Gavin started Adventure Alternative in 1991 during a long period of travelling, working in a wide variety of jobs, climbing mountains and organising expeditions. A solo trek across the Sahara Desert aged twenty one was a benchmark experience after which travel and adventurous exploits became a way of life.

Born in Kent, Gavin left his home at aged fifteen to attend secondary school in Western Australia. He then moved to Northern Ireland to study English Literature at University and has since lived in Kenya, Nepal, Northern Ireland and England. He lectures widely and is a Fellow of Oxford Brookes University and carried the Olympic torch in 2012 for his charity work.

Gavin had a number of jobs including scrapping oil tankers in India, Pakistan and China, driving overland trucks in southern Africa which included aid trucks to refugee camps in Somalia and the Rwandan border, teaching in slum schools in Nairobi and working ad hoc for a variety of aid agencies. The work with schools was part of a Government initiative to re-unite street children with their parents and encourage them back to school. This experience over many years led to Gavin setting up his own charity called Moving Mountains.

While maintaining a small base in Northern Ireland, Gavin also lived in a small banda in the slums outside Nairobi and also spent time in the Sherpa villages of the Solu Khumbu.

In 2000 Gavin celebrated the Millennium by organising the Millennium Seven Summits Expedition, attempting to climb the highest peak on each of the seven continents in one year, and in the process raising money for Comic Relief by wearing a red nose on each summit!

Following that year long expedition, there have been a further five expeditions to climb Mount Everest over eleven years, three times without the use of supplemental oxygen and once alone. These mountaineering ventures enabled Gavin to raise around two million pounds for Moving Mountains.

"It seems to me that for a long time in my life I was either on an expedition or planning one. A lot of the motivation comes from wanting to see dreams come true and later on for the cause of improving life through the charity I set up. From crossing the Sahara on my own to running rehabilitation camps for hundreds of street children in the shanty towns of Kenya, to climbing Everest and building schools in the mountain villages, the whole experience has been one of opportunism and positivity."

"Thinking back on all those small adventures, I recall so many moments that have become exceptional. They started off as dreams, idle thoughts that developed through long days and nights to become a Plan. I love the joy, the satisfaction and the sense of living when those dreams became reality, rolled into new experiences and eventually turned to memories."

 

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Gavin travels extensively, climbing mountains and running expeditions and delegating the running of operations to staff around the world, and promoting a particular style of management and leadership that is special to Adventure Alternative.

"Nothing is left to chance. Setting up the local companies and providing a high degree of service and safety requires trust in staff and continual training. Right from the start I operated a flat hierarchy in the business, giving employees the freedom to develop areas of the business they wanted to, and actively involving everyone's input into the trips themselves."

Social Entrepreneurship

Adventure Alternative invests in the set-up of the local companies which are managed independently but are allowed to operate under a trademark license. The UK office provides financial reassurance with overheads and salaries during difficult times, strategic advice on developing the company and attracting its own customer base. It also invests in specific training for first aid qualifications, high altitude courses, foreign marketing and international travel shows, and a big store of equipment in each country.

The company also funds the administration of Moving Mountains in order to ensure that 99% of all donations to the charity reach the beneficiaries. It also provides training and work experience and jobs for beneficiaries who want to work in tourism, and contributes direct financial donations to specific projects and programmes, for example the forest regeneration project in Sarawak.

Rights Tourism

The particular vision of tourism was always about more than a healthy balance sheet. For Gavin it is about fair employment for people in developing countries and a chance to have a career in tourism which enables people to develop themselves and grow the company. It was also about using tourism to fund long term community development and support the charitable activities of Moving Mountains. 

"On the one hand what we sell is a holiday; on the other hand it represents a livelihood for many people who are often exploited and never see any benefits. It represents an opportunity to provide community development, social mobility, jobs and wealth. It can also tackle gender stereotyping, inequality and poverty."

"Tourism affects the environment, the culture and the economy of every region we visit. We have to work at that relationship. I’m not saying that every tourist has to become an activist, but I do believe that holiday companies should recognize their role in representing the rights of everybody who plays a role in that holiday and play a part in improving life".

Recognition

Gavin helped to set up the movement called Fair Trade Volunteering, and is a member of Business Against Poverty, Tourism Education Futures Initiative and an associate of Equality in Tourism. He was given an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Guelph in Canada for his work in "Improving Life" and is a Fellow at Oxford Brookes Univeristy. He has lectured on tourism at various universities including Oxford Brookes, HesSo in Switzerland and the University of West England.

The model of tourism reflected in Adventure Alternative has won several awards, notably the World Responsible Travel Awards in 2009 and 2014 for Best Personal Contribution and Best for Poverty Reduction. Gavin was given the Points of Light Award by British Prime Minister in 2016 and carried the Olympic Torch for the London Games in 2012 for services to charity. The aim of using the revenue from tourism to fund long term community development in the style of a social enterprise has regularly been the subject of tourism theses, books and numerous academic visits.

References

  • Sustainability Leaders -  Gavin Bate on Mountain Tourism and Responsible Adventure Travel
  • Aim2Flourish - Going Global with Sustainable Tourism
  • Mongabay - The other side of the Penan story: threatened tribe embraces tourism, reforestation
  • University of Guelph - Social entrepreneur, mountaineer and educator receives honorary doctorate
  • Social Entrepreneurship and Tourism - Adventure Alternative and Moving Mountains: A Hybrid Business Model for Social Enterprise in Tourism
  • Dr Jon Day - In Defense of Small and Local Social Entrepreneurs

Videos

Gavin is a public speaker, drawing on life experiences on expeditions and his knowledge of running companies, charities and managing groups of people in often extreme conditions.

