKAsolo, Osprey packsMountain Equipment and Rab to get me off on my way with all the gear I needed. Reviews on all the gear I got to use will follow But I must take this opportunity to offer them my humble and heartfelt thanks. Finally mental preparedness, Here I feel I was strongest, I had dedicated myself  to preparation in the run up and was ready to meet the challenge head on.
 The Ferry from Oksfjord

So I left my darling teary at Edinburgh Waverly station, and with a heavy heart and just a pinch of excitement gradually building I headed to the airport to meet the Scottish contingent of the advance party. Advance Party, the term itself felt very weighty and serious. We were the intrepid pioneers breaking a trail and establishing safe havens for the following explorers. A deep sense of the expedition as a whole took over me and I was ready for whatever tremulous dangers the Advance Party might encounter. As it turned out we simply had a couple of pallets of food to organise through and some tents, stoves and rations to carry up to basecamp. But none the less I felt as though I and all my compatriots were now valuable and intrinsic members of the expedition.
Big piles of stuff to be carried up.
That is not to say that the weeks work was particularly easy, and what with my fitness being lower than I'd have liked the pace was not as nippy as I and the rest of the team would have liked at times. But the week was at large successful. I got to clap my eyes on a glacier for the first time in my life another tick off my childhood dreams list. Food and tents were carried counted and deposited as needed and everything went of without a hitch....

Our walk to base camp included a minor detour through the Somme.
... almost. After load carrying for a few days, we were given the exciting news that we would be heading up onto the ice cap... to carry loads. None the less, I was eager at the prospect of getting crampons to ice and so we loaded our bags with all that was needed (some more than others - I'm looking at you 'Bill' ;) ) and set off. The first section of climbing was slow going due to the fixed static line, but the prussic tying from previous blogs got put into practice, and then re-practiced and practiced again as we slid our selves up the ropes and around the anchors.
Iced up static lines are really nice and grippy....
We then got to the top of the first section and got to sample some of Norway's famous waterfall climbing! sadly someone forgot to point out to whoever had planned this section that Norway's waterfalls are usually climbed in winter. When they are frozen. Not very much wet and flowing. Much excitement was had teetering over the rocks and back onto the ice. we continued up slogging away on the steep ice and battling the slushy snow until we met our chief leader within sight of our campsite for the night. He delivered the disappointing news that one of our party had been injured and we had to return all the way back to our camp from the night before. Given that there was no other option we all set our engines running on the little reserves we had left and after a chilly bottomed wait on the snow below the waterfall headed down to our camp.
Frost bite of the cheeks is a common problem !
By the point we got off the ice and started decending the boulders below I was seriously tired out, clumsy and frustrated at myself and if it wasn't for my gnome being similarly tired and equally hysterical I may have given up and lived there in the boulder field under a rock. Little did I know at this point that I would spend the next 5 weeks relying on My Gnome, My Dwarf and The Home Bird to keep me sane and focused.
The week was finished with more organising, and a bit of personal time including a chilly did in the melt water river. A long and at times tedious week, but a great insight into the 'behind the scenes' processes that keep and expedition like this going.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Sightseeing where I live (Blog Link)

'Who has not felt the urge to throw a loaf of bread and a pound of tea in an old sack and jump over the back fence'
- John Muir (famous Scottish born American Resident)

From the very first moment that I read that quote in Bill Bryson's Wanderlust inspiring book 'A Walk in the Woods' I was transfixed by its simplicity but also by the sheer sense of joy contained therein. 

It has stayed with me as a sort of mantra and maintained my sense of Victorian boyish enthusiasm for little adventures (and flannel shorts). Luckily for me Living so close as I do to the Cairngorms national park adventure is never far away.

In terms of taking you, The American Resident, sightseeing To do my wonderful home justice would require a car (which I don't have) bread and tea by the hundred weight (which we would never fit in the old sack) and about 3 week s(which I'll never get off work). However if I were to condense down to just three key things, what it is about Scotland that I love, it is the solitude of her remote places, the natural beauty , and the fascinating sense of being lost within the long, rich history of people and places.

So how can I show you all three in a microadventure whilst keeping the bread and tea bills down and the transport public?  

The answer Bennachie (BEN - ah - HEE) A small cluster of low hills in the Aberdeen country side. Not vast, or remote or dramatic, but prominent above the rolling countryside and perfectly accessible for a little adventure that won't take more than a day.

Bennachie above the Aberdeenshire countryside

From Aberdeen it is a quick 30 minute train Journey to Insch where we can alight at the little station, double check our rations before heading off to the Back o Bennachie car park where our route proper begins.

From here we breath deep wafts of pine scented air and stroll up the path through the trees. Soon enough the trees start to shrink as we climb and the soil thins.

