Kite-skiing adventure on ice

Team members (from left) Jean Burgun, of France, expedition leader Leo Houlding, from Britain,...
Team members (from left) Jean Burgun, of France, expedition leader Leo Houlding, from Britain, and Mark Sedon before they left on Wednesday to start the 70-day Spectre Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Photos: Mark Sedon
Jean Burgun (left) helps Mark Sedon pack his pulk (sled), featuring a New Zealand flag.
Jean Burgun (left) helps Mark Sedon pack his pulk (sled), featuring a New Zealand flag.
Jean Burgun packs one of 70 lunch bags for each member. Each bag contains salami, cheese, fruit,...
Jean Burgun packs one of 70 lunch bags for each member. Each bag contains salami, cheese, fruit, nuts, chocolate, One Square Meal, crackers and beef jerky.
Mark Sedon on Charvez Island off the Antarctic Peninsula on a previous trip.
Mark Sedon on Charvez Island off the Antarctic Peninsula on a previous trip.
The Organ Pipe Peaks (in the centre of the photo) in the Gothic Mountains in the Antarctic. The...
The Organ Pipe Peaks (in the centre of the photo) in the Gothic Mountains in the Antarctic. The Spectre is the striking peak in the centre. The expedition team plans to be the first to climb its south face.

Lake Hawea adventurer Mark Sedon (48) this week embarked on a 2000km Antarctic expedition involving 70 days of kite-skiing and climbing across a crevasse-cut route from Union Glacier, up the unclimbed south face of 2020m-high The Spectre, to Scott Glacier. Mr Sedon is the chief photographer for the three-man Spectre Trans-Antarctic Expedition team. He answered some questions for Kerrie Waterworth before he set off for the ice.

Have you ever done anything like this before?

Not really, I’ve done all the aspects before, but never a combination of everything. I’ve climbed the big walls of El Capitan in Yosemite, I’ve kite-skied and kite-surfed for 15 years, I’ve skied professionally for 25 years and I’ve climbed/guided the highest peak in Antarctica, Vinson Massif, and experienced the extreme cold several times.

Why do you want to do this expedition?

The kite-skiing across the entire continent, and the opportunity to climb peaks never climbed before, The Spectre included. It combines what I’ve been doing all my life.

How do you know the other team members? How do you think you are going to cope with spending 10 weeks with them? What happens if you find halfway through the expedition one of them annoys you?

I’ve drunk beer with Leo, and just met Jean last month. We seemed to get on well. I’ve been in touch with Leo for several years trying to get him out to Wanaka to speak at our festival. We had actually met 25 years ago in Yosemite Valley and Camp 4, he was camping next to us. I think 10 weeks together will be fine. There will be times when we *** each other off, or are in a bad mood. But a lot of the days will be spent in our own little world as you can’t talk much while kite-skiing or climbing. So I think the company in the mornings and evenings will be great. We are all passionate adventurers and I think we will get over small issues quickly with humour and laughs.

What is your job on the expedition and how did you get to be invited?

Photographer and cinematographer. But I also have the most cold and medical experience. Leo Houlding was speaking at our NZ Mountain Film & Book Festival which I direct. One member of the three-person team withdrew while he was here. He was stressed out and said to me that it was impossible to find someone who ticked all the boxes: good kite-skier, skier, climber, photographer, cinematographer, Antarctic experience who could get 10 weeks off work. I said that I could, jokingly, and he looked and me and blinked, then said "perfect, you wanna come?"

I said ‘Sure, if you can’t find someone better suited’, and he left for home. Two months later he officially invited me on the trip. I flew to the UK and met the other member, then spent a week packing and sorting out all our gear. Another thing was the start date. The team is meeting in southern Chile on November 9, and I was booked to guide on a ski touring trip to the Antarctic Peninsula, finishing in Argentine, a 12-hour bus ride away on November the 9th, it was meant to be!

