Rona McIntosh could almost be the poster girl for our She Who Dares campaign to encourage women to try something that gets them outside their comfort zone. Rona entered the frozen zone on a trek across the Artic – and she loved it. She says it won’t be her last adventure
I don’t know if it’s a good thing or not, but I’m one of those people who says yes to every single challenge that is suggested to me. So when my friend told me she was going to trek across the Arctic and asked me to join her, I agreed without hesitation. As the trek approached, I really didn’t know what to expect – I’ve done ultra-marathons before, but I’d never done anything in the kind of extreme conditions I was about to encounter. I went online to read about other people’s experiences of doing the same expedition: one guy had written a blog in which he kept saying it was the hardest, most horrendous experience of his life. So, funnily enough, that made me a little apprehensive.
When we got to the Arctic, the cold was like nothing I’d ever felt before. Our first day was a preparation day and it was about minus 20 degrees. We used that day to make sure all our equipment was functioning properly and that we were ready. Or as ready as were ever going to be.
The first day of the trek was tough but absolutely amazing. We travelled about 28 kilometres and didn’t arrive at our camp until well after dark. On top of that, we were dragging pulks behind us which carried all our gear and weighed 20 kilograms Physically it was tiring because we were going through very deep snow or uphill. But we were in a fantastic group which made it so fun and really took your mind off the tiredness.
The low temperatures were, for me, the trickiest thing to deal with. In the group ahead of us, a girl suffered hypothermia and had to be taken off the trek. Things like that can happen if you don’t manage yourself properly. When we reached our camp on the first night it was about minus 24 degrees and we had to strip off all our sweaty gear and get changed into dry clothes. I can’t even describe how cold that was. But to get warm, you have to get really, really cold. It was that night that I realised there were things I hadn’t even thought about: getting used to going for a pee for a start. That was really funny. And so cold!
At those temperatures, everything freezes really quickly. You had to keep your water-bottle down your top. My contact lenses froze solid in their pots, so I had to put them down my pants at night to keep them warm. Then, on one of the early nights, I woke up and my sleeping bag was frozen solid, the inside of the tent was completely frozen and my face was stuck to the inside of the tent. So dealing with those conditions were tough. But the good parts of the trek made the hard bits completely worthwhile.
The trek was only three days’ long, so even when it was physically tiring I knew we didn’t have too long to go. But it was so much fun that it never felt like a slog. The scenery was absolutely stunning and I was really conscious of making sure I fully appreciated my surroundings.
Getting to the finish-line, where the organisers had put up a huge ‘Finish’ banner, was fantastic. We stayed on for a bit of a holiday, which included booking into the Arctic Ice Hotel. We headed to some igloos to watch the Northern Lights, which was amazing (although the bloody Northern Lights didn’t come out!). We also went husky-trekking which was brilliant.
This Arctic trek has really given me a taste for doing more of these types of adventures. I run a website called Challenge Chum, which connects people who are looking to do something similar. I see loads of different ideas through that which gives me an appetite to get out there and do more. In whatever I do, whether it’s work or sport, I always want to progress and better myself. I’m always looking for things to get myself out of my comfort zone. I’d love to go to the North Pole, but I’d need to go as part of a funded trip because it’s ridiculously expensive. If I do get the chance to go to the North Pole, this Arctic experience will be so handy as prep because it’s taught me so many things about how to cope. I’d love to do an Antarctic adventure where I go to the South Pole, too. So I’ll just have to see what comes up and whatever does, I know I’ll say yes to it.
Visit Rona’s website at www.challengechum.com
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rona McIntosh. Rona’s latest articles.