In 2005, Simon Daglish, 43, was part of an expedition that followed in Robert F. Scott’s footsteps walking to the South Pole. Six years on, and after being egged on by his Walking With the Wounded expedition co-founder, he is ready to return to the ice – this time leading a team of ex-servicemen, all of whom received life-altering injuries, as they set out to create new records by walking to the Geographical North Pole.
What are you doing in the frozen North of Norway?
I’ve asked myself that question several times! A few years ago I was doing a talk about my 2005 walk to the South Pole, at the Royal Geographical Society, and an old friend from Sandhurst, Edward Parker, came up to me and asked “Do you want to go to the North Pole?” to which my immediate response was “No! I just got back from the South!” He kept on about it for around two years, and eventually the memory of the arduous task that was the Antarctic disappeared, but my sense of adventure still persisted. So now here we are just finishing up on our final eight-day in situ training session.
Why did you choose to represent the cause of wounded servicemen?
After I eventually agreed to the trek, Ed’s nephew was wounded in Afghanistan losing both his legs and half of an arm after stepping on an IED (Improvised Explosive Device). That really decided it for us. We wanted to do it for people who had been wounded, and better still we wanted to do the expedition alongside wounded servicemen, not just to raise money, but to show ourselves, the servicemen and the rest of the world that it was possible to achieve great things despite receiving life-altering injuries.
But isn’t it a World Record attempt as well?
It indirectly became a record-making attempt. Unbeknown to us when we started, there has never been an amputee to have trekked to the North Pole – we have two in our team, Captain Guy Disney, who lost his leg below the knee and Private Jaco Van Gas, whose left arm had to be amputated through the elbow.
What sets this polar crossing apart from other ones?
Even now, over a year into the training, we are still learning about what it is like to have a disability in an extreme environment. In the harsh conditions of the frozen north having a disability really comes to the forefront – you can’t spend five minutes doing up a buckle with one hand, or opening the tent with your teeth. We have had to develop everything that we do, not only around Mother Nature and all she has to throw at us but also the physical capabilities of our team. That is what makes it so fascinating. That is probably why no one has attempted it before, because it’ll actually be rather difficult!
Aside from the cause, what is your motivation personally?
It takes up an enormous amount of time, every spare moment that I have is spent organising this trek. It was not easy to take a break from my family life and my job – but there was something inside me that wanted to do it one more time. This will be my third and final adventure, having previously rowed 200miles unsupported from Ireland to Cornwall and the South Pole trip. The North Pole will be my hat-trick.
How have you found the training?
The last time I did this training was five years ago, and I can easily say that it is significantly harder now. For all of us it is hard to get yourself up to the required level of fitness. You must remember that where these guys suffer from their disabilities, I suffer from my age. I train every single day, for over an hour, and then on the weekends I’m dragging tires around Tooting Common and getting funny looks from passers by. But although it has gone well and it is great to feel this fit again, I can’t imaging I will maintain this intensity for the rest of my life.
What specialist training have you done in preparation?
We have done plenty of in-the-field training. This is our third training session in Norway, and in the UK, we have done various marathon treks as a team, including the Exmoor 30:30 race, which involved running 30miles across Exmoor with 30pounds on our backs.
How are you expecting the Arctic to compare to the Antarctic?
It will be very different. The Antarctic is very dry, very flat, very cold and very boring. Once you get 50miles in from the coast there is nothing there but cold weather. While the Arctic is essentially a frozen sea that is constantly changing, it is much damper and that penetrates you and therefore feels a lot colder.
Very – and if I wasn’t I would be an idiot. Although I have been in the ice before, we are still walking into the unknown and you have to respect everything that that comes with.
What is your favourite piece of kit?
Our kit has been amazing out here. We’re lucky to be sponsored and supported by Helly Hansen, and a lot of care has been taken into providing the team with the specific tailoring that their conditions require. My favourite piece of kit however, are my massive pair of beaver skin gloves – they are gleaming! You can’t do anything with them on, but slip your hands in and they’ll be warm in seconds, and they make a great pillow at night.