Preparing for the ‘Top of the Bottom of the World’ expedition

We caught up with Danny Claricoates, who is taking on an exciting challenge in 2017, supported by the Endeavour Fund. 

The Endeavour Fund is delighted to be continuing the association with 65 Degrees North after their previous successful expeditions to Greenland and Kilimanjaro, both if which the EF supported/ endorsed. 

Danny is 30 years old and one of the members of the team from 65 Degrees North. He's a former Royal Marines Commando who was deployed to Afghanistan for two operational tours. He was medically discharged in 2011. During his time in the Corps he had the opportunity to visit some amazing places such as Norway and met a lot of great people and made some fantastic friends. Since leaving the Royal Marines he has worked in a variety of jobs including becoming a teacher and being the head of a department and working as a freelance outdoor instructor leading teams of young people on expeditions abroad. He currently lives in Plymouth with my wife Sarah and our dog Sam.

What are you up to at the moment? We hear you have a pretty exciting challenge coming up in 2017!

I am one of a team of 5 Serving and former Royal Marines who is training and preparing for an expedition to the 'Top of the Bottom of the World'! We are preparing to go to Antarctica and climb the highest mountain on the Antarctic continent called Mount Vinson. It stands at 4892m above sea level and is in one of the coldest places on earth!

The expedition takes place in January 2017 and is designed to show what wounded veterans are able to achieve and prove there is life beyond injury. I hope it will inspire and motivate others to participate in adventurous challenges.

We are fundraising for the Royal Marines Charity which supports serving and former Royal Marines, and their families, through rehabilitation, career development and to over come challenges that, without the support, they may really struggle with.

How has getting involved in sport, and specifically climbing, helped you with your recovery? 

The best way to answer that is to explain a little about my first experience in the outdoors. When I was 16 years old I took part in an expedition to Morocco and the Atlas mountains with my school. It was during work experience week and so while most of my friends in my year headed out to experience what it was like to work in an office or a shop I headed out to North Africa with a team from my year and older years to climb Jebel Toubkal, the highest mountain in the Atlas range.

I already knew by that point I wanted to join the Royal Marines and there were no work experience opportunities with the Corps that year.

That time in the mountains showed me who I really wanted to be. I struggle to sit still and love to be outdoors, my time in the Atlas mountains showed me the how working in a team is important, how to relax and think through situations which could go wrong if the wrong decision is made and how to reflect on what you have done. Most importantly it taught me to always be prepared to learn and move forward.

During my time in the Royal Marines I took part in an expedition out to the Himalayas. This was after I had been diagnosed with PTSD, and so this expedition made me realize that the time I spent in the hills now gave me the chance to really relax, be mindful and reflect on things in a really positive way, the whole backdrop of the Khumbu valley simply enhanced the benefits I felt. Things were slow, calm, and relaxed but we still had to work as a team, support each other and be together. I had many opportunities to reflect on what had happened to me and my teams in Afghan and I used what I had learnt in the Atlas Mountains to effect, it gave me the opportunity to learn and move forward with life.

Climbing and being in the mountains has been a huge part of my recovery. It has allowed me to be away from the everyday things at home, which are triggers and aggravate my symptoms. Life is much simpler in the mountains, much calmer and being part of a team is a huge thing for me too.

Climbing and mountaineering is a great metaphor for what we go through with PTSD. Some days you don’t want to get out of your tent because its windy, wet and cold…that’s like the days when you don’t want to face the world, you want to pull the duvet over your head and give up. Some days it may be as bad as saying you never want to leave the comfort of your tent, I have had days where I have wanted to give up and end it all.

Some days you get out but still have that hill to climb, they are long hard days and you get them done, you may not always see the view though and that is like the days where you go about your normal day but feel like your not making any progress. I have had days like that when I have worked with various doctors or psychiatrists. It feels like I have done a full day but there has been no change.

Other days you feel the challenge and climb, you can climb a long day and it tough but when you stand on that summit, with the team around you feel like you are on top of the world! its such an amazing feeling I can't put it in to words.

Climbing and mountaineering has helped me to realize all this, so I have chosen to go forward, go up and keep climbing, I want to share the feeling and journey with others so they can climb their own mountains!

What advice would you give to someone who is looking to use sport to help with their recovery?

I would first suggest that anyone can do it! People may watch things like the Olympics or the Invictus Games and want to be there but maybe are put off as they feel they are no good at a sport, or they don’t have the ability to do it. DO IT! Sport is a fantastic way to get involved in life, you meet people, overcome challenges, achieve huge things and most importantly you learn about yourself.

The people you see on TV didn’t get there overnight and so it does take time and it does take determination but you can do it!

A good friend of mine taught me once, “there is no such thing as failure, there is only ever feedback”, Sport is great for teaching us lessons like this.

If you feel like you are no good at the sport you want to do then go for it anyway, there is no failure, the feedback you get from taking part allows us to learn and get better, learn and go again and again and again until, one day, you could be the person on TV, you could be the person inspiring others!

I want people to experience what its like to really live their lives, rather than live in a pigeon hole with a stigma and diagnosis of something like a mental health condition or amputation, nothing should hold you back.

What’s next for you, after Mt Vinson? Any more challenges on the horizon? 

The next challenge for me is developing my own business. I’ve started a small business delivering outdoor adventures and my goal is to deliver meaningful adventures to anyone who wants to do something like this.

I have experienced this journey firsthand and I know the benefits, it's hard for me to explain these benefits clearly in words but they are real and they continue to help with my rehabilitation. I want to support people on their own journey and to achieve the goals they set themselves, whether that involves going for a paddle in a canoe, or going for a walk in the mountains, or doing some bushcraft then that is where I hope to help.

The challenge is getting this off the ground and making it a success!

I also really want to continue to work with 65 Degrees North and support the Royal Marines Charity; I really hope that I can fit in to their plan somewhere.

To find out more about the 65 Degrees North expedition to Mount Vinson, please visit http://www.65degreesnorth.co.uk/antarctica/

Danny (far right) and his team during a training climb
Danny (far right) and his team during a training climb
A training climb
A training climb