Make no mistake, Henry Worsley, who so sadly died this week following his attempt to cross the Antarctic unsupported and unaided, was a Superhuman. He was forced to abandon just 30 miles short of his goal. He had already surpassed the distance set by his hero, Ernest Shackleton one of the greatest polar explorers, but he could not carry on, and horribly it was already too late when he called for help. He died of peritonitis. By that point he had already forced his body and spirit across 913 miles of ice and snow, through the most hostile environment in the world. He had pushed himself beyond his limit in pursuit of his dream. What is it that drives people to undertake these superhuman feats and then enables them to push on through every boundary and do things that seem impossible. There are no easy answers and certainly everyone who adventures and explores is different, but from my own experience and from spending quite a bit of time with extraordinary people, I think there are some common traits.


I signed up for the toughest footrace on earth, the Marathon Des Sables. It is six marathons across the Sahara in six days, carrying all your own provisions. You are running in temperatures of 50+ degrees, sinking into endless sand, with feet bloodied and blistered.

When I entered, a good friend said: “Do you have any idea how exhausting it is with you doing all these challenges? It is all about you, you, you and your relentless self promotion. You know you’ll have to lose a whole lot of weight and really discipline yourself to train, don’t you. I don’t think you can do it.”

Not the reaction you want of course. It hurt me but it absolutely didn’t deter me. I knew myself and my ability to take things on and why I was doing it. The friend was wrong. Ego isn’t about vanity or showing off, it is about being absolutely sure of who and what you are and trusting yourself to go through with it. It is about wanting to push yourself to the absolute limit of your capabilities and beyond them.

This is what carries people through even in the face of danger. Al Alvarez, a writer and poet who was also a climber, puts it beautifully – that dance between ego and risk. “ The pleasure of risk is in the control needed to ride it with assurance so that what appears dangerous to the outsider is, to the participant, simply a matter of intelligence, skill, intuition, coordination - in a word, experience.”

Yes, desire for renown, a wish to make your mark, tell a unique story, do play a part in the endeavour. Scott of the Antarctic wrote, “I may not have proved a great explorer, but we have done the greatest march ever made and come very near to great success.” He didn’t succeed but he remains one of our great heroes. Going for glory is a factor but not a driver. And never underestimate the lack of interest explorers face. One of my favourite examples of this was when I was trying to get Woman’s Hour interested in my “world first” – a trek from the highest point in North Africa to the sea, straight across the Atlas Mountains. There aren’t huge amounts of women doing this kind of thing so I approached with confidence. “Hmmm, said the producer, “Adventury stuff. We have already got that covered. Prince Harry is doing an Africa trip and I think we will look at that.” I was crushed. Beaten to Woman’s Hour by a male Royal stroking lions?


You can not undertake “the impossible” unless you know you can succeed, and for that you have to be an optimist. Optimism comes in useful at the three stages of the Adventure game. The initial spur to make you take something on that others deem un-doable, too difficult, an unreachable goal. The second stage, when you are preparing and all you will get are setbacks. Your funding will drop, the weather systems won’t play fair, you can’t get enough training in, and you realise that no-one really cares. The third stage is really the most crucial and this is when you are actually doing the challenge. Then, you will need all your reserves of positivity. You have to be able to recover from each day and go out to face the next one. You have to be able to solve all the problems that come your way. You also have to compartmentalise, so you don’t look too far ahead. That way lies despair.

On the first day of the Atlas to Atlantic trek sponsored by Epic Morocco, my guide Rachid Ait Elmahjoub and I had already been walking for 17 hours. We were coming down a waterfall in the pitch black, with only my iPhone torch as the others had failed. We had already climbed the highest peak in North Africa the equivalent of three and a half times Ben Nevis and a secondary one (two times Ben Nevis). Everything hurt. My neck was on fire from the weight of the pack, my hips and legs had stiffened up so much I couldn’t bend them properly and kept slipping, and my feet had swollen in my boots to the extent that I could feel blood beginning to seep from under both big toes, where they were being cracked against the top. When we finally stopped, I remember thinking, after the initial, “Thank God! No other day can be that bad. That’s the worst of it over, and I have definitely broken in my feet and my back. Tomorrow will be fine.” None of those things turned out to be true but the surety of them at the time meant I slept like a baby and could carry on the next day.


“Short is the little time which remains to thee of life. Live as on a mountain.” Marcus Aurelius, Meditation. Adventurers love the high. Nothing measures up to the feeling when after months or years of effort you get there, you do it and an insane joy floods through you, everything else fades away. You are purely yourself in the universe. And it is not just that final moment of success. When you are putting yourself out there, pitting yourself against adversity, you feel truly alive, even in the bad bits.

