The Ice Warrior: Jim McNeill

Ben Fox
Ben Fox

Jim McNeill started Ice Warrior in 2001 and, since then, has led seven expeditions, training over 350 people to cope with our planet’s most extreme conditions in the process.

Jim isn’t an amateur when it comes to these kinds of dangerous explorations, having been involved in literally hundreds of expeditions, multiple plane crashes and was away for 12 weeks as a safety advisor on David Attenborough’s Frozen Planet.

His quest, along with those who he trains to come with him on these expeditions, is to help scientists gauge the pulse of the planet by developing people, to discover change and deliver it to global audiences in a way we can all understand, fostering a much better understanding of the world we live in and on; ultimately helping us to survive.

These people he works with don’t always necessarily have any background in this area, either. Jim trains ordinary people from all walks of life to become competent, safe modern-day explorers, undertaking ground breaking, purposeful and worthwhile expeditions.

In February next year, Jim will be leading his eighth expedition as part of Ice Warrior – #Lastpole. They will be heading from Isachsen to the North Pole of Inaccessibility – a journey of 800 miles across sea-ice in one of the most inhospitable environments on Earth.

So, on the day I sat down with Jim to talk about all of this, it would have been impossible not to appreciate the irony that it was one of the hottest days of the year. We started by discussing the journey, as I asked him to forgive my ignorance – a man who has hardly travelled out of Devon – and explain what on Earth was the
Northern Pole of Inaccessibility:

“It’s the furthest point from land on the Arctic Ocean, the furthest point from rescue. It’s how it was devised in the first place. It is the very centre of the Arctic Ocean.”

I was then curious to know how Jim came to be leading these kinds of expeditions across some of the harshest terrains known to man.

“I was an environmental scientist to begin with. I have a small foot in the door of the scientific community and they are the ones that ask us to gather data, which makes the expedition purposeful and worthwhile.”

Jim started working in science in the 1980s, specifically on the effect that agriculture was having on the ozone layer, before a stint in the military and then a lucrative job in commerce in London.
“I gave up a huge great salary when one day, and it was one day, I just decided I wanted to become a fireman.”

Jim has a passion for using his skills to help people. He became an expert in the Fire Service in understanding road traffic collisions.

It takes a lot for a man to give up a high-flying job in the City of London to earn £17,000-odd a year fighting fires and dealing with horrendous scenes.

“I was a fireman in 2000 and I wanted to do something big. I was first thrust into the outdoors by the Outward Bound system when I was a naughty boy at school. Most people hated it but to me it was a bit like James Bond. I loved it.

‘So after that I became a climber, a mountaineer, I taught people how to mountaineer. I loved the fact you were using your skills for the betterment of other people. And that’s how Ice Warrior came about.

‘I chose Dartmoor as the first selection area in 2001. I have been training people on Dartmoor ever since.”

As they say, a journey of thousand miles starts with one step. In Ice Warrior’s case it begins with a selection weekend in Princetown.

“We have a selection weekend to begin with which puts them through a bit of pressure. People that think they are super fit, it will frustrate them when we give them a piece of paper and a pencil and ask them to do mental work. And those that think they aren’t so fit, we will get them dragging tires up hills or whatever. The whole weekend is based on messing around with people’s expectations. By making them wet, cold, hungry and tired at the same time, you get to see the real bit of them. I call it brutal honesty.

‘They select themselves. I give them a true and real idea of what the commitment is. They decide if they want to commit to it.”

Following the selection, Jim will take them through a week of basic skills and a week of advanced skills needed to cope with the extreme weather, including taking them to the polar region and getting them used to the cold they will be facing. The explorers will be facing temperatures of up to -50C at night in the coldest month.

Come February 2019, just a short 5 months after the initial selection weekend in September 2018, the expedition is ready to start it’s 80-day, 800-mile journey.

There will be four teams of seven with each person’s commitment being 20 days on ice before they are flown out and replaced by the next team.

“You have to go in February. You have to get onto the ice as soon as the polar night allows you to land on the ice, so you have enough definition to land an aircraft. And then the race is on before the ice starts breaking up and you can’t land an aircraft to fly you out.”

Over the course of the journey, these explorers – anyone from captains of industry to the ordinary, everyday worker – will face frigid temperatures that will freeze flesh in seconds, polar bears that will hunt them and an ocean that could swallow them up.

It will take perfect team work and preparation. But when they make it, they’ll have achieved a vital benchmark for the scientific community and the measurement of global change.

“This is not just another Polar Expedition but a real contribution to our present and our future.”

To call Jim selfless would be an understatement, having dedicated his life to helping people and now doing what he can for future generations.

Jim asks Moorlander readers – have you ever considered being part of a polar expedition? A world first polar expedition and one that is hugely purposeful and worthwhile? Well this is your chance!

Jim is still looking for ordinary people, novices, from all walks of life and echelons of society to train to become modern-day explorers and join the team to reach The Northern Pole of Inaccessibility. This is a significant place on the planet which has yet to be reached by humankind and therefore stands as the last real world first to be accomplished in the Polar Regions.

A Recruitment Day will be taking place on 15th September, where local people from the South West can sample what it is like to take part in such an extreme expedition.

Pre-booking is essential, book tickets at

Once the explorers are chosen, we will be following their exploits from the day they start training to the moment they return from the expedition.

Local Life