Just reading the expedition notes, it seems extremely gruelling and the climbing technically very difficult. Do you think perhaps this is extreme sports gone too far?

It might seem extreme to a non-kiter and non-climber. But it is not actually that dangerous. And when you’ve done so much kiting and climbing, all aspects of the trip seem feasible. I just break it down into segments: kite-skiing and hauling 400km to the mountain, three weeks mountaineering and rock climbing, hauling 400km back up to our drop-off point, then kite-skiing about the length of NZ back home. So four small (ish) expeditions!

You are 47 or 48? The other two members are a decade younger. Will that make a difference do you think?

Yes 48, and yes a ‘‘decade’’ younger. I considered this very hard and long when I was invited. Plus I broke my back badly in 2014 in a serious helicopter crash on Mt Alta near Wanaka. But I have more kiting and ski experience than either, and my job on the climb is to film, not lead the climbs, so I am confident I will cope and keep up most of the time.

How do you prepare for such a trip — mentally and physically?

From a life and lifestyle of doing a lot of similar aspects and sports. I’ve only had three months to prepare. It wasn’t an ideal time period for training. I would have liked two years, not two months! I dragged a truck tyre around our street and got hold of the specialist kites we are using and spent some time on the Pisa Range testing them out. I also rode my mountain bike and hiked as much as possible. But in reality I keep pretty active, and it’s the sort of thing I’ve spent my life training for and our fitness will improve as the expedition goes on. My back is my biggest concern; it still gives me trouble and I have to manage it carefully. I’ve been doing a core programme to try and help, but to be honest I almost didn’t accept the invitation to go because of it. Mentally, I don’t think about it too much, especially the length.

How does your wife feel about you being away for 10 weeks on such a trip?

Jo was very encouraging. We both knew it would be hard being apart for 10 weeks, but she also knew it was a trip of a lifetime and one I just couldn’t pass on. She also knew it would be hard and appreciates the difficulties involved.

What do you anticipate will be the hardest part of the expedition?

Ten weeks without a shower and 10 weeks living in a tent. Managing my back.

What do you anticipate will be the most dangerous?

Crevasses and cold injuries are our main hazards. Especially for me having to film and take photos. I have to take care of my hands. But I’m also used to that, and think I will be OK.

What are you looking forward to most about the expedition?

Kite-skiing up to this beautiful mountain (the Spectre), that visual has inspired and motivated me. Putting me and my kite into the image of the mountain. I am also looking forward to the 1200km crossing of Antarctica via kite and skis. If we can do 300km one day I will be super stoked.

Have you factored in every contingency?

We think so, but it’s an adventure. You can’t plan everything. Things will go wrong, and it’s how we deal with them and manage them that makes the adventure more fun (or harder?)

As film maker, you potentially have the most dangerous job as you have to not only climb but film the climbers. How do you feel about that?

As above. I think I can manage that OK.

What sort of food do you take for a 10-week expedition?

Mostly dehydrated meals, but we have included eight  fresh food meals. I’ve bought some satay sauce and udon noodles from New Zealand, bought some chicken and vegetables, so that is one of our "feasts", maybe Christmas dinner? Our lunches consist of two bags, one with savoury (salami, beef jerky, cheese, crackers and a salami stick) and a sweet bag (one-third of a New Zealand  One Square Meal, a New Zealand "bliss ball", chocolate, nuts, fruit). We’ve spent the last two days here in Chile making up 200 lunch bags, measured out perfectly to 750g each, with a total daily food weight of 1.15kg each.

Does an expedition like this change you as a person? If so how?

No, although it might make me not want to ever do this again. Ask me in 10 weeks’ time.

Will this film you are making be the big attraction at the 2018 Wanaka Mountain Film Festival do you think?

There is a UK-based film-maker editing the film. I’m not sure yet if it will be ready in time. We’ll see. I’ve been told I have to give a talk on the trip at the 2018 festival, which will be fun.

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