Posts Tagged ‘natural environments’

The first leg of our journey is to leave from São Paulo to Corumbá, travelling the 1,400km or so route by bike. We should hopefully be in good shape as after all, we will have been spending the good part of two years preparing for this, so something would be very wrong if we are not!

The main highlight of this journey is arriving at the Pantanal – a massive tropical wetland largely located in Mato Grosso state, Brazil, thought also extends into Bolivia and Paraguay, covering around 160,000 square kilometres. The area is a massive flood plain, and the rains, which occur largely between November and March, can make the water levels rise by up to around five meters in the season. Fortunately, the flooding is quite slow as the regions is pretty flat, and also we will be going at the beginning of the dry season when the waters start to recede.

I have lived in Brazil for five years and wanted to go to the Pantanal for at least ten years, but still haven’t been there, so am quite looking forward to reaching it (the photos on this page, whilst taken by me, were taken of these animals in different parts of Brazil, though these are some of what we can expect to see).

Aside from the massive scale of the land, you can see all sorts of bird life, marine and land animal life. You get caiman alligators,  anteaters, jaguars, macaws, eagles and… unfortunately from my point of view… mosquitos (love-hate relationship; they love me…) and snakes. Anacondas (have you seen the film…? Stupid, isn’t it…?! Still terrifies me to death, though. That’s not even touching on Snakes on a Plane…. I know, I know… pathetic!). But I suppose even them being around won’t put me off too much and I will have to get over it somehow! Wikipedia says that the place is thought to be home to 1000 bird species, 400 fish species, 300 mammalian species, 480 reptile species and over 9000 different subspecies of invertebrates – quite an amazing thought. Though at the same time sad with the human threats of commercial fishing, cattle ranching, hunting, deforestation and pollution. Always very sad to see this happening to such incredible places.

I would love to go a non-straight-forward route through the Pantanal – going off the main roads/tracks, to actually hike and bike, through the undergrowth. Not sure how much this is possible though, considering the time of year with the waters still high and I have a vague suspicion that we won’t be able to carry a boat around with us. That might be slightly impractical. I see on Google Maps that there is a road which goes through it, from Aquidauana north of the main road, and goes for about 400 kilometers or so. The images from parts of it on street view make it look like a bit of a track… so hopefully this would be a good way to go about it, making it a bit more exciting than just a plain road, and hopefully allowing us to see more of the amazing animals that inhabit the area. Then if you zoom further in on the maps, you see lots of minor roads which go through it… how accurate are these..? Are they passable when the terrain is flooded..? If passable, they must be a lot of fun!

Have you cycled or travelled through the Pantanal without going with tour guides? Or done the journey from one side to another (going north to south or vice-versa would also be interesting to know about!)? We would be really interested in hearing your thoughts about this part of the journey and the ways it can be done.


With such a project and journey at hand, it can be difficult to wrap your head around it all. Even in this modern age, where the world is (mostly) mapped out and a major airline can bring you virtually anywhere on the globe, envisioning how this can be completed can be difficult. It sometimes feels like trying to imagine the edge of the universe, the end of infinity. “What do you mean walking across the poles?” my family members asked me after I told them about my recent decision to join the 360Extremes team. Have you ever taken a look at the North Pole on Google Earth? It’s all blue. It’s a massive area of water that is simply covered in frozen ice – there is no land beneath it as there is in Antarctica. Our changing environment also poses a challenge for crossing the North Pole. With the pack ice decreasing in thickness each year, the opportunity to journey across it by foot may not be feasible for our grandchildren.

There is a certain level of mental endurance needed to complete this expedition and it is as important, if not more so, than our physical training and technical knowledge. The expedition will traverse numerous environments and ecosystems. We will need to know at least the basics of mountaineering, climbing, backpacking and back country skills, bicycle touring, and sailing to name a few. Many of these skills will also need to be used in different environments – from summer to winter, rain, snow, diamond dust; desert sands; high winds and more.

