Alex Hibbert is a remarkable character. A world-record holding polar explorer, inspirational speaker, wildlife photographer, ultra-marathon competitor, and, to top it all off, an Oxford graduate. All of this, and he’s only 26, with so many more years ahead of him of pushing expectations, records, and limits.
Alex is the expedition leader of the Dark Ice Project, an unsupported polar winter expedition to the North Pole via a new route never tried, as well as that of the longest unsupported arctic journey ever undertaken.
He has also written two amazing books, with a third one in the pipeline, and, very kindly, has agreed to answer some questions!
For more about Alex, and all of his projects, go to: www.alexhibbert.com
You must spend so much of your time engrossed with your expeditions – planning, fundraising, and actually out there – but how do you balance this with maintaining close relationships with friends and family?
I think there is always a balance to be struck, regardless of how all-engrossing your job or lifestyle is. The UK and London-based side of my work involves a lot of flexibility regarding time management and so in fact it could be seen as an advantage compared to a ‘normal’ job. When away, it Is tough, but there are ways of communicating and my own mind is usually concentrating on other things. There is little time to dwell.
You’ve taken some beautiful photographs in some amazing places, how do you decide which scenes to capture? Do you look for particular things or just go for whatever is around you?
I just try and communicate what I see via the medium of a still photograph, whether reacting to an event or thinking an image through for hours beforehand. This is always a struggle due to the nature and limitations of a photograph. Often, the decision of when to shoot can be controlled by the conditions, which is something I’m always trying to improve.
Did you, at first, find the transition between being out there, unsupported, in the wilderness of the Arctic and back in hectic London difficult? Does it get easier with time?
The contrasts actually excite and energise me, whether in either place. I could choose to live in an isolated cottage on a Scottish island, but the benefits of London make it so worth it, apart from the fact that’s where my business has to be based. The transition itself is a bit odd and something I never fully prepare myself for.
When out in the polar regions, spending so much time within your own mind, how do you keep yourself firmly planted in reality (which is so necessary with the various challenges faced!)?
Your reality simply shifts, as does your measure of what comfort is. I try and see the daily routine and the alien landscape as my new home and it therefore becomes normal after a while. This gives me headroom for when bad things happen and means I don’t feel out of place.
You recently presented a documentary about the Inuit living on Greenland. How do you think the commercialisation of polar travel* has affected the relationship between old-school explorers and scientists and the local communities?
This could fill an entire book (in fact, it will be a major theme in my upcoming book, Maybe) and there is no black and white answer. Polar people (the Inuit, Siberian locals etc.) are essentially pragmatists. They make the best of what is available and many have found ways of improving their lives by embracing tourists in that handful of places where tourists can get. Scientists have real value for obvious reasons although they can tend to go over the heads of locals and can be sniffy towards ‘explorers’. Professional expeditions tend to just do their thing and keep a distance from the commercialisation of parts of the Arctic, like adventure races and champagne flights to the North Pole.
Funding for expeditions has long been the bane of every explorer’s life, from Darwin to Shackleton to Fiennes and Alex himself. Perhaps as much now as ever before, competition for economic resources is fierce, with every little edge mattering. How much did studying at Oxford University help in terms of confidence when presenting himself to potential funders and donors I wondered?
There is no doubt that Oxford was an experience that allowed me to grow. My ambition was never to be an academic, but rather develop an attitude and perspective that allowed me to make things happen and have the confidence to do so. I will always champion Oxford as a meritocracy. Whether people I present to care about where I went to university is up to them. Some will, some won’t. Some will make it work against me but that’s not something that bothers me. Oxford is not an end in itself and I would only wish to secure funding based on the person I stand before them as.
See more of Alex’s photography at: alexhibbertphoto.squarespace.com/
Please note that the photographs shown are copyrighted, and not for public use or reproduction.
*I don’t necessarily mean expeditions such as those undertaken by you and other hard core explorers, but just travelling further north (and south) in general, which has become so much more logistically and financially viable.