WHETHER tundra, desert, ocean or peak, the world's most extreme places hold little fear for the bold Scots featured in The Herald Magazine this weekend.


Newall Hunter became the first Scot – and only the 15th person in the world – to complete what is dubbed the “Adventurers Grand Slam” by climbing the highest peaks on all seven continents and reaching both the North and South Poles.

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Hunter, 53, who comes from Leadhills, South Lanarkshire, and is based in Gloucestershire, is currently looking at logistics for an unsupported attempt to cross the Gobi desert in winter and an overland race against a yacht around the world.

I NEVER set out to complete the Adventurers Grand Slam. I simply wanted to climb mountains. By my early twenties I had bagged almost all the Munros. Having climbed most of them in the summer, I then went on to do them in winter.

From there I progressed to climbing the Alps during the summer and started picking off some of the classics such as Mont Blanc, the Monte Rosa and the Matterhorn.

I was 40 when I did the first of the seven summits – Aconcagua, South America – in 2003, but even then had no notion of the Grand Slam. I followed that with Kilimanjaro, Africa, which is a reasonably easy mountain, but you do it far too fast because it is very commercial.

My third was Denali, North America, which is probably the coldest mountain in the world. I failed it the first time. There was a storm and I got stuck at 17,000ft for six days. It was -47C inside in my tent. That was a horrible experience and I came off Denali saying I probably wouldn’t do another one.

Twelve months later I was on the summit of Mount Everest. Next up was the North Pole, which I did as an assistant guide helping lead a group of City bankers.

The following year I became the first Scot to ski solo on the 570-mile Messner Route across Antarctica to the South Pole. It took 41 days and I loved every second of it.

The closest call I’ve had was when a crevasse opened up right under my feet. I was skiing and the ground suddenly felt a bit strange and soft. I stopped and looked down. My ski tips were on one side of the crevasse and the tails on the other side.

I was standing over this black hole looking between my feet into nothingness. You couldn’t see the bottom. If I had hit it at any other angle I would have gone straight down and I don’t think I would have got back out. There would have been no chance of being rescued.

I arrived at the South Pole and had two days rest before being picked up by a plane and flown to the edge of the Antarctic continent to climb Mount Vinson.

After that I knew I had to complete the Grand Slam. I did the Carstensz Pyramid in Papua New Guinea, the highest mountain in Australasia, followed by Mount Elbrus in Russia.

All that left was for me was to go back to Denali. I went in June last year and even then it wasn’t easy. I kept getting stuck at various camps waiting for the weather to clear and was on my last day of food when I made it to the summit.

That was it. I had the Grand Slam. I’m proud to be the first Scot to do it.

Visit newallhunter.com


Dunblane-based Elaine Hopley completed the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge earlier this year, rowing single-handedly across the world’s second largest ocean in 59 days, 19 hours and 14 minutes.

Her almost 3,000-mile journey from Spain to Antigua – battling 60ft waves, fierce winds and even “blood rain” – set a new world open class record as the fastest woman to row the Atlantic solo.

Hopley, 45, previously pedalled from Land’s End to John O’ Groats in just seven days, has undertaken solo cycling tours of Australia, New Zealand and Chile, and competed in 24-hour mountain bike races.

THE first half of the race started out really fast with big swells and strong winds, then that died off to nothing. I got caught in “blood rain” – a massive cloud of sand from the Sahara – which slowed everything down for four days.

During that time the sun was weak and the winds light and not prevailing. Those are tough days, especially as a solo rower. When you have no wind you have to work twice as hard to keep the boat moving in the right direction. My longest days on the oars lasted 18 hours.

When I reached the middle of the Atlantic there was no wind at all. It was unbelievable, flat calm like a mill pond. Those conditions are difficult because it is like rowing through treacle and feels like you are barely moving. That was physically and mentally demanding.

It was just over halfway when I started to get really big conditions with swells up to 60ft and 28mph winds. With that combination, the power is just phenomenal.

You would see a band of weather approaching with black clouds and heavy tropical rain. I was hit by some big squalls. In the dead of night and pitch darkness it could be quite scary because all you hear is the roar coming towards you. The adrenalin, excitement and rush is incredible.

I was always busy on the boat: rowing, eating or cleaning. I would jump in the water to clean the hull or simply to keep cool. The temperatures reached 40C and that was intense. Whenever I felt my body overheating I would jump in to cool off.

I can handle myself well in isolated situations and never had any problems being on my own. Especially with the whales, dolphins and all the birdlife around. That was one of the most magical parts.

The dolphins came so close you could have reached out and touched them. One day there was two whales – a mother and its calf – and the younger one passed right under the boat. I had birdlife almost every single day. The only time the birds didn’t come was during crazy weather.

Would I do it again? Absolutely. I wouldn’t hesitate. It is in my head all the time. Even before I had finished I was thinking about the next adventure, but I’m keeping that under wraps for now. I feel on top of the world because I have achieved what I have always wanted.

Visit eh-oceanrow.com


Roddy Riddle tackled the 6633 Arctic Ultra in March, successfully navigating the 350-mile trek through the snow and ice of Canada’s Yukon territory in just six days and 21 hours to finish in second place and become the first Scottish man to complete the event.

Riddle, 49, who is from Inverness and has type 1 diabetes, represented Scotland in cycling at the 1994 Commonwealth Games and is a former holder of the Hour record, breaking the time set by Graeme Obree. He completed the Marathon des Sables in the Sahara in 2013.

