24 year-old Ash Dykes has already found himself in the record books thanks to a solo and unsupported traverse of Mongolia in 2014 – a feat that saw him chosen by the public as the UK's Adventurer of the Year. Now he's preparing for his next challenge starting this September: a 2900-km inland walk across the length of Madagascar.
Walking the knife edge of Madagascar
"It’s going to be fierce. I recently went there for a ten-day trip – training, planning and meeting up with the logistics manager – and the terrain was a lot tougher than I expected. There’s an abundance of jungle that I’m going to be hacking my way through just to reach the mountains. When I reach them, it’s not necessarily going to be a walk but a scramble."
Doing it the hard way
"People have walked the length of Madagascar before but have taken on the coastal route where there’s more of a population and fresh water, tracks and roads. Whereas right through the middle – along the knife edge ridge – that’s where it’s far less populated. I’ll be going through parts where I sometimes won't see locals for days."
"It’ll be the temperatures: -20°C at night on the summits to plus 40° in the day. Also the crocodiles will be waking up from seven months of hibernation just a month into my trek. I’ve been warned that they will be hungry and aggressive… and I’ve got hundreds of river crossings to do. I’ll use the locals’ way: you find two big sticks and beat the water to make out you’re a larger predator. The rivers will be big though so I’ll have to adapt there and then."
"I’ve been doing these kinds of things for five years now but Mongolia was my first big expedition. That was purely for a challenge and an adventure, I only realised a few months into the planning for it that walking the entire length solo and unsupported would be a world first.
"My first few years of travelling were with my friend. I told him about traversing Mongolia but when he found out a navy soldier had attempted it and was evacuated it threw him off the idea. He said “you’re on your own with this one.”
Madagascar on the mind
"There’s only around 3 million people in Mongolia and the majority live in the cities, and I remember thinking it would be nice to trek across a country where there are more people so I can learn their ways and their culture, their survival skills and techniques. I obviously had a lot of thinking time on that trek (Mongolia) and the idea for Madagascar sprang to my mind during it."
His home for five months
"My logistics manager said that he uses a hammock for one or two week trips, but for five and a half months I’ll be too uncomfortable in one. Also I’ll be going through mountains and desert where there are no trees. I’ll actually be using Mark Beaumont’s tent which he used on his cycle the length of Africa. It’s a Nordisk – he posted it to me the other day. Hopefully it’s a good one… I’ve not tried it before!"
British Adventurer of the Year
"It was a huge privilege to win the public vote. To cross Mongolia was a really tough endeavour and the fact it didn’t go unnoticed was nice."
If he was to tough it in the UK
"I'd plan a route from north to south of the country, trying to get in every terrain possible including major summits and woodland. Basically I’d plan the hardest off-road route I could."