This is a Q&A I recently did with Roger about his expeditions to the Roof of Britain. I was keen to find out more what the experience was like, what does it take and extract some of his learnings for our benefit. Which I am happy to say, I did!
I’m aware that since 2011you have been running three 4 week expeditions with the last two being the Roof of Britain. Can you tell us a bit more about what is it and where it is? It’s the top section of Scotland, with the rugged coastlines of the West, North and East coast with the relative shelter of The Great Glen. It is a distance of 800km, for the full loop. This expedition covers some of the most spectacular and exposed stretches of the UK coastline, including Cape Wrath, the infamous Pentland Firth and the most westerly point of mainland UK, Ardnamurchan Point and many glorious beaches along the way.
Why did you choose this expedition and what is it like? I was looking for something iconic, something that was a stretch but realistic. Ideally a loop, as it has a clear start and finish, yet as we did this year (2017) the journey can also be done as a linear trip from Fort William to Inverness, the salty version and about 700 km.
Stunning and to have 4 weeks to soak it all in is a rare. It allows a mix of weather to be experienced, hopefully more settled and sunny! Plus, a mix of wildlife, on land in the air and water.
What experience & skills do you need for this expedition? As a minimum a person needs to be a top end Intermediate paddler, who has a good effective forward paddling style, with strong sea kayak performance skills (4 star) in a Moderate environment (2mt sea), who is physically and mentally fit, capable of currently paddling a minimum of 30km per day in a loaded sea kayak, experienced with winds up to force 4/5 on the open sea and from different directions, surf 1mt waves with control, can paddle in 3 knots of current and with a good rough water roll.
They also need to be comfortable wild camping from their kayak, have completed a number of overnight wild camping expeditions (ten) before, have a cheerful personality and a commitment to their own development.
The more a person is beyond the above criteria the more they are likely to enjoy the experience and adventure. Its overall aim is to be a spring board to a person achieving their own goals and future adventures
How do you prepare for this expedition? First off, ensuring we both get on! So we need to paddle together on a course and providing all is good then joining a specific training weekend. For the RoB 2018 the first weekend is from the evening of the 31st August – 3rd September 2017, which will be wild camp around Anglesey. On the Sunday there will be a personal skills focus with lighter boats and the forming of action plans so when each person goes home the is a better idea of what needs to be done by the next training weekend, January 2018.
How do you manage leadership in the group? Lots of talking and working out what individual’s want and how best to support and facilitate their needs. As individuals get tired I tend to take on more of a role, with clarifying what needs to be done to get from place to place. Such as a storm is on the way and ideally we aim for a public location where we can rest and recuperate.
On an overall as well as on a daily basis, how do you manage planning? Some days we can be more relaxed, other days we need to be at a certain point by a specific time. Although it’s worth keeping in mind each day contributes to the next. Sometimes the group can take this on other times, it’s about setting a realistic aim and once achieved, do we push on or do we stay. What would we gain more from?
I use the John Adair model of Task, Team and Individual. Imagine three balloons all connected with equal air. If the task balloon is focused, air moves form the Team and Individual balloon to fill the Task. But we can’t remain Task focused otherwise the other two areas will suffer. Like-wise if we focus our total energy on the Individual the other two areas suffer, so It’s about balance and transfer of energy between each area to achieve the goal. While also keeping in mind the Task may also need to change.
What are the most important – and out of the ordinary - things you take with you? In some ways its making the unusual (wild camping) the norm. So I have a super tent, sleeping bag, mat and pillow! I used to use a light weight ¾ mat and put my spare clothes in a stuff sack to create a pillow. But what did I really save or gain by doing this? On a longer trip I want to be as comfy, warm and dry as possible. This year I replaced more of my thermals as they were ok for a day but not for extended use. I need to know my kit is going to do the job, so I can trust it. Control the “controllables”.
