Adventure & Exploration

Her deepness Sylvia Earl is a matriarch for marine conservation, Elizabeth Blackburn is a catalyst for cellular health and longevity, Pollyanna Pickering (and daughter Anna-Louise) are patrons for art and wildlife…these are but some of the inspiring examples where women have invigorated our perspective of gender equality and potential.

In celebration of International Women’s Day this week, our guest piece is by the multi-gen women adventure duo, Heather and Rebekah Hawkins (with son Callum). Through their shared passion for climbing, we discover a bond and bravery common of great women—acknowledging the spirit of leading ladies who have shaped our world and continue to impact innovation as explorers, entrepreneurs, scientists, artists and every other facet of formative endeavour.

Join us on a trek to the Himalayas in this journal perspective by Heather from her trek of the GHT from March 1st 2016 – July 28th 2016 – 1,700km in 152 days.

It’s Day 38 of the Great Himalaya trail and the glow of my watch says 4am. Here we are, camped out on a glacier, close to the imposing, icy pass Sherpani Col. High above our little yellow tents the stars keep trekking methodically across the clear, inky sky.

Normally I’d be asleep at this time, but no, I’m up, fully dressed, with my gear bag all packed. There’s one last thing to do before I head out. I reach down with cold, fumbling fingers and secure the Velcro on the front of my gaiters. Then with gloves on, I crawl out of the tent.

My head torch catches all the clouds from my breath. This mountain air is cold, really, really cold! As I hoist my heavy backpack up onto one shoulder I stop for a moment to take it all in. All around the mountains stand ghosted in the moonlight – they’re towering, mesmerising, intimidating – and for the very first time, on our journey across Nepal, we’ll be stepping out from beneath their shadow. Today we’ll be climbing up to the point of highest altitude along the GHT – all 6,189 metres of it – we’re heading up and over Sherpani Col.

My son Callum, my daughter Rebekah, and her boyfriend Matt appear from their tents with head torches flashing like thunderstorms on the snow. We soon huddle together and hold hot tin mugs filled with hot black tea and chat about the epic challenge ahead. Our heads and hearts are full of anticipation, and just like every other day on the trek, we draw strength from each other – with practical advice, encouraging words, humour and big, bulky bear hugs through all those thermal layers. Today I can guarantee the hugs are a whole lot tighter!

Right now, we’re part way along our 1,700 km journey across the Himalayas, not just as four individuals, but as family. We’ve clocked ourselves off for a full five months, left behind the creature comforts of home, logged out from social media and set off in our leather boots.

It’s been nothing short of sensational, and has without a doubt, strengthened the bonds of our relationships, increased our love and appreciation of each other and topped up those somewhat depleted stores of personal courage and resilience.

Together we’ve faced fatigue, battled breathlessness at altitude, forded icy streams, abseiled over boulders and stepped over crevasses. Whenever we’ve reached our limits, we’ve been there for each other. No one’s been left behind. No one’s felt broken, hurt or overwhelmed. We’ve talked things through, held out a guiding hand or two up on the fixed lines, nursed each other along when we’ve been sick and chipped in to carry each other’s backpack. It’s been a positive, enlightening and a life changing journey.

Just as the first rays of sun appear over the eastern peaks, we set off from camp, to follow our Sherpas closely across the ice field. We’re in amongst knee deep snow and crevasses. Two hours later we make it to the base of Sherpani Col. It’s a truly daunting pass with all its pale jagged rock, snow and blue ice to negotiate. But there’s no turning back. We clip onto the fixed lines one by one and start to climb. Up and up… I stop to pull the buff away from my face to breathe. Up and up… Our crampons keep us anchored on the mountainside. Up and up… it’s tough going, our legs are shaking but at last we all reach the top.

The views from here are absolutely amazing and the elation inside is uncontrollable. We’ve done it! In every direction the peaks of the Himalayas stretch out forever. Everything’s so white and blue. For a few brief minutes we stand in awe… in silence, and as a family…

It’s then that I realise it’s moments like these, moments that contain both challenge and triumph, that we should allow to soak deep into our soul – allow to shape us, give us new perspective and help us to truly appreciate life and each other.

Then as we climb back down the mountain and ease our way back into daily life, we’ll let these moments keep shaping us, and keep us wondering what on earth our next little adventure will be…

Are you considering treking part or all of the seven stages of the GHT in 2017?

Join Heather and help make a difference by fundraising for cancer research projects through Can Too. Combining classic Everest Base Camp and Gokyo Lakes treks with a stunning crossing of the non-technical Cho La pass provides an unsurpassed circuit trek of the Everest region. The challenge includes climbs of the popular Gokyo Ri and Kala Pattar along the way, which provide magnificent photo opportunities of the world’s highest mountain, Mount Everest, and views as far as Kanchenjunga in the east and the Tibetan 8000m peak Cho Oyu to the north.

View Lhotse, Nuptse, Pumori, Cholatse, the beautiful pyramid of Ama Dablam, as well as countless other Himalayan peaks. Each night you will be accommodated in private eco campsites as well as handpicked eco lodges. Another dimension to this adventure is the famous Sherpa culture providing a truly unforgettable experience.

Book your spot on the “Heather Hawkins Everest Can Too Challenge”
humacharitychallenge.com or 1300 792 501

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Join Drew Hamilton, NHA Expedition Leader and bear expert extraordinaire, as he takes us behind the scenes of a Nat Hab grizzly trip on Alaska’s Katmai Coast. Drew’s passion for bears and conservation shines through as he shares why he became a naturalist and describes the magic of watching bears at close range.

