Posts Tagged ‘Ben Fogle’


Extreme Dreams, extreme people, extreme challenge – what else could we be talking about but Ben Fogle and the Mongol Derby

June 17, 2009

Ben Fogle is atypical of our site. He challenges every aspect of life and seems to have a lot of fun doing it. As far as extreme sports go – he pretty well does them all…

So who exactly is he? He is a Presenter, Writer and Adventurer. His achievements include racing 160 miles across the Sahara desert in the notorious Marathon Des Sables. He has rowed the Atlantic Ocean in 49 days and crossed Antarctica in a foot race to the South Pole. That’s just for starters…

Rowing 2006 (001)

He has presented numerous television programmes including Extreme Dreams and as well as writing regularly for the Sunday Telegraph and The Independent, he has written four best-selling books.

He is also an ambassador for WWF, Medecins Sans Frontier and Tusk. He’s a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and the President of the Campaign for National Park’s.

And he’s only 35 years old…

His next testing task is going to be the Mongol Derby – the longest, toughest horse race on earth. He’ll ride 1,000 kms accompanied by 25 horses, for which he will be personally responsible. “It’s already giving me sleepless nights,” he says with a grin,but if I didn’t do what I do, I’d be like a caged animal.”

So, what exactly is the Mongol Derby?

It’s “a race so big it would make Roman Emperors go weak at the knees.”

Great description that isn’t it. But I’ll give you more… including one of the rider’s introductory video on the Derby – Charles van Wyk (CvWMD ):

The idea for “the race” comes from Genghis Khan’s  incredible postal system – and we’re talking many many years ago, somewhere around the turn of the 12th century.

When he ‘ruled the world’ he realised the importance of being in touch, and knowing exactly what was happening and where. So he took the existing ancient and rather small network of horse messengers and supercharged it, creating a mind-bendingly efficient relay system of horse-stations that enabled his messengers to go faster than the speed of light itself. With horses stationed every 30 to 40 km it’s said he could get a message from Mongolia to Eastern Europe in just fourteen days. That would probably beat today’s postal system!

This year, 2009, some bold adventurists have decided to emulate this great but forgotten postal service,  resurrect the horse-stations and gather 800 horses to create the mother of all races.

The Mongol Derby will tackle the challenge of semi-wild horses and surviving alone in the wild steppes of Mongolia. There’s no carefully marked course, no catering tent and no support; this is horse racing on a whole new scale. You will change steed every 40 km so the horses will be fresh.

The nature of the Mongol Derby means it is the rider under stress not the horse. Traditional Mongolian horses are an extremely tough breed that has changed little since the Mongol Hordes swept across Asia on their backs in the early thirteenth century. They range in size from 12 to 14 hands high and roam the vast Mongolian steppe all year round. As the Mongol Derby will be run across wild terrain, not roads, the horses will be unshod as they always are.

A Mongolian horse (with trimmed mane) in traditional riding gear

Humans are not so tough. Bleeding kidneys, broken limbs, open sores, sun stroke, moon stroke and a list of dangers longer than your arm stand between the you and victory!

Now, for some of you who might be yearning to take part in this race, when does it happen?

The warm up

Pre-race Meeting, UK
Date and location to be confirmed Afternoon tea and talk with a renowned explorer.

Pre-race Training, Mongolia
20 & 21 August 2009
Two-day training extravaganza with former champion jockey Richard Dunwoody.

Launch Party
21 August 2009
Mighty send-off from Kharkhorin, the ancient capital of the Mongol Empire. Feasting, dancing, fermented mare’s milk and Mongolian merry-making galore.

The race

Race Start
22 August 2009
Riders gallop forth into the wilderness.

Midway Party
29 August 2009
Catch up with your fellow racers and spin yarns of wrestles with wolves.

Closing Ceremonies
5 September 2009
Bathe in the glory of completing the world’s longest and toughest horse race. Riders will be lauded as pioneers and their names etched in adventuring history.

It costs  US$4,550 in total. However, don’t despair – you could always try for sponsorship and raise money for your favourite charity at the same time.

