Explorers Connect

Powering the Adventure Revolution

Welcome to the Explorers Connect Blog

James Hipkiss

At Explorers Connect we aim to make it easy for you to have more adventures. Our regularly updated resources blog has become an indispensable collection of adventure information. Our most popular section is Join a Team where you can find a teammate for your next adventure or join one yourself! 

You'll also find information about how to get funding for your trip, 'how to' guides covering everything from planning to keeping supporters up-to-date at home, news on the Adventure Revolution which is all about how adventure has changed lives, trip reports where members and friends of the EC Community share their adventures and updates from the EC Community.


Returning to Explorers Connect

Becky Goodall

by Belinda Kirk

I'm so pleased to be back at Explorers Connect after more than a year away on maternity leave. Although I've been enjoying my biggest challenge yet, being a mum to 1yr old Jackson, I've so missed leading the adventures and being part of the EC community. A huge thanks to Simon for covering my maternity leave and looking after EC through 2018.

Apart from the haze of sleepless nights and the glamour of washing piles of reusable nappies, it’s been a wonderful year but probably my most challenging to date. Looking after a baby has been much harder than any of the world record attempts, desert crossings or jungle challenges I'm more used to. Since I can remember I've always thrived in the outdoors, my work, my free time, my passion, my identity all wrapped up in adventures in wild places. This year has been tough because I've been stuck indoors more than ever because its surprisingly difficult to get outside with a newborn baby. My expectations of strapping baby to my back and getting on with it didn't really work out that way. Simply leaving the house is an involved and time-consuming ritual, by the time you're out all you're ready for is a lie-down, let alone an adventure. Maternity leave during Britain's best heatwave in decades sounds idyllic but when you have to find shade everywhere you go it does make it really difficult to do the things you used to take for granted. Baby tents blow down, dribble and snot wipe away sun cream and who would've have known that babies like eating sand almost as much as grass. There are constant challenges.

Jackson on beach.JPG

However, we continue to be absolutely determined to give our little one an outdoors start in life, so we've made it a priority to get outside whenever possible. Before his first birthday Jackson has camped, swum in rivers and the sea and gone on too many hikes to count. It is such a privilege and so fun to introduce him to all these new adventures. He's become an adept bird spotter already (like his Dad) and his favourites are swallows, pheasants, partridges, woodpeckers, buzzards, and even a barn owl. He's such a fan of camping, he sleeps better outside than inside so we have left the tent in the garden for a couple of weeks at a time this autumn. I've been so surprised at how much we've had to figure out to keep active that I've started planning an Explorers Connect weekend for new parents to help get through this crazy time, working title New Parents, New Adventures, so if you have any thoughts on that please do let me know. 

As I emerge from the baby-bubble and back into EC, I'm most enjoying catching up with everyone's news on the adventures and at the socials. I am also delighted to announce that the Adventure Revolution Grants will finally launch in 2019. I have been planning them for some time, but the maternity break has held them up. Apply or get your nominations ready. I've also started planning all sorts of new exciting adventures for 2019. I’m most excited about Walk Devon Coast to Coast as it’s a completely unique one-off challenge and will motivate me to get my fitness back post-baby. And of course I'm not planning them alone, Rowan and Becky have joined EC this month too and are already making a real impact on inspiring adventure in others... watch this space.

Belinda, Jim, Jackson.JPG

How to get a job in Antarctica

Becky Goodall
How to get a job in Antarctica

By Laura MacNeil

I have so many wonderful memories of my time in Antarctica: lying in my bunk in our Nissen hut home, hearing the rumbling of the glaciers calving around us and the tapping of the sheathbills feet as they ran back and forth on our tin roof; discovering the first gentoo chick had hatched on midwinter’s day and our island being freed from the surrounding ice for the first time; the sound and smell of the gentoo penguins braying around us; ice flowing in and out of the bay around the island on beautiful clear blue-sky days and penguin chicks catching snowflakes in their beaks.

