Specialist Expedition Equipment Development and Testing

Since the mid-1980s we have been involved in the design, development and testing of novel expedition equipment. This is best illustrated by a review of some previous projects.

Ed Stafford and 'Walking the Antarctic':

A large part of our work in 2016 was for a project that in the end didn't come off. There was a plan to be the first to complete a solo, unsupported, unassisted crossing of Antarctica. A key element of the project was to use new approaches to the technical and physiological issues.

Now that the confidentialty issues surrounding such a venture have been lifted, we can tell the story of what was still an interesting project with a useful legacy.

To see the full story Click Here

Rosie Swale-Pope and Ice Chick:

Never one to stay still, Rosie was on the move again and this time she was running across the United States on a more southerly route. She had paid her way across the Atlantic through a speaking arrangement on the Queen Mary II. She started this crossing using an aluminium based buggy called Icebird that had been made for by the Amish. This was getting creaky but was still functional.


Through Mike Denoma’s generosity and much patience with US and Canadian customs we were able to export the Yukon race buggy to West Virginia to provide Rosie with the ultimate upgrade. The new buggy was immediately named ‘Icechick’ and has been Rosie’s home from home since as carries on across America through the snows of West Virginia to the heat of an Arizona summer.


This most extended of field trials is proving to be very useful for discussions ongoing with other novel adaptations of the buggy wheeled buggy concept.


Too see the full gallery, Click Here


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Yukon Race Buggy:

January 2015 started with a phone call from Geoff Long of the extreme physiology laboratory of Portsmouth University. They had had a visit from Mike Denoma who was planning to race in the ‘Likeys 6633’ which is race in the Yukon Territory of Canada which is based in Whitehorse and runs up an ice road to the Arctic coast.

Having a great deal of experience in long duration adventure races around the world Mike knew that the key to success was to minimise sleep and keep on moving. He asked if there was such a thing as a mobile buggy that he could dive into for twenty or thirty minute naps. Geoff was aware of earlier buggies made for Rosie and suggested it was possible.


This was to be a very high spec, lightweight buggy and was very much against the clock. Concept sketches approved, we got very busy and produced carbon composite shell with high specification, cold weather adapted BMX bicycle parts forming the running gear.


The buggy made it to Whitehorse with hours to spare before Mike himself arrived and in time for scrutineering. All the competitors had to spend a night out in the proposed tent or shelter option to prove it out for safety. Mike was ensconced within moment and snug from the wind and cold. An in integration holder for the jetboil stove made cooking very easy and safe. The weather in the 2015 race closed the road ahead and the race wasn’t run as it was meant to be but the buggy met its requirements and proved to be most effective at smoothly transitioning from ice to snow and back again.


To see the full gallery, Click Here

Sir Ranulph Fiennes: The Coldest Journey

The major expedition project of the last few years was the lead technical support for ‘The Coldest Journey’.  Led by Sir Ranulph Fiennes this was to be the first winter crossing of Antarctica. The original plan was for a simple ski traverse with fuel and food supplies placed at regular intervals the preceding summer. As rescue the long dark period of the Antarctic winter would not be possible the authorities determined that the expedition would need to be self-sufficient for the winter should it stop at any point. This radically changed the nature of the expedition to one which was mechanised, needed more people, more infrastructure and more specialist equipment development and testing. The support from SJH Projects was continuous but the key activities are summarised in the following sections:

First Cold Chamber Trials – August 2011


There is a lot of very good quality outdoor and mountaineering equipment on the market. Our requirement of extended periods outside in the darkness of the Antarctic winter at sustained temperatures of -70C was at the limits of what was available. It was decided that a series of tests was required to make our own direct comparisons under controlled conditions but in a limited time span. One of the cold chambers at Millbrook Proving Grounds was made available. This chamber could sustain -53C and we were able to install a large fan that added wind chill to that part of the chamber.

The outcome of these trials was used as the basis for selecting the equipment that would go forward to the field trials in the Arctic Circle in Sweden.


For a more detailed report on this series of tests, Click Here


To see the full gallery, Click Here

Sweden Field Trials – January 2012


As well as proving the viability of the clothing for extended wear in the field there was much other equipment that required testing for which the cold chambers were not large enough. This included the Caterpillar D6N Tractor units, the specialist sledges and the communication equipment.  These trials at the GKN facility next to a frozen lake at Arjeplog on the Arctic Circle threw up many unexpected challenges.


The story of the this venture was originally written for the Coldest Journey’s own website and has been is now reproduced Here


To see the full gallery Click Here

Ground Penetrating Radar:


A specific section of the testing was filmed as piece for BBC news and website. This was for the Ground penetrating Radar that would be used for crevasse protection ahead of the vehicle train.

This can be seen on the BBC website by Clicking Here

Heated Clothing System:


The team members towing the Ground Penetrating Radar ahead of the vehicle train would be exposed to the worst of the weather for hours at a stretch. It was agreed that passive insulation from clothing would not be enough and that active heating was required. Heated gloves and boot insoles are available for motorbikes and skiing. What we need to do was to bring these together to a central power sources worn against the body that also had to power the radio, helmet mounted head torch and heated visor. 

