Lucy Shepherd On Life As An Explorer
By James Amer
At just 25, Lucy Shepherd has tackled the Arctic, survived nights alone in the Amazon, and scaled the tallest mountain in North America. Oh, and she’s also a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.For someone to fill an explorer’s CV the way she has at such a young age, adventuring must be more than a weekend hobby; for her, it’s a passion that became a lifestyle, the origins of which date back to her days swinging from various trees as a child.
“I was always adventurous but I just thought that was something all children do.”
As she moved into her teenage years, Lucy admits she lost the ardour that had accompanied her escapades into the wilderness of childhood imagination. That’s the sad thing about childhood passions. They tend to park themselves on a sofa during teenage years, sitting there in a state of inertia, sinking into the cushion of the uncool.
“I was trying to do what everyone else was doing,” Lucy explains, “and therefore I wasn’t outside as much, and I wasn’t as happy as I’d been when I was a child.”Luckily, when she was 15, her dad came to her with a suggestion. He’d come across a two-week survival course in Scotland and encouraged her to go. Serendipitously, the sun shone for the entire time (yes, in Scotland), and Lucy was set. “I hadn’t done outside stuff for years,” she says. “I felt complete again, like I was excelling way more there than I was at school—it made me want to do more of that stuff.”
That was the spark that led her to apply for a ten-week expedition to the Arctic Svalbard. As part of a team of 10 Lucy, then 18, embarked on the journey that would become the kickstart for the next seven years of adventuring.
“I learnt the word expedition for the first time and I fell in love with that word. For me, it’s all about big expeditions"
“I really got into the Arctic life, and I remember thinking after that, ‘I’m not sure if I want to go back to reality.”
Afterwards, life was indeed arid. “I probably wasn’t very nice to be around for those few weeks
after,” Lucy quips. But instead of wallowing, an epiphany overcame her. People do this, she thought. People actually spend their lives doing this.
She still went to university that year to study Film and Television production—she now freelances,
which allows her to take long-periods off to travel the world. Every spare moment she has though, is occupied by a pining for exploration.
It resembles a constant conveyor belt of questions and plans and goals that coalesce to form every expedition. Lucy taps into the notion that having interests and passions that are different from your peers is cool. She bats away the mainstream megaphone that voices who and what we should be ;there’s no room for banality in the world Lucy occupies.
“I’ve always liked having something different, surprising,” she asserts. “I’m not an in-your- face,
stereotypical adventurer, so I’ve always been underestimated. “At first that was frustrating, and it gets you down, but now I feed off it. I just get on and do it!”
And getting on and doing it was exactly what she did when she was invited by Neil Laughton—a
former Royal Marine Commando and Special Forces Officer, who has summitted Mount Everest withBear Grylls and led numerous expeditions across seven continents—to partake in a re-enactment ofWorld War Two’s Operation Grouse with a group of ex-military guys, in the Hardangervidda Plateau,Norway.
“I wanted to meet Neil initially because I knew he knew Bear Grylls,” Lucy laughs. “We had coffee,
and he was impressed by how I showed a keenness to learn more.”From that first meet, Lucy adds that Neil became a mentor of hers. In preparation for the expedition, his guidance was invaluable. In fact, Lucy recalls the training in the lead up to departing as a case in point for the respect he holds among fellow explorers.
They undertook a pre-departure training camp in Scotland, led by an “old fashioned” military chap, moustached and burly, who wouldn’t look out of place on a pastel-coloured poster shouting ‘your expedition needs you!’
“He turned to me and said to the others, ‘you’re going to have to look after her, women get really
cold easily, do this, do that,’” Lucy recalls. “The rest of the team saw that Neil had clearly seen
something in me, and they all stood up for me.”
That grit and determination in the face of doubt makes Lucy an ideal role model for younger
generations. She revels in the fact that her passions and ambitions are different to her peers, or to
what may be expected.
“I had the idea of being an adventurer when I was six, hanging upside down on a rope,” she says. “I definitely kept hold of what was ingrained in me.” Tapping into that around the age of eight-to- 10 is vital, she explains. “It’s a really important age, when you can make a real, immediate difference".
