How much does an expedition cost?

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Paying for Peaks

After delivering a speech on Intelligent Risk Taking to leaders of Pepsi last week, I was asked ‘How do you pay for these expeditions?’ Good point. You have your vision, your inspiring objective – of following Shackelton’s journey across South Georgia or skiing down Everest – but where is the cash coming from? A great plan and a great team is nothing without resources.

I’m involved with two types of expeditions: big, commercial trips and smaller, exploratory ones. The former entail large groups of people paying someone like me to lead them.

The emphasis on a commercial expedition is the clients’ safety and comfort, with an expectation of a comfortable base camp and good food. Clients’ experiences will vary, but it might be their first time in such an extreme environment. On an 8000m peak, sherpas are usually employed to help carry equipment, set up tents and fix ropes where necessary. Getting supplies to basecamp, plus guides’ and sherpas’ wages and the peak fee to the authorities mean that a well-organised trip will cost around £15,000. A commercial Everest expedition, because of the need for bottled oxygen and high peak fees to the Nepalese or Chinese authorities, will cost around £40,000 per person.

I am known for organising small teams. Innovative and entrepreneurial in nature, we often visit previously unexplored areas or attempt unclimbed objectives. We are obsessed with keeping overheads down; our equipment is kept to a minimum, we don’t use oxygen or fixed ropes and we carry all our kit on the mountain ourselves, only occasionally employing locals to help us carry supplies to basecamp. We travel ‘fast and light’; it is a committing style but has some advantages and is much cheaper. Outside of the Himalayas our budget for a team of four is usually under £3000 each; for a 7000m peak in the Himalaya, around £5000. People are often surprised by these figures. Because our expeditions are exploratory, we are eligible to apply for grants and, if we can bring a commercial sponsor on board, great. Equipment suppliers support us in return for images and product feedback.

I was recently invited to join Sir Ranulph Fiennes, John Simpson and other dignitaries of adventure travel to write a chapter on mountain expeditions for The Travellers’ Handbook In it, I claimed that there has never been a better time to go on an expedition due to relatively cheap flights, abundant information and lighter and warmer equipment. But while today’s expeditions may cost a fraction of yesteryear’s ventures, they still represent a significant burden, and the stakes are too high to skimp on many aspects. Planning on how to properly resource a trip is key to its success.

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