We noticed you're blocking ads.

Keep supporting great journalism by turning off your ad blocker.

Questions about why you are seeing this? Contact us

Font Size

- Aa +

Sat 18 Jul 2009 04:00 AM

Font Size

- Aa +

It is a small world

World record holding explorer Adrian Hayes tells Kat Slowe how seeing the world from top to bottom can change perspectives.

It is a small world
Adrian Hayes’s trip to the ‘three poles’ covering 3,500 km will possibly be the longest unassisted Arctic polar journey in history.

World record holding explorer Adrian Hayes tells Kat Slowe how seeing the world from top to bottom can change perspectives.

It was upon descending Mount Everest, the first of the ‘three poles' which he completed, that renowned explorer Adrian Hayes was possibly the closest he had ever been to dying: "I thought about that Lance Armstrong quote, that when things are really, really bad, you have got two choices, you can give up or you fight like hell. You just fight, fight, fight."

This advice must work. Not only did Hayes reach the bottom, but like Lance Armstrong - a renowned cyclist who won the Tour de France a record breaking seven times - Hayes is now a champion in his field. He holds the world record for completing the journey to the ‘three poles' (the North Pole, the South Pole and Mount Everest) in the shortest time. It took him only 19 months.

Currently on an expedition across Greenland, the world's largest island, Hayes is sending off regular dispatches to be published on his website. The trip, in which he is utilising the power of the wind to travel via kite skiing, will - at 3,500 km - be possibly the longest unassisted Arctic polar journey in history.

Judging from his diary, the expedition so far seems to be going well, barring some minor blips, such as losing fuel overboard and being run over by his own sled.

"I struggled with intense pain with boots/feet and harness problems," Hayes's blog states, "which gave me a nightmare kiting day, a few high speed falls, and when a kite secured to a sled took off - taking the sled with it and running straight over the top of me, my day couldn't get any worse." Both incidents sound extreme, but when held up against some of his previous adventures, they are a walk in the ice for Hayes, a 50-year-old former Gurkha officer. He tells Arabian Insight, from a comfortable seat in the Address Hotel in Dubai - before leaving on his expedition - of some of the more memorable moments in his life, as well as the inspiration for his present journey.

"On Everest my oxygen mask packed up on the whole summit night," he says. "It just worked the final two hours. So that was very sobering - when you've been without oxygen for so long at those altitudes... you are basically dying. It was just a fight to keep alive."

On that day, which Hayes describes as "the luckiest day" of his life, Hayes was left behind by his team-mates, struggling for oxygen, as they completed the final part of the climb without him.

"Everyone is on their own," he explains. "We went in twos, one guy and a sherpa in two men teams. So I had two of us, myself and a sherpa, but you don't rope together, you don't go together, you are on your own mission there. You are on your own agenda. So they moved ahead, but they were apart - two of them within ten minutes. One guy was about 40 minutes behind them."

Luckily for Hayes his oxygen pack recovered after his team-mates left and so he was able to complete the climb two hours behind everyone else.

"The beauty was I summited on my own," he says, "and had about an hour and a half up there, pretty much savouring the most fantastic view in the world. It was incredible. I will never forget it."

"I took the pack off and let it down on the floor on the summit. And I thought it was working. That is why I stayed so long, because I am a fast downhiller, but it didn't work on the way down. That was the worst experience. That descent without oxygen was the most sobering seven hours of my whole life."

Hayes almost didn't make it down the mountain. If he had failed, he would have joined the other 250 people who have died attempting to scale the face.

"Fighting, fighting, fighting, fighting, fighting, fighting," he remembers. You are just fighting to keep awake. You couldn't even move your arm or your leg, just everything, hyperventilating. It was tough.

"When I think back my memory fades with time about how desperate I was on that descent, how difficult it was. And that is where most people die - on the descent."

Yet, despite this traumatic experience, Hayes continued over the next two years to traverse both the Arctic and the Antarctic in his bid to make the history books. And Everest, he claims, did not turn out to be his greatest challenge.