Additional costs will be the airfare to Mongolia, a single-entry Mongolian visa, and hotel costs before and after the race.

As the race approaches you will be able to track the riders live through an interactive map. The route starts in the Khentii Aimag, at Delgerhaan and ends at Kharkhorin, Chinggis Khaan’s capital, 1000km later.

The organisers of The Mongol Derby, in partnership wtih Tengri, have issued the following warning:


Before you even consider applying for this race we want to point out how dangerous the Mongol Derby is, and how dangerous the sport of horse riding is.

And when we talk about horse riding, we don’t just mean getting on a horse you are familiar with at home. We mean riding a series of unfamiliar horses across wild Mongolian terrain. By taking part in this race you are greatly increasing your risk of severe physical damage. You could break limbs, suffer internal injuries, become paralysed or even die. Please do not underestimate the extreme nature of the Mongol Derby.

I am afraid that, having given you details of costs etc, entrance to this race is now closed for 2009. However, just around the corner is 2010 and with some planning you could be one of the handful of riders in the next race…

Watch this space – I’ll keep you updated on this fantastic and extreme endurance race.


A little more on Mount Chimborazo, Ecuador

January 19, 2009

“The beauty of the Andean landscape is sublime because of the extreme simplicity of its forms, the classic stillness of its lines, the vastness of its immensity, the profound gravity of its balanced coloring, generally of dark hues, and its infinite solitude.” wrote scientist, Hans Meyer

Ben Fogle and his team have finished their Mount Chimborazo expedition, and it made very interesting watching.

If you don’t know who Ben Fogle is – he is the man on British TV who has a programme called ‘Extreme Dreams’. He takes a team of 5 people and together they conquer, or try to conquer, something extroadinary and extreme. The team of 5 will not have done the challenge before, and most times will have done nothing in the extreme adventure line before either.

Anyway, I’m here to tell you more facts that I gleaned about Mount Chimborazo, and not more about Ben Fogle… much as I enjoy the programme!

Having said that I have to tell you quickly that Fogle said that Chimborazo was one of the most extreme journey’s he’s ever been on – and he has done some incredible things, so it is a mountain worthy of a challenge, but also a mountain which can exact it’s revenge on you – so please beware if you are thinking of summitting it.

The mountain and surrounding countryside are a hostile environment with some seriously punishing terrain and climatic conditions. It is absolutely necessary to focus on the final challenge – the summit, but admit defeat if the summit becomes impossible. Summit fever is a dangerous thing and can make people obsess beyond their body’s capabilities, thereby endangering everyone they climb with.

You can either hike in to Chimborazo, which is a good opportunity to acclimatize your body, but can take up to 7 days – quite a hike. Many people choose the easier and quicker option of catching a cab to the first refuge! After all, it’s easier to climb a mountain when the guide drives you to 4574m (15,000 ft) .

However, catching a cab or a lift with your guide  does not make the last 1,708m (5,600 ft) or so any less difficult. It’s the fact that the air is missing half of its oxygen that makes it difficult to move up there… it’s a hard slog and the glaciers start a short walk from the hut, so hiking soon becomes mountaineering.

This mountain, in its exposed and brutal landscape, will test you to the limit. Not only do you have to contend with altitude sickness, but, from the first base camp, you need to break the altitude barrier of  5,488m (18,000 ft) before the final challenge of the summit at nearly 6,403m (21,000 ft) above sea level, and traverse one scary 30m ridge with a 1,000m drop on either side… in the dark! and these are just some of the challenges you have to face.

The summit is only a few hundred metres below the death zone where a body cannot survive. The extreme cold and the altitude are a double whammy.

Remember in my last article that I told you that Chimborazo, at it’s peak, is the furthest point from the center of the Earth. Our planet bulges at the equator, making Mount Chimborazo even futher out there than Everest. It has the distinction of being the closest point to the sun on the planet, and yet still the coldest place in Ecuador.

The graveyard, near Base Camp, is a testament to the unpredictability of all high places. Chimborazo is very high, it randomly drops large rocks on you, and has weather that changes by the minute.

