Linde Werdelin
Linde Werdelin

Sunday Stories with renowned British explorer Leo Houlding

Email sent: Jul 5, 2020 8:59am
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Leo Houlding

 Expedition to Mount Roraima

"A dozen giant waterfalls cascade down its flanks into the ever swirling cloud and only a handful of people have ever been there. It is like a setting from a fantasy movie, a wonder of the natural world. Since I first heard of its existence as a boy I dreamed of one day free-climbing the great northern prow."- Leo Houlding, climber, adventurer, alpinist
How did you initially connect with Jorn, and how did your expedition to Everest help inform the development of the LW SpidoLite in 2009?

In 2007 I took part in an IMAX movie called The Wildest Dream about the infamous disappearance of Mallory & Irvine close to the summit of Everest in 1924.  The film is part dramatic recreation and part observational documentary.  Conrad Anker took the role of Mallory and I was Irvine. We climbed to above 8000m in precise replicas of the 1920’s kit but we also featured as ourselves in modern kit. It was a large and complex filming expedition that Linde Werdelin supported. That is how I met Jorn and came to take one of the original LW watches up Everest. It was a beautiful piece, that I still own, but was extremely heavy for such a small item. Following the expedition I suggested perhaps Morten could find a way to lighten the piece whilst maintaining the construction quality and appeal of the design.

Since then, what aspects of the SpidoLite have been most useful, during the various expeditions you have been on?

The initial SpidoLite greatly reduced the mass of the piece but was still made out of steel. Then came the titanium version of which I am a big fan and more recently the unbelievably light carbon model. I like the combination of a highly durable luxury watch that still stands up to the rigours of a hardcore expedition. I’ve taken my Linde Werdelin from the depths of the Amazon to the high Arctic, across ice caps and up the highest mountains and worn the same watch when introduced to the Queen in Buckingham palace and the Prime Minister in 10 Downing Street.
What was the main inspiration behind the Mount Roraima expedition?

I have a passion for exploring extremely remote regions in which few humans ever set foot and climbing mountains that are at the cutting edge of technical difficulty. There are places in this world that are magnificent beyond the imagination; Roraima is one such place. It is a table top mountain that rises out of the depths of Amazon rainforest like a bow of a giant ship for 2500m, the last 500m of which is an over vertical cliff only accessible by a 100km trek through dense jungle from the closest community. A dozen giant waterfalls cascade down its flanks into the ever swirling cloud and only a handful of people have ever been there. It is like a setting from a fantasy movie, a wonder of the natural world. Since I first heard of its existence as a boy I dreamed of one day free-climbing the great northern prow, overcoming the torrential downpours, deadly snakes and dinner plate sized spiders to reach the other worldly summit. Its classic Indian Jones adventure stuff at it’s most authentic and extreme.

Why do you undertake these expeditions?

I could write a dissertation on this or to quote Mallory “Because it's there.” Simply put, it is because life is short and these expeditions are powerful, unforgettable experiences. I love spending time in wild places doing wild things with wild people.

What have you learnt about the world from your expeditions? 

That it is a marvelous place full of wonder and magic and that we are capable of incredible things if we work together with determination and tenacity. I’ve also learnt that detailed planning is key to success on these expeditions and that having precisely the right equipment is vital. 

How did you expect the expedition on Mount Roraima to go, and how did that differ from the outcome? 

I’ve organised about a dozen of these serious expeditions now and honestly this one went incredibly smoothly. We foresaw all the hazards and obstacles and were prepared and equipped to deal with them. That is not to say it was without major struggle and challenge but this was expected, even desired. I was in the deep jungle for 42 days, sleeping in a hammock, washing in streams and surviving from the supplies we air dropped with a self designed and built parachute system. After an initial week of good weather it rained torrentially almost every day during which time we had to find a way of climbing an overhanging cliff almost twice the height of the Shard, that we slept on for close to 2 weeks and of moving eight people plus half a ton of equipment and supplies to the top. We encountered deadly snakes, spiders the size of dinner plates, scorpion nests and massive electrical storms. Ultimately we achieved all our goals on schedule without any major incident or accident, if a little over budget! I can’t wait to see the film!

How did the SpidoLite perform on the Mount Roraima expedition? Is there anything else we can add to the SpidoLite to improve it further? 

I wore my Carbon SpidoLite throughout the expedition and there’s not a scratch on it. Jorn increased the luminosity of the dial which helped in the dim light of the dense jungle. I hope that carries through to production.

Which of the countries you have visited has had the most awe inspiring landscape?

That's a hard one! As described I love remote wildness but trying to compare the barren, windswept beauty of the Trans-Antarctic mountains to colourful, life filled jungle of Roraima is impossible. I love the contrast you find in the natural world. Some of the landscapes in the western states are amazing and easy to enjoy on a road trip. Patagonia is spell binding. Just before the lock down I spend a fortnight exploring an incredible region in the desert of Saudi Arabia straight out of 1001 Arabian nights where we were the first to climb several Shard size sandstone towers with camels wandering around and 2000 year old Nabatean petroglyphs carved into the base. My trusty SpidoLite 3DTP Carbon accompanying me on every one!

What are you planning next (post quarantine)? 

I had to cancel a bunch of trips including a big expedition to the Karakoram mountains of Pakistan in June. Hopefully I’ll be able to reschedule for next year. I can’t wait to go back to Antarctica one day. I want to go back to Baffin Island in Artic Canada, there's much more to explore in the desert of Saudi. But in the meantime we have some incredible landscape right here on my door step in the Lake District which I’m looking forward to exploring with my young family for a while once the restrictions ease. Much as I love far flung corners of Earth, we a lucky to have so much diverse and interesting nature here in the UK.
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