This cabling need to run within sewn in channels in the clothing that steered the cables away from any points that would overflex them of expose them to impact. The battery would need to be stored in a sewn in pocket that held it against the body and under the insulation offered by the clothing.


A description of the clothing layers selected from the first cold chamber trials and the active heating elements is covered in more detail by clicking                                                here


To see the full gallery, Click Here

Second Cold Chamber Trials – September 2012


This series was run mainly as a battery and system endurance test for the heated clothing system. With everything on max settings we required the battery to last for four hours which covered the span of time that the user would be outside without a break and the opportunity to swap it out for a fully charged one.

Whilst this test was underway there was a rat of other newer equipment including safety wear that could be examined and the less high performance clothing for the ship’s crew for assisting in the unloading of the equipment on the ice shelf.


The tests went well if a bit chaotically and the central battery was five and half hours which was great news for the team but less so for Ian Prickett, the test subject who had to stand in -58C for all that time with others popping in and out for their shorter duration tests. During this spell at this temperature Ian was very comfortable and able to simulate he required movements for a range of tasks.


To see the full gallery, Click Here


Xtreme Everest:

The first major project undertaken by The Centre for Altitude Space and Extreme Environment Medicine (CASE) of UCL was an investigation into oxygen uptake. There were questions on the potential genetic factor in how individuals varied in their ability to absorb oxygen in the Emergency Room/ Casualty/ Intensive Care. The key to investigation this further was to get a large sample size of people hypoxic in graduated stages and see how well they adapted. Whilst in theory this could be done in altitude chambers it would be very drawn procedure with limited throughput. There was a better way. This became the Caudwell Xtreme Everest Expedition.


The plan was to undertake an attempt on Mt Everest. There would be multiple groups of volunteer trekkers all tested in London, Kathmandu and further specifically equipped exercise laboratory up to Everest Base Camp. Beyond Base Camp, having walked in and been tested under the same conditions as the trekkers, would be team of climbing doctors. They would be tested in further exercise laboratories all the way to the South Col of Everest. Further portable test equipment and sampling would be performed as close to the summit as possible.


For this to happen, required the testing of equipment that would not normally be used at anywhere near such altitudes and the development of portable laboratory structures and the procedures for slitting it down into smaller loads and their assembly on the mountainside.

SJH Projects provided support to this early development and testing phase. This included some early work at the Royal Airforce Centre for Aviation Medicine’s altitude chamber facility at RAF Henlow.


Laboratory structure development then took place in the UK before a full technical rehearsal at altitude above Chamonix in the Alps. The success of this exercise and implementing the lessons learnt allowed the team to move on to a Himalayan rehearsal phase on Cho Oyu before their successful attempt on Everest itself. This project and subsequent, smaller versions is still yielding a wealth of quality data and published medical papers across this specialist area. Its impact has been worldwide and was recorded for the BBC and shown as ‘Doctors in the Death Zone’ under its Horizon banner.


To see the full gallery, Click Here

Rosie Swale Pope: Just a Little Run Around the World

Rosie Swale Pope had already led a life of adventure when her second husband Clive Pope died of cancer. To raise awareness of cancer in his memory Rosie, on her 57th Birthday, left her front door in Tenby to run around the world. She got and far as Moscow carrying everything in a rucksack. She then started using a simple baby jogger to carry her belongings but had desires for something better. One of her sponsors was ‘Runners World’ in the UK and the editor knew of the work undertaken on polar sleds for Ran Fiennes previously. A commission to design and build and wheeled buggy that converted into a sled for use in deep snow followed. What was to be named ‘Hercules’ was delivered to Rosie in Omsk and she used it to traverse Russia, including crossing a Siberia on her own in winter. Some design decision paid off such making sure the metalwork was in steel rather than the lighter option of aluminium. The capability weld steel is worldwide, for aluminium it is much harder in such remote locations. When Hercules was hit by a bus he could be repaired and Rosie moved on with minimal delay.

Having crossed Russia and now on the coast of Alaska Rosie moved on. She came across a lightweight sled with a built in canopy that avoided the need to set a up camp. She stowed Hercules and used this sled for the Alaskan winter. The concept inspired to ask if such a principle could be applied to wheeled buggy for when she made it onto the road network. More quick followed and what would become ‘Charlie’ was despatch. Charlie’s covers were updated and modified locally he was used by Rosie for her traverse of the Canada and The United States.


Rosie wrote about her exploits in ‘Just a Little Run Around the World’


To see the full gallery Click Here

Sir Ranulph Fiennes: Polar Sleds

On the completion of the first ever circumnavigation of the world along its polar axis during the Transglobe Expedition, Sir Ranulph Fiennes was after a new challenge and further records. The one on which he settled was to be the first to reach the North Pole unsupported. This means with no mechanisation or pre-positioned food dumps or supplies. A problem back in the mid-1980s, made worse now through global warming, is cracks in the floating and moving ice-shelf revealing channels or ‘leads’ of water.


Having experienced much delay and diversion from these leads on previous Arctic trips Ran was after amphibious sleds that would allow a more direct and efficient approach to the problem. BAe through its Space Systems division was approached and took on design and manufacture for repeated attempts of over a five year period. Records were set for the furthest North from both the Canadian and Russian Arctic coasts

To see the full gallery, Click Here

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