From Nov 2017- Mar 2017 I was able to experience almost 4 months living on tiny Goudier Island, Port Lockroy on the Antarctic Peninsula, working for the United Kingdom Antarctica Heritage Trust (UKAHT). I had seen the job on Explorers Connect in 2015 and after an unsuccessful application that year, I kept my eyes open and when the position was again advertised in 2016, I applied and was successful.

I had been fascinated with Antarctica since I was about 18, having read Sara Wheeler’s “Terra Incognita”. Over the years my interest grew, as did my Antarctic library. I kept an eye on Explorers Connect for any appropriate opportunities but so many of the jobs in Antarctica required a scientific background and this was not my area of experience. Therefore, when I saw the UKAHT advert to work in the “Penguin Post Office”, looking after the historical British Base A museum and welcoming cruise visitors to Port Lockroy, I knew this was something I could do. I’d worked in tourism for over 10 years and had recently completed a MSc in Library and Information Studies. My tourism and customer service experience meant that dealing with cruise ship visitors was something I was well prepared for and my new Library qualification would prove helpful in the cataloguing of artefacts in the museum.

After submitting the application form, I was successful in making the shortlist of 12 people who were invited to a 2-day long selection process. The selection involved a mixture of teambuilding tasks, paired activities and individual activities. We all had to participate in a variety of practical and problem-solving tasks, as well as written tests and an interview. This process allowed the team at UKAHT to choose the group they felt best suited the roles and the unique challenges that life on such a small island in a team of 4 would involve. A few days after selection I was informed that I was successful and would be joining the team for the 2016-17 season, after some intensive training.

Goudier Island Port Lockroy

Port Lockroy is a designated Historic Site and Monument under the Antarctic Treaty. Base A was established on Goudier Island, within the harbour of Port Lockroy, in 1944 and was the first permanent British base in Antarctica. It closed in 1962 and fell into disrepair until it was renovated in 1996. Since 2006 the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust have run the base as a living museum. The Trust use the funds generated from the museum shop and post office to fund their restoration work at Port Lockroy and other sites around the Antarctic Peninsula.

UKAHT send a team every summer season, who have a number of responsibilities to carry out. We welcomed cruise ship and yacht visitors to the site. We carried out maintenance on the historic buildings, conducted an artefact survey on some items in the museum, feeding our findings back to the Scot Polar Research Institute (SPRI) in Cambridge, and finally we had to count the penguins. There is a resident gentoo penguin colony on Goudier Island and UKAHT have been involved in a longitudinal study to monitor any effects of tourism on the breeding success of the penguins. This study helps inform the best way to manage tourism on the island to ensure the least disruption to the birds.

Although counting the eggs and chicks was probably a favourite job for us all we had many other daily chores which were necessary for living in such an environment. Our accommodation was in a Nissen hut, restored on the site of one of the original buildings. This was very comfortable. We had a wind turbine and solar panels for power with a gas heater for when we felt the cold. Being there in the Antarctic summer meant that the temperatures varied from about -10 to 10 degrees C, although the wind could cause it to feel colder. We had email provision through satellite phone but could only receive text, no pictures or social media. We also had no running water. We were supplied with drinking water from visiting ships and were able to use the ship facilities to have a shower. On the occasions when surrounding ice meant that ships were unable to reach the island, we had to be very frugal with our water supplies and occasionally collected the glacier ice to supplement our water -and of course no showers! Each day we shared a rota of tasks – cook, clean, base diary and “gash”. As cook you could stretch your imagination for uses of the various tinned and dried goods we had. Cleaning involved keeping living quarters free from penguin guano and generally tidy. In the base diary we recorded the weather, any notable wildlife sightings and the activities of the day. “Gash” was the duty of emptying our waste every day, not the most pleasant task but the scenery made it more enjoyable!

All in all, it was a wonderful experience! Living on a tiny island, approximately the size of a football field, for 4 months with only 3 other women was certainly a once in a lifetime experience. We were fortunate to become close friends and a tight team. The Antarctic scenery was constantly a delight, as was the opportunity to witness the gentoos build their nests, lay their eggs and watch as the chicks hatched and gradually fledged.

Coming back to civilisation was a bit of a shock – lots of people and smells other than penguin guano!

