Lessons in courage by Finnish explorer Patrick Degerman

Lessons in courage by Finnish explorer Patrick Degerman

Finland’s best-known explorer opens up about conquering fears and overcoming naysayers – whether in Antarctica or a corporate boardroom.


Patrick “Pata” Degerman has explored remote regions on all continents. He was the first to climb and name six mountains in Greenland and Antarctica, where he’s also participated in Helsinki University climate research. Between voyages, he has become one of Finland’s most sought-after ­speakers, tackling issues from sustainability to decision-making.

Degerman’s expeditions involve a ­dizzying complexity of ­logistics, financing, security, and weather concerns. Convincing others to join or support “impossible” ­ventures is one of his ­biggest obstacles.

“Usually for people who aren’t motivated enough, it’s easier to say ‘no.’ Then you don’t have to put yourself inside a whole new ­system and understand things. It’s much easier to just say it’s impossible, because we haven’t done it this way before,” he says.

Degerman has plenty of personal experience to reflect on.

“If a decision is made out of laziness, things will definitely go wrong. I wrote that on my tent as a reminder when we didn’t take tools along because of weight and we definitely would’ve needed them.”

When considering a risky venture, Degerman uses nuts-and-bolts techniques.

“If a decision is made out of laziness, things will definitely go wrong.”

“Let’s say you want to climb a mountain in Antarctica. I use ‘what-if’ lists of questions that include most of the possible scenarios and risks. Let’s say you break your leg. What do I need to do? I need to train in first aid beforehand. We’ll need something to stabilise your leg, so I need to bring a splint and so on. So we get our equipment list,” he explains.

“If we find answers to over 85 per cent of our questions, then we can go on the trip. NASA and big ­companies require something like 95 per cent ­certainty, but I’m ready to take a 15 per cent chance of not knowing.”

Trips have however been cancelled or postponed due, for instance, to a deadly plague outbreak in Madagascar or security threats in the Sahara, as well as crew members’ broken bones.

A mountain-climber since age 17, Degerman says his risk level has changed with age and experience.

“I’m definitely more cautious. For example, after crashing an aircraft in ­Antarctica, I look more ­carefully into what kinds of planes I jump into, and what happens if we crash. I know where the risks lie, and I don’t want to go into these situations.”

Mistakes, he says, usually come from being overconfident, adding that slipping into overconfidence and routine is good to a certain point.

“But you can’t neglect what’s happening around you,” he says. “You need to be sharp at all times. We can really only concentrate on something for an average of about seven minutes in one push; then you usually start thinking about something else.”

Text Wif Stenger
Photos Fabian Björk


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