We caught up with nautical nomad, explorer, photographer and director, James Aiken, to discuss his latest adventure, modern day exploring, and the importance of being prepared.
You’ve just got back from your latest adventure; can you tell us a bit about that?
The journey took 18 days, starting in the South and journeying about 300 kilometers to the north of Iceland.
From the first moment we committed to the crossing of Iceland on skis, Megan Hine and I wanted to immerse totally in the experience itself and avoid the standard public relations and non-stop digital output that is so often associated with these things.
There’s a fine line to walk in the relationship between authentic motivations, storytelling, and partnerships, and for us, this trip was simply for our own personal experience and growth.
Iceland has a fierce reputation and the only thing that is certain is that it is hugely unpredictable. We were aware of many rescues, and we looked into these with humility and respect to learn from them what we could. Our physical preparation, equipment and route planning were the aspects that we could control, and we focused on these aspects all we could, knowing that success would likely hang on the unknowns. Our ability to improvise and push through would swing the balance.
Looking back out our trip, I’m proud to say that we never really felt as deeply challenged as we prepared for and that our decision making and tactics enabled us to explore Iceland’s wild environment in a state of flow.
What were the conditions like and the dangers you faced?
One of the main challenges is the temperature. When the temperature is for example -20, everything is frozen. That's quite straightforward. When it rises to -1/zero degrees, any kind of ice in a garment of clothing or the tent soon becomes water, and you have the risk of hypothermia going up by four or five times. So, managing your layering systems and your equipment becomes really important. That's what really catches a lot of people out in these conditions.
After you leave the coast and head straight up to some quite steep mountain terrain where navigation is very important, you're faced with avalanche risks, snow bridges over streams and rivers. And then once you were out, you gained the altitude and you’re up on a plateau with occasional steeper terrain, but a lot of flat, rolling, featureless terrain, which has its own challenges in terms of navigation.
On the other side, we were still gaining altitude right up until the day before we finished. there was a steep descent into one of the fjords by the sea, which was tricky, but we were able to draw upon other skills to mitigate risks.
What does the next few years look like for you?
Although I think I have a good foundation and variety of different skills, the fascinating thing for me is seeing how they can be pieced together to create new types of adventure. That's kind of the direction I'm going in. It's about skill acquisition and authentic immersion in the natural environment.
The rest of 2022 will be focusing on my skills acquisition, demonstrating those skills, as well as improving those that I already have. And I think that for me right now, it is more sea-based activities. Then in 2023, that's when I'm really hitting two big concepts which combine all those things. It's looking at really remote and challenging locations.
There's a lifetime's worth of intrigue with the kind of skills that people can build up. And, you know, I'm really drawn to that, self-sufficiency, and really remote places. The dream for me is to access these places by boat and then undertake the big adventures.
James wore the Heron Glacier for his expedition.