Monday, March 14, 2011

Switzerland: The Magnetic North Pole Selection Camp

I'm the one in the back chatting with Martin about Russian women.

 Tires, Treadmills and Photoshoots: 

I flew into Geneva dirty, hardly-showered and jet-legged to be met by the Mike Horn Team and driven to a hotel in Château-d'Oex--- a ski resort town in the Swiss Alps, where I would spend the next 10 days.

Martin Horn is Mike’s brother and was in charge of the camp.

Martin showing us how to make a splint

"Winny"---Martin's companion

Our days went like this: 7 am morning uphill run, shower, breakfast, lectures, more exercise, more lectures, photography workshops, interviews, etc… until 11 pm, when were sent to bed. All these activities were interspersed with our professional photographer “Dimitri” from Russia asking for us to repeat something, so he could catch it on camera (everything was done for the sponsors, and if we weren’t wearing the t-shirts and fleeces with Mercedes-Benz logos on them, then we were barked at to quickly change for the upcoming photo shoot).
early morning run

More running

Two days were spent doing fitness testing (VO2-max, cooper test, etc…) with the Mayo Clinic from Minnesota. The VO2-max was called the “run till you drop” test---you have to run as hard and long as you can on a treadmill, while the overseeing doctor keeps increasing the speed and incline, until you almost fall off and hit the back wall of the gym.

The cooper test measured how far you could run in 12 minutes around a track---pretty boring and flat really.
Fitness testing video: http://www.vimeo.com/20070097
 
We spent a day on a rock face.



Another day on a glacier up at 3000 meters climbing a nearby summit, learning crevasse rescue techniques, and making snow measurements for research purposes with a professor from Munich. 
Glacier video: http://www.vimeo.com/20165320

Still discussing Russian women with Martin at the back
 
Another day was spent with driving instructors from Mercedes Benz (one of the primary sponsors), who taught us “eco-driving skills” in $200,000 e-class cabriolets.
Driving video: http://www.vimeo.com/20058962 

Sponsor photos....so many of them

Driving around the Swiss roads
 
One of the ways Martin amused himself was by making us run with two 25 kg tires attached to our harnesses across snowfields. I think the locals thought we were nuts.


 
Javier the cameraman--not making our job any easier
The final two days we were split into two groups of eight for “The Raid”. We had 24 checkpoint coordinates that we had to reach, pinpointed on a topo map, and at each checkpoint we were assigned different tasks to accomplish as a team. Sort of like orienteering....
Notice my crampon coming off. Climbing with one foot is harder than it looks.
We had to ice climb...

Really Dimitry? Another photo? It's been 3 minutes. How long do you want me to hang here!?

Zip-line 250 meters across a snowfield...


Luke
 Climb over 3 meter walls....


Q: "Felix, why are you so flexible?" A:"Because I'm asian"


Tightrope walk across a river....


Balance on swaying planks 30 feet in the air.... 

I’m a pretty independent person, and enjoy tackling a challenge semi-privately, so I found myself usually up at the front; kicking steps for the group into the snowy slope. I really need to learn to be a team player....which means I need to learn some patience....
useful glasses
Wearing a "borrowed" Lakeside Nordic Jacket
 
Our group made it in record time to the finish---muddy, sweaty and our boots full of melted snow-water. Personally I didn't think the raid was that tiring or difficult, it was just long and involved a lot of walking up and down snow. I think some of my fellow young explorers would disagree. I heard phrases like "this was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life." I think the hardest trek I've done in my life was a 3-day solo backcountry slog through the swamps of mosquito-infested Alaska.

The whole experience in the Swiss Alps was different. I was used to planning my own next move and not being told what to do, but it was a nice change to sleep in a warm bed, take hot showers, have my laundry done by someone else, not pay for anything and have a large bowl of fruit available at all times of the day. I also met some really cool people, including Michael, who researched and tagged Great White Sharks in South Africa for 15 years.

Brandon, Rick and Chris promoting "Orangina"---One of our sponsors
Outtakes from the selection camp made by our cameraman “Moose”: http://www.vimeo.com/20407501
 
8/16 people were chosen for the North Pole expedition. I wasn’t selected, because in the words of Martin, “you’re fit enough, and you don’t need us to explore, you’re doing pretty damn well on your own.”
Other people need a chance to explore the world. 

Lots of free stuff: Swiss army knife, headlamp, clothing, hats, etc...
Later that day, one of the program organizers sent me an email asking if I had ever considered living on a yacht in Borneo…….things happen, and it’s probably for the best that I’m giving up the northern extremes for some warmer weather anyway. On to Siberia!
(all photos courtesy of Dmitriy Sharmorov) 

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