Before long we emerge out onto the heath just below Little Oxen Craig the first of our small summits to be topped on our trip and the home of an Historic granite quarry. This is the lowest summit and wont take us long to top out but from here we will be able to see our highest point, the prominent Mither Tap summit. With most of the climbing done we can enjoy the views as we hop across the plateau between the remaining three summits. Stop for a dip in one of the lochans if you are feeling Bold:

If we keep our eyes peeled on the tops we may spot, Grouse, Osprey and possibly the Highlands famous red deer, and many other animals besides.

On reaching Mither tap our walk has reached its peak (literally) and we can examine the site of a former Iron age hill fort with spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. A perfect place for a spot of lunch
The imposing summit of mither tap.

After that there's just enough time to pop back down a different route, through more ancient pines and into Insch for a final cup of tea and a train back home.

One day ; My three greatest passions for Scotland : Nature, Solitude and History.

Sounds like a great day out to me.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Who gets to go on Expedition ? #YET18

It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.
-Nelson Mandela

Pearls of wisdom from arguably the most Noteable leader  in a generation. A sentiment also that I strongly relate to, I have never been an 'alpha' when it comes to leadership. 'packs on and follow me' just doesn't sound like the sort of thing you are likely to hear from me. Due in part to the way I have always preferred to learn throughout my education career and also by dint of my tendency towards being a softy red socialist I believe that in educating young people a back seat approach allows them to develop best. Of course different situations require different reactions and the ability, confidence and skills to come to the fore and take over in a crisis are paramount for the outdoor leader.

Today I had cause to consider the implications of different leadership styles compared with different types of expedition groups as well as the importance of a support network of professionals guidelines and practices whilst taking groups overseas as I eagerly followed the The Young Explorers Trust's forum on Inclusive expeditions.

The The Young Explorers Trust is an association which encompasses many of the leading youth expedition providers and gives advice and support to explorers, leaders, and corporations as well as offering professional support and good practice evaluations to expedition leaders. They have played a fundamental role in monitoring the progress of British Standard 8848 (named for the height of Everest 8848m) which sets out safe practice guidelines and baseline procedures for all corporations which offer adventurous activities and expeditions outside the UK.

In their Bi-annual forums the The Young Explorers Trust discuss a variety of key issues to do with expedition with young people. From BSI standards to leader selection and development the work of the YET forum is influential and often results in standards being developed to which many companies conform.

This year the topic at the forefront was of Inclusive Expeditions, a title whose brevity belies  the vast range of topics it covers.

Inclusive, good-quality education is a foundation for dynamic and equitable societies. 
- Desmond Tutu

For me Inclusive Expeditions refers to a simple and broad concept that ALL young people should have equal access to the opportunities provided by overseas expeditions. By nature of my past experiences with expeditions and youth development The first aspect of Inclusive expedition which concerns me is the Provision of expeditions that manage to escape the current, seemingly elitist, principles dictated most obviously by the sheer cost of a single expedition. But also more subtly in the manner of the advertisement of international expeditions.

I can certainly say that In my entire time at a state comprehensive in Essex no one ever came to talk to us about the opportunities available on an expedition with companies Like British Exploring or World Challenge or any of the other providers large or small. This is not to blame the companies specifically for this missing information as both rely on members and former explorers passing on the message, and so in a self defeating circle of bad fortune schools like mine, struggle to get 'into the loop' as it were. That said even if a expedition weary furry faced adventurer had arrived at school, no matter how adeptly he could wet out appetites for adventure, would not necessarily have left with a horde of would be explorers following him, pied piper style out of town. Sadly for me at that tender age and I dare say the vast majority  of the other pupils at my school, A £3000-£4000 bill for the expedition not including flights or personal equipment  as is the case with most of the large providers, would have meant plans instantly getting scrapped. Granted fundraising is an acceptable option, Indeed in order to fund my training I am relying heavily on fundraising to cover costs *points to donation widget* ----->> *wink*. However as has been shown with the effect of recent university fee increases on recruitment from low income backgrounds, even in the presence of bursaries, assistance, fundraising or a variety of other payment options, for many people on low incomes the sight of a bill in the £1000's is enough to put them off from even inquiring further.
From Anders 2012 

So in my mind the way to make expeditions more inclusive is a two fold approach;

Increase publicity of all forms of expedition schemes for all young people. Talks in schools, and youth groups should be universal. Essentially the more young people find out about the schemes the more chance we have of including a wider range of backgrounds. talks in SEN schools, At risk youth groups, Youth counselling and development organisations and a variety of other non-standard educational institutions will again increase the inclusivity of expedition.

The second 'fold' of this approach is to develop and build the bursary and funding portfolio and increase awareness of the funding options both in young people who we want to go on expeditions but also in groups and organisations that can help with funding. I believe a set of corporate bursaries to assist young people from low income back grounds to enjoy an expedition would not only benefit those young people but also by developing a more inclusive and therefore diverse group on expedition hopefully widen the perceptions of all members of the group by introducing them to the different pressures and struggles of a variety of lifestyles and backgrounds. 

