Explorer Adrian Hayes on his career, childhood dreams and his love for the New Forest

Adrian Hayes

Adrian Hayes - Credit: Archant

Despite epic adventures that have taken him across the world, record-breaking explorer, Adrian Hayes, finds it is the New Forest that brings him true joy

There are many ways in which to describe New Forest resident, Adrian Hayes. Record-breaking polar explorer, mountaineer, adventurer, keynote speaker, leadership coach, sustainability campaigner are just a few. As a former British Army Gurkha officer and Special Forces reservist, he has travelled the world and faced many extraordinary challenges.

However, the last decade has seen him tackle a long list of adventuring goals from climbing Everest and K2 and crossing the length of Greenland to journeying across the Arabian Desert in the footsteps of British military officer and explorer, Wilfred Thesiger. As if that isn’t enough of a tally of conquests, he has clocked up not one but two Guinness World records to boot for his Three Poles Challenge, which involved walking all the way to the North Pole, South Pole and summiting Mt. Everest; all this in addition to becoming an author and making a handful of documentaries. To say that Adrian likes a challenge would be an understatement.

“I grew up in the era of the heroes of explorers – Chris Bonington, Wally Herbert, Fiennes. I had a picture on my bedroom wall of Naomi Uemura who was a Japanese adventurer and first man to reach the North Pole solo. I was fascinated by all that stuff,” Adrian shares.

With inspiring role models such as these, it’s not hard to imagine how Adrian’s natural sense of adventure was peaked, and growing up in the Forest appears to have been the perfect training ground to spark a lifelong passion.

“Living in the New Forest as a child, we climbed trees, built swings, rafted down rivers. We did what everyone did in those days. It was a life of utter adventure,” he explains.

Inspired by stories his mother told him of his grandfather who left school at 14, learned seven different languages, worked on ships and travelled the world, Adrian began imagining how he might lead his own life of adventure. Lacking in confidence, shy and struggling to cope with what he describes as a difficult childhood as the middle child, he wanted to share in the expedition highs of the heroes pinned on his bedroom wall. In short, he wanted to make his own dreams a reality.

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“I had dreams. I wrote down all the things I wanted to do when I was 12 – join the SAS, climb Everest, become a Polar explorer, live on a desert island. It was about escape and achievement. I’ve been so lucky as most of them have come true. I talk about this in my book and in my role as a leadership coach. It’s the power of writing down your goals.”

It’s this theme of drive and determination which remains the bedrock of his latest book, One Man’s Climb: A Journey of Trauma, Tragedy and Triumph on K2. Not only does it tell an intensely personal story of his experiences as he attempted to reach his goal of climbing K2 in 2013 and again in 2014, but it tells the tale of facing the beauty and brutality of life and death. K2, the second highest mountain in the world and one of the notorious 8000ers, may have been the riskiest expedition Adrian had undertaken so far, but it held the most glory for him in terms of achievement. Planning and preparations took three years before he was finally ready to reach his goal – his inner desire to feel a sense of significance fuelling his quest.

“The underlying theme for me was significance. It was as simple as this. We have one life. I want to experience and achieve everything I possibly can. K2 changed things for me. It’s the ultimate, the mountaineer’s mountain, the gold medal. You’re striving to be the best you can be.”

No expedition can be without its profound highs and lows and amidst all his endeavours to reach his ultimate goal, privately Adrian hit the lowest of periods in his personal life following the breakdown of his marriage and the five year battle through the family courts for contact with his daughter which ensued. Tragedy also struck mountainside in 2013 when Marty and Denali Schmidt, a father and son team known to be experienced climbers, met their deaths the day before Adrian was due to make his ascent. It was a heartbreaking event which, among other decisions, led to Adrian’s whole expedition being called off.

“People like us, climbers, adventurers, explorers; we willingly put ourselves in the position of facing death. What does that make you feel? It makes you appreciate life much more. It’s one of the great joys of climbing a mountain; getting to the top, looking on the world below and thinking about life. You form a connection – nature with all its power in front of you. It’s hard to describe if you haven’t experienced it,” he shares.

Despite the setback, Adrian remained determined to achieve what he had set out to do and the following year, he reached the summit of K2, fulfilling a dream. Returning home and writing the book for Adrian was as much about facing the demons of the past few years personally, as it was about documenting the life-changing and moving experiences which led him to the top of the mountain and down again. He puts his determination to succeed despite the odds down to one fundamental life principle which set him on this path.

“Something happens when you write down your goals, your dreams. They take on a different mantle. That’s what I did at 12. It’s about living your truth.”

Looking forward, he intends to focus on his successful consultancy work as a leadership coach and keynote speaker. His role as a sustainability campaigner has also seen him turn his attention to projects such as Population Matters, and he has joined the advisory board for Mars One mission, offering his skills as a modern-day explorer helping to train and prepare crews for the mental challenges facing future astronauts. However, one gets a sense that he doesn’t like to stand still for long.

“The bigger goals are on hold at the moment. I’m a full-time dad and that’s my priority,” he offers emphatically when asked what’s next on that list.

Having scaled the heights of some of the world’s highest peaks, battled harsh terrains and overcome the physical and mental challenges of a myriad of epic expeditions, one of Adrian’s greatest pleasures has been returning back to the New Forest – a place he has a special affinity with. After all, it’s the place where all his adventures began.

“Whenever I feel stressed I just go for a run and get myself back to that connection with nature. I feel so lucky to live in the Forest. I think most people take it for granted. When you’re been overseas for a lot of your life, you come back and appreciate it for what it is. I think that it’s the most fantastic place in Britain.”


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