My First Steps Towards Becoming An Expedition Leader


Yours truly on the Shackleton Hike In South Georgia 

Back in December, I took the first step towards reaching one of my goals of becoming an expedition leader. One of my plans in the next year is to offer my readers the opportunity to join me on expeditions. After spending the last year travelling to some of the most remote places on earth it was time to go to the classroom and learn some new skills. 

I signed up to the weekend Expedition Leadership class run by Explorers Connect in Bristol. Whilst there is no formal route to becoming an expedition leader, this course offers the perfect starting point.

Whilst I have been fortunate to have been on several expeditions into polar regions, I’ve had no formal training, and it was time to learn about some of the processes that need to be in place to safely take people out into the wild.

A group of twenty eager participants gathered in the Benjamin Perry scout hut on the quayside in Bristol on a cold December morning, in anticipation of a weekend of learning.

The course is taught by Belinda Kirk, an expedition leader with over 23 years experience and a CV that reads like most peoples’ dream expedition list. From supporting TV and film crews, including David Attenborough and Bear Grylls, all over the world, to skippering a boat and becoming the first woman to row around Britain (gleefully beating the mens team that dropped out during the race). The Guardian described Belinda as “one of the most inspiring contemporary female adventurers”, her wealth of knowledge and passion doesn’t disappoint.

What is instantly clear is Belinda’s fantastic enthusiasm for adventure. For me this is what separates a good instructor form a great one. It’s not just experience that counts but also a passion for helping others to achieve their goals. We’ve all done training courses that made us fall asleep an hour in, and it is clear from the outset this isn’t going to be one of them.

The first day focuses on expedition planning, leadership and risk assessing different expedition scenarios. Teamwork is a crucial factor in making an expedition run smoothly, and throughout we participate in focused group work activities.

team work

Understanding the importance of working as a team

One of the great benefits of this course is having Belinda’s wealth of knowledge and experience to draw upon. Whilst a lot of planning comes down to common sense, it is great to listen to different real-world scenarios and see how professionals would handle different situations.

survival skills

Practising what to do in an emergency situation 

The second day focused on career pathways in the expedition industry, and covers other areas such as connecting to the sponsors and the media.

The course is also a great networking opportunity. I met some really interesting people on the course including Team Fram who are about to embark on a crossing Norway’s Hardangervidda on skis.

For someone with no experience, the course offered me the guidance I need to run my first expeditions. It was also the perfect place to connect with others and ask lots of questions about the industry. I came away feeling really energised and motivated.

If you are interested in signing up to the Explorers Connect Expedition Leadership Course you can find out more on their website here.

If you are interested in keeping in touch about my upcoming tours please sign-up to my mailing list here and also get a free copy of my travel guide in the process).

Belinda founded Explorers Connect in 2009 as a non-profit dedicated to helping people appreciate the great outdoors. They run a variety of training courses to ignite every adventurous spirit including expedition leadership, bushcraft, hillwalking, canoeing, writing and expedition medicine. You can find out more here 

Explorers Connect also run their own adventures, including trips to Everest Base Camp and going husky sledging, along with some more local expeditions such as pack rafting in Snowdonia. A full listing can be found here

andy marsh

Hi, I’m Andy, co-founder of Secret Atlas, currently on a personal journey to travel to the most remote places on earth.

If you are interested in visiting Svalbard or Greenland on a small ship expedition please check out our tours here.