Aldo Kane, The Adventurer and Constant Learner, shares what it means to be on the edge, and how to deal with it.


Courtesy Aldo Kane

Dr Jackson’s Creative Director, Mauro Durant sat with Mr Aldo Kane to know more about what drives him to accept the risky jobs he is offered, and what lessons we can all learn from one who has been to the edge many times.   

As a child, were you always interested in the outdoors and nature? What sparked this interest?

At age 16, you enrolled to become a Royal Marine and went on to forge a career as a Royal Marine Commando. What made young Aldo Kane pursue a career with one of the toughest training courses?

I grew up in the west coast of Scotland and my parents were both involved in the scouts, so really that’s what got me interested in the outdoors from a very young age, and it they encourage us to be in like for example the young  ornithologist club and the young naturalist club  so it meant that we spent a lot of our time outside paying attention to the birds, wildlife and animals in our local area, and I think it was that understanding of the environment that got me interested in not having a normal job, and that’s why at the age of sixteen, I then signed up to join the Royal Marines to become a Commando. It’s the longest and toughest infantry training course in the world, and I felt that was probably the best career choice that I could take, that would guarantee me a life in the outdoors in natural environments.

You continued to ascend in your career, graduating later with the best qualifications as a sniper.

In 2003 you were assigned to Iraq, now a sniper ready to do the job. Tell us about your experience as a young man in a war zone. How was Iraq a turning point in your career?

I spent ten years in the Royal Marines and in that time, I specialised as a snipper and the Royal Marines snipper course is one of the longest and hardest courses to pass, towards the end of my career I ended up in Iraq ,in 2003, so that was at the end of a ten-year career in the Marines, and I suppose it was at that point, that I realised that life was way too short to be spending it in that same thing going to war, and I think by then I had a really good understanding of what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, and that meant more travel, more adventure, but less risk of being shot or blown up in a war zone. I think for anyone who spent time at war or in a war zone as a civilian is just not very nice place to be, and I think, if I look back at my life and career, that was probably quite a pivotal point in my life where I actually realised how short and fragile life really is, and I think that’s driven me every single step of the way since returning from Iraq in 2003

After leaving the Royal Marines and working offshore in oil rigs or wind turbines requiring rope access, another dangerous venture comes your way: provide the safety to a team of scientists collecting lava samples from inside an active volcano – Mount Nyiragongo, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for a BBC documentary. Here you find yourself once again outside your comfort zone. You had to move a crew in and out of an active volcano.

What were the most challenging part and risks involved in this operation?

After leaving the Royal Marines, I went offshore, I worked on oil and gas platforms and a few wind turbines, and really, I was sort of trying to figure out what life was like when you are in control of everything, because in the Marines a lot of things are taken care of for you, and it was after probably about six or seven years of dogging around doing jobs and not really knowing or feeling my full potential , that I was asked by a friend if I could get a BBC documentary team inside an active volcano in the Congo, the Mount Nyiragongo, it’s the largest lava lake on earth, and at this point this was very much again another turning point, some seven years after returning from Iraq, where I felt that all the preparation, all the outdoor qualifications that I had been gaining, up to that moment had led me to be in the best position to say yes to taking that film crew inside the volcano. I had never been inside an active volcano before, but I had certainly done all the different parts of the job before, I had work in – I had done some rigging, I had done security work, I had work in tropical environments, in Africa, so it really it was much more of a case of putting all of these bits together and I guess that is the same as reverse engineering, or setting up a goal for yourself, is that you set the goal, then you break it down, then you take action. In a way I was doing this in reverse. I knew that I had done all the separate parts of it, I just needed to put them together.

Inside an active volcano – Mount Nyiragongo, Congo, for a BBC documentary. 2016 - Courtesy Aldo Kane 

“The whole inside of a volcano is very loose, so you have all the time issues with obviously, poisonous gas, lava or eruptions and rock falls from above, so really it’s a very dangerous place to work…”

In terms of the most challenging parts and risks involved in this, the whole inside of a volcano is very loose, so you have all the time issues with obviously, poisonous gas, lava or eruptions and rock falls from above, so really it’s a very dangerous place to work, but it was the first job I had done in tv and actually, it was the one job that opened up all this entire new world to me, which I hadn’t felt that motivated since before I was joining the Royal Marines.

