A Ripon businessman is trekking solo in the Arctic Circle to raise money for injured servicemen and women.
Robert Kaiser is a man who likes a challenge.The 48-year-old is currently trekking across Greenland on a solo expedition during the coldest two weeks in the country’s calendar.
His trip, which will be his second attempt to conquer the 102 miles from the West Coast to Sisimuit, the capital of Greenland, in temperatures of around minus 30 degrees, will raise money for the armed forces charity, Pilgrim Bandits.
Robert’s love affair with this particular area of the Arctic Circle started several years ago when he decided to run his first marathon but, not content with tackling his first endurance race in the UK, he opted for the Greenland ice-cap, running the 42.195 km in temparatures of around minus 19C.
“I like to do things as a challenge and the landscape was so beautiful, I just fell in love with the place,” he explained.
With one previous attempt under his belt, German-born Robert, who now lives in Ripon, says he has learnt some valuable lessons for this trip.
“This expedition will be longer than the previous one and where I am going there won’t be any people, no roads or villages,” he explained.
“The first time it was the mental strain which really affected me. It had been an amazing experience, I was dealing with similar temperatures and extreme levels of solitude, peace and tranquility.
“I met real Eskimos (Inuits) and watched them hunting musk ox, I saw the Northern Lights many times. But I faced my demons in terms of total exhaustion.
“On the worst day when things really didn’t look good, a man in a snowmobile came by. It felt like a dream and I struggled to believe it was happening, he turned out to have been a captain in the Danish Army and when he saw me he sensed I was in distress.
“He made sure I had something warm to eat and drink and didn’t leave me until he thought it was safe to move on. We have remained close friends and he has been over to England to visit.”
This mental strain is compounded by not having a buddy with him and that means he must be on top of everything,
“Having no support is potentially life-changing, one mistake can mean a serious injury and there is no-one with you to tell you if you are making mistakes.
“It is little things such as exposing your skin to the elements for too long, at minus 50 degrees you have about 30 seconds before you risk serious injury, it is so quick there is no time to think, it needs to be instinctive. You can’t allow yourself to get into an emotional state or get carried away looking at the scenery. Ultimately it is about survival.”
Being self-sufficient means Robert has to have all his kit with him. He will be carrying a Bergen rucksack which will weigh around 50lbs and be pulling an ultra light sledge (pulk) which will weigh around 100lbs.
“I will start of with around 30lbs of food in army ration packs which will obviously get lighter as I go along and my emergency kit will include ice axes so I can cut ice blocks which I will need for water.”
“Ice has a much higher concentration of water than snow so a bucket of snow would give me around half a glass of water but with a block of ice I can get two or three litres at a time.
“I will need to drink 3.5 litres of water a day and that needs to be defrosted before I set off in the morning. It is crucial I stay hydrated.”
As well as water he will also make a flask of hot chocolate for warmth and energy which he won’t drink until he has finished for the evening.
Eating enough calories is also vitally important. Added to his ration pack meal three times a day will be 50 grams of salted butter which adds an extra 375 calories.
“Pure butter provides energy and fat and I will also need plenty of sugar as well. I love really strong coffee and so I add around ten spoons of sugar – it’s quite a pick up.”
“It is really important to eat regularly and again being on your own means there is no-one to prompt you. I set an alarm for every 30 to 40 minutes for chocolate or energy bar to keep me going.
His route is planned over four days and he will cross around 30 frozen lakes, which, he said are amazing but also unnerving.
“Often when you walk on top you can see the water moving underneath and see the seal of the ice moving slightly as you walk which takes a bit of getting used to.”
As well as the mental strain, Robert faces an enormous physical challenge.
“I started training in September, building strength and stamina in my legs and core which is necessary for pulling the pulk. I will try and spend as much time as possible on flat lakes but I will sometimes have to go over mountains. It is incomprehensible what it takes out of you until you are actually doing it. Four or five steps can take a long time to complete.”
The weather is most uncertain element in the trek and the reason Robert has only bought a one-way ticket. He will have a GPS phone and will check in at the local police station when he arrives to log his route.
When he returns, Robert, who is the CEO of Knaresborough-based PPSS Group, which specialises in designing and manufacturing high quality body armour, said he would take around six to eight weeks to recover. But then he will be looking for his next challenge.
“I will definitely do something after this and I’m looking at going to the North Pole and doing a 60 to 80 mile run.”
To donate go to justgiving.com/fundraising/robert-kaiser3