Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

John Peck: adventurer, expedition leader and organiser

John Peck: adventurer, expedition leader and organiser
16 May
2016
John Peck is an adventurer, expedition leader and organiser. He runs Executive Stretch, for business leaders looking to make adventure part of their lives, and Bravehearts, wilderness survival programmes on remote Scottish islands for inner-city youth leaders working with violent gangs

Most of my adventures have been very eclectic. I get a fascination for something I hear about, like someone rowing across the Atlantic, and think ‘God, it would be interesting to do that!’

I’m not a particular expert in any aspect of adventure, but I tend to go for things I’ve never done before. When I was a young army officer I climbed Popocatépetl, a volcano in Mexico, never having climbed anything like that before. I then went on to climb in the Alps and ultimately ended up taking an expedition to the Garhwal Himalayas.

A lot of this stuff has taken place during the latter part of my life. I’m 70 now and quite a bit happened around the age of 60 such as rowing across the Atlantic or running the Marathon des Sables. I think in a sense it’s from a kind of panic: ‘Oh my god I’m getting old, I’d better do this stuff while I still can.’

Most of the stories in Restless are not very glorious. Hopefully people will find them amusing because most of it is about the cock-ups I’ve made. Early on, one of my supervisors in the army said in my annual report: ‘This man works well in crises, but the trouble is he creates most of them himself.’

When I was a policeman, I took a yacht across the Channel with a few other officers. On the way back we got hit by a Force 10 gale. The waves were thirty feet high, the lights had all been smashed, guys were getting their heads bashed on the mainsail, blood was everywhere, the skipper had lost his marbles and was going into severe shock. I just thought it was really quite exhilarating. Eventually the lifeboat came alongside, shouting at us to abandon the boat. The skipper told me to take the helm, told me to keep it in a straight line and then, when the lifeboat came roaring up alongside on the same wave and bashed into the side of us, he jumped over to it and left me to it.

When I was preparing to row the Atlantic, a friend asked me if I was going on my own and I said no, I’d feel better with someone else. He said that the most dangerous thing in the Atlantic is not the waves or the sharks or things like that. It’s the bloke who’s with you. At some stage you’ll want to kill him and he’ll want to kill you and the only thing that will stop you is thought of being found out!

Early on, one of my supervisors in the army said in my annual report: ‘This man works well in crises, but the trouble is he creates most of them himself’

I tend to hear about something then wonder if it’s possible to go there and because I’m a fairly extroverted personality I tend to involve other people. I run a company that works with quite senior business people who want to get away for a quick adventure but haven’t got time to plan it themselves. So we get a little posse of people together who want to do something then work out how we’re going to do it. I coach them to make sure they’re organised, fit enough and that their mental coping strategies are going to be strong enough to see them through the bad times.

We spent quite a bit of time on the Brandberg mountain (Namibia’s highest peak) which is very desolate. If you’re lucky you’ll find some water holes but you can’t be sure that any will be there. So you tend to have to carry huge loads – we were carrying 20 litres of water on some of these expeditions, 30-35kg up a mountain where a lot of it is a scramble. The medic with me there was a very strong guy but he got an infection, became dehydrated and had to give himself a drip which was quite something. Then later on somebody else went down so we gave him a drip. So recently I’ve been trained to put a catheter into someone’s arm and get some fluid into them. At the end of the day I’m accountable for bringing the people with me back alive.

For the past few years, we’ve been involved in taking gang leaders and youth workers away to remote Scottish islands. Part of me is thinking ‘how do we deal with this, what happens if these guys start to panic?’ They’re on an island, there’s no escape, they can’t go anywhere. What happens if we don’t get it right? But it gives you a lot of courage to do things, to take a lot of chances.

The gang leaders usually struggle on the morning of day two. They wake up and find they didn’t put their tarpaulins up properly or hadn’t cooked their meal and they’re hungry and they can get very fed up with it all. But that’s a pivotal moment for them. We ask how are we going to make this happen? Let’s go back and think through what happened and get the tarpaulins up again so they don’t blow away and how are we going to find food. And they grow and develop and come out the other end and you really see the best in them.

 

CV

1945 Born in London

1965 Joined the army, posted to British Honduras (now Belize)

1966 Climbed Popocatépetl volcano in Mexico

1969 Joined Metropolitan Police

1975 Was rescued from English Channel by RNLI

1984 Climbed the Matterhorn

1985 Ran police station in Stoke Newington during the riots

1986 Led a British/Indian police team up unclimbed peaks in Garhwal Himalayas

2004 Became the oldest British person to row across the Atlantic Ocean

2010 Trekked to the North Pole as part of an annual team race

2016 Published Restless

This was published in the May 2016 edition of Geographical magazine.

Related items

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

Subscribe to Geographical!

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Winchester

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • The Human Game – Tackling football’s ‘slave trade’
    Few would argue with football’s position as the world’s number one sport. But as Mark Rowe discovers, this global popularity is masking a sinister...
    Essential oil?
    Palm oil is omnipresent in global consumption. But in many circles it is considered the scourge of the natural world, for the deforestation and habita...
    National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    The green dragon awakens
    China has achieved remarkable economic success following the principle of developing first and cleaning up later. But now the country with the world's...
    Hung out to dry
    Wetlands are vital storehouses of biodiversity and important bulwarks against the effects of climate change, while also providing livelihoods for mill...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in PEOPLE...

I’m a Geographer

With fellow student Tom Micklethwait, Charles is travelling the route…

Development

As part of our monthly series of reports looking at…

Development

Few would argue with football’s position as the world’s number…

Explorers

For British cave divers, Chris Jewell and Jim Warny, who…

Cultures

Love it or hate it, there’s no denying that football…

Development

A German recycling scheme is proving to be a source…

Development

The Galápagos are often thought of as a unique natural…

Development

China’s ban on plastic imports will displace more than 110…

Cultures

If you think you can escape the ballyhoo of the…

Cultures

As the world’s top footballers battle it out in Russia,…

Cultures

The US meat industry is attempting to officially define ‘meat’…

Explorers

After Michael Pugh quit his job as a law firm partner…

Cultures

As the world prepares for the next FIFA tournament in…

Development

Road collisions remain a leading cause of deaths and injuries…

I’m a Geographer

Lynne Corner is director of VOICE – Valuing Our Intellectual Capital and…

Explorers

The biological wonders of Mozambique’s mountains have only recently been…

I’m a Geographer

Lloyd Figgins is founder of LFL Global Risk Mitigation consultancy,…

Development

From plastic-eating enzymes and oil-sucking polymers to ‘deep learning’ robots…

Explorers

Children on the summit of Aconcagua are a rare sight.…

Explorers

A pioneering expedition in 2019 will search for the lost…