“It’s about the pleasure-reward syndrome," says Tanya Woolf, Consultant Psychologist, Efficacy Ltd. “The reward centre of the brain gets over-stimulated. This happens with addiction also. It doesn’t matter what it is, it makes whatever you are doing very hard to give up.”

Furthermore, it is incremental. As Joe Simpson, who famously crawled to safety after being left for dead and shattering his leg in the Peruvian Andes, immortalised in “Touching the Void” puts it: “If you succeed with one's not long before you're conjuring up another, slightly harder, a bit more ambitious, a bit more dangerous.”

Challenges and adventures are also really good fun. Yes, there is pain and adversity, but you are generally spending lots of time outdoors, in glorious scenery, using your body, away from the daily grind, often in the company of fantastic people, getting hot, cold, muddy, sweaty, dirty, hungry, thirsty, seeing things other people haven’t and playing in nature.

When Adventurers are written about, the focus is often on the physical. There is, though, a reaching for something above and beyond yourself. “It is easy to imagine that the divine live here,” wrote Felicity Aston about her trek to the South Pole (Call of the White), “that the South is the only place on earth where it is possible to come face to face with your God.” Spending a long time with none of the stimuli of the modern world in a place of great natural beauty makes you think about life, and death. Something you don’t do so much when you are juggling, work, kids and getting the car MOT'd. For me, Shackleton captures it, “We had seen God in His splendours, heard the text that Nature renders. We had reached the naked soul of man.”


This is the hardest trait to examine. It is at the same time, the most laudable and the one that leads men and women into early deaths. Obviously, no-one ever goes into an adventure, wanting to die or thinking that they will die. But every difficult challenge will demand that you give absolutely all you have. To have got to the first step of your adventure, you will already have proved you have an iron will.

Steve Diederich, veteran runner and founder of, the Trip Advisor for extreme ultra-running, reflects: “Explorers to me are warriors. They discover rather than invade, however the need to control and conquer is still fundamentally there. Indeed the early explorers (Drake, Da Gama, Columbus and Raleigh) were soldiers. Mixing with a lot of extreme ultra runners, I recognise how ruthless they are with themselves, how they have reprogrammed themselves to not accept anything but success. They write the rules to self define what success means to them. They discard any investment they have previous made in relationships, health and future to achieve their goal. What they are also extraordinarily good at is measuring their resources and balancing their utilisation. I have yet to meet an 'Explorer' who is less than impressively bright and resourceful.”

The crucial thing for me here, is that “they write the rules to self define what success means to them”. I am never going to win a race, or climb Everest. For the first, I am way too slow and for Everest, I wouldn’t trust my mountain skills to be able to get myself down if my guide was killed or injured. But, to my own surprise, I have been able to do some pretty incredible things. One of these, was racing from Cairo to Cape Town in the Tour D’Afrique, the longest bike race on earth. We faced armed bandits, wild elephant charges, malaria, typhoid, knee-high mud and burning deserts. The worst and best day was the Lava Road in Kenya. The black, broken lava road, stretched ahead of us in an area that was suffering the worst drought for twenty years. People were begging for water by the road and the temperature rose above 48 degrees. We were cycling over broken rocks, so you had to pedal every stroke, and with every stroke you slammed into the saddle. Slowly, everyone who was still on their bikes overtook me. Over half the riders gave up and were riding the truck to the next camp. How I wanted to get on that truck. There was no shade. I was the last person. The slamming onto the saddle had put my back into spasm and given me cystitis so I felt like I needed to pee all the time. It was 4pm and I didn’t know how far I still had to go. Tears, to my shame, washed down my face, wasting water and taking my pride with them. Then, in the distance, the red flag. My fellow racers turned out to cheer me in, help me down with my bike and share some tinned peaches – the ultimate treat. I had done it. One of only three women on the Tour to complete that day. Success.

Joy, pain, life. Those are the first things that come to mind when I think of an adventure. The traits and qualities of an Adventurer are ones we all share. When you are a child, you dress up as Superwoman or Batman, now that you are grown up, you are free to embark on your own adventures, become Superman. They don’t have to be big, they just have to challenge you and help you to live life to the full. Henry Worsley, took on a magnificent endeavour, we should remember him with pride and admiration.

Alice Morrison, 52, is a Scottish Adventurer, based in Morocco. After a childhood spent running around the African Bush, she was sent to boarding school in Edinburgh where she learned Latin but no decorum. She studied Arabic and Turkish at university which has led to a long love affair with the Middle East. She has undertaken a number of adventures including the Tour D’Afrique, world first Atlas to Atlantic trek sponsored by Epic Morocco and the Marathon Des Sables. For more of Alice’s adventures, check out