Even now as I read through my go to textbook, Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills, my head swims with all the knowledge I am trying to absorb. Anyone can learn technical skills. What is going to make the difference for us and really help us get to our final goal is the mental endurance to persevere, keep each other’s morale positive, and keep our wits about us when things don’t go according to plan. So how do you even begin training for this? Hiking is usually my go to for a day adventure or when I need to get away without doing something overly strenuous (Ramapo Mountains and Harriman state park don’t top out much above 1,000ft/304m).

However, for training for this journey, I will be using these hills for extremely long day hikes – hikes that when I get to the trail head in the morning, seem too long to complete in one day. This will force me to think in survival mode and “what ifs” – What if I get stuck in inclement weather, or hurt myself, or don’t move fast enough? Packing for all possible situations is just as necessary on a day hike as it is on a global expedition. Many climbers have died from a day hike or climb that they have done many times before – check this recent story about a New Hampshire climber. This isn’t meant to scare anyone – it is to show how serious preparation and planning is for any outdoor excursion and how seriously we will be taking it.

For those of you up to date with this years winter in the north-east of the United States, it’s been quite mild. About a month ago we had a little snow storm that dumped around 6-7 inches across the hills. The storm started at around 4am. At 7am I was waking up and by 8am I was at the trail head. What was an unplanned hike at first turned into a 7 mile trek during the storm with ever-increasing ground snow.

It was at the 2 mile mark where I made the decision to take a long route that, once started, would be better to push through than turn back. I looked long and hard at my map, wondering if this was a good idea. I then looked down the snow-covered path seeing a mysterious trail with unknowns ahead of me. How long will this take? What time will I make it home? How much snow will be dumped in the next couple of hours? I opened up my pack to check my contents – medical kit, head lamp, extra food and water, and a few extra dry articles of clothing.

I then realized that it’s the mystery, the unknown that makes it exciting.

I came out in a snow storm on purpose because I didn’t know what the trails were going to be like. I took a step forward and began my long trek home. Hours later, the snow became a burden, and going uphill was painful. I was pushing five or so hours of almost non-stop hiking in 6 inches of snow with only my winter boots. As I approached the last mile away the trail head, my mind found excuses to kneel down, or lean against a tree.My rest periods kept increasing in length. I got tired more quickly. I remember a paragraph from a book I read called “War” by Sebastian Junger. (See full New York Times review here). He talks about exhaustion in a war-like setting – places where not only are the elements against you, but other human beings. The mentality of constantly hunting and being hunted. I’ll paraphrase but he relates exhaustion as going down into a valley from a ridge. By the time your mind thinks the body is drained of energy and cannot go on further, you’ve only barely made it off the ridge. In truth, you have so much further to go into the valley before you’ve completely bonked. In essence, it’s all a mind game.

I plan on doing more of these long hikes and hope, as the weather improves, to start doing long cycle tours, working my way up to overnight trips to really get into the habit of land travel, camping and survival. Physically, I hope to not only to gain enough strength to endure these long journey’s but to get my body used to using and consuming that many calories.

Mentally, I hope to realize long journeys are simply made up of smaller parts. Joe Simpson crossed the crevasse field after a long and already strenuous ordeal by breaking the crawl into small portions – x amount of meters here, y amount of meters there. He was severely injured and lived! Surely unhurt people can do the same!

Lastly, I’ve heard great reviews about Arno Ilgner’s “The Rock Warrior’s Way”. Not only are the mental tips and tricks useful for climbers – but for anyone when it comes to overcoming fears and doubts. Next week a friend and I will be heading up to the Catskills in New York State to hike the 24 mile Devil’s Path. Considered one of the hardest hiking trails on the East Coast, I hope the 18,000ft (5486m) of elevation gain and loss will give me an inkling into what alpine conditions are like. It should prove to be a fun, exciting and challenging time as well as good training for the 360Extremes Expedition.

In the mean time, I’d love to hear the community’s take on this – what have you done to train your mind for tough, run-out type conditions?

Yesterday was out first proper climbing session, out in the open at a place called Pedra Bela, about 100km north of São Paulo city. The rock stands out about 60 metres high at the top of a hill in a rather picturesque area, and there is a church on top of it. It is quite popular for both beginner and advanced climbers as there are parts which are only around 70-80 degrees – nice and positive – with plenty of places for hands and feet, as well as vertical climbs with few decent places to get a grip.