Nature puts on few displays as arresting as Alaskan brown bears feeding on summer’s bounty. These bears—the largest coastal grizzlies in the world—gorge on spawning salmon as the fish swim up the rivers that pour onto these wild beaches. NHA private chartered boat, the Natural Habitat Ursus, is ideally designed for our Alaska adventure cruise, offering an exclusive opportunity to follow the bears along the shoreline as they fish, dig for clams and amble along the beach. Ashore, you have an even closer vantage point to watch on foot with an NHA guide from a careful distance. The bears could not be more nonchalant about our presence! Here in Katmai National Park, experience pure, unadulterated nature—where your only job in this wild place is to tune in to the wind, the weather and the whims of Alaska’s bears.

Explore nathab.com and book your own Alaska Grizzly Adventure!

Just for today, ‘Do Life Differently’…

I am a nature lover, I feel energised and creative in true wilderness. BUT, my reality is long hours and screen time writing about and sharing others stories about the great outdoors. Not today—today I am doing life differently.

The impetus for this change is due in part to the research and reviews I am working on. As a journalist fuelled by insatiable curiosity, I delight in exploring outlier philosophies and practices—turns out millions share my interest, with altered state and human performance a $4 trillion dollar industry, that consistently tops the charts as the most downloaded content on the inter-webs. As such I am taking the Flow Fundamentals Course and reading ‘Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs, and Maverick Scientists Are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work’ (#StealingFire) by Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal.

Science has never been so translucent or applicable, Wheal and Kotler are detectives for a revolution set to disrupt and advance our actions and attitudes towards life, potential and conservation. Sticky issues or as the authors coin them ‘Wicked Problems’ are the bane of our generation—more than aggravating (as in growing populous and traffic jams) but life threatening (as in species extinction and health compromising pollution). Solving dynamic and decades-in-the-making problems of this paramount, require genius, novelty, and edge-walking beyond what humans are typically comfortable with. Amongst the most compelling stories are those of explorers, extreme athletes, fearless reporters and visual-storytellers who risk life to reveal it’s worth and our stake in it’s preservation.

This is the subject of my research: ‘How adventure (flow states) can influence conservation, inspire innovation and change lives.’

As part of the Flow Fundamental Course (#FlowGenomeProject) students are assigned a series of challenges, of these one resonated deeply with my love of nature. Big Wild and untamed nature (think #MeruFilm), demands adaptive and acute attention as the deciding grace between life or death. In this high stakes environment the self is consumed to the force of nature and time or other distractions fade. This equates to the ultimate challenge but the course suggests more modest degrees of the same principle—nature immersion (i.e. watch the sunrise and set each day for a week).

As I pondered my level of commitment and action, I was influenced by another source of inspiration: ‘Never Look A Polar Bear In The Eye: A Family Field Trip to the Arctic’s Edge in Search of Adventure, Truth, and Mini-Marshmallows’ by Zac Unger (Da Capo Press, 2013). The author and self-proclaimed James Bond of Vertebrate Zoology, was disillusioned by suburban environmentalism (aka: the gap between eco-friendly actions and experiencing climate change first-hand)—his resolution was to pack-up the family and head to the Arctic (Big Wild) in search of the ice bear and a tangible connection to nature.

Reading Unger’s story compounded my growing desire to ‘Do Life Differently’.

As I write this, pioneers of ecstasis are leveraging the potential of flow for rewilding, technology innovations, discovery sciences and creative exploration. We are all part of some aspect of these advances, and finding our role within them—is key to instigating pivotal and vital change that benefits mankind and nature.

So, just for today: How will you ‘Do Life Differently’?

Albert Einstein succinctly describes the definition of insanity as: “Doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results.” I believe we are all capable of tapping our potential, and flow is a viable and efficacious method for achieving this. By this equation finding your flow trigger (mine is unequivocally nature) will lead you to discovery your personal power and place in the world—begin today with one great step, ‘Do Life Differently!’

As for my #DoLifeDifferently? Today I will seek-out a peaceful patch, get a little grubby, meditate for a moment, and breathe in the scent of fresh rain.

Resources and Recommended Reading

Flow Genome Project / Fundamentals Course (flowgenomeproject.com)

Stealing Fire (harpercollins.com)

Never Look A Polar Bear In The Eye (dacapopress.com)

Meru, 2015 documentary film chronicling the first ascent of the “Shark’s Fin” route on Meru Peak in the Indian Himalayas. Co-directed by married couple Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and winner of the U.S. Audience Documentary Award at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. (merufilm.com)

When the ‘Big Wild’ calls to you, but buildings obscure your view… scroll your screen to this: ‘The Art of Flow’ a short film to kindle your fire until you can up-stakes and make neighbours with a polar bear.

Polar Bears International is the ultimate resource for all things Big, Wild, and White (polarbearsinternational.org), and for a virtual close-up with the king of the Arctic checkout their Polar Bear Cam!

For those who dare to #DoLifeDifferently and Look A (REAL…WILD) Polar Bear In The Eye, checkout Frontiers North (frontiersnorth.com) who offer a variety of Arctic Adventures.

If bears are on your bucket-list, checkout: Churchill Town & Tundra Enthusiast and Tundra Buggy Lodge Enthusiast.

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This spellbinding documentary follows Aisholpan, a 13-year-old nomadic Mongolian girl who is fighting to become the first female eagle hunter in twelve generations of her Kazakh family. Set against the breathtaking expanse of the Mongolian steppe, The Eagle Huntress features some of the most awe-inspiring cinematography ever captured in a documentary, giving this intimate tale of a young girl’s quest the dramatic force of an epic narrative film.

A timely rhapsody on living wild, embracing adventure and restoring forgotten instincts. Produced by photographer, filmmaker Bjørn Olson (mjolnirofbjorn.com).

“One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am – a reluctant enthusiast….a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; You will outlive the bastards.” —Ed Abbey