It is advisable to leave for the summit – almost 1km vertically above High Hut – at about 10p.m. You want to watch the sunrise at the summit and then GET OFF the mountain ‘before she wakes up’ – and she wakes up at 9 a.m.

You need to be OFF the summit by 7 a.m.

This means you are making your final challenge on the mountain in the dark, so your challenge is not only against achieving the summit but against time.

If you achieve the summit, you only have time for a quick handshake and a couple of photographs before returning quickly – as soon as the sun comes up it starts melting the glacier and you can actually hear water running under the ice and the ominous sounds of cracking. As you descend you can hear rocks falling out of the ice above as the sun melts it…

Not a pretty thought as you scramble down!

If you want to climb Mount Chimborazo, your cheapest option is to wait until you get to Ecuador to make arrangements. Talk to almost any hotel owner or manager in Riobamba, and he or she will find a guide for you. It will be cheaper, too,  if you are part of a group, of course.


Here’s another one for you extreme rock climbing enthusiasts out there.

January 15, 2009

Ever heard of Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador?

I hadn’t, until I happened to catch Ben Fogle’s Extreme Dreams last night and realised that here was a mountain that had escaped my notice and that was definitely worth taking a closer look at.

At 6,268.2 m (20,565 ft), Chimborazo is Ecuador’s highest mountain. Its other claim to fame is that, as it is virtually on the equator, it is generally considered to be the spot on Earth that is at the same time closest to the sun and farthest from the center of the Earth.

Chimborazo is located in the Cordillera Occidental of the Andes of central Ecuador, 150 km (93 mi) south-southwest of the capital Quito. It’s neighbored by 5,018 m high Carihuairazo.

On a clear day, and standing on the summit of Chimborazo, you can see the Amazon basin, the Pacific ocean and the curvature of the Earth.

As Ecuador’s highest mountain, Chimborazo is a very popular climb and can be climbed year round with the best seasons being December-January and July-August. It must be remembered that it receives high precipitation and has a large summit ice cap – conditions are glacial and windswept.

The easiest and most climbed routes are the Normal and the Whymper route which are a Class 4 climb. Both are western ridge routes starting at the Whymper hut and leading via the Ventemilla summit to the main (Whymper) summit and include route finding and crevasse crossing. There are two refuges on the mountain at approx. 5000 meters and most of the parties do their summit bid directly from the huts. It is a 6-9 hr climb from there, with slopes up to 60 degrees. People usually start their climb around midnight and return to the hut in the late morning.

There are several other less used and more challenging routes on the other mountains faces and ridges leading to one of Chimborazo’s summits: Main (Whymper, Ecuador), Politecnico (Central), N. Martinez (Eastern). These involve mixed rock/ice climbing.

Our ancestors were an adventurous bunch. Until the beginning of the nineteenth century it was thought that Chimborazo was the  highest mountain on Earth, and such reputation led to many attempts on its summit during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

As early as 1802, Baron Alexander von Humboldt, Aimé Bonpland and the Ecuadorian Carlos Montufar attempted to reach the summit. From their accounts it seems that they got to 5,875m before having to retire because of altitude sickness. In 1831 Jean Baptiste Boussingault and Colonel Hall reached a new “highest point”, computed to be 6,006 m. But it was in 1880 that Chimborazo was first summitted by Edward Whymper and the brothers Louis and Jean-Antoine Carrel. There were many critics who doubted that Whymper had reached the summit, so, later in the same year, and just to prove a point, he climbed to the summit again choosing a different route (Pogyos) with the Ecuadorians David Beltrán and Francisco Campaña.

You will be glad to know that, although a volcano, Chimborazo is considered to be extinct. It’s last known eruption was in 640 AD – give or take 500 years!

The top of Chimborazo is completely covered by glaciers with some north-eastern glacier arms flowing down to 4,600 m. It is because of the ice-cap on Chimborazo that the summit needs to be attempted in the very early hours of the morning – the danger being that if you leave it too late, the sun will get up, warm the ice causing melt conditions which in turn increases the risk of an avalanche. Many an attempt has been aborted for this very reason as you will see here from mounteverest2008 Team Condor’s attempt.