Having survived scrapes with machete-wielding gangs, headhunters and the bubonic plague, two former Royal Marines are on the verge of completing a never-done-before unsupported crossing of the world’s five largest islands.
“Mount Everest has been summited by over 10,000 people, but no one has crossed the world’s five largest islands — home to the last true wildernesses and the most hostile environments on earth.”Ant Lambert – The Mad Explorers
To most explorers, the thought of making back-to-back, unsupported crossings of Borneo, Papua New Guinea, Madagascar, Greenland and Baffin — the five largest islands on the planet — would seem too risky, too ambitious. Step forward The Mad Explorers, AKA Anthony Lambert (32) and Louis Nethercott (32), two former Royal Marines Commandos who have previously served amid the dust and blood of Afghanistan. As you’ll discover, neither of them are strangers to peril.
So far, four islands have been ticked off the list as the duo have crossed some of the last true wildernesses on earth and a vast range of extreme environments, encompassing mountains, deserts, jungle and tundra. Only Baffin Island remains unconquered. But on April 5th 2022, Ant and Louis will take the first footfalls on an expedition that see them crossing frozen lakes in a potentially lethal -60C degrees climate all the while evading the local polar bears.
“Baffin Island: it’s very old ice caps,” says Louis. “But the rest of the ground is made up of a rugged, mountainous tundra that does thaw out over the summer. So we wouldn’t be able to carry the provisions we need on our back to get across it. Therefore we’re going to have to ski it and to ski it, we’re going to need snow cover, which gives us a limited window of when the temperature is low enough. That’s basically winter or either side of winter. But we’ve heard that some of it is thawing earlier than expected… We’re taking the risk anyway.”
This will be no mean feat, especially given that these two friends have rewound the concept of exploration by a couple of centuries and are endeavouring to complete their mission unsupported, using only human power. So far, their expeditions have resembled the plot of a 1930s novel: The Mad Explorers have evaded pirates and salt-water crocodiles; armed bandits and the bubonic plague. In Borneo they were left for dead by a local guide at the foot of a mountain range, famously home to the world’s last head-hunters. In Papua New Guinea, they even endured their fair share of scrapes local gangs and mob lords.
“A whole busload of people had been robbed and butchered by a gang called the Raskols,” says Louis. So, we were sort of walking down this road with a machete and an American dagger, hoping for the best. But we were spotted by the Raskols. They were high on whatever jungle juice they’d been smoking and had a couple of shooters between them. This guy had a thing called a stapler, which is like a staple gun with a tube you’d have for your plumbing tied to it with a round that they’d found in the jungle in the barrel.
“He rammed that down my throat while Ant was negotiating with them. I was just concerned it was going to go off whether he wanted it to or not. We were basically able to buy our way out of the situation and talk them into giving us safe passage down the road for a decent amount of money. Of course, they didn’t do that, they just took our cash and f**ked off.”
Elsewhere, Ant had to rescue a snow-blind Louis from an ice crevasse on Greenland after he was pulled down by the weight of his pulk. “I was just shouting down at him, “ says Ant. “But there was nothing. Then all of a sudden I heard this voice shouting, ‘How did I get down here dude?’ Then he stood up and he was like, ‘Where’s my bergen?’ And I said, ‘We haven’t been wearing a bergen for this whole journey.’ We went back and had a look down the hole and it was 200 metres at least, it was a monster.”
It’s for this reason that they’ve saved Baffin for last. A jagged, mountainous, frozen wasteland, the island is two and a half times the size of the UK though it holds a total population smaller than most rural towns. Scattered its coastline are a few settlements and several thousand polar bears. Violent winds often blow the settled snow clear off the ground meaning that to travel from coast to coast they’ll have to forge a new, unexplored route across 600km of frozen hell. By all accounts, this is going to be “the difficult one”.
It’s easy to see why. Their planned route will take them across the largest island lake on earth and will require them to trailblaze for 240km up the frozen Isurtuq River. They’ll then make an 1800m ascent during the crossing of the Penny Ice Cap before descending onto the east coast. This route is unproven and undocumented; The Mad Explorers will be the first people in history to pass it. And the magnitude of what these men are undertaking, not to mention what they’ve already accomplished, is hard to overstate.
Driven first and foremost by the call of challenge and true adventure, Ant and Louis believe that the platform generated by this endeavour should be used for something more than personal gain. To this end, they have raised thousands for RMA – The Royal Marines Charity.
The cause is also personal. Louis was medically discharged from the military with severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after a series of extreme encounters on the front line in Afghanistan. He has since experienced first hand the impact these charities have in rebuilding people’s lives. The spirit of adventure this pair embody in their unique endeavour will inspire many veterans and non-veterans alike who are facing a similar sense of disconnection, isolation from their tribe, or purposelessness.
As the final island, and the end of this remarkable endeavour, Baffin Island marks a closing chapter in The Mad Explorers’ unique and inspiring story. If successful, they’ll have achieved a world first in global exploration and delivered a tale for the ages. This is the last chance to join them and make history.