Many of us dream of viewing the Northern Lights under polar skies and for two graduates from the University of Cumbria this and much more has become a reality.
Arran and Rhiannon at the North Pole.
Rhiannon Pritchard and Arran Laird met while studying outdoor leadership at the Ambleside campus of the university graduating in 2015. That year the university agreed to support their next ambitious project; to take up an advanced polar training course based in Svalbard, the Norwegian islands between the country’s mainland and the North Pole.
“When here we were informed of the Arctic Nature Guide one-year training programme and were encouraged to apply,” Arran says. “On completing our BA with Cumbria we were accepted onto the course here in Svalbard which was possible due to our background as expedition leaders as well as education in outdoor leadership with Cumbria and the relevant Arctic experience that Cumbria enabled us to gain.”
Competition for places is fierce. Only thirty students are accepted onto the course with the majority coming from Norway. For two to be accepted from the UK is unusual and the fact that both are former University of Cumbria students remarkable.
Since joining the course in August last year the pair have taken part in a wide range of demanding activities. A nine-day glacier course at Nordenskiöldbreen involved camping next to a glacier to practice safe travel techniques, group management, crevasse rescue as well as studying glacier formation. They’ve also worked with helicopter rescue teams and learned of the need for polar bear protection and how to manage a camp in some of the world’s most demanding environments.
“We also undertook a week long field leadership course to deal with stressful situations and working under extreme pressure, a week long first aid course involving large outdoor scenarios to test our skills in the harsh environment,” Arran recounts. “Soon we will begin our practice placement working for a local guide company to gain valuable field experience. We worked hard at university to gain good grades and external national governing body awards such as our Mountain leader, Single Pitch Award, PADI, Cave Leader etc whilst we studied. We are incredibly grateful for the support of the University of Cumbria, as without them we would not have made it here.”
Both say they intend to make full use of the experience to go on to a career working in the outdoors in the future.
Interested in being an Arctic Nature Guide? Find out more about the training course here.
Here are some pictures from Arran and Rhiannon’s trip: