Up, Down & Around At The Royal Geographical Society – Review

IF you ever feel like giving up on the human race (understandable these days), may I suggest you buy a ticket to a lecture organised by The Transglobe Expedition Trust. It will lift your spirits – as some of the world’s boldest explorers tell tales of their latest daring deeds. Adventures done in the pursuit of knowledge (the impact of climate change is a recurring theme), others completed more for the individuals’ thirst and appetite for discovering new frontiers.

The Transglobe Expedition Trust was set up as a charity 29 years ago to support humanitarian, scientific and educational projects which are underpinned by a sense of daring do and adventure.

To celebrate some of the expeditions it sponsors, TET holds an annual lecture where a number of the adventurers talk about their mad cap escapades.

This year’s lecture (the 18th) – Up, Down & Around – was held on a thoroughly wet night in November and lived up to expectations.

The venue was the Royal Geographical Society’s headquarters just along from the Royal Albert Hall.

The line-up was impressive, comprising adventurers who had: trekked through North East Siberia in intolerably cold temperatures (just as Russia marched into Ukraine); plotted the migration of ospreys on their way south from Scotland to West Africa; gone in search of butterflies on a green plateau of Ethiopia; and discovered Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship Endurance at the bottom of the Weddell Sea in the Southern Ocean.

Each in their own way slightly crazy. Each swashbuckling pioneers.

For two and a half hours, these four adventurers (respectively, Charlie Walker, Sacha Dench, Julian Bayliss and John Shears) mesmerised the audience with their tales, supported by stunning pictures and videos. All four brought something exciting to the event.

First up was Charlie Walker who earlier this year embarked upon a 1,000 mile winter trek in North East Siberia – just as Russia attempted to seize control of its neighbour Ukraine. A trek made north towards the Arctic Ocean – at times treading on thin ice in more ways than one.

Starting in Yakutsk in the Republic of Sakha, Walker’s adventure ended in arrest and eventual deportation, but not before he had seen with his own eyes the impact of climate change on humans and the surrounding lands: homes sinking into the permafrost and raging fires, in the process destroying forests and vegetation on land the size of Belgium.

Despite rampant alcoholism among the men, he found the Sakha people welcoming (especially the women).  They dressed him in furs and a certain part of a wolf’s body (usually used for procreation purposes) adorned around his neck.

Yet talking about Russia and the Ukraine was usually met with reticence – followed by a wall of silence. The cold and bleakness was mitigated by stunning views of the Northern Lights.

Next up was Sacha Dench, known as the ‘human swan’ for using a paramotor to observe the migratory behaviour of the Berwick swan.

It has been a difficult time for Sacha, losing her family home in Australia to fire and incurring serious leg injuries as a result of a paramotor accident (requiring major skin grafts to save her feet).

Yet in the true spirit of TET, the redoubtable Sacha refuses to let go of her passion for the environment despite the need to use crutches.

Her latest adventure is ongoing, tracking the flight of the osprey from Scotland to Ghana, a 10,000 kilometre journey fraught with danger. No paramotor this time, just a converted van, but her work is none the less revealing as she shows the adverse impact of humans on the migration of these magnificent birds: power lines that kill, winds that push the birds out to sea rather than above land – and the ingenuity of one osprey which hitches a lift on a container ship. An amazing project that has yet to be finished.

No less fearless is conservation scientist Julian Bayliss. Fortified by Tesco chorizo, he battled through Ethiopian rain forests (snake infested) to reach a wetland plateau and collect butterflies. It didn’t all go well – relentless rain sapped his energy – and he occasionally had to deal with drunken helpers, but it was worthwhile as he discovered new butterfly species. More importantly, he managed to persuade the Ethiopian government to set up a new conservation area to protect the plateau he had explored.

Like Charlie Walker, his trip didn’t go without incident.  He was temporarily arrested (saved by his butterflies) and also had to battle with dengue fever.

Last up was the irrepressible polar explorer John Shears. An individual who three years ago led an unsuccessful expedition to find the Endurance lying at the bottom of the Weddell Sea in 3,000 metres of water (and ice).

But Shears is a spirited human being, hence his return in February this year to locate Endurance, travelling on board SA Agulhas II – assisted by a 65-strong expedition team and an underwater vehicle called Sabertooth (the 2019 vehicle was lost, resulting in the abandonment of the expedition).

Sabertooth did the trick, discovering the Endurance in amazing condition (Shackleton’s cabin still intact).  

Upon returning to South Georgia, they visited Shackleton’s grave – to discover that they had located the Endurance 100 years to the day Shackleton had been laid to rest (5 March 1922). Amazing.

Four adventures to lift your spirits. Four free spirits to marvel at in these rather difficult times. As King Charles once said of TET: ‘Mad but marvellous.’ Absolutely. Bloody mad. Bloody marvellous.







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