Cape Horn is a large headland by the sea, a bit like Bray Head really, perhaps a bit taller – but it’s its location at the very southern tip of South America that makes it such a special place.
This is where the mighty Pacific and Atlantic oceans meet. At 56° south, there is no land to the east or west of Cape Horn anywhere around the globe – the next nearest landmass is Antarctica, 600 miles further south across the Drake Passage.
In this stretch of turbulent ocean, storms are stronger and waves are bigger than anywhere else on Earth.
Two days before I’m due to land in Iceland, a brief email from the skipper simply reads:
“There’s a storm brewing in the Denmark Strait, the forecast from Sunday to Tuesday is crap, so to get ahead of it, we’re leaving 24 hours early.”
Panic! Change flights. Cancel meetings. Pack bags. Kiss wife.
30 hours later I land in the pretty little town of Ísafjör∂ur in north west Iceland and go straight to the quayside where the crew are assembled and ready to go – six from Iceland, three from the Faroe Islands, a German, a Finn, a New Zealander and now an Irishman – we slip lines and make for the Denmark Strait.
With all the grace of a beached seal, I throw my leg over the snowmobile for the very first time – ahead of me lies 200km of Arctic tundra – I can’t help wondering if this time I really have bitten off more than I can chew!
I’m in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, 1,200 km north of the Arctic Circle and about to set off on a two-day expedition to the abandoned Russian mining town of Pyramiden.
I was only south of the equator once, that was back in 2009, when I sailed through the Beagle Channel and around Cape Horn on Skip Novak’s Pelagic Australis. That expedition started and finished in the Chilean Naval town of Puerto Williams on Isla Navarino, the southernmost permanent settlement in the world at 54º56’S, just under 3,900 kms from the South Pole.
Ever since then (and probably because of mild OCD) I’ve always felt the need to complete the set and visit its northernmost equivalent – in 2017 I was fortunate enough to do just that.
Lungs burning, legs screaming, sweat pouring – kind of sums up most of my early MTB days – trying desperately to keep up with my club mates – it didn’t work. The Saturday spin leader, who’s frustration with my pace was about to bubble over, once said “why don’t you wait here, we’ll be back in 20 mins.” A hour later they returned in time to roll down to the car park.
In fairness they were all a bit hard-core, but even on the much peer-pressured ‘no one gets dropped social spins’, they were gone on the first climb and never looked back – the frustration, the anger!
When I’m out shooting MTB events not only do I need to haul myself around the mountains chasing riders, I also need to carry around 20kg of expensive camera gear which is hard work on a conventional mountain bike.
For a couple of seasons I dabbled with off-road motorbikes. The first of which was a 125cc pit-bike which was a great giggle – I looked absolutely ridiculous on it, but who cares.