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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Campfire Questions with Jamie Buchanan-Dunlop

We recently had an opportunity to catch up with Jamie Buchanan-Dunlop, intrepid Wilderness expeditioner and educator. Jamie also somehow finds time to run an impressive string of entrepreneurial projects making a real difference. These include Offscreened which takes young people to the Middle East on cultural interchange, iNomad which is all about communicating discovery and last but most certainly not least Digital Explorer which you can learn more about if you keep reading.

Here's what we asked, and what he said:

• You’re an expeditioner with plenty of Wilderness experience – could you tell us a bit more about that and also who or what inspired you to get out there (I’m thinking of the mentor you mention but go as broad as you like)

I was very lucky to be let loose in the Scottish highlands as a child. As a family we went up to the Cairngorms every year and it was amazing to roam for miles around and not see another person. I first learnt about wilderness and nature during these trips. When I was a teenager I had the fortune to go on a two week Outward Bound type holiday led by Richard Waite. Richard invited me back for the following two years to help out with other trips. In terms of bringing the wilderness to young people, I would say that he was a definite mentor, and it is thanks to him that I am now leading youth expeditions. Heinrich Harrer is also to blame. I read Seven Years in Tibet whilst ill when I was fourteen. I had roamed Tibet and the Himalaya for years in my mind, before I finally got there aged eighteen. Six trips later and they still bowl me over – they are awesome in the true sense of the word and contain a deep spiritual essence.
• On the entrepreneurial side you have three great projects on the go – do you use anything you learnt in Wilderness to deal with the sometimes more city-based challenges one faces as an entrepreneur?

When the going gets tough, I find myself reaching back to expeditions. Having a mental toolkit of head down, 5,000 metres up, head-throbbing pain, difficulty breathing, snow in the face and visibility down to a few yards makes a late night or two much easier. On expedition you get up every morning and put your mind and body through it all again. You’re tired, muscles ache, fingers are numb and you just get on with it. I think expeditions really give you two important qualities as an entrepreneur – determination and courage. I don’t have a head for heights and so Himalayan expeditions are something of a mind over fear over body juggling act. When I am fearful of taking a plunge in business, it is never as bad as telling myself that I won’t fall off. The consequences of a slip in business are never as bad as they are in the hills.
• You somehow also find time to teach – any advice for teachers?

I think I could do with a lot of advice from my colleagues. I am surrounded every day at school by such wonderfully committed and talented teachers it humbles me. I think that I would have some advice for the people who are a bit higher up in the educational food-chain. It would be nice to see some real financial commitment (and extra time) to help teachers equip the young people of the UK properly for life in a globalised world and inspire a greater sense of environmental guardianship. I would love to have the time and funds to introduce all my pupils to a wild place.
• Specifically for the work you do with building skills for Google Earth – any advice for our trails alumni?

Google Earth is the best platform I know for presenting journeys. A 3-D earth that spins and zooms and tilts – magic! In terms of building skills, I have been training educators and expeditioners for about a year (and have trained over 100 people now). I have put all the resources that I have developed on http://digitalexplorer.co.uk/google-earth/. If anyone who reads this needs more help then get in touch or come on a course.
• Last but not least, have you got some book recommendations for our readers?

I am really enjoying ‘Wild’ by Jay Griffiths at the moment. It is an evocative ode to the wilderness that is fast disappearing in the world and within ourselves. Her language is beautiful and has a rich earthy flavour. The other book I enjoyed recently was Robert Macfarlane’s ‘Mountains of the Mind’. In terms of the Himalaya, there are two wonderful books ‘Snow Leopard’ by Peter Matthiessen and ‘A Journey in Ladakh’ by Andrew Harvey.
Great insights and as for Google Earth - We're hoping to get together a workshop for our Trails Alumni on this subject drawing on Jamie's superb Digital Explorer materials.

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