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Adventure Travel

Sep 14, 2017

Walking the Globe with Louis-Philippe Loncke

Explorers like Mike Horn and Bertrand Piccard are household names.

WRITTEN BY

Michael Levy

Though he may not have the same name recognition as them yet, the Belgian Louis-Philippe Loncke is pushing the limits of adventure and exploration in new, exciting directions, with just his pack and his boots.

For Louis-Philippe Loncke, adventure is all about uncertainty. “It means taking risks,” he says. “It doesn’t need to be dangerous, but the more uncertain success is, the more adventurous it is.”

While other adventurers and explorers like Bertrand Piccard may have slightly different, more nuanced definitions of adventure, Loncke’s opinion is no less well-informed than theirs. Since 2006, the 40-year-old Belgian has been exploring the globe on foot, venturing into some of it’s most remote and inhospitable corners, all in the name of adventure. In 2016 he was crowned the 2016 European Adventurer of the Year for his self-supported crossings of three deserts.

Louis-Philippe Loncke. Photo: Louis-Philippe Loncke.

But before any accolades, he was just your average backpacker. “It all started 15 years ago,” Loncke says. He caught the travel and exploration bug in Singapore where he discovered Scuba diving. In 2004, he moved to Australia for a year, and in between his dives, sampled the country’s vast network of hiking trails. He began cramming in more and more mileage in single days, completing two and three day hikes in 24 hour periods.

The desire for more―trails, miles, suffering, and, of course, adventure―led Loncke to plan full-on trekking expeditions in 2006. That year and the next, he became the first person to walk the entire 333-kilometer Larapinta Trail in Australia (no one had ever linked it to it’s logical conclusion of Mt. Zeil), unsupported; became the first person to make an unsupported crossing of Australia’s Fraser Island; and spent 49 days, completing an un-resupplied traverse of one-third of the island of Tasmania.

This latter expedition, from December 2006 to February 2007, tested his mettle in every way. “There are so many mountains on that island,” he says. “It’s very rugged terrain. Very sharp mountains, with very dense vegetation. It’s like the Amazon in the Himalayas, but without the altitude.”

Loncke planned for a 40 day crossing, and would have nearly made it if not for the final leg of the expedition. The terrain in South Tasmania was so thick that Loncke’s progress slowed to a crawl. “The last 16 kilometers took me 13 days,” he says. With dwindling rations of food and constant rain, those final two weeks were a blur of tent-bound delirium, depression and discomfort. Loncke got into a “survival mindset.” He forced himself to move a even just a little bit each day, and eventually made it through.

He says, “The whole thing made me mentally very strong. I proved to myself what kinds of crazy things I was able to endure.”

Crossing the Tasmanian wilderness in 2007. Photo: Louis-Philippe Loncke.

After Tasmania, Loncke broadened his horizons. Among other expeditions, Loncke made the world’s first unsupported crossing of the Simpson Desert, in Australia, in 2008; he organized the world’s highest chocolate tasting event at Everest Base Camp in 2009; he trekked the length of Iceland in 2010; and he circumnavigated Lake Titicaca in Peru and Bolivia by kayak in 2013.

But in 2015, he embarked on the project that would earn him the European Adventurer of the Year award and newfound recognition. The idea was to cross three desserts―Death Valley, in the U.S.; the Simpson Desert, in Australia; and the Salars in Bolivia―all unsupported.

Loncke in the middle of Salar de Copaisa, Bolivia, on a first failed attempt to cross the salt flat in 2013. Photo: Louis-Philippe Loncke.

To maximize his chances for success, he took as much water as possible and pared down everything else to the bare essentials. And it paid off. He succeeded in all three deserts, marking the first unsupported crossings of the Bolivian Salars and Death Valley. (He had already made the first unsupported crossing of the Simpson Desert in 2008). “Everything was really, really well planned,” Loncke says.

Now that he has gained a modicum of acclaim, Loncke plans to ramp it up even further. He’s already planning what will be his biggest expedition yet: a return to Tasmania, this time to trek the full lenth of the island. Again unsupported. And this time in winter.

“I intend to train quite a lot for Tasmania,” Loncke says. Success will be far from guaranteed, even so. But that’s what Loncke loves about it. That’s what makes it an adventure.

Want to see what it’s like to walk a mile in Louis-Philippe Loncke’s shoes? Check out the once-in-a-lifetime trips available at The Outdoor Voyage, like the Inca Trail Trek to Machu Picchu.

