This spring, polar guide Inge Solheim (NOR) led an expedition of wounded British soldiers to the North Pole, a feat in itself but also a new world record. The expedition was the first ever to reach the North Pole with two amputees on the team. The expedition brought a BBC film crew along, as well as the Expedition Patron HRH Prince Harry, who joined the expedition for four days of the trek. The first episode of the BBC Documentary “Harry´s Arctic Heroes” airs on Tuesday, August 23. Watch the trailer here:
Madshus Exclusive Interview with Inge Solheim, polar guide and expedition leader
By Inge Scheve, Madshus
“I’ve been to the North Pole ten times before, but for me, this was an important assignment with a prestigious program. I’m honored that a Norwegian was asked to lead the expedition,” Solheim says to Madshus.
His Royal Majesty Prince Harry joined the expedition for a week at Svalbard, where the team was training and preparing for the task. Prince Harry also joined the expedition for five days in the Arctic Ocean as the team approached the North Pole. (Story continues below the picture)
“After the five days, we were able to get a plane to fly Prince Harry out while we continued toward the North Pole,” Solheim says, adding that the team consisted of the Walking with the Wounded founders Simon Daglish and Edward Parker, four wounded British soldiers, himself and a large camera crew. The whole project is documented in a BBC series that airs in the fall of 2011, as well as a book that will be published simultaneously with the BBC TV series.
“The media attention was insane,” Solheim says, noting that he has not experienced anything even close to this on his previous adventures.
“This was a totally new world for me. At the same time, this expedition had a budget that was only a fraction of a typical Volvo Ocean Race project. This expedition cost roughly 3 million Norwegian kroner. For that amount you’ll be lucky to get even a mast and a keel for one of the Volvo Ocean Race boats,” he says.
Deep ties to Madshus
When setting out on such an extreme expedition, you have to know that you can trust your gear 100 percent, and that the equipment will handle the brutal challenges of the trip. This is not the first time that Inge Solheim has been involved in polar expeditions using Madshus gear. During the 2006-07 season, Solheim successfully guided Norwegian biathlete Ole Einar Bjoerndalen to the North Pole on Madshus skis and equipment. His previous experience with Madshus made it easy to select equipment for the “Walking With The Wounded” expedition. And there were no letdowns for the team this time either.
“Madshus makes amazing skis. They are more than sufficient even in extreme situations. Not a single ski was damaged after the expedition. We all signed the pair of skis that Prince Harry used, and those skis are hanging up on his wall in his house now,” Solheim says, adding that Prince Harry was a solid and reliable addition to the team.
There is a lot to plan prior to a polar expedition. Additionally, when four of the team members have physical challenges and injuries to consider, there are certainly added challenges in terms of equipment and clothing, Solheim notes. Individuals with an amputated or paralyzed limb typically have reduced circulation to the area, which is important to address. Additionally, standard gear might cause blisters or irritation for the amputee, so preventing blisters and hot spots is crucial to comfort and success, he explains.
“You work with the situation and prepare as best you can based on your condition in order to minimize the number of surprises along the way,” Solheim says, explaining that ski technique and backcountry travel were central parts of the pre-expedition curriculum.
“A few of them had skied before, but there was not a lot of technique to speak of when we started. The good thing is that skiing with skins and pulling a heavy sled is very non-technical. Gradually, they developed their own, more efficient style of skiing which both produced progress and conserved energy,” Solheim recalls. (Story continues below the picture)
How far in advance did you start training for the expedition and what were the biggest challenges?
“Most of them started training about a year prior to the expedition. They were all fairly fit to start with, which helped a lot,” Solheim says.
You said you didn’t have a lot of drama along the way, but what were the most exciting/unexpected experiences?
“There was nothing unexpected or dramatic. We had practiced everything, and the team reacted to the elements and the rigor of the expedition exactly the way I had expected. The biggest potential challenges along the way include polar bear encounters, storms and moving ice. Fortunately, none of these became serious threats during this expedition. This team consisted of hard-working people who stayed on task and did what they were supposed to do. We were all well prepared and avoided substantial problems. It was a really good trip,” Solheim says.
“But I think several of them were more exhausted than they will admit or even remember,” he adds with a smile.