In essence I believe inclusive expeditions are not just fairer but objectively better for all those in attendance. The development of a 'gap- yah' set ( is not in my opinion beneficial to society or young people as a whole. We should be sending groups on expedition that are representative of modern British society, a variety of backgrounds, incomes and ethnicities will introduce the young people to a realistic concept of their future, working as part of a group with a myriad different lifestyles and former experiences that one's self can only be a good thing for young people.

Many groups are running 'accessible' or 'outreach' expeditions to assist the most vulnerable or at risk Young people and these all make an invaluable contribution  to the lives of their participants. From specially catered trips for children with special educational needs, or physical disabilities to programmes for At Risk or vulnerable Youths. For example British Exploring's Brilliant Dangoor next generation programme which works with NEET (not in education employment or training) Young people (which I hope to be lucky enough to work on in the future). And so there are now a huge variety of options for young people with difficult issues to over come in terms of  expeditioning.

But we mustn't for get the middle ground. If expeditions are to be truly inclusive we cannot simply run 'normal' programmes for those that can afford the bill and 'outreach' programmes for those with specific issues. We must cater in a fully inclusive manner and make the thrill of expeditions available to everyone. 

Because essentially Expeditions are Excellent, even if you exclude the invaluable personal development aspect  everyone deserves a chance to go to Excellent places and do Excellent things !

Friday, 19 April 2013

Sleeping comfortable and sleeping warm.

'I have never taken any exercise except sleeping and resting' - Mark Twain

My Bed for the Week
'I have never taken any excersize except sleeping and resting' - Mark Twain

 Mark Twain it would seem could have been a successful and well respected mattress tester, and hell would he have written the most urban and engaging of mattress reviews wouldn't he? However in a world all the poorer for no longer containing Mark Twain you, my readers, and multimat will have to make to with me. I'll do my best, I do sleep quite a lot.

Just over a month ago I was very excited to be tweeted by multimat with regards to taking some of their great sleeping mats to the Arctic with me this summer. Needles to say I leapt at the chance to daub myself with the title of 'Kit tester' particularly when the helpful staff I was in contacted with me directed me to summit 25/38 and the summit-xl, the mat arrangement Rannulph Fiennes and the Coldest Journey team were using. Which needless to say makes me feel all the more like a proper explorer, albeit one with significantly more regard for his fingers.

Straight out of the box I was already impressed by the thoughtful little features which make these mats really user friendly.

My two favourite features

The foam roll mat has two large metal eyelets at the top with tape attached for fixing the mat once rolled. And the Self inflating mat comes with a fleece lined storage sack (possibly the most useful feature of any piece of gear I have encountered to date) so that once the mats are out and bed beckons the days clothes that you have taken off go into the inside out stuff sack and form a fleecey comfortable pillow. Neither of these features is integral to the manufacture or function of the mats but both indicate the care and attention given to the design of the products. It is reassuring to feel that the outdoor sporting products you are using have been design by people with an understanding of the needs and wants of the end users. These two small add ons re-enforced for me that the products I was using were designed by outdoor enthusiasts to be used in the outdoors.

These two features are very easily forgotten if the mats to which they are attached do a bad job of keeping one, comfortable and warm in ones, sleep. I am pleased to be able to say that these  features were not forgotten however as the mats performed brilliantly all week.

I am yet to put them through a full Arctic conditions test but over the 5 nights camping at my recent training course the mats proved functional, comfortable and warm.
Check out the multimat website for more on their mats.

I have always been a particularly mobile sleeper, it not being uncommon for me to wake up at the other end of the bed in the middle of the night. As such I have struggled with other mat combinations in the past not being able to cope with that mobility. At the previous training weekend I had a terrible nights sleep as I had to wake up every hour to drag my inflating and roll mats back onto one another to go back to sleep. There was no grip between the two and I was woken up frequently lying on the cold floor. 

This week however I am pleased to report no such problems. The non-slip water repellent base fabric lived up to its name ans gripped onto the roll mat with great sturdiness and I spent all night comfortable and well placed on the mat.

The two thicknesses in the inflating mat helped to reduce pack size but will require full blown Arctic testing to test their limits. for this week though it performed admirable and kept me warm and comfortable.
The only real draw back with the mat set up was my own impatience with the self inflating mat. I have never been one to wait around for the mat to inflate. This is not too much of a problem with most of my camping as I simply inflate it with breath ( Although this is an ill advised tactic in general). On the icecap however this will be particularly counter productive as the cold temperatures could freeze the moisture in the air I breath in to the mat forming crystals which can damage the mat and cause it to de-laminate. As such I need to work on my patience or find a way of getting cool dry air into the mat. Any suggestions welcome !

All in all the mats performed brilliantly and I am happy (and excited) to take these mats with me to Norway this summer !

A huge thank you to Multimat for all their help so far !