Heading out at 7am with a group of about 16 people from the Casa de Pedra climbing gym, we had a beautiful day for it – almost too beautiful, with temperatures of around 35C. We weren’t complaining though as, had it been raining it would have been cancelled, and it has been raining a lot these days in São Paulo.

It was great to be out of the climbing wall! Though it was very different – at the wall, there are plenty of big hand grips and places to put your feet. On the rock, we were clinging to tiny rock tips which were sticking out. Also in the safety of the gym, the “rocks” are not sharp..!  So whilst we would never get dropped on the rock, losing your balance could, and did, lead to lots of cuts, scrapes and bruises across the body!

I think both of us did well. We managed the basic climbs with no problems whatsoever, though when we got to the vertical ones… well these were hard. Natalia has definitely done well in terms of her progress in technical climbing and she managed these quite a bit quicker than me. I am slowly getting better with the technique but still need to work on it – with the last climb I did, I almost cried when I got to the top as it took so long and my legs and hands were hurting with the cuts sustained in loosing balance a couple of times! I need to depend and trust more in my feet and legs as opposed to my hands and arms.

We both, in the end, managed just about all the climbs we tried, though Natalia did one extra climb than myself – I lost a lot of energy with the climbs I did, and my fingers were burning from the cuts. Running out of water at those temperatures was not the best thing either, and there was nowhere around selling anything.

Got back home about 14 hours after we left, so it was a full day. It felt amazingly good to jump into a cold shower at the end, as in spite of a good factor 50 sun cream, we still ended up quite badly burned as well as sweaty and covered in chalk dust for keeping our fingers dry! Certainly slept well last night as well.

All worth the effort, though, and we will be back there soon – plenty more work to do and plenty to learn!

Another one of the key moments which led to this idea turning from just an idea into an actual plan was a journey we took a year or so ago to the Galapagos – a personal dream of mine which was so much better in reality than what I could possibly have thought.

It wasn’t just the way the place was teeming with wildlife – and really, there was so much wildlife it was unbelievable. It was the way the whole, unique, ecosystems have developed over thousands of years in isolation on the separate islands, in spite of recent human interference, with fantastic diversity of land and marine iguanas, flamingos, hawks; nazca, red and blue footed boobies (a brilliant dive-fishing birds, with rather funky mating rituals); giant tortoises; Darwin’s finches… sea lions, sea turtles, various types of shark, other beautiful fish… and this is just for starters.

Everything nature could do was right in front of our eyes within touching distance – at its harshest, with us being able to see boobies effectively discarding their weakest, second born chick; birds getting into a strop over territory… and at its sweetest, with schools of sea-lion cubs playing in the shallow water; iguanas all huddling together in efforts to maintain body temperature; and then the mating rituals of the Galapagos hawks… incredible. Animals so completely unafraid of humans, in spite of all the damage that we had done to the islands since we came across them a few hundred years by killing off species and introducing our own pets and agricultural animals.

Being there really enforced the idea of how vulnerable everything is on this planet to change and to human activities. We could have touched those sea-lion cubs with no problem, but doing that would have condemned the cub to almost certain death, as with our scent on them, their mothers would not recognize them, and no longer feed them. Before humans arrived at the islands, all the various species that inhabit them would have been so much more widespread.

Of course, this is not the only place in the world that has felt our effect – everywhere, from the poles to the equator; from the most pleasant to the most hostile places on earth, has been affected and everywhere is vulnerable, no matter how harsh the environment. Indeed, as we can see with the wildlife in the Arctic and Antarctic circles, and the high mountains of the Himalayas and the hostile jungles of the tropics, the harsher the environment, the more at risk the animals are to climate changes. If our project can help raise awareness of this even further, then I will be happy.

* * *

Blue footed Boobies  In all likelihood, the smallest of the two chicks will die as its elder sibling gets larger

  Literally, within touching distance…

 Teeming with wildlife

Taking a quick shower

Just a final shot of a (female) Galapagos Hawk

 And remembering… so sweet, so cute… but touching the sea-lion cub would lead to its death.

And of course the giant tortoises, these two of whom have most likely been living for a century or so; 11 sub-species exist on the islands – each adapted in their shape and size in order to best survive in the different environments. These, on Santa Cruz islands are best at eating low-lying food, which is abundant on the island…

Both Natalia and I have always been interested in wildlife and another of the main aspects of this journey will be looking at wildlife and biodiversity as the environments change the further north/south we get.

We were in British Columbia, Canada at the end of autumn and we saw about six or seven big brown bears in one day. One was ambling along a road in front of us; a couple of others were happily fishing away, most likely aware of our presence though far enough away to feel happy enough to accept it. In a tense moment, one stopped and stared at us from the other side of a stream as we stood absolutely still, sniffed… and then just walked away…

Towards the end of the day, we found a mother grizzly bear and her two-year old (most likely – we decided that it might be a bit unwise to check up close and personal) cub. The mother was teaching her cub how to fish, and the cub was following its mother, navigating the tree trunks and enjoying the salmon he/she was being given… Beautiful!

Each of the bears had their own personality, tied in with their natural instincts, and it was possible to see this even during the short time we were there. Each have to survive in an unforgiving environment the best they can. We hope that our journey will let us explore this more as it takes us through more such environments.

One of the questions lots of people have asked us as our project has moved forward is why Mount Everest as well as everything else…!? Isn’t life going to be hard enough and surely you need years of experience to be able to climb this mountain? Isn’t it incredibly dangerous? Is it really essential for us to complete it in order to complete the full circle of the world? – indeed, once we are in Nepal at Kathmandu, we will need to head north-east in order to get there and we will go back to Kathmandu once we have completed the journey.

What is more, by attempting to climb Everest, we are going to make the who journey last about a year longer than if we just waved hello to the people going up, because of the seasonal climbing windows for timing the North Pole, the South Pole and the Everest aspects of the expedition.

No, from the point of view of completing the circle, Mount Everest is not essential. Yes, it is dangerous and yes it is a bit out-of-the-way. There are all sorts of challenges with climbing it – not least is that of altitude sickness, with decreasing oxygen pressure as we go higher up: the world’s highest peak stands at 8,848 metres above sea level, and we generally start feeling the effects at around 2400+ metres. Exhaustion is a problem and at those heights, it takes much longer to walk even the smallest of distances. The weather on the mountain is also a massive challenge – with the cold, the altitude and the wind… you get stuck in a storm when you are exposed and… well that will be the end of your story, and you might keep in mind that there are about 150 bodies on the mountain that have never been recovered.

Well, we have the romanticism of childhood dreams; admiration of Mallory, Hillary & Tenzing, Bonnington and of course Ranulph Fiennes, and just the very thought of standing on the roof of the world. Also, after having been to base camp on the Tibetan side, and remembering how much in awe we all were of the mountain, it would be great to go back and make the ascent.

However, more importantly, one of the main points of this expedition is about facing the extreme environments that are on the Earth, and the challenges they present. This is why we are taking two and a half years to train for these challenges prior to embarking, and why we will continue training during the expedition with climbs of various mountains on the way, and why we will also work with experts who have climbed the mountain before. Also, whilst individuals have reached the two Poles and Everest, they have done so in separate projects – this will be the first to manage them all in one larger project… which would be incredible..! Just imagining the sense of achievement is quite a powerful factor. So whilst not essential for the whole 360 Extremes expedition, Everest is certainly a key point.

Ultimately, as with any climber going up Everest, we are going to have to really respect the mountain. If the weather is against us, we won’t make the ascent. One of the biggest challenges will be to know if and when we are beat, and it is the most important challenge. There will be no sense of shame in turning back as safety is the most important point and we won’t compromise this.

<—- The Journey – Part 1: Going North

So after crossing the North Pole, we have to start our journey down south. The main highlights of this journey are:

May-Mid June 2015: South from Longyearbyen to mainland Norway at the city of Tromso and then cycling south, we go through Finland and into Russia at St. Petersburg, before reaching Moscow a few days later.

From Moscow we will begin the trans-Siberian part of the journey, going overland by hybrid/electric car to Irkutsk on the shores of Lake Baikal, the deepest and oldest freshwater lake in the world – which contains roughly 20% of the world’s unfrozen surface fresh water. We will then get on our bikes and go south, across the Gobi Desert of Mongolia into China.

