Hello Henry, you have achieved some remarkable feats. Have you always had an adventurous streak?
My parents run a small travel business, so that inquisitive nature was with me from an early age, but it really all began after I left school and travelled to Kenya to work as a guide on a riding safari. Although I embraced the experience, I don’t think I realised the lasting impression it left on me. I went back to the normality of living in the UK and started to go down the expected path; I attended university, and then fell into a banking job in the city. But it was as if there was an itch that needed scratching. I longed to be back riding around the plains of Africa, interacting with the wildlife, including some of the world’s most endangered species, and learning from Maasai elders about their tribal ancestry. It was the humbling nature of the experience that changed my outlook on exploring, and made me want to challenge the norm.
What motivated you to undertake a trek to the Magnetic North Pole?
Although I pined for the ‘great outdoors’, the extreme of camping out on polar ice and subjecting myself to such conditions hadn’t really occurred to me. In fact I never envisaged undertaking something of that nature but a friend had heard about the Polar Challenge, an annual 650km race from Canada to the Magnetic North Pole [the last edition was in 2010] and, after a chance conversation in the pub, we put ourselves forward for the 2005 event. Somehow, against the odds, considering we were three amateurs competing against teams of marines and polar specialists, we ended up winning, breaking the previous record by two days.
So it turned out we weren’t too bad at polar exploration and over the next two years we planned another trip, this time to Antarctica. Compared to some of the great explorers, our polar expertise was relatively limited but we trained hard to master the art of kite-skiing and set off on a 1,100-mile expedition to the Southern Pole of Inaccessibility (the central point of the Antarctic landmass). After 48 days we reached our destination, claiming a Guinness World Record for being the first expedition to do so on foot. 50 years prior, the Soviets had made a motorised visit to the location and set up a base. Yet when we arrived in January 2007, the hut had been almost entirely buried; all that remained was a bust of Lenin, fixed to the chimney!
How do you overcome challenges on such trips?
In my opinion there are two things that can make or break such trips.
Firstly, methodological planning is crucial. Though the Poles can be harsh environments, they’re not necessarily dangerous if approached in the right way. Having the right equipment allows you to be resilient to obstacles and adapt. Things do crop up and plans do change, but if you are prepared, you can deal with it as it comes about. With that attitude, I’ve always found expeditions to be hugely enjoyable.
Secondly, it’s key to have the right people around you. If someone goes into something with a negative approach, it can be detrimental to a group of people in very close proximity for a long-time. You have to ensure team members have a positive outlook to challenging situations.
Both of these are hugely relevant to my role now. Cookson Adventures often does unusual and complicated trips and we have to be flexible to our clients’ demands, and I make sure I employ a team of exceptional people to deliver the incredible trips we offer. We’re also fortunate that our clients share a vision of wanting to visit the most extraordinary and remote destinations on the planet.
How did you go from being a record-breaking polar adventurer to running a luxury adventure travel company?
After the polar exploits, friends started asking for advice on how they could take on similar challenges, so I began organising trips for them. This grew through word of mouth; I never intended to start a business from this. I was just following my heart in finding exciting adventures in places that very few people have been to. From there I knew what I wanted to do – take people to the most remote places on the planet, and to do it with style and unprecedented elegance. To be honest, there was no plan or business strategy, it was pretty instinctive in the beginning and very organic; I was just doing what I felt was right.
What has been the secret to Cookson Adventures’ success over the years?
I’ve always had an interest in capturing other people’s stories and the combination of skills and information that I’ve picked up over the years lends itself well to working with clients who are not held back by a lack of resources and want to do something genuinely different and imaginative. I also have a staff of incredible problem-solvers, who ensure that clients’ demands are met at all stages of trip development. It is a combination of authenticity, experience and our network of experts from around the world that allows us to offer such unique and memorable trips.
How does Cookson stand out from its ‘competition’? How is the company unique and different? How does it maintain the level of luxury for which it is renowned?
The key to standing out is working with each of our clients on an individual basis to understand their personal aspirations. We want to help them discover the world but it has to be on their terms. Package holidays are not an option when operating at the highest end of the market, so we delve beneath the surface and work out the best way to do a project for each particular individual or group. We don’t follow the masses, we don’t say, “That’s how it’s always been done so we’ll follow that path,” we assess how we can go back to basics, personalising each experience to do something remarkable. This allows us to come up with concepts that broaden our clients’ horizons, creating unforgettable memories in the process.
We also stand out by sticking to ‘who we are’; authenticity stands at the very core of the business. For example, we pride ourselves on the fact that the footage and the photography we use on our social media is our own.
About Cookson Adventures
Founded in 2009, Cookson Adventures has pioneered the concept of world firsts in luxury adventure travel. From organising the first manned submersible dive in Antarctica to carrying out crucial conservation work in the Galápagos Islands, the company is putting luxury at the heart of extraordinary journeys.
Cookson Adventures meticulously crafts travel experiences that mix adventure and luxury for its global client base. Through its worldwide network of dedicated experts including scientists, marine biologists, conservations, and award-winning photographers, adventures are designed for people with a curiosity and thirst for exploring without sacrificing the highest levels of comfort and safety.
Henry Cookson, the company’s founder, is a dedicated adventurer and a Guinness World Record holder for the first expedition to the Southern Pole of Inaccessibility (the exact centre of the Antarctic Continent).