As I prepare to head to the wild and beautiful hamlet of Finse* in Norway, a place historically frequented by many famous adventurers (see below), to complete a 40 mile mountain bike ride down into the fjord of Flam, I have been monitoring the progress of a few other intrepid adventurers, who I have been advising and working with on their decision-making and team cohesion. 

They have had to make some critical decisions in the past 24 hours.

Greenland to Scotland Challenge

@ollyhicks and @george_bullard are kayaking from Greenland to Scotland. They set off at the end of June, from the edge of the icy shores of Greenland and have been heading south via Iceland and the Faroes Island in a 2-man kayak. 

They have been weather-bound in the Faroes for a couple of weeks until late last week, when a fair weather window opened up for them to make the final crossing to mainland Scotland.

They set off from the Faroes on Friday and after 40 hours constant paddling with barely any sleep, they were forced to make a critical decision. The weather window was deteriorating fast and they had 30 hours before a storm arrived. Did they dogmatically push on to Scotland, take a risk that they could get there before the storm hit and hope that conditions were not going to be too bad or redirect to the small deserted island of North Rona, a dot between the Faroes and Scotland to weather the storm? What should they do?

We have been monitoring their decision-making - both before the expedition and a couple of days after a four day and night crossing of the 'Devil's Dance Floor' between Iceland and the Faroes. Not surprisingly due to fatigue we have seen changes in their decision-making. So it is important that for the remainder of the expedition, they accurately evaluate the key issues and make the right decision.

"We have just heard from Olly and George. They have been paddling for 40 hours and have covered half the distance from The Faroes to Scotland - the current weather window gives them just 31 hours to cover the same distance. Any of those mathematicians out there can work out that this is not ideal news. As of 30 mins ago, the boys have changed course and are heading to the small island of North Rona." A message from their support team in the UK

Olly and George, I think have made the right decision and have decided to head to North Rona and wait out the storm. So after 65 hours of paddling with only 3 hours of sleep they have now arrived on North Rona today (Monday) to sit out the storm with a Lighthouse, some sheep, gannets and seals, but they now have a new problem - fresh water. They only have a few days of fresh water left and now need to find more supplies. I am told there is an old well in the deserted village. Lets hope the weather clears up for them.

We wish them well.

Gavan Hennigan - extreme adventurer

I have been working with Gavan (@soulogav) since March when he finished second in the 'world's toughest adventure race' the Arctic Yukon Quest race, setting the third fastest time in the race's history of 123 hours with only 6 hours sleep during that time. 

Within a three weeks of that race, he set off and completed the solo and unsupported South to North crossing of the 700km Lake Baikal in Siberia, in mid-winter in 17 days, pulling a 60kg sled. He is one of only a few people on records to have managed this entire journey solo on foot.

He is now preparing for a 5,000km solo transatlantic row in December, which will take him three months to complete.

Previous to this, he worked worldwide as a deep-sea saturation diver for over ten years, diving to depths of 200 m to perform heavy construction on oil rigs.

While out training on Saturday evening, he accidentally spilt boiling water on his foot. After initially cursing himself for making a rooky error and not using a gimbal to boil the water on, he now had to make a serious decision - his foot was starting to blister badly and bubble up. He had no proper first aid kit onboard. It was just after 5 pm and he had about six nautical miles to go to his destination. The pain was getting worse and its position was being aggravated by his rowing. 

What should he do?

Option One - Knucklehead option - Cover it with plastic and tape it up, put his shoe back on and keep rowing. 

Option Two - Call a friend - Call a friend to discuss the options. 

Option Three - Call another Friend - to see if they had any other advice.

He opted to 'call a friend' to talk it through. He was informed people were sailing close by, who might be able to tow the boat to the nearest harbour.

He decided to keep rowing on it for a time, but the pain was not helping and he stopped again to reassess. At this point, the burn was blistering and starting to ooze. It was 6 pm and he had about 3 hours of light left. 

He made the decision to 'call another friend' and have a chat to tell him about the situation. He quickly offered to come and give him a tow, which he agreed to.

After putting the phone down he started to feel emotional, he felt like he had messed up, but at the same time hugely relieved that he had asked for help.

He was rescued and towed to port, where he went ashore and got a proper first aid kit. He is now back home and waiting to row his boat back to its home port.

What lessons did Gavan learn? 

  1. When it goes wrong, it can go wrong very quickly. Something like this happening on the Atlantic could be disastrous. The position of the burn and how easily it could get infected means it could end his hopes to do well in the transatlantic race.
  2. 5Ps - Preparation Prevents a P*ss Poor Performance. He will certainly be getting a cooking gimbal installed to hold his stove. He is also putting together an extensive medical kit.
  3. Stop and Evaluate the situation. He was pleased he did not try and muscle his way through this incident. Rowing further on this injury would have stopped his training for even longer. 
  4. Do not be too proud to use your support team - As much as this is a solo ocean row, he was able to use the help, support and kindness of his support team. 

It is nice to see that Gavan is not just 'leaping in without thinking' and stopping to evaluate the situation correctly. Making right decisions are critical when you are on your own, in a dangerous situation and your body is tired, but the sudden incident has caused his body to be pumped with adrenaline and cortisol. Panic can set in and wrong decisions can be made. Also note, how Gavan has taken the time to reflect back on the incident and learn some lessons from it.

Here are two examples of the decision-making that extreme adventurers have to make when they are out there and facing the elements. There is very little room for error; there is no room to fudge the decision; there is no time to defer the decision. In many cases, these adventurers are facing life or death situations, where making the right decision is critical despite the elements, tiredness and often hunger that they are facing.

*Finse 1222 was established in 1909 when the Bergen to Oslo railway was built. However, it became better known when some of the great explorers of our time - Scott, Shackleton, Nansen and Amundsen -  used the location to prepare for their Antarctic expeditions due to the brutal winter climate.