I HAD entered the 6633 Arctic Ultra last year but was unable to finish. I went back this year determined that this time I would make it to the end. The race goes from Eagle Plains to Tuktoyaktuk in Yukon, Canada. The checkpoints can be anything from 23 miles to 70 miles apart.

The first checkpoint is at the Arctic Circle and the coordinates on the map are 6633, which is where the event gets its name from. The final 120 miles to the finish line is along the frozen Mackenzie River, which is the famous ice road.

You don’t run because you can’t afford to sweat and end up freezing to death. It is a case of marching at quite a fast tempo while pulling a pulk – a four-wheeled sled – carrying 30kg of equipment. Marching under the Northern Lights was spectacular: the sky was purple and blue.

I learned valuable lessons from what went wrong last year. In 2016, I had wacky hallucinations due to sleep deprivation and was convinced the medic who came to check on me was the head of SAS recruitment putting me through my final training.

I didn’t have a phone but I “phoned” the MoD twice to say there were landmines and it wasn’t a safe environment. I was also convinced two of my friends from Inverness had invented treadmills they put at bus stops so folk could exercise while they waited.

In my mind they had exported all these treadmills to Canada and put them on this stretch of road. So I was getting nowhere, shouting and swearing at them to switch them off. Crazy hallucinations.

This year with three miles to the finish, I started to have minor hallucinations. The snow banks at the side of the road began to look like people with their hands out begging. I used my flasks to make an energy drink. Afterwards the snow banks went back to looking like snow banks again.

Due to my diabetes I needed to regularly monitor my blood glucose, but the equipment failed due to the freezing temperatures and I had to put the test strips down the front of my trousers to warm them up enough so the machine would function.

All my back-up insulin was frozen solid and I resorted to defrosting it in warm water. I have since found out that when insulin is frozen you are not supposed to reuse it. But I had no side-effects, my blood glucose levels were fine and I didn’t have a single hypo.

The 6633 was always going to be my last race. You are only as good as your last race and not finishing it in 2016 wasn’t good enough for me, which is why I had to go back. I’ve a boring life ahead as that’s me retired from racing. There won’t be another race number pinned on.

Visit roddyriddle.com


Dynamic duo Hazel and Luke Robertson rarely sit still. The couple, originally from Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, and now based in Edinburgh, have racked up an impressive list of adventures.

In 2016, with an artificial pacemaker and less than two years after undergoing brain surgery, Luke became the youngest Brit and first Scot to ski 730 miles solo and unsupported to the South Pole. The 32-year-old has also completed successful expeditions to Norway and Greenland.

Hazel, 31, has led a canoeing expedition in Canada, climbed Kilimanjaro unsupported via the treacherous Western Breach and ran a 140-mile Ice Ultra in Arctic Sweden.

The couple, who have been friends since their teens and married last year, will embark upon a world-first expedition across Alaska in May set to last 80 days.

They completed the 156-mile, seven-day Marathon des Sables last weekend and tomorrow will be running their first London Marathon.

LUKE: The temperature in Alaska should be pretty similar to Scotland in the summer, hopefully a little bit warmer (says Luke). As we head north at least half the journey will be in 24-hour daylight. It should be an epic expedition with lots of interesting characters, scenery and landscapes.

We will kayak 400 miles, cycle 650 miles, run 550 miles and then kayak 300 miles. We travel through some amazing environments including temperate rainforest, mountain passes and Arctic tundra.

There is not only that variation in scenery but wildlife too and we expect to see whales, bears – and midges. Midges are the animals we need to worry about most.

In 2008, I was fitted with an artificial pacemaker due to a condition called complete heart block. That came as a big surprise as a pretty fit 22-year-old man, but it gave me the impetus to pursue the things I was passionate about and hopefully inspire others to chase their goals too.

Three years ago I was about to embark on training trips to Norway and Greenland before heading to Antarctica to take on the South Pole challenge when I started getting migraines. A CT scan diagnosed a brain tumour.

I spent 10 days in the neurological ward at the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh alongside brain cancer patients. It was by far the most humbling period of my life and one that I won’t forget.

It turned out to be a rare cyst and not a brain tumour. There had been a fear I would spend a year in hospital and potentially lose my eyesight, but I was able to go home only a few weeks after surgery.

I felt fortunate to be leaving hospital although guilty at leaving behind the friends I had made. That strengthened my resolve to raise money for Marie Curie, which I have been doing ever since.

HAZEL: We are more adept with colder climates such as the mountains and hills of Scotland, so the heat and sand of the desert during the Marathon des Sables was a new landscape for us.

At the end of each stage everyone already in camp would go to the finish line and wait for the last runner to cross the line and clap them in. That was emotional.

The fine sand particles seemed to get everywhere. You would be eating your dinner and crunching away on sand. Sometimes the wind picked up and our tent got flattened a couple of times.

It was a love-hate thing with the sand. It is tiring to trudge through when you have a heavy pack on, but as your feet got tired it was a lot better than running over stony ground.

I lived in Alaska for four years as a child because my dad had an oil industry posting there. It was what helped get me into the outdoors and we would go camping, fishing and build fires. We left when I was 13 and I’m looking forward to returning with Luke this summer.

We feel lucky to share these incredible journeys together. To be able to help one another through the tougher moments and come out the other side is always pretty special.

Follow Hazel and Luke Robertson’s Due North Alaska adventure at duenorthalaska.com