Many of us dream of viewing the Northern Lights under polar skies and for two graduates from the University of Cumbria this and much more has become a reality.
Rhiannon Pritchard and Arran Laird met while studying outdoor leadership at the Ambleside campus of the university, graduating in 2016. That year the university agreed to support their next ambitious project; to take up an advanced polar training course based in Svalbard, the Norwegian islands between the country’s mainland and the North Pole.
“While at university we heard about the Arctic Nature Guide, a one-year training programme, and were encouraged to apply,” Arran says. “On completing our BA with Cumbria we were accepted onto the course in Svalbard. This was possible due to our background as expedition leaders as well as education in outdoor leadership, and the relevant Arctic experience that Cumbria enabled us to gain.”
Competition for places is fierce. Only thirty students are accepted onto the course with the majority coming from Norway. For two to be accepted from the UK is unusual and the fact that both are former University of Cumbria students is remarkable.
Since joining the course in August last year the pair have taken part in a wide range of demanding activities. A nine-day glacier course at Nordenskiöldbreen involved camping next to a glacier to practise safe travel techniques as well as group management, crevasse rescue and studying glacier formation. The pair have also worked with helicopter rescue teams, learned of the need for polar bear protection and how to manage a camp in some of the world’s most demanding environments.
“We also undertook a week-long field leadership course to deal with stressful situations and working under extreme pressure, and a week-long first aid course involving large outdoor scenarios to test our skills in the harsh environment,” Arran recounts. “Soon we will begin our practice placement working for a local guide company to gain valuable field experience. We worked hard at university to gain good grades and external national governing body awards such as our mountain leader, single pitch award, PADI, cave leader, etc, whilst we studied. We are incredibly grateful for the support of the University of Cumbria, as without them we would not have made it here.”
Both say they intend to make full use of the experience to go on to a future career working in the outdoors.