Polar bears no threat to Piltdown trekker

James on river crossing
James on river crossing

A Piltdown father of three now has less than 100 days to go to his world record breaking trip to the North Pole where he must learn to cope with the threat posed by polar bears.

James Harding, 40, will trek to the magnetic North Pole in April in an attempt to set a Guinness World Record for playing the most northerly rugby match in history.

James, a director at Quilter Cheviot Investment Management, is part of a 15-strong group taking on the challenge. The team, including former rugby stars Tim Stimpson, Lee Mears and Brighton-born Ollie Phillips, will be led by Jock Wishart - the only man to have walked unsupported to a Pole and rowed across an ocean.

As well as polar bears, adventurers must brave sub-zero temperatures and blizzard conditions, while each pulls a 60-kilo sledge as they cover up to 20 miles of ice a day.

Training is already intensifying. James camped in the ruins of a Welsh castle, completed a treacherous river crossing and scaled the giddy heights of Merthyr Mawr’s infamous Big Dipper sand dunes, all in the name of preparation.

The weekend, under the watchful eye of leader Jock Wishart, was the first time all challengers trained together. The brave bunch practised GPS navigation skills, towing a pulk and general team building that will be essential to their success and survival.

James said it was a steep but essential learning curve: “It was a real wake up call, no matter how prepared or fit you think you are, the sand dunes training made me realise there’s a lot more work to be done to be Arctic fit. There will be harrowing winds, it will generally be about -30C, but if those winds pick up it will get to -50C, so we need to be prepared. It is also polar bear territory, so we’ve had some specific polar bear training on that basis. Conditions require teamwork as well as mental and physical strength, which is why it was vital to get all challengers together and learn about each individual’s strengths and weaknesses.”

The team heads off in April and expects to take six or seven days trekking the 100 miles over the ice.

James is being backed by his colleagues at Quilter Cheviot Investment Management. He hopes to raise £50,000 for the Wooden Spoon charity, with the expedition as a whole aiming to raise more than £300,000.

Adventurers encourage supporters to get involved and show their support for the team by tweeting selfies of themselves wearing bobble hats #arcticchallenge. You can help James hit his fundraising target at: www.justgiving.com/arctic-rugby-2015