Mid-June-August 2015: Entering into northern China, we will go down to Hohot before cycling along a segment of the Great Wall of China, we go the five Sacred Taoist Mountains, (Bei) Heng Shan in the north, Tai Shan, Song Shan, Hua Shan and (Nan) Heng Shan in the south. From there we travel to Chengdu and take the 2,413-kilometer-long Sichuan-Tibet Highway to Lhasa – a road that traverses 14 mountains that are around 4,000-5,000 metres in height and can be considered to be one of the more treacherous highways one can travel. From Lhasa we will travel through the Himalayas into Nepal and Kathmandu

August-October 2015: Kathmandu will be the base from where we will start our journey to Everest in an attempt to reach the summit in what would be the first team to reach the summit, and traverse both the Poles in one larger expedition. Climbing Everest is one of the more dangerous aspects of this expedition as whilst there is a climbing window in September-October, weather on the mountain can change at the blink of an eye and when the weather there is against you, no expedition would be able to reach the top as the dangers are so great – especially in the Death Zone after 8,000metres. Occasionally the ascent can be finished by mid-October, though this is entirely dependent upon conditions and many expeditions do indeed have to turn back, even when they are within touching distant of the summit.

November 2015-June 2016: After the attempt at Everest, we will go back to Kathmandu and travel through a couple of nearby national parks, before first going east by bike via northern India and Bhutan to the Paro Takstang monastery. After spending time at the monastery and continuing cycling through Bhutan to the eastern border with India, we will make our way south, through Burma, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore into Indonesia… before crossing to Australia.

July-October 2016: From Darwin we will cross central Australia through the deserts to Adelaide on a journey that covers over 3,000 kilometres. From there we will sail to New Zealand, from where we will go to the Antarctic.

November 2016-February 2017: The Antarctic Expedition: Whilst we are approaching the end of our global circle around the Poles, this will again be another massively demanding challenge – crossing the South Pole by foot – over 1000 miles in the coldest and harshest conditions on this planet. The challenges will be different from the North Pole, with crevasses posing threats of opening up beneath us, and high altitudes also making this an exhausting journey few have completed.

February-March 2017: And so our journey will come to an end as we return to South America via southern Chile and Argentina, with one more major climb at Mount Aconcagua – the highest mountain in South America – before crossing into Brazil at the Iguacu falls and completing the circle in Sao Paulo in March 2017.

From then on… who knows…!?

The Journey – Part 2 – Going South —->

Well it will be quite long, extremely challenging and will take some time – all of three years to complete from beginning to end – a circle of the Earth, going north from São Paulo. Breaking it down and it is going to look something like this:

March 2014: After over two years of preparation, we will start our journey from the mega-city of São Paulo on the 1st March, going to Bolivia, via the Pantanal. This part of the journey will take place largely by bike and by foot and will take about a month.

April 2014: Traveling by bike, through Bolivia, along El Camino del Muerte: what many consider to be one of the, if not the, most dangerous roads in the world. For a good blog to see what this road is like take a look here…  After up through the Andes into Peru and the Cotahuasi Canyon, before going into Ecuador and climbing the Chimborazo Volcano, the summit of which is the point farthest from the Earth’s centre.

May 2014: Into Colombia, through Bogotá to Cartagena, from where we will sail to Colón in Panamá – much as we would like to journey from Colombia into Panamá by land, the Darian Gap which is an area of land between the two countries is far too dangerous with banditry and general lawlessness for us to go by foot, at least at present… But the sailing will be nice!

June-July 2014: Travelling up along the Pan-American highway and trekking through the rainforests of Central America (as well as having some time passing by some of the beaches) then we will enter into Mexico from Guatemala by around mid-July.

July-September 2014: Up through Mexico, crossing the Chihuahuan Desert and into United States, from where, after having a brief stopover at Las Vegas, we will climb, trek and cycle through the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone Park

September 2014-February 2015: Canada – we will travel north through Canada, continuing with our mountaineering training by climbing peaks in the Rockies, before travelling along the Dempster Highway, which is the farthest north road in the country. We will also continue with our polar training with courses in the country to ensure that we are as prepared as possible for crossing the North Pole.

