At 21, he crossed the Sahara alone. A decade later, he summited Mount Everest. And now he’s just returned from trekking to the North Pole for charity. Introducing Gavin Bate, InsideHook’s Man of the Month for May.
The polar bear lumbered into camp around 1 a.m.
It was late April 2013 on the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, a craggy jigsaw of snow-swept tundras connected by calving glaciers and treacherous floes.
In the camp’s tents, a small but hearty group of adventurers, led by Gavin Bate, were shivering to sleep. It was -20 degrees Celsius. They’d skied maybe ten miles that day.
Their goal: reach Magnetic North.
Most of the group were in it for the challenge. Gavin was there on work – he guides treks across the world’s most inhospitable terrain.
But he was also doing it to raise money. That’s his other job. He’s a philanthropist. Making this sort of like a charity 10k.
Except this was a charity 550k. Over ice. With polar bears.
In his tent, Gavin was huddled in sleep. His tentmate was frozen to the floor, alive but unable to move.
Outside, the footfalls thumped closer.
“If the bear opened the tent with its claws,” Gavin tells us, days later, considering how his adventures almost came to an end, “the feasibility of killing it – while hypothermic – with a gun …”
He trails off.
Gavin Bate, 47, is an adventurer.
He walked the breadth of the Sahara Desert alone when he was 21. Climbed Everest for the first time a decade later. He’s since repeated the feat five times.
In 1991, he began wandering the globe.
“Some people want structure, but uncertainty never bothered me,” Gavin says.
He spent part of his childhood in Australia, which explains some of the wanderlust.
“Things come up and you say ‘Yes.’ I’m an opportunist.”
Along the way, Gavin drove supply trucks into refugee camps in Somalia. He taught children in the slums of Nairobi. And then he became a professional alpinist and guide.
It was thus that his NGO, Adventure Alternatives (AA), was born.
“I just wanted to set up a company that enabled my friends to have careers,” he says. “Training, development, rights, a monthly salary instead of a day-rate: the same opportunities I had.”
AA promotes sustainable tourism by hosting guided tours of some of the world’s most challenging terrain. [Ed. Note: You can book your own trip right here.]
The company almost exclusively employs locals. They then pump their profits back into the local economies.
Gavin also launched an affiliated charity, Moving Mountains Trust (MMT), to raise money for Third World communities.
MMT is the primary beneficiary of Gavin’s personal adventures, like Race Me to the Pole.
Which is where a certain polar bear came in.
Starting on the island of Cornwallis this past April, Gavin led a small team across 550 km of Arctic ice to the magnetic North Pole, challenging donors to raise £22,000 for MMT in the same timeframe.
The task was not without considerable challenges.
Days prior to the polar bear encounter, Gavin’s group had been marooned for days while an ice storm whipped around them. On the last supply drop, one of the guides had to be helicoptered out with frostbitten fingers.
Meanwhile, the group’s insulating gear had frozen. They’d been skiing over icy rubble, then across bare sheaths of ice, at twelve hours a clip. As Gavin’s support team will tell you, that’s akin to doing a marathon every day. You sweat. At night, you cook. The heat melts the ice, and then the ice refreezes.
It’s not a comfortable thing.
When we speak to Gavin after the trek, he is reclined on the sofa in his London flat.
His joints hurt. He’s lost weight. He feels …
“Sort of how you’d feel if you ran five marathons.”
But he’s also raised over $23,000. It’s an achievement, he says, that wouldn’t have been possible without mental preparation.
“Self-discipline is extremely important on an expedition like this,” Gavin says. “There are times you’re going to be uncomfortable doing any challenge, and you simply have to mentally commit.”
It’s a lesson he attributes to age and experience.
It’s “more about examining your reasons for wanting to do it,” he says.
For Gavin, the reasons are simple:
Do more. Find more. Experience more.
But for the layperson, challenging yourself is all about staying healthy. And the reasons for that are innumerable.
“It could be about wanting to play in the park with your kids,” Gavin says.
“Or (being) healthy enough to be able to babysit your grandchildren in years to come.”
Race Me to the Pole is still taking donations in hopes of reaching its goal of £22,000. You can donate here.
If you’re interest in booking an excursion with Adventure Alternatives, check out the website.