Name: Darren McAulay
1st ALE Season: 2008
Darren has helped guests reach Antarctic’s highest summits, traverse its icy expanses, and experience the full breadth of what it has to offer. He also loves sharing his knowledge of the rocks, glacial features and processes that shaped the continent. We caught up with Darren at his home in the French Alps, to find out what he loves most about being an ALE guide and what keeps him coming back to Antarctica.
How did you get started with ALE?
I have always been fascinated by Antarctica. I had previously applied to work with the British Antarctic Survey as a scientist (glaciologist), but my geology/physics PhD background was not quite what they were looking for. A few years later, ALE contacted me about working as a guide, after my name came up in conversation between the partner of an existing ALE guide and a mutual friend. I think I still owe Rosi (the mutual friend) dinner for this.
What do you love most about working for ALE? Can you tell us your highlight? What is most challenging?
It’s a privilege to be able to experience and live on ‘the ice’ as well as work with the team of people that make ALE tick – international collaboration and teamwork at its finest!
My highlight has to be guiding a ski trip from Mount Vinson back to Patriot Hills Camp (ALE’s main camp prior to 2010). Detailed maps of the area were not available and I chose the route based on a satellite image of the Ellsworth Mountains – 250km of pristine wilderness and exploration.
The most challenging thing is the need to be organized but extremely adaptable to the constantly changing conditions. Antarctica always has the last say and often throws in extra challenges just to keep you on your toes.
One thing you wish everyone knew about Antarctica?
That there are no polar bears! If I had a dollar for every time I have been asked whether I have seen a bear….. But, rather than knowing about Antarctica I wish everyone could actually go experience the other worldliness of ‘the ice’ and see the vast beauty of the continent.
What advice would you give people wanting to climb Vinson? And what is the secret to a successful climb once you are on the mountain?
Get used to wearing all the different layers of clothing and gloves etc. you will require. Although the cold is an obvious danger there will be times when overheating can occur. You need to be adaptable and understand how your clothing/gear works.
Be patient and take enough rest on arrival at Vinson Base Camp. With the excitement of being surrounded by the scenery of the Ellsworth Mountains and obviously wanting to achieve their goal, some guests arrive wanting to head straight up the mountain. With 24 hour daylight it can be difficult to settle/sleep and whilst the weather can appear fine at base camp it is often different higher on the mountain.
What other Antarctic activities do you enjoy guiding besides Mount Vinson?
I have been fortunate to have had the chance to guide many ski and mountain experiences around Union Glacier Camp and Three Glaciers Retreat. There are so many places still to explore in the Ellsworth Mountains, be it on ski, foot or skidoo. Also with my interest/background in geology it is fascinating to see the rocks and glacial features and try to understand the processes that shaped the continent. I try to pass on this interest to any guests who listen!
Your must-have item on ‘the ice’?
An iPod for music with a solar charger.
One random fact about yourself you could share with us?
I once started a year long teacher training course but left after just one hour. It was supposed to be for outdoor education but I found out that I had been placed as a physics teacher (in Wrexham). Having recently returned from an 18 month round-the-world climbing/travel trip I was not mentally prepared to go back to school. It turned out to be one of my better life decisions!
What do you do during the rest of the year, when you are not working for ALE?
Go climbing, skiing, paragliding and traveling as much as possible. I used to be based on the Isle of Skye, Scotland where I guided in the Cuillin Mountains and instructed rock climbing. But in 2010 I left the rain behind, preferring the French sunshine, lifestyle (and red wine) where I now live in La Grave in the French Alps and guide multi-day treks.