In 2014, you were commissioned to join a crew of journalists investigating the outbreak of Ebola and to travel right to into the heart of an Ebola hotspot to provide their safety and security. Sierra Leone is a very dangerous place to be in anyway, deadly virus killing thousands aside.

What drives you to accept these types of jobs?

In 2014 I was asked to go with a film crew and look after them in Sierra Leon and Liberia in the west coast of Africa and that was to be a location producer and location and safety expert for a film crew that was making a film about emerging killer viruses and Ebola. This was right in the middle of the 2014 Ebola outbreak pandemic in West Africa, and I have to say it was probably one of the most harrowing jobs that I’ve ever done and had to bear witness to, as an outsider seeing these families ripped apart, terminally for the rest of these guys’ lives, was pretty brutal and it has never left since then seeing how many people’s lives were ruined by it.

What drove me to accept that job even though it was very, very dangerous and in theory and foolhardy was the people making the film were trying to get real genuine information out to the rest of the world, so more people could make better decisions with regards to things like viruses, hygiene, instead of the hearsay that was being scaremonger by press and the media at the time and what drove me that job was yes, a sense of adventure but two was a much deeper sense of being able to do something and return something to the world, to the planet, I guess in a very small way by being able to look after and protect a film crew that were working in that area, but I’ll be wrong to say that it wasn’t the sense of adventure that got me into the Marines, and the sense of adventure that got me into the volcano and the sense of adventure that pushed me to say yes to work down in West Africa.

You embarked with four other mates on another dangerous mission in 2016, this time rowing across the Atlantic, from Portugal to Venezuela, without professional training as rowers. You became the first team ever to row from mainland Europe to mainland South America. Tell us some of the lessons learnt from this 50-day adventure?

In 2016 “Team Essence”, which was made up of myself, Matt Bennet, Jason Fox, Ross Johnson and Olli Billy, rowed across the Atlantic Ocean in a rowing boat, from Portugal to Venezuela. It was the first time that someone had rowed from mainland Europe to mainland South America, and that journey took us fifty days, ten hours and 36 minutes and we rode into the Guinness World Records book for the first team to row from mainland Europe to mainland South America.

As part of Team Essence - in a world record-setting 50-day row across the Atlantic. 2016 - Courtesy Aldo Kane

“The main lesson learnt was mindfulness. There’s nothing quite like being on a rowing boat in the middle of an ocean to teach you about being present, because in that moment, nothing that I had done in life up till then mattered, and nothing in the future mattered.”

There were some important lessons on this adventure; the main lesson learnt was mindfulness. There’s nothing quite like being on a rowing boat in the middle of an ocean to teach you about being present, because in that moment, nothing that I had done in life up till then mattered, and nothing in the future mattered. When you have three thousand more miles to row, it’s very difficult to look ahead one day, five days or even ten days, and you just have to be in the moment, feeling the pain of your muscle atrophy sitting on the long bones of your backside on the uncomfortable rowing seat, and all the chaffing from the salt. All of that is just about suffering and putting up with. The main lesson I take away from the row was really about mindfulness.

Two years ago you saw the arrival of your first child. Has fatherhood changed the way risk assessments are considered for your next adventures?

I became a father to young Atlas two years ago. He was born when I was on expedition in the South Atlantic Ocean.

I don't think since then my attitude to risk has changed because I was always very cautious on my expeditions anyway. It's my job to be cautious. I'm a safety and risk advisor to the television and film industry in extreme remote and hostile locations. What’s always been at the forefront of my mind is, how can we do this thing the safest way possible?

My approach really hasn't changed, although I do spend an inordinate amount of time when I am away thinking about Atlas and how fast he's growing. Since he's been born, I've been on five or six big expeditions, some to Greenland, some still on the Ocean Explorer boat, our out in Nepal climbing. I think it just makes everything sweeter, you know, when I'm on the expedition, I'm thinking, I can't wait to get back and tell him the stories and the adventures about this trip. Generally, my attitude to risk has not yet changed.