Loncke making the world’s first unsupported north-south crossing of the Simpson Desert in Australia, passing through the geological center, in 2008. Photo: Louis-Philippe Loncke

Feature Image: Courtesy of Louis-Philippe Loncke. 

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Adventurers & Explorers

Jun 29, 2018

Engagés: Upon Reflection. Calm, Patience, Humility.

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WRITTEN BY

Sean Verity

During May of 2018, The Outdoor Journal reported on five French explorers who were traversing Greenland’s toughest terrain.

Their goal was to complete 700km in 30 days. In the face of much adversity, the expedition finally made it home to Paris, having being trapped at the finish line without food, and unable to extract themselves due to bad weather.

You can read about those final few days here, and a review of the Nixon Regulus, used during the Expedition here.

In this article, written one month after the expedition, Maxime Lainé reflects upon this period in his life, and what it meant to him.

As an entrepreneur I’ve learnt to fail, sometimes to succeed, but overall, I’ve learnt to get the most out of each experience I face, and eventually share those experiences with anyone who is interested.

I wanted to share what I’ve learnt from the most enlightening experience of my life, and how it triggered something deep inside of me.

I’m not a journalist nor a story teller, but simply someone with a story to tell. I might not be able to articulate my complex feelings perfectly, so I will just be myself, and be honest.

In May 2018, I crossed Greenland by foot from East to West along the Polar Circle, with 4 other entrepreneurs, in total autonomy. It took us 31 days to cover more than 550km. We faced extreme conditions, with absolutely no form of any life, under temperatures reaching -40C.

Our daily routine.

We woke up every morning at 5am or 6am. It took us 2 and a half hours to melt the snow, so that we had water for breakfast. We also needed additional 2 litres each for the day. We got left the tent at 8:15am, we packed them up, and we could start walking at around 8:45am or 9am. At first we had to walk at least 8 hours a day, up to 10 hours towards the end, occasionally up to 13 when the weather permitted us. When we stopped walking, it took us 1 hour to set up the camp, and then 3 additional hours to melt the snow so that we could cook, fix things and take care of our feet, before we could finally go to sleep. And then repeat, again, and again, no matter what, because we had to make it to the other side.

Calm, patient, humble.

I remember how I felt on the first day, excited, impatient and ready (at least that’s what I thought) to face Greenland. Like a kid that can’t wait to play outside. However, Greenland had other ideas, the terrain and weather taught us in its own way, that…

our success would depend on our capacity to remain calm, patient and humble. 

The first days of the expedition were “easy”. The snow was firm, it was quite sunny, and even if our pulkas were at their heaviest, weighting 90kg per person, we were expecting more of a mental challenge. At that point, it was just another physical challenge. 

For the first part of the expedition, we had to walk up to the highest point of the crossing. 2600m, almost half way, albeit a little bit closer to the east coast. After that, there was a flat plateau, continuing at the same altitude for about 100km. Finally, we had to walk down towards the coast, to reach our extraction point on the eastern side at 900m altitude.

We expected the first part to be the hardest. We were climbing up, and then, as we would walk down, it would get easier and we would be able to cover more kilometres per day.

We were fools, but we didn’t know it yet. 

When the first storm hit us on the night of the 11th day, we were almost relieved to spend 60 hours in the tents to get some rest. Even if it was physically intense, we all thought we would be able to get to the other side without any trouble. On the following day, we walked 28 km in 11 hours to reach our first objective, Dye military base located at 66.4934N – 46.3204W. However, at the end of that day 14th, we all started to realize that things were getting more critical. One of us felt pain in his back and knees, so we volunteered to carry some of his weights, in addition to the 90kg we already had to carry per person. As for me, I felt such a pain in my right ankle, that I could barely walk when I took my skis off at the camp. 

Fortunately, over the next 2 days, we were very limited as to how much we could walk, since there was another storm coming. That 16th day, we just walked 10km for 5 hours. The wind was coming in at more than 70km/h from the south, and caused our pulkas to flip over.

We were definitely going beyond our limits, this was the time to set up the camp, and be safe.

Setting up the camp under those conditions was crazy, but vital, and we managed to do it as a team. Once in the tents, we realised that we had pushed it to far, it had started to become very dangerous. If we could not set up the camp, then we would have just died from the cold. From that very moment, every day was going to be more critical than the day before. We were not even half way through the expedition yet, but we didn’t know it. We did know that our lives depend on our actions, our choices, and on our team. We realised that our bodies are amazing but fragile machines, that nature can break at anytime. 

