Wet 'n' Wild

Like your holidays as gruelling and action-packed as a boxed set of Ray Mears’ Extreme Survival? Then meet the hard men of Momentum Adventure, says Penelope Bennett

Like your holidays as gruelling and action-packed as a boxed set of Ray Mears’ Extreme Survival? Then meet the hard men of Momentum Adventure, says Penelope Bennett  
IF THE FORTHCOMING Wall Street sequel is anything to go by, times are changing. Quoting Sun-Tzu and proclaiming that ‘lunch is for wimps’ has given way to the desire to reconnect with abandoned progeny. That’s right, never mind ‘greed is good’. Gordon Gekko Mark II reckons begetting is better.

A new age is dawning. We still want (and won’t stop wanting) what we don’t have — we’re only human. But more than ever before, we want meaning in the mix. Purpose.

The clever ones have beaten us to it. They, like us, used to turbo-pause for knee-jerk fun and folly before heading back to the grindstone with one end in sight. Then they took to questioning why they worked so hard in the first place, if all it got them was a troubled conscience or a nagging feeling that this wasn’t quite what ‘having it all’ should feel like. So they shifted gears, and respective backsides, and off they went in search of substance.

They are today’s well-rounded thinkers and leaders, the golden ones who balance a 70-hour week with a weekend away en famille or an eight-hour hike up a mountain because, as they well know, character counts. It’s the extraordinary times you’ll remember on your deathbed, less so the routine ones. Morbid but true.

Also, for the terminal power-seekers, there’s the fitness element, aka maximising your potential. To be your best at work you need to be your best at (constructive) play. The aforementioned golden, those who inspire awe in all who know them, are for the most part lithe and fit, their minds sharp, alert. A corporate fat cat of yesteryear has nothing on Howard Schultz (Starbucks’ cycling-mad CEO) or Rocco Forte (triathlon enthusiast), just as a lot of policemen and women have nothing on whippet-thin truants.

A fitter, more capable you equals a more fulfilled and efficient you. With a fit body comes a fit mind, and with that comes a fighting spirit. Example: you took the family camping and wrestled a bear last weekend, of course you can handle this board meeting.

For those curious about/hungry for/in urgent need of (delete as appropriate) such stimulation, there is experienced and trustworthy help at hand. The strapping men of Momentum Adventure specialise in taking you out of your comfort zone without veering into the danger zone. Their motto is the suggestive ‘Let us take you there’. As they see it, it’s about the journey as much as it is about the peak. You can see it as philosophy mixed with sweat.

Founded and fronted by thirtysomething Matthew Robertson — the fifth Baldwin brother, were he to exist — MA facilitates the realisation of your wildest outdoor dreams. It offers highly tailored trips of three kinds (Sub-Zero, to the Arctic and the South Pole; Wilderness, to Borneo, Mongolia and Yukon; and Ski, to Kashmir, Lebanon and Japan), although given how personalised each adventure is and the work that goes into making each one happen, only a dozen-odd trips take place in a single year.

To sign up to one of these trips you don’t need to be an athlete or even fantastically fit. ‘An athlete will go off and do this on his or her own,’ says Matthew. ‘We’re here so that those who aren’t athletes can still experience this.’ You do, however, need to ‘get’ what this is all about, or at least prepare to be changed by the expedition.
'THERE'S A LOT more to it than being outdoors and thinking, “Right, I’ve got to be a man,”’ says Matthew over lunch at the Electric in Notting Hill. ‘The focus is almost not on the activity, but instead on group dynamics, nature and interacting with the environment.’

Johan Aregard, a qualified mountain guide and a key member of MA’s expedition team, is more straightforward: ‘You get them undressed,’ he says, in Nordic tone, about the clients he looks after. ‘Not too much — they still need their composure. But they need to interact in a new way, to get in touch with their true selves.’

Johan is a winning advert for the benefits of toil. He’s in his fifties yet clearly fitter than your average twenty-year-old. He’s a former officer with the Swedish Special Forces and certified and qualified up to his blizzard-proof goggles (instructor of Norwegian Telemark ski, rock-climbing, mountain leadership, Arctic survival and sea-kayaking, to name a few). He is a member of the Swedish national alpine rescue team and, oh, it’s worth a mention, a senior lecturer and researcher (he has a PhD in sociology and psychology) at Stockholm University.

Throughout lunch he behaves as if conserving energy. He doesn’t gesticulate to get his point across or raise his voice as the room fills up and the place grows loud. He orders a steak and eats it slowly. He explains how, when visiting the Sami (the native people of the Arctic), ‘You don’t drop in, rip out what you want and leave’.

He recalls teachers at his son’s school warning him of the boy’s fantastical tales (‘they said he talked about having climbed this mountain and been to that country. They thought he was lying. I told them, “No, it’s true, he’s been to all those places.”’ The boy was seven at the time). He’s had clients who ‘talk a lot of muscle’ and ‘don’t want to lose that power’ but he doesn’t try to change their mindset — ‘the environment takes care of that,’ he says. Point taken.

He is, possibly, the coolest dude you’ll meet south of Lapland (perhaps there are more like him there, but they just don’t bother coming down to London to meet journalists) and a selling point for MA.

The firm’s other expedition leaders include Dave Pearce, a survival consultant and head expert for adventurer Bear Grylls’ TV documentaries, and John Falkiner, a stunt co-ordinator on over 70 films, including James Bond’s Goldeneye. They’re manly men, no doubt about it. But, in line with the times we’re in now, they’re lifestyle mentors and spiritual gurus, too.

‘[Our adventures] are the complete opposite of the quick fix of buying a fast car,’ says Matthew, now on dessert — a gooey chocolate cake served alongside two scoops of ice cream (note to gourmands: keep fit like him and you too can fling calorie-associated guilt out the window). ‘It’s a philosophy, it’s learning by doing. It’s not rough or autocratic, and it just isn’t about ticking something off a list.’

Compared with the average Big Trip, an inordinate amount of thought goes into MA’s excursions, from the introductory box and information-laden widget that clients receive on signing up and the months of planning and fitness coaching that precede the expedition, to the sled dogs Matthew chooses for a trip (those not prone to barking, so that you sleep undisturbed), to the dedicated expedition photographer (a regular contributor to National Geographic) who accompanies you and whose images result in a keepsake hand-made book. If you’re worried or have questions at any stage, you call Matthew directly — not customer services, then option 2, then 3.

Matthew is cut from the same cloth as his team — they live and breathe expedition. ‘I told my wife before we got married that I will, at times, need to go off and climb a mountain,’ he says by way of explanation.

What he and his team would like is for more people to see what they see, and ‘get’ what they get. And what they get is perspective, reward, elation and, ultimately, meaning.

As the saying goes: Men of genius are admired, men of wealth are envied, men of power are feared, but only men of character are trusted.

Photography by Momentum Adventure

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