At some points in your expeditions, you have had to pull off from your initial plan due safety reasons. How do you deal with failure, not being able to reach the goal you initially set out for?

I'm a jack of all trades and I spend a lot of my time in situations where making the wrong decision or potentially not making a decision can lead to, at the best, a failure in the expedition, and at the worst could result in loss of human life.

I think I'm good at understanding the situation that I'm in, dealing with facts, and understanding that you cannot win every single battle. Failure is part of life, not being able to complete your task is a part of life, but that doesn't mean that that's where the story stops.

Understanding the way up to Angel Falls - the highest, uninterrupted waterfall in the world at 979 metres high. Venezuela - Courtesy Aldo Kane

For me, flexibility is key. In the Marines, you are taught about flexibility because no plan ever survives first contact with the enemy is what we would say, and that means that everyone has a plan until that initial plan changes. So, allowing yourself to being flexible is important, that's why we train so hard in the Marines, to guarantee that you have the muscle memory to react to a situation, while you then think about how you're going to take your next step because things aren’t going the way that you want. For me, failure is inevitable.

If you put yourself out there and try enough things, you are going to fail at something, but that doesn't mean it's the end of your story.

As a young man you experienced so many doors closing in front of you.

In your new book, Lessons from The Edge you share the ups and downs in the life of Aldo Kane and most importantly, how to survive and succeed against all odds.

Which are the most important lessons to keep in mind when one is on the edge?

I have quite a lot, but from a personal point of view some of the fundamentals to me in life are exercise, being outside and interacting with people, are three conerstones to my life, which allows me to keep a balanced and healthy mindset, and to have a plan. We are only on this planet for a very, very brief time, and I think people take that for granted. Often in life we take the free things for granted, but we are in a situation where let’s say at the very best you might only have a hundred years to do everything in your life that you want to do, and without having a plan, this becomes very difficult to achieve. I think one of the greatest lessons that I’ve learnt is that we become what we think about, and to have a plan and design your own life the way that you want it. I would venture to suggest that a huge proportion of people are not in the jobs that they want to be, doing what they wish, driving the cars they want, or living where they want to be living, and yes, some parts of this are down to practicalities, but really I think one the biggest lessons, is that we need to be aware of what we think about becomes our reality, and that is good because it also means that we can change our future.

You have travelled to every corner of the world and have been able to see some of the most extraordinary locations on earth. Is there a particular place or memory that you keep close to your heart?...  What impressed you about it?

I’ve travelled to so many places and more often than not, the expeditions,  the country, the trip that I am on, is made by the people and the experience of the people that you share that moment with, but I do have some really amazing memories; I remember once rigging a cave, Gomantong Caves, and I had been rigging at the top of the cave for some time and was aware of, had a feeling that I was of my own, I was in the jungle and was aware that something was watching me, and it was a female orangutan and her baby and they were both sat watching me, rig this rock system up and I just thought that was amazing.

The adventurer on the rigging - Courtesy Aldo Kane

“…for me a lot of the trips and expeditions I do now, are more about what is the messaging and is that helping or hindering the planet or the environment?... for me being able to tell stories about the climate, about animals that don’t have a voice to talk, for example the tiger documentary that I made, that is essentially what I am much more interested in, telling those stories now.”

The expedition series that I did with Steve Backshall; we got to do around about ten world first expeditions – all of those were amazing, but the one that stands out to me most, is being able to rediscover some of the oldest caves arts and figurative paintings on the planet, some forty or fifty thousand years old, in Sanclair mountains in Bormio,  and actually what was special about that is seeing these hand paintings for the first time in that amount of time and it just made me feel very close to the same people, same looking type of people who would have done those cave paintings some forty thousand years ago, but I think for me a lot of the trips and expeditions I do now, are more about what is the messaging and is that helping or hindering the planet or the environment, and for me being able to tell stories about the climate, about animals that don’t have a voice to talk, for example the tiger documentary that I made, that is essentially for me that’s what I am much more interested in telling those stories now.

Courtesy Aldo Kane

Lessons From The Edge

Inspirational tales of surviving,
thriving and extreme adventure
By Aldo Kane
Is available here

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published