A Galway man is undertaking a 350 mile trek along the Arctic Circle while pulling a 20 kilo sled for eight days in temperatures plummeting to -25°C.
Described as the coldest, windiest ultra marathon on the planet, at times along the route the wind is so severe that lorries are regularly blown over and any human battling the elements could quite literally be forced to crawl.
But for Gavan Hennigan, a native of Knocknacarra, the race may seem like a walk in the park.
As a commercial diver in the North Sea, he spends much of the year underwater, sharing a room the size of a large bathroom with three other divers.
On his downtime, he likes to relax by engaging in some form of extreme sports, be it off piste snowboarding in the Antarctic and Alaska, trekking and trail running on Mount Blanc and surfing where the waves are higher than skyscrapers. He is part owner of the Irish Surf clothing company Emerald Surfwear.
“Whatever hardships I go through in the baron wilds of the Arctic, it isn’t anything compared to the suffering of cancer patients and their families,” remarks Gavan on his fundraising page. So far he has secured donations of €2,873, which he will hand over to Cancer Care West.
To prepare for the 350 mile or 563km trek from Eagle Plains, Yukon, in the wilds of Canada, to the banks of the Arctic Ocean at Tuktoyaktuk on March 20, he decided to put in a spot of training along the west coast.
He trekked from Galway along the Wild Atlantic Way to Westport and then onto Achill via the Great Western Greenway. His walk in January spanned 230km, taking him 67 hours to complete, which he did in sub-zero temperatures and snow. By night he camped out in an old church ruin and atop Croagh Patrick.
For the race called the 6633 Ultra, the rules state he must be self sufficient, carrying all food, cooking equipment, shelter and survival gear in a 20kg sled.
“A true Arctic experience – this race really does enter the Arctic Circle and can quite genuinely claim to be the toughest, coldest and windiest extreme ultra marathon on the planet,” according to the organisers.
“This race is only for big boys and girls – unless you’re mad!!!!”
Checkpoints will be spaced along the route at between 23 and 70 miles apart, where racers will be able to rest and prepare their own food. Hot water and shelter are the only things guaranteed at the checkpoints.
Race organisers promise “the most awesome views of the most stunning, remote and inhospitable landscape our planet has to offer”.
But they leave participants in no doubt that the challenge is not for the faint hearted. There have been just 11 finishers of the 350 mile race in 7 years.
“It will without doubt test your mental strength to levels you never knew you had. “
Entry costs £2,850.
Gavan was uncontactable this week as he embarked on yet another training session – this time a jaunt across across the French slopes.
Donations can be made to his fundraising page