However, the humility that we had already been taught, apparently wasn’t enough. The next few days were the coldest, with temperatures between -20C to -40C, and winds reaching 35km/h. We had lost too much time, stuck in the storms, we had to move forward. We were relieved to reach the highest point of the expedition. Finally, we had made it, but at a price. The cold froze my toe, and broke Antoine’s ski plugs. Fortunately we had a spare pair, but from now on, another equipment issue could risk the whole expedition.

From this point, we we headed downhill and the expectation was that it would get easier. We started to make some calculations and tell ourselves; “if we could walk 10 hours a day at 2.5km/h, then we could reach our objective in x days. On top of that, we’re going downhill, we should actually be able to walk 30km to 35km a day, without any additional effort, since we would not feel the weight of our pulkas”… However, Greenland decided to teach us humility one more time. 

It started to snow, day after day, after day.

It was physically so intense to walk that deep in the snow, pulling our pulkas was a burden that we had to accept. Each step challenged our body, and our mind. We started to walk 9 to 10 hours a day, but despite our expectations, barely managed to walk the same distance than when we covered when walking uphill.

Being tired was not a reason to stop. We told ourselves, tired is just information.

We had to push our limits forward. We had to find energy we didn’t know that we had, deep down inside us, or we wouldn’t make it. 

At the end of every day, we kept on making the same time vs distance calculations. However, there was always more and more snow every day. Every day the visibility worsened, until we could not see our skis. On the 28th day, we wanted to make 30km, it was important for us to do so. We made it, in 13 hours. We were so tired that when we set up the camp, we were in some sort of zombie state, too tired to even think. On the 29th day, the snow continued to play with our nerves, and we barely walked 6 km in 5 hours. One of us was injured, and could just not push forward.

That was it, our limit was reached. 

We were at 20 km from the extraction point, but just 5 km from the coast. We had to make a critical decision. We just had 1 day left of food. At our current pace, we would reach the extraction point within 3 days. We could kept on walking, or set up the camp here, and wait for the helicopter to pick us up tomorrow. We decided to set up the camp, and wait for a clear weather window for the helicopter to come in and get us… The next day arrived, and no one could get to us because of the weather. It was the 30th day, and we were completely out of food. The next clear weather window was in 4 days. 

At that very moment, something triggered in our minds.

We were not making any sort of calculations anymore, we were not expecting anything from anyone. We just accepted it. Nature always win. Period.

We just had to smile and face it. Finally, Greenland taught us humility, and we knew it. In the tent, we were just talking, peacefully, calmly. We had to call the pilot every hour to give him some updates about the weather, and every hour he would tell us that we had to wait one more hour. Until the 31st day, in the afternoon, we finally saw the chopper. Accepting our fate felt like the obliged path we had to take, to unlock the door to make our way home.

Reflection

It was unexpected that one of the hardest parts of the adventure, was to keeping our minds busy for 10 to 13 hours a day. I realised that I had so much time to think about things I had never considered before.

I would think of my girlfriend, my friends, my family, my startup Weesurf. Then I started to think about myself. I asked, why am I doing this? What kind of life do I want? What makes me truly happy? Why do I do the job that I do? Why do I love this or that? What can I change about myself? And for every question, I kept asking myself, why? For example, why do you want to make money? To buy stuff? But why? To travel? But why? To get a flat? But why? And I finally figured out what kind of life I wanted to follow, and what makes me happy…

Discover, Learn and Share.

I also realised that I used to consider money as something to value things and to set barriers. Something we all have to live for, and to live by, but I ask myself how I lived so many experiences over the last 2 years, and at that time I didn’t get paid by Weesurf. I went to Greenland to pursue my dream with almost no money on my bank account. I put in all my strength and effort, to make it all possible, because that would make me happy. I would discover, learn and share an adventure. No matter what, I would do my best to realise it. Whilst I was walking on the ice, I imagined if everyone would have a passion for his or her project, if everyone would put all of his or her faith and efforts to realise his or her dream, people would probably be happier. 

I’m very thankful that Thomas changed my life when he offered me on the Station F’s Slack, to set up a team to cross Greenland. He has made me an happier person. I told myself that I’ll do my best to do the same for everyone else.

So ask I you this. What is your dream? What prevents you from making it real? What are you doing to make it happen? If you’re not struggling enough, maybe it’s not your dream. What is your dream?

Remember, calm, patience, humility.

You can discover your own ice sheets in Greenland here with the Outdoor Voyage.

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