The year I first went to high arctic Canada, the temperature in Ottawa was minus thirty, so, as you can imagine, the further north we travelled (ten hours in all to our final destination), the colder it got! Stepping out of the plane on Cornwallis Island to walk to the terminal, the icy air immediately hit the back of my throat and took my breath away.
Over the next seventy days we worked in and around a small community on the island known as Resolute Bay. The course I was on covered working as a team, navigation, self-survival, communication and camp craft – amongst other things. These basic skills have been invaluable to me ever since – although over the years I have adapted some and changed others as I have learned better ways to do things. Even so, they provided me with a firm grounding of knowledge from which I was able to grow.
Part of the trip, alongside the training, was to undergo a barrage of tests for Cancer Research UK. These ranged from having blood taken in minus degree temperatures (not my favourite procedure!) to various physiological examinations to see how our bodies were coping under such stressful conditions. Poignantly, and tragically, my mum passed away from cancer upon my return: ever since I have been determined to support the charity as much as I can and I always carry their flag whenever I go on polar expeditions.
This training expedition resulted in two important realisations for me. The first was discovering the wonderful community at Resolute Bay – an oasis in the white void of the Arctic – which has enabled me to plan and prepare for all of my later explorations. The second was that I loved the Arctic. I had originally been worried about how I would handle the cold and whether I would enjoy it; in fact I found that the Arctic provides a pure existence that has a very strange way of pulling me back, time after time