Arctic expedition was a draining experience for South Molton adventurer

A South Molton adventurer has completed an extreme test of endurance after successfully leading a team across the frozen wastes of the Arctic Circle. A very close encounter with a bottomless crevasse, the threat of polar bears plus extreme cold and fatigu

A South Molton adventurer has completed an extreme test of endurance after successfully leading a team across the frozen wastes of the Arctic Circle.

A very close encounter with a bottomless crevasse, the threat of polar bears plus extreme cold and fatigue all confronted Dave Leaning and his team mates as they spent 28 days skiing 600 kilometres across the Norwegian island of Svalbard.

The former Royal Marine is becoming something of a professional explorer - two years ago he skied solo the length of Norway and last year walked across Australia.

The new expedition was called Cold Shores and was intended to raise money for the Halo Trust, a land mine charity which is close to Dave's heart after seeing the effects of such weapons in Afghanistan.

This time Dave wanted to lead an expedition and after months of planning and training, set off at the beginning of April with Anton Havas, a 20-year-old Swede and Apostolos Alafogiannis, a long time friend and dive buddy from Greece.

A fourth team member pulled out at the last minute and with three instead of four the group's sledges were all overloaded and rations had to be kept to the bare minimum to survive.

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Svalbard, or Spitzbergen as it is sometimes known, is a haunt of polar bears and travellers must by law carry guns at all times to defend against the sometimes aggressive animals.

The group set out in minus 30 degree temperatures and Dave picks up the tale:

"The first days were hard and the nights were spent uncomfortably cold," he said.

"Along the shore of a 1,000 km fjord we were privileged to see a polar bear with two cubs, she was docile and at no point did we feel the need to ready our guns, but it was enough to keep us on our toes for the rest of the trip."

After reaching the northern tip of the island the group had reached halfway and wearily turned around to cover the 300 kilometres to safety, at one point taking a dangerous route strewn with deadly crevasses in the ice.

"On one occasion before I realised the danger, I was scouting the route alone and fell into a crevasse without being roped up, only the rifle I was carrying across my back arrested my fall, and when I looked down into the crevasse I had just discovered it was impossible to see the bottom. From then on we proceeded roped together with harnesses and ice axes," said Dave.

The North Devon man lost a great deal of weight and was left so weakened the others had to slow to his pace.

The final week saw the trio climb three glaciers in three days, covering more than 50 kilometres in a bid to bring the trek to a close and return to civilisation - and the pizza the three had been discussing and carving for the previous month!

"The next two weeks will be spent taking simple pleasures from the trappings of modern civilisation," said Dave.

"My feelings now are of triumph, but unlike my previous solo trips, this is a feeling which I can share with others. The return to real life has not been entirely painless - my stomach has reacted violently to my 'new' diet and now it is over I am weak and drained in a way I never thought possible,

"But set alongside this is the amazing feeling it is over, and I got the team back okay."

Visit the expedition website for more pictures, maps and read the full diary of the journey at www.coldshores.co.uk. To make a donation top the Halo Trust, go to www.halotrust.org.

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