As an expedition guide, former Royal Marine and adventure photographer, Ian Finch understands the need to be prepared for all eventualities. In recent years he has led expeditions in Greenland, Mongolia, China and Nepal. To mark the launch of our Pilot All-Conditions Parka, he explains how respecting weather when on expedition can be the difference between life and death.
Explorers and adventurers tread a fine line. There is little room for error out at sea, high in the mountains or deep in the Arctic Circle. Conditions in these regions can change at the flick of a switch; a lack of respect for the environments in which adventure is pursued can be deadly. Knowledge is key. An understanding of tides and currents, of distant clouds signifying katabatic winds, of navigation in thick fog that drops like a curtain, of when to turn back and when to hunker down.
“Weather dictates everything,” says guide and former Royal Marine Ian Finch, whose recent expeditions include a 2000-mile canoe descent of the Yukon River in Canada and a 1300-mile journey to retrace the footsteps of the Cherokee removal. “It can make or break a trip. And it can kill you too. It changes fast, often without warning. When you’re in the middle of nowhere, you have to go into an evaluation mode. If we do this, what’s the outcome? You have to make decisions quickly; that decision may be life-saving.”
Talk to any esteemed explorer and they will reiterate the importance of preparation and respect. The respect is for the power of nature, how conditions can change so quickly, and how vulnerable and inconsequential they feel when at the mercy of Mother Nature. This respect is shown in preparation, knowing what they’re walking into and how easily it can all go wrong if they allow themselves to get complacent.
“I’ve built up my knowledge of weather systems through time in the field and deep research,” continues Ian. “I was big into adventure from an early age, climbing mountains and wild-camping whenever I could, but it was in the Royal Marines that I really refined my ability to adapt to hard conditions and cold weather. Training in Arctic and Mountain Warfare sharpened my capacity to thrive in tough environments and push through mental and physical pain when things got really tough. Transferring this into my expeditions and keeping a cool head in the face of adversity can be a matter of life and death.”
While much of the success to any expedition relies on meticulous preparation and drawing on past experiences, the irregularity of weather commands an ability to be versatile. “The serious stuff is always planned – food, water, safety, evacuation – but with every expedition there has be an overarching flexibility to react to sudden changes. That goes for any environment: be it sailing a mile off the English coast, mountain climbing in Norway, or crossing a glacier in Iceland. You have to be ready for anything.”
“Weather can change so fast, and when you’re miles from rescue or shelter you need to have absolute faith in your gear.”
A huge facet of this preparation is in sourcing equipment and clothing to enhance performance. “What you’re wearing is make or break – you need the right clothing for the conditions and it’s imperative to have gear you trust; gear you can rely on. In wet weather, it’s imperative you’re dry. In cold weather, you need down jackets to keep you warm. You need the right features in the right place to make your clothing an extension of your body and an asset to the expedition. It sounds simple, but it’s crucial. Weather can change so fast, and when you’re miles from rescue or shelter you need to have absolute faith in your gear.”
Understanding weather and its potential volatility is part of the draw to the wilds – the attraction to risk is what separates explorers both in mind and body. “I’ve had times at sea, in huge swells, when I’ve wished I’d written my will before going out,” says Ian. “But after a trip like that, looking back at that risk and feeling of being so close to the edge, that’s why we do what we do.”
Ian Finch wears the Pilot All-Conditions Parka, a waterproof down jacket rated to -25ºC and limited to only 50 pieces.