From BBC Earth, comes Extreme Treks that takes you to some of the most remote regions of the planet. Host and show’s creator, Ryan Pyle, spends his days walking the earth, photographing and exploring some of the most remote and breathtaking places in the world and while it might sound like an arduous feat, Pyle, assures us that almost anyone can do it. (If you think about it, almost any place is within walking distance; you just need to have the time for it.)
We talk to Pyle whose show, Extreme Treks, is now in its second season.
How does one prepare for an “extreme trek”?
Ninety percent of the preparation has to be mental, and [the rest if it] is physical. As long as you have a basic fitness level, and by that, I mean just being able to run on a treadmill for a short amount of time—a general feeling of healthiness—the rest is all mental.
But what about training?
I don’t think [you need] very specific training. Most of the extreme treks that we do, we’re just walking. We walked with snow shoes in Glacier National Park in winter time. So the question is, how do you feel at -30 degrees Celsius. Or we’re just walking through the Taklamakan Desert in Xinjiang in Western China, where it’s 35 degrees Celsius during the day and -5 degrees Celsius at night. You’ve got sand in your mouth, eyes and in your hair for ten straight days. When you’re walking I kind of feel like anyone can do it.
Some episodes involve [trekking in] high altitude. When you deal with altitudes like Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, or the Saltankay Trail in Peru which are both part of the second season on BBC, then you have to take more precautions because altitude sickness can be very dangerous—it can kill you. Being in better physical shape—running on a treadmill, able to withstand an hour of a workout with a personal trainer—would probably be good preparation. But when altitude isn’t involved, then it’s just walking. And the question is can anyone walk for ten hours a day? Well, I think everyone can walk for 10 hours a day if you’re really determined to do it. In that time, you could probably walk right across Singapore.
What are some of the lesser known dangers of what you do?
You have to be very careful about Mother Nature. No matter how powerful we feel as civilised human beings, we can never control Mother Nature; you’ll just have to be prepared, both mentally and physically. Make sure you have the right gear.
Sometimes, people don’t think about: “The last three weeks the temperature has been 15 degrees Celsius every day, so I’m not going to bring any cold weather gear”, but on day three of your trek, it’s minus 10. We just have to be so prepared—that includes the gear, clothing, sleeping bag, tents—but also just being mentally flexible to deal with any problems Mother Nature will throw at us, because of its unpredictability.
That’s how most people die. They die because they don’t anticipate the unexpected.
Is there a trek that you’d like to attempt?
Oh my God, yes, so many. We’re only in [the middle of filming] season three of Extreme Treks and I could easily do ten [more] seasons. If we’re lucky enough to get picked up by other broadcasters in other territories, I’d like to keep making this show. My bucket list [for trekking] is probably the Snowman Trek in Bhutan that’s billed as being the toughest trek in the world.
Which places left an impression on you?
We filmed in China where we crossed the Taklamakan Desert in northwest China in Xinjiang province—that landscape blew me away. I’ve never done a big desert walk before, and I’ve never realised how difficult trekking in a desert was. The emotional challenge was being in an unchanging environment. When you trek in the mountains, there are a lot of visual points along the journey which help you understand distance and time. You’ll crest a mountain and you’ll see the next one and you’ll be like, “okay, we’re going to be there in two days”; these visual cues that makes you feel like you’re progressing. But when you’re in the desert, nothing changes.
My favourite episode culturally was definitely Oman, in the Middle East. We trekked through the Al Hajar mountains in Northern Oman and got to meet all the local Omani people, and stay in a lot of local villages. I love filming in the Middle East because every time I go there I have such great experiences.
Is there a worry that the more remote places would suddenly become popular with tourists and then lose their lustre or worse, get damaged ecologically?
That’s always a consideration. We filmed an episode in Machu Picchu that’s already a very famous tourism destination and I don’t think many are going on the 10-day trek in the Taklamakan Desert [after seeing an episode on it]. So, I’m not too worried about filming a place and having a lot people go there, because I feel like these places are quite hard to get to, and if people do want to get out and follow my footsteps, then more power to them. But I don’t think it’ll be so many that there start to be ecological problems, or problems with mass tourism.
How do you prepare the film crew that goes with you on these treks?
I could tell you a story. I was looking for a new cameraman about three years ago, and I started interviewing a few people. One person came up to me and they said “I took film at NYU (New York University). I really like your shows, and I wanna work with your crew and travel the world”, and all this kind of stuff. Then he started telling me that he knows how to use all these cameras, and how to edit with all these software, and he gave me a resume of all the things he knows. I said “All that’s fine, but can you sleep in a tent in freezing temperatures and then wake up at 5am to set up the camera and shoot the sunrise? And you gotta it all with a smile on your face, and then do it for ten straight days?”
Part of the excitement of our show is being happy about where we are at every day, even if it’s tough, and wanting to be there. That’s how I try to prepare my crew—“We’re going to go out to do something that’s going to be amazing, and it’s going to be difficult, but we’ve got to have a smile on our face, accept the challenges, accept the discomfort, and know that everyday we’re lucky to have a chance to tell a story about such a beautiful place in this world.”
Beyond the camera equipment and the other technical aspects of our show, that’s the underlying factor to what we do. I hope that element comes through in the show because as difficult as things get—in some episodes I’m in tears, because some days get so hard—at no stage is there any talk of quitting.
What factors go into deciding which treks you go on in the series?
I try to find treks that are accessible, that are interesting in a remote part of the world. I want to find a trek that has a cultural element to it. Even when we trek across a desert, people say “Oh, trekking across a desert, that’s not very cultural!” But actually, the journey that we filmed in order to get to the desert—the men who live in the desert, and the camel herders who came with us—how we filmed all of that made that episode incredibly cultural.
I just wanna be able to have these really difficult, uncomfortable treks through really beautiful parts of the world as a way to show people what they might want to do someday if they want to make their holidays a little bit more adventurous, or if they’re looking to disconnect and get off the grid for a little while.
Any advice for people who want to get into trekking and start exploring more remote areas?
Just do it! For anyone that has an idea of taking a 10-day vacation [of just] walking through a desert, I would say. just do it! And, oh my God, don’t listen to anyone around you who tells you to go to Bali or to Boracay. Go to [somewhere unconventional] and you’ll return a totally different human being. If you don’t like the discomfort that comes with it, the beach resorts will always be there for you but give yourself a chance to prove yourself wrong. I think if people could give themselves that opportunity, they will get a lot from that experience.
Catch the Asia premiere of Extreme Treks (Series 2) on Monday, 16 April 2018, 9.55pm on BBC Earth (StarHub Channel 407). It is available on BBC Player as a catch-up.