Teenagers are harder to engage, but although you may not get an immediate reaction, it does go in. She tries to translate that when she’s speaking to younger generations, something she hopes to do more of in the future. “There is a risk of losing [those passions],” she says. “People lose it all the time, girls especially. They say, ‘I like doing that, but it’s not quite what my friends are doing,’ but no,please stick with it!!!”
At the end of university, Lucy ventured into fresh surroundings. She spent the month of July 2014
trekking the Amazon with two Amerindian Tribesmen. With no food, she spent the entire time
hunting, fishing, and foraging the undergrowth for anything she could get her hands on.
“With the Amazon”, she says, “it seems as if you’re really not meant to be there.”
Walking in the middle of the tribesmen the whole time, Lucy explains that they would constantly
stop and point at an array of beasts, snakes, and spiders invisible to the naked eye of an outsider.
She puts the jungle blindness down to “an overwhelming invasion on your senses. “I have a huge imagination,” she continues, “so when it was pitch black and the fire went out, all I
could hear were the noises around me.”
That culminated in two nights completely alone. “It’s this thing you have to do called isolation,” Lucy explains. “It was just hell.”
It wasn’t Lucy’s only brush with hell either, as she found out in May 2017 when scaling the tallest
mountain in North America, Denali. After research, she discovered there is only a 50% summit rate
because people speed up, run out of time, and are forced to push back because of the adverse
weather conditions associated with the mountain. Lucy and her team were well prepared though, each carrying 200lbs of food, kit, and fuel. And it was needed. At 14,000 ft, a storm hit, consigning them to their tents as a temperature of -40 degrees alongside 90mph winds pinned them down for almost two weeks. “We just ended up staying and staying, and luckily enough we had enough food, so we could continue up once the storm lifted,” recalls Lucy. “I was mentally prepared. We had a strong team, our tents were secured, and I was confident that the storm would pass.
“You have to be so disciplined on high altitude expeditions, forcing water and food down.”
All these experiences don’t just build character and allow Lucy to pursue her passion. They have also
exposed her to our world in its rawest form, and to the role humanity is playing in its destruction.
She admits that by travelling to all these places she has spoken to and heard from the people whose
lives are being affected in major ways by climate change.
“It makes me wish everyone would take the care and responsibility that I feel,” she says. “Once
you’re there you feel connected to it. It hits a nerve when I go and talk to people about it.”
She admits though, even after raising the conversation back home, a lot of people have no
consideration for it. “It takes some hammering down for these conversations to surface,” she says.
It raises the question: If an iceberg breaks from a glacier, and no one is around to see it, does it make a difference?
Of course it does. Translating first-hand accounts back home should be enough to raise concern.
Lucy tells the story of how last year she was in the Arctic and the temperature and the level of snow
were nowhere near what they should have been.
In the Amazon, she recalls people complaining about roads being built, and trees being taken down
to make way for power lines. In Patagonia, she was told anecdotes of how people there have had to
deal with increased flooding, something that is happening a lot.
It’s so easy to give up and look away from commitment—Lucy herself knows this all too well through her countless expeditions.
She has a catchphrase: Don’t lose your botheredness. In other words, when you get inside your own
head, and doubt tries to seep into any gap it can like floodwater ransacking a village, don’t give up!
Lucy is testament to what is achievable if you set your mind on something and pursue it relentlessly.
She funds all her expeditions personally, with the help of occasional grants and sponsors, which
significantly reduce the cost of food and kit. She doesn’t have “normal” holidays, she says. All her money, her energy, goes into planning her next adventure.
Her passion and drive were rewarded at the age of 23, when she was made a fellow of the Royal
Geographical Society, remarkable for someone so young. “I love the society,” she concludes, “it’s
really kept to it’s old fashioned roots. And, they do some young explore weekends which are for
younger people trying to get into expeditions.
“When I’m a bit older, at that age where I can guide people who are my age now I would love to do
that, I’d love to give back!”
Like to hear more from Lucy? She is speaking at My Adventure Hub's launch event this Thursday evening in London, more information here.