South Molton explorer's Arctic challenge

A South Molton explorer has embarked on his toughest challenge yet as he bids to cross almost 400 miles of Arctic wilderness to raise money for charity. Dave Leaning will be leading a team of four as they bid to ski across the Norwegian island of Svalbard

A South Molton explorer has embarked on his toughest challenge yet as he bids to cross almost 400 miles of Arctic wilderness to raise money for charity.

Dave Leaning will be leading a team of four as they bid to ski across the Norwegian island of Svalbard - Spitzbergen - in the weeks ahead, facing extreme temperatures of minus 40 degrees Celsius, unpredictable crevasses and the very real threat of polar bears.

The former Royal Marine will be familiar to many in North Devon after previous epic journeys, including a 1,600-mile solo winter ski the length of Norway in 2008 and last year, a 1,400-mile crossing the width of Australia.

The expedition, entitled Cold Shores, will be raising money for the Halo Trust, a charity which removes land mines and hazardous debris from war-stricken countries and something close to Dave's heart after seeing the effects of such weapons while serving in Afghanistan.


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Dave's new challenge will take place a mere 600 miles from the North Pole and for the first time he will be leading a team - Anton Havas from Sweden, American Ashley Haines and Apostolos Alafogiannis from Greece.

The north Devon man left South Molton on Thursday and the team will meet up in mainland Norway for two weeks of training with the Royal Marines, before heading much further north to Svalbard for another week of training before their trek begins.

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Sledges

"I felt this was the next step in a logical progression to see if I could lead a team," said Dave. "It will be 600 kilometres dragging sledges weighing up to 80- kilos each, because we'll have to haul 40 days worth of food.

"Last year seven expeditions tried to attempt something similar and six of those had to be evacuated or turned back - fewer people have done this than have climbed Everest."

By law, the team, will have to carry guns to protect themselves against polar bears, which are common on Svalbard and not averse to a little explorer al fresco!

"Their main diet is seals but if they can't get that they'll come after you! It's one of the few species that actively hunts humans and if they get you, they will eat you alive," said Dave.

Much of the Svalbard landmass is covered by glaciers, which adds a risk of avoiding or negotiating the crevasses. Several earthquakes have been recorded in recent years too.

Timing of the expedition is crucial. The team need to avoid the worst of the winter storms, but also need to reach the northern tip of the island before the snow melts, preventing them from pulling the sledges which will be their lifeline. Their exploits can be followed online at www.coldshores.co.uk with photographs and diary entries as the trip progresses.

Those back home can send messages of support via the website and either sponsor the expedition itself or make a donation to The Halo Trust.

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