Exclusive interview with Nick Hancock of the Rockall endurance expedition
We recently caught up with adventurer Nick Hancock, the man who spent 45 days on the tiny island of Rockall – a remote outpost 286 miles off Scotland’s West coast which stands just 17 metres high and is the size of two tennis courts.
We found out how Nick devised the challenge which led him to beat the 40-day solo record, the 42-day group record and raise £10,000 for Help the Heroes.
When did your interest in the outdoors begin?
Probably as a child, simple things like walking the dog progressed to days out on my own in my early teens. I was really lucky that my grandparents had a stream at the bottom of their garden which led out into the wilds, so I used to just follow that and see where the adventure would take me. I also spent some time in the OTC (officer training corps) which helped me push my limits and see what I could achieve, but I spent most of the time on patrols wishing I could go and climb the hills I could see around me and find out what was on the other side.
Where did you get the idea to start the expedition?
The idea for the expedition came from planning another challenge (which I am yet to complete) which was to sea kayak from mainland Scotland to St Kilda, via Skye and the Outer Hebrides. I’d been made redundant at the start of 2008, and whilst looking for a permanent job, was working part time in an outdoor shop, which wasn’t very stimulating and my mind started to wander. I read about a group of Spanish sailors who’d been shipwrecked on Rockall and then about the then solo and group records, and decided to attempt to break those records.
What kind of equipment did you take with you?
I needed a lot of specialist kit for the landing and for communication, but otherwise it was mostly standard camping kit with the obvious exception of my shelter, ‘The RockPod’. I used a portable petrol winch to haul the pod up onto Rockall, and had a satellite BGAN (Broadband global area network) unit which I used to do live video interviews from the rock. The RockPod I designed and built myself by converting a highway water bowser, fitting yacht hatches and insulating it with spray-on expanding foam.
Did you undertake any specific fitness training for the challenge?
The only physical challenge of the expedition was the landing, after that point it was all mental, apart from having to stay strong for lowering the RockPod and for my descent at the end of my stay. Training wise, I worked a lot with my own body weight: chin-ups, press-ups and the like, so that I knew I’d be able to climb the rock quickly and efficiently, avoiding the swell hitting the rock, after a long and tiring journey out there overnight.
What was your routine like on the rock?
Once my ‘camp’ was set up on Hall’s Ledge, which took a few days, I slipped very quickly into a daily routine of sleeping as much as possible, in order to cut into my waking hours. I regimented my meal times and strung them out as long as possible, again to use up time. What I did in between meals and sleeping was very much governed by the weather: if is was wet I’d stay in the RockPod as the rock was covered in guano and very slippy; if dry then I tried to be out and about as much as I could as the pod was very cramped, collecting samples for various museums and universities, measuring and recording features and exercising.
What was the best part of the experience?
The best part of the experience was the experience itself: being out there alone, working to your own timescale and routine, solitude and control of your own life that few of us will ever get to experience these days was a huge privilege in itself. This was made even more special by the wildlife I got to watch from a unique vantage point on top of Rockall: minke whales, seals and a huge variety of bird life, including a couple of racing pigeons.
Your experience was cut short, what happened?
On day 28 of my occupation I was hit overnight by a Force 9 storm, with waves that washed over my pod, moved it across the ledge and washed away four barrels of equipment and food. This meant that I couldn’t survive for my planned 60 days and so had to come off the rock when the weather and charter boat availability allowed.
Tell us your favourite outdoor activity and why?
I love those peaceful evenings after a hard day’s hiking, wild camping, looking across a wide valley or loch, with fire burning, whisky in hand and good friends for company. That’s when I feel most content. It doesn’t get much better than that.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Too many things to fit here, and I’m still learning. I find it’s best to take it all on board, and try to filter out the useful parts. If I had to choose it would probably Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance (the 5 Ps). Basically plan, practice, adapt, repeat.
Who is your biggest inspiration?
Two people: Sir Ernest Shackleton and Reinhold Messner. Shackleton not only for pioneering the route South to the Pole, subsequently followed by the more famous Capt. Scott, but specifically for the Endurance expedition: saving all his men in the face of insurmountable obstacles. Messner, who I’m privileged to have met, for his legendary mountaineering career. I also aspire to live up to the example that my Grandfather set for me.
Nick is currently writing a book that will be published soon documenting his experience on Rockall.