Since returning I’ve been trying to hatch plans of what my next big adventure might be. I’ll keep my eye on Explorers Connect again. I would love to make it to the Arctic and until that happens, I’m planning on climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in 2018 so hopefully training for that will keep me occupied for a while.


How to trek the Tien Shan

Wild Night Out

By Stephen Sexton

The Tien Shan ("Heavenly") mountains of Central Asia are, as their name suggests, one of the most divine mountain ranges in the world. Only slightly smaller than the main Himalayan range further to the south, they are more beautiful and less polluted than the mountains of Nepal and India. The tallest peak is Jengish Chokusu in Kyrgyzstan at 7439m and some parts of the range are green and heavily forested, reminiscent of the Swiss Alps. Technically the mountain range is part of the same Himalayan Orogenic Belt anyway, formed by the tectonic collision between the Indian and Eurasian plates. 

I’d arrived into the small town of Karakol in Kyrgyzstan the previous night after an exhausting multi-leg flight to Almaty in Kazakhstan and then a shared taxi ride across the border. Travelling on a crowded mashrutka (minibus) to Ak-Suu the following morning, I was deposited at the junction to a dirt road beginning up the valley, heading deep into the beckoning mountains beyond. It had been a long trip to get here, but here I was, happily setting out on a journey into these mystical mountains in an exotic land. 

The road was a gentle but relentless rise, climbing 800 metres in altitude over 15km. It was a 4WD track and I began passing people coming in the other direction, about a dozen over the course of the day. They had come from Ala-Kol lake, doing the trip in the opposite direction to me. I hit them up with many questions, mainly because I was nervous about the prospect of hiking solo into mountains I knew to be covered in snow, at high altitude and without a tent. For some reason I am especially prone to altitude sickness and knew that anywhere over 2500m can bring it on. I also had forgotten to activate my Garmin satellite communication device, a way of providing some comfort that I may be rescued if I found myself in a situation I couldn't get out of. The advice I was getting was about 50/50. Some people said it would be fine, others insisted I shouldn't attempt it. Having done enough hiking in the past to develop some confidence, I decided I had to attempt it, but would turn back if conditions proved too tough. The reports of thigh deep snow were a little disconcerting though. 

I eventually made it to the Altyn Arashan yurt camp, the setting straight out of a fairytale. It was in a big green meadow in a broad valley surrounded by huge mountains, their flanks heavily forested with fir trees and a bubbling river snaking its way along at the edge. At the far end of the long valley was a huge white peak standing sentinel - Pik Palatka, elevation 5020m. About 20 yurts dotted the area and horses were everywhere, both captive and wild. I arrived in the soft light of late afternoon and made my way into the yurt camp with a French/Japanese couple I'd caught up to, both of them having met while travelling in Australia.


I walked up to the biggest yurt with people around and asked about the one I had booked with the previous evening back in Karakol. They told me it was closed, the tough language barrier making it hard to get the real story. I told them I had paid for it and needed a place to stay so could they please enquire on my behalf. They told me to wait while they asked around, eventually telling me that Talgat the host was away but due back in a little while. I used the time to explore the area, being told there were hot springs a couple of hundred metres up the valley. One of the yurt camps had created enclosed rooms around the hot springs where people could bathe together but I chose to bathe in the river where the hot spring water mixed with the cold glacial water. It was only lukewarm of course, but good enough to get clean again.

Back at the other camp, Talgat had returned so I was shown my bed for the night. He was a friendly host, possessing a warm smile amidst a rugged face. I would be sharing with a Polish couple from Krakow who I had passed on horseback while walking up the valley earlier - Joanna and Bartek. In the middle of the living space was a wood furnace blasting out tremendous heat against the late September chill and the inside was now a toasty temperature with mattresses laid out on the floor and big thick duvets rolled up on top. Just outside the entrance were horses with their front two feet hobbled together with rope, a technique for keeping horses nearby without tying them up. It allows them to move about over short distances only and they have to hop about like kangaroos in order to move. It is a funny sight to see such large creatures hop and the first time I'd seen a hobbled horse, even though I'd grown up around horses.

