The Master of Survival, Summer 2018 issue 2
Tim is a leading expert in outdoor adventure and survival. He has led expeditions all over the world from deserts to mountains, often working in extreme environments and under immense pressure.
Tim has worked with numerous business brands and has been a consultant in training the police and military in wilderness tracking.
Having worked with Bear Grylls on various projects, Tim also co-presented on Bear Grylls ‘Survival School’ (this programme went on to win a BAFTA), and worked as a safety advisor on other TV adventure programs.
What made you become a survival expert?
Growing up in Devon, I was always keen to play outdoors and my love of nature and the wild came from there. I guess I am accustomed to the extremes of nature. My knowledge has been practiced in really hard environments and this has often tested me to the max and made me use skills that I have learned and learned quickly.
Do you have a favourite skill?
It’s is a forgotten art, but story telling around a camp fire is a great ability. It entertains and enthuses people, getting them away from TV and mobile phones and bringing them back into their imagination. It reconnects them with nature.
We are told that kids need to spend more time outside so what would be the most useful survival tip that you wished everyone was taught at school?
The best tip that I could give anyone who is at school is that at some point in life you will fail. Yes, this sounds harsh I know! But if a child is prepared that things may not always go their way, they will then be more equipped as an adult to adapt, improvise and overcome in certain situations. Children growing up need to understand that preparation is key to any endeavour and only hard work will fuel your success. Also, it is a great lesson to learn that things are not always instant. The outdoors is a great leveller for all. We are so used to turning a kettle on for hot water in less than a minute and turning the fire on for instant heat; in the wild, there is none of this. It takes time and skill, but this creates mastery over a task and many children today are growing-up with instant gratification and no patience to master tasks.
You are very versatile in who you teach. What challenges do you come across when working with such a variety of people?
What’s constant in dealing with people is their different reactions to situations. People react in different ways to different problems and in adventure scenarios we create it is the same. Often it is dealing with who you are with at that time. You can prepare as much as you like for an event or talk, but when it is happening things will inevitably change and being adaptable in this environment is key, just as it is in a survival situation.
When working with corporate businesses, it is interesting which roles people adopt. Trying to push these people to take on different roles that don’t come naturally, often means taking them outside of their comfort zone. Giving them an understanding of their vulnerability in areas is often just as powerful as an understanding of their strengths.
One of my main mantras is that ‘your team are your greatest asset’, I am very blessed to have such a great team working with us from Everest summiteers, survival experts, Extreme Adventure TV Consultants and Ex-SAS. One of our lead instructors Dave Pearce is an adventure legend. As well as summiting Everest, writing a survival guide, he has been integral in over 400 Bear Grylls shows and even kept the former US president, Barack Obama, safe. We get to do some really cool stuff with some very talented people, but when it comes to the wild, people are all equal. It doesn’t matter who you are, a sand storm will still get in your eyes!
What skills do your corporate come away with that they can use on a daily basis in their own working environment?
For corporate groups we create immersive scenarios that are based in the wild. Some of these are more cerebral than physical and open to all abilities. We understand that the business world, like the world of the wild, is ever changing, unpredictable, uncertain and often ambiguous; by setting scenarios which test individuals’ responses to pressure, team work, communication and their ability to adapt to situations, this can be very powerful stuff when teams take it back into their work place. If I was to name just one thing, it would be the ability to clearly prioritise. In a survival situation, priorities are key. If you don’t take shelter from the storm first, how can you possibly make a fire. So, in business, although not life threatening, it is also important to prioritise work load.
Business hierarchy, roles and responsibilities can sometimes enable egos to expand. This is the mucky stuff that is sticking to your companies tyres and maybe slowing it down. In the wild, egos can kill, and it is important in any expedition that people understand that you are all one team. I always remember my expedition mentor saying to me ‘you only look down on someone when you are helping them up’. There is no better place to see this in action than on an efficient expedition.
We know that in difficult situations, using your brain effectively can be a life saver but which do you think is the most challenging, mental or physical training?
Training the body is one thing, but training the mind is another. You can find training on the body in books, gyms and the internet. I find that participating in extreme ultra-marathons has enabled me to never judge a book by its cover. Often the super fit people drop out in the first few days, leaving only a random bunch left. What do they all have in common? Often that they are a bunch of super stubborn people who have grit and have normally gone through a lot in their lives. They mentally have the right stuff! This is hard to train, as it involves developing your psychological grit.
No doubt you have been in your fair share of hair-raising situations. What technique could you suggest as a coping mechanism for when things become overwhelming?
Having been in the blessed and cursed position of hanging off cliffs, escaping flooding caves and sleeping in coffin type snow shelters, these experiences allow me to put into context other less life-threatening issues. Very often in work and life I think ‘it could be worse’. This is nearly always true when I think back to days where my feet and fingers have been so cold that it feels like a hammer has gone to each one and you know it’s not over for a long time. So, putting things into context, stepping back and putting it into the bigger picture always helps. It’s not natural for us to be pulled everywhere, emails flying around all hours a day and deadlines. We have evolved to follow patterns of nature and life, which often conflict work environments.
What do you consider to be the hardest experience you have ever undertaken so far?
One of the hardest things I have ever done was running 6 marathons in 5 days carrying my own kit across the Atacama Desert. This was at an altitude of 3500 meters and a temperature of around 35 degrees in the day and minus 10 at night. It was brutal. Just brutal!
What remains a challenge for you?
Find a balance, when you are young you have nothing to lose but as you get older there are people relying on you. I lost my brother to an outdoor adventure accident when he was 27 years old and I saw the affects that it had on our family. I am always aware that although it is in my nature to need to push to extremes, I now have responsibilities and have to consider the loved ones in my life.