How has your expedition packing evolved and what advice do you have for others planning cold weather expeditions? I work hard to ensure the inner tent stays dry so I have two small dry bags. One for the outer the other for the inner tent. I have a tent that can be put up out or inner first, so if wet the footprint goes down then the outer and then a fiddle with attaching the inner! Take a bivi bag to protect the sleeping bag, as on longer trips dampness does get into the inner tent, probably from sand and the salt, which then attracts moisture- hygroscopic!
Fingerless gloves for camp, help to ensure the gloves stay dryer and waterproof socks x2. One pair for camp to ensure your feet stay dry and the other for paddle pants or dry suit, as there is nothing more frustrating than leaking wet feet!
Consider a mini hot water bottle. Two on the last trip had one each and totally swore by them as also useful for a stiff back at the end of day while working around camp.
We are in the planning for an expedition to Greenland, so I am curious to know what advice you can give me regarding food. Gain an idea of how many calories you will need each day, then start looking at food you like and see if that will do the job. If it’s about mileage you will burn more calories and hence need more food, with higher calories in. If It’s about exploration then you may find, you can eat fairly normally. Either way make sure you try what you intend to take with you, to ensure you like it. Have variety within your food and if making up food packs beforehand to ship out, consider a couple of surprise treats like an extra pack of peanuts, dried fruit, beef jerky, hard boiled sweats and so on.
Tell us about your most memorable moment/s from the expedition this year? Risso dolphins joining us as we paddled along the West coast after 3 days being off the water, landing at Sandwood Bay (the closest sandy bay to Cape Wrath) and seeing the sunset, having time to have an ice cream at John o Groats, having pretty much got the Pentland Firth in the bag ….
Highlights to date from the RoB and after? Seeing a pod of Orca on the North coast around Strathy Point is as vivid now as it was then. Hearing of two of the team managing and achieving their own paddle around Anglesey a number of months later and this year one of the team achieving their own expedition around Ireland in 45 days. An impressive result.
Have you had to manage difficult incidents? Yes, and this is where the British Canoeing awards really come into their own. The sea kayak leader and the advanced sea kayak leader are super awards and enable us to be better pre-paired to avoid and manage incidents. I am a trainer and assessor of both awards, so I ensure my skills are up to speed.
I was once asked why do you surf and play in tide races …’ it’s fun’ I said .. ‘more than that it enables me to keep my skills fresh and current so that on a trip I’m able to think and respond clearly’
After paddling with groups many times in these challenging environments, you probably have learned a lot. Can you tell us what important knowledge you would like to pass onto other paddlers?
- On an expedition, I don’t seek out that rough water, but it may find us and so we need to be able to manage and respond effectively.
- Paddle and train before-hand in the conditions you intend to paddle in and some more. So if and when you get caught out you can still respond effectively to the conditions.
- Each day consider can you roll, self-rescue and or manage an assisted rescue in the forecasted conditions. If not wait for a more suitable day, even if it looks ok!
- Listen to that inner voice, the positive one, it can often be a voice of experience, which can be hard to put into words why you feel it’s good to stay or go on. You just know!
- Keep a balance between Task, Team and Individual. Review and check in with each other
- No one else knows what it’s truly like to be where you are at that moment and time. It’s your trip, you make your decisions.
- Be aware of the effect of social media, good and bad.
I recently saw a Facebook post you did that said 2018 might be the last one you do. Is this so? That’s where I am at the moment, but if I was approached by a team for 2019 then probably I couldn’t resit attempting it all again!
At the end of the year you are running the Sea Kayak Leader Training & Paddler Development course in Anglesey. Can you tell us a bit about the course and who is it for?
This is a tremendous opportunity to develop your skills further over a short time, with input from my-self and two other top end guest coaches. It’s an intensive experience, yet we will work as one team and in smaller pods (with a safety boater), to balance ability and 3 days in the 2nd week will be with another coach. During the course there will be time to create a detailed action plan so you have a clear idea how to move forwards.
The course is for those that are solid at 3 star performance level and ideally there has been time to consolidate this experience. Although it is a leadership award, a person could attend that has good 3* performance skills and wants to paddle better in Moderate conditions rather than lead others.
At the end of the day if you’re interested and unsure drop Adriana a message and we can discus further.
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