We went to a neighbouring yurt which served as a dinner hall, and the three of us were served hot soup and another exotic meat dish, accompanied by hot chai tea and the always present dried apricots and raisins. Kyrgyzstan is a tough country to be vegetarian, that's for sure. The three of us got along very well and talked about all manner of travelling and trekking topics. A typically good looking Polish couple, Joanna worked for Lufthansa in Krakow and this allowed her and Bartek to travel on standby for almost no cost. They often had cabin bags packed ready to fly to anywhere they could go and hence they had travelled far and wide. On those weekends where they didn't fly somewhere they would go trekking in the nearby Tatry mountains of southern Poland, where I myself had been only a few months ago. They were an interesting and fun couple and we bought a bottle of Georgian red wine to finish the night. 


 Nearby in the big yurt that had helped me when I first arrived, a big party raged. Solid electronic dance music pumped at full volume and some seriously intoxicated people were yelling and laughing through it all. It sounded wild and I was tempted to poke my head inside to take a look but I knew if I was sighted I'd be sucked in to the vortex, never to be let out again. So I only let my imagination wonder instead. The French/Japanese couple I had arrived with were staying in that yurt camp and I felt sorry for them if they were stuck in the middle of that with no escape.

As I brushed my teeth outside, a big moon shone overhead and with the party still raging and hobbled horses still hopping around, I had to pinch myself at how good this was. It was the real thing. I went to bed with the party dying down and with my earplugs pushed firmly in, sleep eventually came. However I was constantly awakened throughout the night by dogs barking viciously at some imminent threat. My mind came up with all sorts of possibilities, including snow leopards and bears which apparently inhabited the area. 

I had arranged with Talgat to have breakfast an hour earlier than normal, at 7am, in order to get an early start on what I knew would be one of the hardest days of hiking of my life. Joanna and Bartek were going to continue on their horse trek and were in no rush to get up so I didn't get to say goodbye. Talgat served me chicken broth soup and I gorged on the bread, other side dishes and chai tea to load up on energy before making my way in the soft morning light alone up the valley to where I would soon turn up a side valley and begin a serious ascent of about 1400 metres towards Ala-Kol lake, the elevation topping out at around 3900m.

Not having GPS nor reading any trail notes and having literally no route markers to go by, I was once again nervous at the prospect of getting lost amongst the labyrinth of horse tracks meandering around. I had studied the map and knew I had to turn up this particular side valley so just started up it, certain I was not on the official trail, if there even was one. It was open terrain though and soon I rose above the treeline and knew that there was no getting lost when the direction was so clear. Wild horses were everywhere, numerous foals amongst the pack. They would all take a good look at me as I passed and throughout the whole morning I was the only person in the whole valley, not coming across a single other person. It was great hiking and while snow was sprinkled across the mountain tops around me, it certainly didn't look too bad. The climb was relentless, though not too steep, but after several hours I was drenched in sweat from the exertion. I finally sighted the last section I would have to climb and my heart sank - it was very steep and covered in deep snow. I hoped it would look easier from a closer distance but instead found the opposite. 


I began the final push towards the summit ridgeline, the snow now getting deeper with every step. While I had quietly mocked those people who had been so conservative with their advice about snow the day before, now I was at least able to acknowledge they had a point. It was deep, though not thigh deep. More worrying was how the trail made by others through the snow was now so firmly bootpacked that it was actually slippery and given the extreme steepness a careless slip would mean a fall of about 100 metres. It wouldn't be a free fall, just a totally out of control slide towards rocks. I used a curious technique of scrambling on all fours, my hands getting frozen from gripping the snow to prevent a slip. I had to do it in bursts of several metres at a time so exhausting was the climb. No doubt the lack of oxygen played a big part. While far from being in the 'death zone' like on Everest, it was still significantly less oxygen than at sea level and my breathing was laboured. 

