Luke Welch takes 5 with Explore Nation
Luke Welch is an adventurer and outdoors instructor based in New Zealand. A long time contributor to the Explore Nation community, we’re stoked to have him answer a few questions about his background and experiences in this week’s 5 Minutes With…
1. What’s your current location?
I’m currently living in Queenstown, New Zealand in an awesome little cabin on a hill named the Cabin of Dreams – my base for adventure!
2. Can you give us a bit of insight into you and your background?
I’m from Northumberland – England, the northernmost county before you hit Scotland! Northumberland is a land of rolling hills, moors and countryside and it is the most scarcely populated county in England meaning that it is ideal as an outdoorsman’s playground! I’m 21 years old, and have spent most of my life heading out into the hills on hiking and camping trips as well as climbing and bouldering both with family and with various organisations that I became involved with over the course of my growing up. I moved to Wales to become an outdoor instructor at the age of 18 and spent two years travelling the UK in this role, before having a move to New Zealand suggested to me by a friend and collegue. At first I laughed the idea off thinking he was joking but, well… Here I am!
3. How did your passion for adventure and exploration come about?
As a kid I’d regularly go on family walks in the woods and camping trips with relatives. At 13 I joined the Air Training Corps with a Squadron that prided itself on it’s focus on the outdoors. Through the Adventure Training syllabus, I learnt a lot about hiking and camping by trial and error; getting out there in the thick of it and learning what mistakes not to make the hard way in some of the UK’s greatest locations such as Hadrian’s Wall. Once I moved to Wales to become an instructor in the outdoors and gain qualifications in the industry, I met a lot of like-minded people and had the opportunities to travel further afield to locations such as the Snowdonia National Park in the North of Wales, the Lake District of Cumbria and the Glencoe Hills in Scotland where I gained extensive experiences and again, learnt many lessons the hard way! The feeling of independence and enrichment on all of my trips was always one that I’d want to share with everyone which is why I became passionate about photography and being able to hopefully convey those emotions to all of my friends and family.
4. Has your environment / location played a significant role in your desire for outdoor experiences?
How could it not?! Queenstown is the adventure capital of the World! Once I landed here and saw the place, I immediately fully understood why it has gained the title. Since moving here I have had access to much higher alpine environments and lots of different terrain than anywhere in the UK, and this has encouraged me to get out and learn new skills that otherwise I’ve never had access to. For example, The Remarkables mountains are right on my doorstep. Alpine climbing, skiing, ice climbing, snow shoeing and building snow caves are all things I have never had the chance to get out and do before, but the proximity of these mountains has meant that I spent all winter practicing and picking up these skills! I’m already so excited for Winter ’16!
5. You’re a contributor to The North Face Adventure Blog. How did this opportunity come about?
I work for The North Face at the store in Queenstown, and during my employment I had the opportunity to meet some of the awesome marketing team for the company. After using TNF’s famous hashtag #neverstopexploring in most of my Instagram and Facebook posts, they approached me with the idea of creating a Queenstown themed blog post about the area, where the best spots are and how to get to them. I was stoked to be a part of their blog, my post had a lot of interest and positive feedback!
6. Where is the most memorable destination your adventures have taken you?
So far, I’d have to put the Aoraki / Mt Cook National Park way out in front of anywhere else I’ve ever been! I have been up to Mt Cook Village a few times now, and each time the drive along the shore of the vast crystal blue Lake Pukaki gets me so excited to be back. Although I have not done any big alpine climbing in the park, I have been up to the Mueller Hut and crossed Ball Pass which are two of the premier non-technical routes based right from the village. Crossing the Ball Glacier on the second day of the Ball Pass crossing is probably my most memorable experience to date, it’s beyond stunning up there, nothing around you but glaciers, clouds and mountains!
7. What are your biggest inspirations and motivations for exploring new places?
Sometimes I’ll see photos online that have been published of someone in some incredible place out in the mountains or the back country and instead of just admiring it for a bit, all I’ll want to do is pack a bag and go find it. The first photo I clearly remember having those thoughts was of Trolltunga in Norway. Photos of that cliff regularly circle Facebook and Instagram and will receive huge amounts of attention due to the sheer beauty of the location. However to most, it only exists in the photo, out of reach of themselves. I aspire to prove these views wrong, and to be among the people out there that get out to those famous locations and bring back my own accounts of the experience.
8. Have there been any challenging experiences that stand out from your travels?
I’m happy and very thankful to be in a position where I can say that I’ve very rarely encountered any hardship or difficulty to date. The worst thing I have been through was a pretty bad car crash I had in Scotland during an attempt of the Three Peaks Challenge late 2014. I was extremely lucky to walk away from the crash without even a scratch but my friend and colleague with me sustained a lot of very serious injuries and had to undergo a lot of surgery. The worst part of the whole experience for me was that I didn’t get a chance to see him in person again before I flew out to New Zealand not long afterwards. He has recovered well since, and I’ve had many people inform me of how well he looks and is doing now but it’s still something that annoys me when thinking back on it.
9. And rewarding?
The most rewarding feeling I have ever felt was during my time working as an outdoor activity instructor. During my employment as an outdoor instructor, I worked with thousands of kids from all over the UK that would come to our centre with their schools to learn outside the classroom, both with activites like climbing and kayaking and also with team building sessions. Throughout the two years in the role, there would occasionally be a child that was more physically challenged or less able than the other members of their groups come through the centre which was, of course, always made known to staff. The most rewarding experience of my life so far was to work with a girl with Down Syndrome for a week in Scotland. She came to the centre with her group and was very shy and scared of the staff to begin with. After doing her group’s introduction and site tour, she firmly made it clear that she wanted me as the instructor on as many sessions as possible throughout the week. After a few days, she really began to open up and settle in to the centre and she began to show what a funny smiley character she really was. I had taken her group to abseil our wall, and it took a lot of trust and communication with her to get her over the mental block of the abseil itself but in the end, she made it. By the end of the week, she had managed to keep up with everyone else in her group, she had abseiled, climbed, canoed and much more. After she left the centre, we received an email not long later from her teachers that she was the most cheerful they’d ever seen her, and that she didn’t stop talking about abseiling and how I’d helped her through everything. To make such a difference to a child’s life like that, would always remind me why I loved the job I did. To have such a positive impact on their outlook and character, to me, was always one of the most rewarding feelings one can have!
10. Where can our readers find out more about you?
You can follow me on Instagram at @lwelch.x – You’ll find no plates of food there! 🙂
My Adventure Blog entry with The North Face can be found here.
Thank you for reading my 5 Minutes With… Explore Nation!