A former Royal Marine battling Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder has completed the first stage of his record attempt to cross the world's five largest islands completely unsupported.
Louis Nethercott, 27, of Wiltshire, is back in the UK after completing a 40-day gruelling trek across Borneo, the first island in his Expedition Five challenge. With his former comrade Anthony Lambert, they spent 12 months planning for the toughest challenge they would ever face – yomping through 1,395km of unforgiving jungle.
Louis, who grew up in Bristol, will now continue onto Papa New Guinea in March, followed by Madagascar, Greenland and Baffin Island. He is being supported in his world record attempt by military charity, Help for Heroes, who have grant funded £10,000 for the expedition, the likes of which has never been attempted before.
Speaking about challenges he faced in Borneo, Louis explained: “The first thing that became alarmingly clear was that the heat was outrageously hot and our Bergan’s were ridiculously heavy. We ditched anything that was not absolutely essential and managed to lighten our loads by 4Kg each.
“The last settlement before penetrating the heart of Borneo, a rugged expanse of mountainous jungle, was the crux of the expedition. For the first 10 hours we put all we had into the dense jungle and steep, slippery mud banks only to find out we had covered less than 4km. Our next check point was another 14 days away and at the rate we were going, and with the limited food we had left, we know it wouldn’t be possible to make it.
“That was the closest we came to giving up. Our other option was to continue through the jungle on a different heading to a small river, make a raft and paddle down stream to a small settlement shown on our very old and inaccurate map. Thankfully it was a risk that paid off. We constructed a raft from bamboo and made it to a settlement the following day.”
With the jungle nightmares behind them, Louis and Anthony started paddling down the Sungai Malawi and on to the Sungai Kapus; the largest island river in the world, before completing the remainder on foot.
“We were definitely surprised with how harsh the terrain was. It was like walking on nails at times,” Louis added. “None of it is flat or straight, which makes it very physically demanding. When you’re in the middle of the jungle, you feel so small and vulnerable. When you’re in the Marines, you can feel alone at times but you have your comrades and HQ. In Borneo, it was literally us, no resources. That was scary.
“The best bit was experiencing the generosity of the local people. They have barely anything, but they are willing to give it all to you. It was incredible to be immersed in their culture.
“Papa New Guinea will present an entirely different challenge for us – 4,500km high mountains, very few settlements to resupply in and the biggest concern is how politically unstable it is.”
For Louis, this challenge means more than just setting a world record – it is a sign of how far he has come after a deployment to Afghanistan left him living with PTSD. Louis joined the military when he was just 17 and a 10-year military career took him all over the globe, including Europe, India, America, Africa, Norway and the Middle and Far East. During his deployment to Afghanistan in 2011 with 42 commando, he was involved in some of the most intense combat on the Herrick 14 campaign and it left a lasting mark.
“When I left the Royal Marines, I wanted a challenge to focus on and I wanted it to be unique,” Louis added. “The pivotal point in my recovery was finding a new direction and a new passion. Borneo was psychologically and physically demanding but it’s made me even more determined to complete the challenge.”
Louis and Anthony are raising money for Help for Heroes and The Royal Marines Charity. You can donate at: www.expedition5.co.uk