Ahead of the start of this weekend’s Kendal Mountain Festival, we caught up with renowned climber and patron of the festival Leo Houlding about his recent expedition to climb one of the most remote mountains in the world, the Spectre in Antarctica.
Fifty-two days, 1,700km and 31 camps later, the team arrived at Union Glacier having completed one of the most logistically complex and ambitious undertakings ever, redefining modern exploration and adventure. The three men travelled by kite-skiing, pulling sleds of up to 200kg, and were frequently pinned down in their camps by vicious storms.
The Berghaus athlete, who was born and raised in the Eden Valley of Cumbria, describes what climbing means to him, what is next on his bucket list and who, of anyone in history he would love to climb with.
What inspired the Spectre project?
I suppose, two elements, one is that in 2012 I led another expedition in Antartica to Queen Maud Land to climb the mountain Ulvetanna and that was kind of my wildest dream. As a climber, I had been dreaming of that expedition for my whole life and when we finally made it happen, it went pretty smoothly. Although that mountain is extremely remote, it’s actually only 100 miles away from the local logistics of that area of Antarctica, it is pretty much roadside. So although the closest hospital is 3000 miles away, you are actually only an hour away from civilisation and that really helped.
“The most hardcore thing I’ve ever dreamed up”
I thought wouldn’t it be cool to try and do something this epic but somewhere really remote that takes weeks to get there and weeks to get back. I was already aware of kite skiing as a way of travelling in polar regions and I also knew about Spectre and I thought that’s the one. The thing is with the Spectre is it is more than 1000km away from the closest anything and that’s beyond the range of a ski plane without refuel. To get there you have to do multiple fuel flights which means the expense becomes exponential and it really is the end of the world, you couldn’t be further away. The combination of trying to climb a technical mountain with a long polar journey is kind of the most hardcore thing I’ve ever dreamed up.