Three adaptive adventurers from the UK have achieved a world first on Western Europe’s largest ice cap.
On 25 April, Ed Jackson, Darren Edwards and Dr Niall McCann completed an unsupported 136km traverse of Iceland’s Vatnajökull ice cap, becoming the first all-disabled team to make the crossing. The expedition was sponsored by Berghaus, as part of sustained action and campaigning to ensure that the outdoors is open to everyone.
Ed Jackson, Darren Edwards and Dr Niall McCann set off on 14 April and during their 11-day traverse of the Vatnajökull glacier, they had close calls with both weather and their own medical challenges. As they progressed, they battled with harsh weather, ranging from driving rain to 100kph winds, and temperatures as low as -27 degrees C. The expedition proved to be a huge test for all of them and success was only possible by working together to overcome their individual trials during each day.
Ed and Niall have walking difficulties and sensation loss in their lower limbs and travelled on ski. Ed also has limited hand function due to his injury being in his neck. Darren completed the challenge in a sit ski (propelling himself with his arms using poles). The three men travelled together, without any support or guidance and made the journey as a self-contained team. They set out to be the first all-disabled team to cross the ice cap and fundraise for the UK-based charity Millimetres 2 Mountains (M2M), which is dedicated to creating positive change for people recovering from physical or psychological trauma.
An estimated 50,000 people in the UK living with a spinal cord injury, and Ed, Darren and Niall aimed to raise £1,000 for every kilometre covered. Thanks to Berghaus, all costs were covered for the expedition, meaning that 100% of donations will go to direct the charity.
M2M was founded in 2019 by Ed and his wife Lois with the hope of helping others on their own journeys following trauma. Since then, the charity has grown rapidly having already successfully hosted adventures all over the world. By completing this expedition, the three men have demonstrated that a terrible diagnosis is not necessarily a terrible prognosis. Ed (who is incomplete quadriplegic), Darren (who is complete paraplegic), and Niall (who is incomplete paraplegic) have shown that people can still go on to achieve amazing things with their lives despite facing change and adversity.
Ed Jackson said: “Where to start! This was well and truly a journey into the unknown, and none of us knew how our varying health conditions would react in what turned out to be very extreme conditions, never mind whether this would be physically possible at all. For any one of us individually, this would have been impossible, but together we’ve managed to achieve something that we’re all incredibly proud of. It was a journey of intense effort and jeopardy interspersed with moments of overwhelming beauty.
“We’ve all finished completely exhausted, but with a huge sense of gratitude for what we’ve just done. It was a truly magical experience which I hope will change a few preconceptions about disability, as well as inspiring others to break down their own boundaries and incorporate a bit more adventure into their lives.”
Dr Niall McCann added: “Getting all the way across Vatnajökull was never guaranteed, and was only ever possible if we all pulled together, augmenting each other’s strengths and covering for each other’s weaknesses. When one of us flagged, the others stood up; we came into this challenge as one and we completed it as one.
“We faced temperatures as low as -27 degrees C, winds of 100km per hour, driving rain, impenetrable fog, and a storm that threatened to rip our tent to shreds. At times we doubted if we could do it at all, but we knew we could rely on each other when the going got tough. On our last day we had to haul for an epic 11.5 hours in -12 degrees and whiteout conditions, pushing through exhaustion, hypothermia, blisters and bladder issues to complete our landmark journey before the weather window slammed shut.”
Darren Edwards said: “The purpose of our expedition to Vatnajökull was to test the limit of what would be possible for a team of individuals living with spinal cord injuries (SCI). Vatnajökull was cold, daunting, and of a scale unlike anything I’d witnessed before. On a personal level, this expedition has been the most arduous challenge, and test of resilience, since sustaining my injury in 2016. There were moments when I questioned whether I was strong enough physically and emotionally to complete the expedition. And yet, it has reaffirmed that when we allow ourselves to be helped and supported by those around us, we are capable of achieving incredible things.
“It is our hope that in completing this expedition we will inspire others to challenge their boundaries, overcome their doubts and fears, and to acknowledge that vulnerability and weakness aren’t something to be ashamed of.”
For more information and to donate to the fundraising, visit https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/back2back.
Header image: (L-R) Ed Jackson, Niall McCann and Darren Edwards after a long day. Credit: Coldhouse and Matt Pycroft.