The expedition itself progressed according to plan. On average, the team put in ten hours of travel per day, and worked slowly but surely toward the goal. However, daily progress in not a given when traveling in the Arctic where the ice is moving. (Story continues below the picture)
“The team logged about 20 kilometers per day. That may not seem like a lot for 10 hours of effort, but when you are pulling 80 to 100 kilos in a sled across moving ice, covering 20 kilometers takes time. Additionally, you also have to deal with drift that works against your direction of travel, and that’s painful,” Solheim explains, noting that the ice moves perpetually, day and night.
On his previous expedition, he woke up several days just to find out that he had drifted backwards and in effect had negative progress – some days as much as nine kilometers despite the hard work the day before. The “Walking With The Wounded” expedition logged positive or neutral progress every day. They also didn’t see any polar bears, which was just fine with Solheim.
“It can be pretty stressful to see polar bears this far north. They are often very hungry,” he explains, noting that just because they didn’t see any polar bears, doesn’t mean they were not around. They just didn’t see any, and that was one less thing to stress about.
Calories and Food Fantasies
Each of the team members burn about 6,000 calories per day. Covering those needs requires energy dense breakfasts and dinners, and constant snacking throughout the day. They grazed on anything from nuts and chocolate to powdered energy drinks – in short anything they could get their hands on.
While Solheim is a veteran polar guide and has learned to prevent the wildest food fantasies, he recalls several of the other team members talking about food, what they like and what they would like to eat when they got back. “You crave fatty food on expeditions like these,” Solheim says, adding that he is not immune to food fantasies either, but has weathered enough expeditions to focus on other aspects. “I remember a trip across Greenland where we ate really awful food for nearly two and a half months. After that I can handle a lot,” he says.
Challenges – Even Sans Polar Bears
Expeditions like these tend to bring out the best and the worst in people.
“You get to know people in a different way,” Solheim says.
“You learn to recognize what happens to them when they get hungry or concerned. And you see how some people respond by adding strength to their teammates and the team overall, whole others become destructive and negative and start feeling sorry for themselves. It’s important to pick up on these subtle changes early and turn the energy into a positive factor that makes the team better. You’ll see some of these tendencies during the preparation for the expedition, but you never really know how it will turn out until you’re in a stressful situation. It happens on every expedition to some extent,” Solheim explains. He says the “Walking With The Wounded” expedition was a great team to work with in this regard.
“Military personnel are used to hard work and they generally don’t feel sorry for themselves when they volunteered for the trip. But of course, everyone gets a little shorter fuse and morbid sense of humor in extreme situations. The British military has a horrible sense of humor. On my part, I tend to be very fact oriented. These are the tasks we agreed on, and this is the most efficient way to get them done,” Solheim says.
“But generally, you don’t often run into situations where people want to fight you for the guide position. Most people don’t feel like arguing over who’s the boss in the middle of the Arctic Ocean.”
Walking With the Wounded – the Story Behind
The charity “Walking With The Wounded” was founded by Ed Parker and Simon Daglish in 2010. The purpose is to raise funds for re-education and re-training of wounded servicemen and women to help them reestablish a civilian life, as well as build a network to all wounded veterans.
“Our armed forces today are being asked to do so much in our name and on our behalf. Every day, young men and women are risking their lives in extreme circumstances. They do this with great professionalism and courage. Many have made the ultimate sacrifice, losing their lives in the course of duty, and we must never forget them. But there is another story.
During the course of operations, many young men and women suffer horrific injuries. When the wounded return home they face a very different future to the one they had planned, with challenges they never imagined. Needless to say, they meet this uncertainty with the same courage and determination that they demonstrated on the front line. But theirs is a long road to recovery, and for many their future outside the Armed Forces is unsure.
This is the future that Walking With The Wounded is supporting. The funds raised finance new qualifications, courses and further education for those who are seriously injured. It enables the blind, the burn victims, the mentally injured, the amputees and all the other wounded to rebuild their lives and to return to the work place.”
To learn more about Walking With the Wounded: http://walkingwiththewounded.org.uk/
- The Walking with the Wounded expedition is now a BBC documentary. The first of the 10 episodes of “Harry´s Arctic Heroes” airs on August 23, 2011.
- The 8-person expedition team reached the Geographic North Pole on April 16, 2011, after a record fast 13-day trek across the Siberian Arctic.
- The unsupported team covered 160 kilometers and battled temperatures of minus 38 degrees Celsius
- The team consisted of founders Ed Parker and Simon Daglish, polar guide Inge Solheim, four wounded soldiers: Captain Guy Disney (amputee), Sergeant Steve Young (amputee), Private Jaco van Gass and Sergeant Martin Hewitt, as well as the expedition patron HRH Prince Harry.