February-April 2015: North Pole Expedition – this will be the climax of our journey northwards, crossing over from Canada to Greenland, to the North Pole, encountering temperatures which average at about -30C at this time of year, through to open water leads; treacherously thin ice, polar bears and strong winds. For around seventy days, we will be walking through these conditions to cross the North Pole and start the next phase of our adventure, going south through Russia and Asia towards Antarctica…

It has been a nice three weeks for me here in London – catching up with friends and family over Christmas and New Year. Will be flying back to São Paulo later tonight so I will enjoy the last day – off to see the Wildlife Photography exhibition at the Natural History Museum and will find a couple of galleries.

It has also been quite productive as well. Saw the Scott-Shackleton & Antarctic exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace and one cannot fail to be inspired by either of these two great adventurers. Went to the Royal Geographical Society and read a couple of expedition reports there – one regarding Michael McGrath’s Pole2Pole expedition in 2002 and 2004, and one regarding the Kaspersky Lab Commonwealth Expedition. Both projects were incredibly inspirational and further reinforced my desire to do this project.

The Pole2Pole project was conducted by Michael McGrath, a chap who has the rare muscle disorder, Muscular Dystrophy when, in 2002 and 2004 he became the first disabled person to reach the North Pole and the South Pole respectively. After having had Muscular Dystrophy for over 20 years by the time he completed his expeditions, Michael had very little physical strength and suffered from the cold much more than any able-bodied person due to a less efficient circulatory system – though he and his team managed to make it.

The Kaspersky Lab Commonwealth Expedition saw eight women from the Commonwealth countries of Cyprus, Ghana, India, Singapore, Brunei, New Zealand, Jamaica and the United Kingdom brave blizzards, crevasses and temperatures below -30C as they ski over 900 kilometres across Antarctica to the Geographic South Pole. Many of these women had never experienced anything like snow or sub-zero temperatures before!

Certainly, both projects inspire people to really reach beyond the expectations of others and I hope that the 360Extremes expedition can help reinforce this message – with hard work and determination, we can achieve so much; we just have to really push ourselves and try!!!

Why this…?!

Posted: January 13, 2012 by Ben Weber in English
Tags: , ,

So…! What is this all about..?! A young married couple: Me and  Natalia, having a pre-mid-life crisis? Why are we doing this..?!

Good question! Lots of reasons really, many deep set and difficult to explain. We could go on about clichés of childhood dreams, and for me many of those clichés are quite real. One could help read the stories of Scott of the Antarctic and his race with Amundsen without being amazed. The stories of the explorers going off into the unknown; Marco Polo through Asia and along the Silk Road; Livingstone and Mungo Park in Africa; then Hillary and Tenzing and the quest to ascend Everest…

Deep seated reasons, and then a spark with a thought that set this whole thing off… you know, people when they think about going around, they think about going from east to west (or vice-versa). One day, I thought about this and thought that it would actually be much more interesting to go from north to south and do a circle that way. You get to see much more change in environments from each change in latitude, both human and environmental and you get to experience the different cultures all at the same time. Cultures in the mountains, in the forests, deserts, all varying and adapting in their own ways to the natural environments – environments which, though they can be extreme in many ways, are incredibly vulnerable to the changes that are happening around us.

The only hard points are a couple of poles, a few continents to cross and perhaps a few rather tall mountains here and there… so hey, we might as well do it while we can, before the kids and family start appearing!!

On 1 March 2014, the 360 Extremes team will leave São Paulo, Brazil, to embark upon a round-the-world journey: not the normal way, from east-to-west, but the hard way: along the polar axis.

Facing extreme weather conditions, diverse terrain and a multitude of challenges, the team will travel North to South by land in a unique and ambitious expedition. The journey will begin in São Paulo, trekking through the mountains and the rainforests, tundra and deserts of the Americas; moving across the Arctic ice cap and the North Pole; back down south, through Siberia and Mongolia, the Himalayas and ascending Mount Everest and down to the southern hemisphere before crossing Australia, New Zealand to the Antarctic.