David Hempleman-Adams Biography


Born 1956, in Swindon, England; married Claire (an attorney); children: Alicia, Camilla, Amelia. Education: Studied business at a Manchester, England college.


Office —Global Resins, Ltd., Unit 7, Park Lane Industrial Estate, Corsham, Wiltshire, SN13 9LG, United Kingdom.


Executive with family resins–manufacturing business; climbed first of the highest peaks on each continent with his ascent of Mt. McKinley, Alaska, 1980; completed several solo and unsupported treks to the magnetic and geographical North and South Poles during the 1980s and '90s; became the first person in history to make a solo open–basket, hot–air balloon flight across the Atlantic Ocean, 2003.


Two bronze medals for bravery, Royal Humane Society; Member of the Order of the British Empire, 1995; Officer of the Order of the British Empire, 1998.


In 2003, David Hempleman–Adams became the first person to cross the Atlantic Ocean in an open–basket, hot–air balloon. Forty–six years old at the time, the British chemical–company executive had made a second career out of such adventure stunts, including treks to the North and South Poles.

David Hempleman-Adams
Despite several close calls with danger, Hempleman–Adams asserted he was unafraid of so–called death by misadventure. "I have a feeling that when I do die, it will be doing something relatively safe," he told Sunday Telegraph writer Emily Bearn. "In 25 years, I've never called out the rescue services and I've never made an insurance claim. I'd like that to go on my tombstone."

Born in 1956, Hempleman–Adams was entranced by altitudes since a school skiing trip to Austria when he was 13. "It was the first time I had climbed in the Alps and vividly remember getting to the top and wondering why the teachers were struggling with the altitude," he recalled in an interview with Geographical. As a young man, he went on to study business in Manchester, England, and became a skilled mountaineer as well. The first major peak he scaled was Alaska's Mt. McKinley in 1980. He eventually married and settled into a job running a family owned resins business in Wiltshire, England.

In his spare time, however, Hempleman–Adams set about completing the "Adventurers' Grand Slam," which no other person had done successfully to date. Climbing each of the highest peaks on each continent was the effortless part of the challenge; conquering both magnetic and geographical poles at the top and bottom of the Earth would prove the far trickier. His first polar trek was in 1983, but two cracked ribs from a bad fall forced him to turn back before he reached the geographic North Pole. An attempt the following year to conquer the magnetic North Pole was temporarily interrupted by a polar–bear attack.

By 1995, Hempleman–Adams had scaled both Mt. Everest in Nepal (the world's tallest peak) and Mt. Vinson in Antarctica, which was the last of his climbs to the highest summits on each continent. Returning to the Poles challenge, he became the first Briton to make a solo, unsupported 680–mile trek to the geographic South Pole in January of 1996. Most of the way involved trudging against strong headwinds, and he averaged just eight miles a day. He dragged a 285–pound sled, but ate three pounds' worth of it daily. A month later, he sailed by boat to the magnetic South Pole, becoming the first person in history to reach both South Poles in the same year.

In May of 1996, Hempleman–Adams and a team finally reached the magnetic North Pole on Ellesmere Island, the largest in Canada's Arctic archipelago. The geographic North Pole remained the elusive final goal. He and a Norwegian friend, Rune Gjeldnes, tried in 1997, but were waylaid when a fellow explorer fell through the ice; on the attempt, Gjeldnes's sled fell apart, and because they were trying to set the unsupported record, they refused an offer of an airlifted new sled and turned back. Hempleman–Adams described this and his successful 1998 trip in Walking on Thin Ice: In Pursuit of the North Pole. The proceeds from the sale of this and his previous work, Toughing It Out: The Adventures of a Polar Explorer and Mountaineer, went to a charity that funds an adventure camp for disadvantaged children in England.

Hempleman–Adams claims he is better suited to colder climates, recalling one Venezuelan expedition through the rainforest that proved particularly arduous for him. "There are people who have natural jungle skills but I don't have any," he told Geographical. "The daily struggle of not getting dehydrated in the intense heat and humidity, putting up the hammock and mosquito net every night, avoiding snakes, spiders, and the like was a complete nightmare." He returned to frostier climes in 2003 with an entirely solo trip to the magnetic North Pole, taking neither sled dogs nor Gjeldnes, and declared it to be his last.

Hot–air ballooning was Hempleman–Adams' next adventure sport. He was determined to become the first person to make a transatlantic trip in an open–basket, hot–air balloon alone. The solo crossing had been done once before, in 1984, but in an enclosed heated basket. Hempleman–Adams' plan, by contrast, was to dress warmly, knock off the two–foot icicles that formed at 14,000 feet by hand, and hope for good winds. He made his first attempt in 2002, but a mechanical failure with his autopilot device forced him to turn back. He started out once again in June of 2003, but this time a lack of wind stymied the trip from North America to England. One route that his meteorologist on the ground discovered would have taken him over Camp David, the United States presidential retreat in Maryland, but security concerns made it impossible to even try. "We asked permission, and were told very simply by e–mail, 'Pass over Camp David and you will be shot down,'" Hempleman–Adams told a journalist for London's Times newspaper, Rupert Mellor.

Later that year, on September 26, Hempleman–Adams set off in his balloon once again from New Brunswick, Canada. He survived the 83–hour sleepless trip by eating canned soup that he heated on a Bunsen burner in his seven–by–four–foot basket. His most frightening moment came when the Concorde supersonic airliner passed overhead, and its sonic booms caused his basket to plunge precipitously. Sailing through heavy rains and bitterly cold temperatures proved far more challenging than his Arctic trips, he was surprised to discover. "There was no heater and some nights my teeth were chattering so hard that I couldn't get on the radio to talk," he told Bearn in the Sunday Telegraph. "It was colder than going to the North Pole because at the North Pole you're skiing and keeping warm. But here it was just endurance."

On the fourth day, Hempleman–Adams touched down in a field in Hambleton, Lancashire, England. He vowed that his extreme–adventuring days are over, having taken a toll on his physique. He returned to his home in Box, outside of Bath, England, where he lives with his wife, Claire, a former attorney, and three daughters. He claims that out of all of his escapades to date, the most arduous have been with his "three young children," he told Geographical, "on a long–haul flight to Los Angeles when your knees are up to your chin."

Selected writings

Toughing It Out: The Adventures of a Polar Explorer and Mountaineer, Trafalgar Square, 1998.

(With Robert Uhlig) Walking on Thin Ice: In Pursuit of the North Pole, Orion/Trafalgar Square, 1999.


Capper's, April 29, 2003, p. 18.

Geographical, June 2000, p. 114; October 2001, p. 74; December 2001, p. 66; December 2003, p. 14.

Independent (London, England), May 1, 1998, p. 3.

Library Journal, January 1999, p. 137.

Money Marketing, June 8, 2000, p. 5.

Sunday Telegraph (London, England), August 25, 2002, p. 2; October 5, 2003.

Times (London, England), November 15, 2003, p. 21.

Carol Brennan

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