Posts Tagged ‘Pen Hadow’

An Arctic explorer’s lessons on Change

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

Pen HadowI went to a talk yesterday by Pen Hadow, who rose to international fame when in 2003 he became the first person to trek solo, without resupply by third parties, from Canada to the North Geographic Pole – a feat which has not been repeated and thought comparable in difficulty to making the first ascent of Everest, solo and without oxygen. Within months he went on to become the only Briton to have trekked, without resupply, to both the North and South Poles.  As you can imagine he had some very interesting thoughts to share and stories to tell.

I’ve listened to a number of fascinating Britons talk, including my personal favourite, Ranulph Fiennes, and I’m always left with the feeling that they seem to be part of some different species (from mere mortals like me) and to connect us to our historic forebears whose exploits shaped and developed the world and our history.  Pen felt that the thing that defined him and his journeys was as much as anything the fact that having locked onto a goal, he simply kept going, doing the simple things over and over again.  Though he recognised the need for good planning and effective risk management and mitigation. 

Pen Hadow 2What I, perhaps ignorantly, had never realised, was that the Artic has no land mass underneath it.  The ice simply floats on the sea.  What looks like a one sheer white mass of ice is, in fact, made up of a mixture of walls of ice, composed of  many blocks and carved up with vast tracts of open water.  You can’t get there by walking.  It is a mixture of climbing over these barriers, then, where necessary, swimming though the water, before starting again all the while pulling a sledge with everything you need weighing 20 stone!

He had many tales of the difficulties including the temperature (-40°c), the distance (478 miles) and polar bears who can weigh up to 1400 kilos!  On day 45 he fell through thin ice and lost one of his skis and had to trek the rest of the way without it. 

He felt this journey was a personal pilgrimage and an important goal he’d set for himself, but recognised that if it were to mean anything more he needed to share this experience and the lessons learnt in order to wake us up to the reality of global warming.  At this rate, within the next 20-30 years the ice might totally disappear in the summer months.  The temperature differential between the pole and the equator drive both the gulf stream and the jet stream and these are the engines that make our weather.

All of this was interesting and important in its own right but the extra take-away for me was the fact that he felt it was crucial to engage people emotionally through his story telling in order to get them them to change their behaviour.  Dry facts won’t do it, which is why few of us are persuaded by scientists.  However this kind of tale which hits you at an emotional level is much more powerful.  Perhaps we need a few more of our leaders to take lessons from explorers when trying to sell Change to their people?

“Apparently 99% of Earth’s species have become extinct and on current form re the environment homo sapiens may end up in the wrong category.”  Pen Hadow

“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.” [From an advertisement, almost certainly apocryphal, preceding Shackleton’s Nimrod expedition.]