He’s braved the Alaskan wilderness and trekked to the farthest reaches of the North Pole, but now Edinburgh’s answer to Ranulph Fiennes is gearing up for his biggest challenge yet – a two-way crossing of the treacherous Bering Strait.
Adventurer Mike Laird will set off on the dangerous expedition in March 2016, lugging a sledge full of equipment across the 82 kilometre gap that separates the two continents of Asia and North America.
Only eight people have done this crossing – and no-one has done it two waysMike Laird
If the expedition is successful, it will secure a world-first for the Corstorphine-based explorer – only eight people have ever made the crossing on foot or by ski, and no-one has ever done it both ways.
And in preparation for the main event, the 45-year-old is this week set to attempt a partial crossing of the Strait with partner-in-adventure James Bingham.
The pair will be dropped by helicopter on to Little Diomede – an island located roughly halfway between the two continents – and will then make their way back to the western coast of Alaska, battling through some of the harshest conditions Earth has to offer.
In the frozen wilderness of the Strait, temperatures can plummet below -40C and wind speeds exceed 100mph – with shifting sea ice presenting a treacherous route even in ideal conditions.
“It’s the most significant undertaking I have ever done, and I have 20 years of this stuff behind me,” Mike said. “It’s taken four years of planning, with an awful lot of considerations, time and money. Only eight people have done this crossing – and no-one has done it two ways.
“The temperatures will be lower than the North Pole and the wind speeds higher. Your equipment has to be better, and your equipment has to be stronger. You need to be able to put up a tent blind, in 100mph winds. You need knowledge, good kit, and to a slight degree you need luck. The physicality of this is not to be underestimated.”
But despite the dangers posed by the inhospitable environment, the adventurer insists the biggest threat the pair face comes from the polar bears that hunt on the icy landscape.
As a precaution, the men will be armed with pump-action slug guns big enough to drop any animal weighing up to 800kg. “If we have to defend ourselves against a polar bear attack, the two hours it would take for the emergency service to arrive could be a very long time,” he said: “A lot of people are expecting us to fail in this, and whether we do or we don’t, we will know in three weeks’ time. I think we have an excellent chance.”