Exploring The Arctic
A local entrepreneur is undertaking a world-first expedition to the Arctic Pole in a bid to learn more about the effects of global warming.
Curtis Knapton, 30, began his working life as a labourer, and quickly saw the opportunity to build and develop his own property investment and renovation business Lakeview Property Group. But Curtis’ passion lies in polar exploration; and specifically, with the organisation Ice Warrior, after working with veteran explorer Jim McNeill as a part time firefighter.
Tell us a bit about your background and how you got involved with Ice Warrior?
I come from a long line in construction, which has been in the family for years. I was the odd one out and became a bricklayer; everyone else was a chippy! I learnt the various trades along the way and built plenty of houses over my years, and then I got fed up of building houses for other people and started to build for myself! I stumbled across property investment and have been studying that for the past four years. It’s interesting and is going well, but it allows me to fund the polar exploration.
I’ve been training with a company called Ice Warrior; they take people like you and me – there’s not cardboard cut-out, there are people like doctors, builders, solicitors; there’s no textbook Arctic explorer, people come from all walks of life. You go from knowing nothing, to knowing enough to be safe on the ice within a team.
What sparked your desire to get into polar exploration?
I had no desire to get into polar exploration! I am a part-time firefighter, and previously worked with Jim McNeill [world renowned polar explorer], who has been the safety officer on programmes like Frozen Planet.
About four years ago, I overheard a conversation Jim was having about Ice Warrior and the current project he is working on to trek to the Pole of Inaccessibility. I eavesdropped for about ten minutes, and when he stopped I asked “how on earth do I get involved in this?”! Since then, I’ve been like a dog chasing a ball: completely obsessed with it!
It certainly wasn’t a free ticket in – all applicants have to be selected and undergo vigorous assessments and training both here in the UK and in the Arctic itself.
What have you done so far in terms of training with Ice Warrior?
I’ve been to the Arctic region already, to a place called Svalbard – an archipelago north of Norway – to a town called Longyearbyen, where the population of people is 2,500 and the population of polar bears is 3,000! Legally, when you leave the town, you have to carry a rifle…it’s their country then, full of glaciers and mountains.
I did some training there, but I have done most of my training here in the UK at our basecamp in Dartmoor. It’s an outfitting shop, so you can go there to get some kit for walking across the moors, but equally get kitted out for Arctic exploration! We do most of our basic training, core skills, first aid and firearms training there.
First aid is my favourite: we get put into very intense scenarios, where you’ll have run a mile to induce tiredness, and then come to find three ‘casualties’…one will have a broken leg, one will have hypothermia, and one will have been mauled by a polar bear! Our role is to ensure that each ‘casualty’ is appropriately treated, in order to keep them alive. When you’re out in the Arctic, there may not be any medical assistance reaching you for 24 hours, or even a few days, so our first aid training as a team is vital to survival. We’re all trained to a very high standard in remote first aid.
The scenarios are designed to keep explorers on their feet; we’ll often be trekking across the moors, and all of a sudden, the ‘ice will break’ or there will be a polar bear. Something unexpected will happen, and we need to be trained to ensure we can deal with those situations.
Is your training leading to one specific expedition, or is it ongoing?
For me, it’s ongoing – hence the property business. While I’m away doing things like this, I’ll still need the income behind me. But specifically, training is focused on the expedition to the Pole of Inaccessibility, which is the centre of the Arctic Ocean.
The main task there is to gather crucial scientific data, to find out why the ice is depleting so fast. Along the route, we’ll be taking very basic samples of data – trust me, I’m no scientist! But information such as the depth of the sea ice, the temperature etc. When two ice flows bash together, they form what’s called a ‘ridge’ and a ‘raft’ – finding out how they work, and how new ice is formed and things like that. This information will be brought back to the scientists who can actually do something with it – world-renowned people who work for the likes of NASA. We have Norway, the UK, Russia, China and the United States all working together on this, which is pretty cool.
Our route takes us from the northern tips of Canada, in Resolute Bay, and we work our way through to the Magnetic Pole, and then through the other side to where the Pole of Inaccessibility is, and that’s where nobody has been before. The world’s media loves what we’re doing; because no man or woman has ever done this journey before.
It’s an 800-mile trek, so it is split into four legs of four teams: one team will do their bit, then they’ll be airlifted out while the next team gets airlifted in, and so on. The first leg is probably the most difficult, because it’s where the sea meets the land – it’s like you see in films, where there are big ice boulder fields the size of buildings! There will be more polar bears there, the sea ice will be cracking more there…it’s probably at it’s coldest there too. There’s a lot going on against you that you’ll have to push through. With each leg being 200 miles, they will probably struggle to do that in those conditions, but they will do what they can and the next team will pick up the slack.
Team two will go through the Magnetic Pole – which is where all the compasses point north – which nobody has been through since 2002. Its location is constantly changing too, meaning nobody knows exactly where it is! That’s on an 11-hour elliptical loop; we might even go back in 11 hours and find that it’s no longer there! But it’s pretty cool that we might be able to reposition where everyone thinks it could currently be.
Team three are pretty much sprinting their leg: even though we’re going in February at the coldest time, the ice will still be defrosting and thawing out, so part of it could even end up being a swim. It’s going to be quite hairy, but they will just have to do as much as they can as fast as they can.
How many people are in the four teams of the expedition?
Optimally – 28 in total, so seven in each leg. Each seven will only do one leg of the trek, but Jim McNeill will accompany the entire journey. We’re still looking for a few more people, but if we don’t get those 28 we can still go ahead. We’ll just have to do less legs or less people per team.
What are you hoping to achieve from media exposure of the expedition?
The whole objective of the expedition itself is to save the species, i.e. us as human beings. It sounds corny, but that’s genuinely what we hope to achieve! Without the Poles, we lose the Earth’s A/C system – it keeps us cool and without them it would be pretty hot.
It’s also a world first, which is why it’s been picked up so much by the world’s media already. Everywhere we go, we will have a film camera trained on us capturing the journey, and once it is over it will also be turned into a film…local and national newspapers and magazines, the BBC, ITV, CBN – as soon as we get back, it will be out there for the world to see.
It’s also going to be rolled out to schools and universities, because the aims of the expedition touch five key areas of the curriculum [English, Maths, Science, Geography and History], so the education sector is very interested in what we’re covering too.
The media coverage obviously attracts a lot of attention, and the way I can be a part of the expedition is through sponsorship. Everywhere I go, there will be a camera on me; for example, an organisation could sponsor a branded patch on my arm and then be seen on the nightly news for the duration of the trek! There’s a huge amount of exposure available to businesses who want to support the expedition. Globally, it may benefit larger businesses more, but when I do my media interviews in the local area, I want to make sure I’m shouting about the local businesses who are supporting me on my journey. They’ll get a brilliant return on me working hard with the local media in this area, and nationally too.
Sponsorship options range from £300 to £10,000, but if businesses want to get even more involved then there is ample opportunity for bespoke sponsorship packages. It can start from something as simple as the branded patch, or a flag that I take with me and photograph at the Pole, for them to then keep as a pretty cool piece of memorabilia that has travelled on a world-first expedition! We can also offer training days, where businesses can train here with us in the UK, or out in Norway.
We get picked up and dropped off by plane at the beginning and end of each leg – if you’re in the position to, then you could even sponsor one of the seats on that last plane, and become part of the first people in the world to reach the Pole of Inaccessibility!
For more information or to speak to Curtis about the expedition,