The first people I came across the entire day was on this slope and we exchanged terrified small talk as we shuffled past each other on the narrow ledge, not daring to look down. Someone at the summit was flying a drone all the while and a loud overhead whirring sound could be heard as I moved up the final section towards the summit ridgeline. Finally making it, I stumbled out of the snow and onto the rocky, snow-free ridgeline to find a Japanese man standing right there in front me, the lake behind him. I was overwhelmed from the exertion, the unbelievable beauty of Ala-Kol lake in front of me and the fact that this man was suddenly standing right there only a few feet from me. I finally found the breath to talk to him and he congratulated me on making it, explaining that the entire descent into the next valley was snow-free given the sun shone all day on this angle. 


About a dozen people were scattered along the summit ridgeline overlooking the lake, eating snacks and just taking the view in. Huge 5400m peaks rose up in the background, while the foreground was of course dominated by the turquoise blue magnificence of Ala-Kol lake. It was huge for an alpine lake and the glacier feeding its milky-blue waters could be seen off to the left. I didn't stay too long myself, the cold chill from the strong wind making me want to begin the descent into the next long valley which would take me all the way back to Karakol. 

It was a long and steep descent across scree fields and other rocky terrain and far from being the easy part, this was the descent from hell. The effects of altitude had already taken a hold of me, the most prominent being complete exhaustion and a bit of a grumpy attitude. I was surrounded by such beauty but all I could think about was the end. I just wanted to lie down and rest from the constant slipping and sliding on the loose rocky path. More than once I came unstuck and took a tumble, though thankfully nothing too serious. 

I passed a beautiful waterfall on the side of the mountain where I had a rest, and then a camping area that people who approached from the opposite direction used as a base camp. By now I had run out of water and was reluctant to use the running streams everywhere to fill back up, the memories of a severe bout of Giardia in Colombia still fresh in my mind. Eventually making it to the bottom of the valley after several hours, I approached the yurt camp I had spied on the way down. Crossing a few creeks to get to it, it was smaller than the Altyn Arashan camp, possessing only a couple of yurts, a big mess tent, and a few Soviet style caravans set on top of big tyres and high suspension.


An old Russian lady called Larissa approached me and once more I had to use Google Translate to tell her "I need a bed, dinner and lots of water". She told me the costs, very reasonable, and then showed me my bed in the yellow Soviet caravan. The camp was once again in a beautiful setting, with distant white peaks, lush green forests and bubbling blue creeks surrounding it. A resident dog who was angry at my arrival only a few minutes ago, was now my best friend. Larissa asked me in very halting English "You see black dog?" I didn't know what she was talking about, but eventually the point came across that her other dog had walked off with some other hikers only a few hours ago. I would've noticed passing a dog on the way down, so had to tell her no. She went on to explain that a few years ago the same dog had done the same thing, to be lost for 2 whole years. While back in Karakol, Larissa had spotted the dog living with an old man, and was joyfully reunited. Sadly it appeared the dog had not learnt its lesson.

I was served dinner in the big canvas mess tent, dining alone. However in walked Lena, a Russian girl of about my age who spoke good English. She had just returned from a hike in the area and was also staying here. She was from Saint Petersburg, and worked in IT. She could work off a laptop from anywhere and was travelling the world this way. We talked for over an hour about all the exotic trekking locations in this world, before I announced my need for sleep, realising that she was also going to be sharing the incredibly small sleeping area in the caravan. 

 The following morning I was up early to begin the walk down the long and beautiful valley back towards Karakol, more than 25km away. It was a nice easy walk down a slowly descending 4wd track again, though some sections were completely covered in large rocks and I wondered at how Larissa got the caravans and other trucks through such sections. I collapsed into my bed back at a guesthouse in Karakol that night, completely shattered from a very physical but unique trekking experience. My first taste of adventure in these Silk Road countries had been a good one and only served to whet my appetite for further exploration of this exotic corner of the world.

To read more of Stephen's articles and books visit his blog at www.stephensexton.com.


James Brownhill Memorial Fund

FundingSimon Pearce

James Brownhill was an avid climber and mountaineer who tragically died in an accident on the Frendo Spur in Chamonix. Following his death, members of his family established the fund in order to encourage and foster a higher level of safety, good practice and sustainability amongst young climbers and mountaineers.