"The North Pole was the hardest of all three and is probably the hardest challenge of our planet," Hayes says. "I don't think there is anything that can compare with that trip, because you are walking on this thin ice. You have got to do it in a very short time window. You go too early and it is pitch black, in permanent arctic darkness. You go too late and you are going to be walking on water.

"It is bitterly, bitterly, bitterly cold," he adds. "It went down to minus 60 degrees Celsius, without wind chill. Nothing dries, you are damp, damp for two and a half months. You have got seconds to react because of the cold. You are always in pain. You are just fighting to survive. It is a fight for survival."

And it is eating for survival. Hayes and his group had to force down huge slabs of butter ever day to maintain their fat ratio: "That much butter every day, just force feeding this fat down inside you - it is preposterous, but you still lose it."

"It is all pretty stupid, it is laughable when you think about it. Bodily functions at that temperature are just a joke - it is so devoid of all humanity - it is just beyond that," he laughs. "I won't go into details on that one."

And at one moment it was literally swimming for survival, as Hayes and his team-mates found themselves stuck on an ice flow which had separated from the main block of ice. Uncertain as to how long it would take for the ice to reform, or if it even would, they were forced to change into their dry suits and swim for it. This is a danger that becomes greater each year, as the ice in the Arctic continues to thin as a result of global warming.

"Every day you see the ice get broken up in front of you," Hayes says. "It gets thinner...When you're walking on thin ice on the North Pole and you're jumping from a little bit of ice flow to an ice flow, and there's water all around you, you think we do not belong here. I went through the ice a couple of times and I got soaked. You know we do not belong here. This is a marshland. And you think: ‘Is this ever going to end? Are you ever going to get solid land, solid ice?' And it does, and it did, but it was quite precarious at the time."

Two years ago Hayes says he saw the ice and the snow on top, and the depth of ice was less than two metres thick: "It was even less than two metres; five feet, six feet."

He explains how twenty years ago it was around five metres thick and that actually seeing the ice breaking up everywhere "blew him away," and was what stemmed him taking his interest in sustainability issues further.

It is no longer about just breaking records for Hayes, if it ever was. His trips through the arctic landscape have now awoken in him a sense of environmental responsibility. Hayes' expedition across Greenland is being made in conjunction with Bioregional and One Planet Living, and Hayes hopes to raise awareness about major environmental concerns through the journey, in addition to undertaking ice monitoring tasks for scientists.

Using a kite to aid in transportation helps minimise the carbon footprint of the excursion, as the distance that he is travelling would be impossible to undertake on foot: "We are trying to get there but we have got 3,500 km to travel, which is three times what I walked to the South Pole. If you just walked you would need a sled the size of this room for that distance. When the wind blows we hoist some kites and we get taken along."

Through his actions, Hayes hopes to highlight to the world the importance of the Greenland ice cap and what he considers to be its precarious state.

"It holds eight percent of the world's reserves of fresh water," he says. "It is losing between 260 to 300 cubic km of ice per year - losing to water. If it melted in its entirety the sea levels would rise eight metres across the world. A realistic possibility is a two foot rise across the world, which would still cause a lot of havoc."

But Hayes is also aware that saving the world's environment cannot be about any one landmark or feature. According to Hayes, you cannot prevent the melting of the Greenland ice cap without looking at the whole environment.

And you can't solve that, he claims, without looking at society, which in turn is linked to the economy.

"They are all linked," he says. "Everyone in the world is consuming resources that are 30 percent more than the earth can replenish and regenerate.

"If everyone, if all 6.7 billion people in the world, lived like Europeans, we would actually need three planets to live on. If everyone lived like North Americans we would need five planets to live on. And, if everyone lived like people out here in the UAE, you would need seven planets to live on. It's stark to see these things."

And this, Hayes says, is now what drives him on his quest - not a desire to break records or an aspiration for fame: "I ask the question: ‘Where do you see the pain in the world?'

"If you ask most people, they say: ‘Well, I see poverty. I see child abuse. I see drunkenness or drugs.' I see so many things where I think this could be better, in this city (Dubai) as well as worldwide.

"When you have stood on the top of the world and you have stood on the bottom, and you have stood on the roof, you tend to look at the planet with a slightly different perspective."

Arabian Business: why we're going behind a paywall