He has worked with many different groups, from corporate teams to university students, schools, charity sector and public adventure and climbing forums. He has also run many team building expeditions for companies including Accenture employees climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and the management board of Nestle Russia climbing Mount Elbrus.

Corporate speaking clients have included: Legal & General, Shell, Qinetiq, Medicover, BP, Cybercom Ireland, Allied Irish Bank, Dept of Employment and Learning, Greensquare, Kent County Council, Lloyds TSB, Ramboll Whitbybird, English Partnerships, TSB, Lloyds of London, London Business School and Roffey Park Management School.

Speaking subjects

CLIMBING MOUNT EVEREST

With six expeditions to the highest mountain in the world to his name, Gavin is able to speak with experience and eloquence about what it means to try and climb to the top of the world. With a track record of climbing both with and without oxygen, alone and with clients, this is a personal odyssey of perseverance and following a dream. As an Everest facilitator and expedition guide, Gavin gets under the gloss and provides a fascinating insight into the real practicalities of organising an Everest trip.

MANAGEMENT & LEADERSHIP

No stranger to the difficulties of decision-making in hostile environments, Gavin has spoken to many leading companies and management institutes about the nature of strategic planning, good communication and working as a team. A variety of talks on this subject draw from many experiences of big expeditions and travels around the world to the office and the boardroom. Far from being an irrelevant comparison, these talks are both aspirational and inspirational, with a clear focus on the history of management theory and psychology.

Management subjects Gavin have covered include:

  • Connective Leadership (Dr Jean Lipman-Blumen, 1996) - discussing the notion that of a connective leader as someone “who can deal with the highly charged tensions of diversity and interdependence” .
  • Level 5 Leadership - The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve - what catapults a company from good to great is a paradoxical mix of personal humility and professional will.
  • Transformational Leadership - measuring learning outcomes of leadership during an expedition and how they relate to transformational behaviours.
  • Social Styles - how people can ascertain types, what happens when styles collide and working as a team under pressure.
  • Building Resilience - five key capabilities learnt from the world of expeditions which relate to design mechanisms in the workplace to cope with and respond to changing environments.
  • Compassionate Leadership - lessons in emotional intelligence from guiding expeditions and how they relate to a more compassionate workplace. Including the notion of love in the workplace.
  • The Fellowship of the Rope - discussing the notion of trust in the workplace using examples of trust in the world of climbing.


MOVING MOUNTAINS - An approach to sustainable development

The story of the charity which Gavin has set up and the ethos behind it, this talk looks at how developmental aid can be a modern, progressive approach which works in collaboration with local NGOs. The aim is to implement management structures that enable people to become the architects of their own success and avoid dependance. Gavin has had many years of experience working in East Africa, Nepal and Borneo and speaks articulately on setting up NGOs and working on long term equitable strategies that achieve social mobility and sustainable community development. 

MAKING TOURISM WORK

A wry look at how tourism has developed in the past twenty years in the age of the global village, and how few people have benefitted from it. One of the world’s largest industries, tourism is still known for exploitation and inequality and the UNWTO Code of Ethics is forcing companies to take more responsibility for human rights and the impact of tourism on marginalised people. With extensive experience in setting up financially sustainable tour companies Gavin talks about how tourism can go beyond the balance sheet and leave a legacy to be proud of.

ADVENTURE HOLIDAYS AROUND THE WORLD

As an expedition guide Gavin has led trips to many of the most iconic destinations in the world and he speaks regularly at adventure travel events on climbing the Seven Summits, trekking around the world and the ethics of voluntourism.

Read Gavin's Huffington Post blog here.

Notable Expeditions

Trans-Sahara Desert,  Algeria 1987 - a 2000 km solo journey on foot from Algiers to the town of Tammanrasset in the Hoggar Mountains in southern Algeria which included crossing the Erg Occidental and the Tademait Plateau, followed by a return into Morocco and crossing part of the Erg Chech dune desert.

Crossing of the Lago Naki Plateau, Russia 1999 - following the break up of the USSR and opening up of previously secretive areas of the country Gavin and his Russian friend Sasha Lebedev were the first to cross the Lago naki plateau on foot and horseback.

Millennium Seven Summits Expedition, 2000 - organiser and leader of a year long expedition to climb the Seven Summits, the highest peaks on each of the seven continents. An official Millennium event, Gavin raised £140,000 for Comic Relief and Moving Mountains and wore a red nose on each summit, and took teams of people on each mountain (except Vinson in Antarctica) to raise money for charity.

Low's Gully, Mount Kinabalu, Borneo, 2007 - a descent of the infamous gully following the route of the British Army Expedition in 1994. With a team of four, the expedition attempted to make a fast lightweight descent but was thwarted by high water.

Magnetic North Pole, Canada, 2013 - co-leader of an expedition to walk to the magnetic North Pole from Resolute Bay, Nunavut, a distance of 650 kms over four weeks. Completed with ten clients.


Notable Expedition Peaks

Mount Everest (8848m), South East ridge, 2000
Organiser of the Millennium Everest Expedition and the first summit of Mount Everest in the new millennium. The British team included guide John Barry and Andrew Salter, and Polly Murray and Chris Tiso from Scotland. Bottled oxygen was used and a team of Sherpas led by Lama Jangbu Sherpa to help stock the four camps. Barry, Salter and Murray summited, but Gavin was turned round at the South Summit, 8750 metres.

Mount Everest (8848m), North Face/North East ridge, 2002
Two man team of Gavin and Northern Irish climber Will Canning climbed without bottled oxygen and no Sherpas with only two camps at 7000m and 8100m starting from the Rongbuk Glacier on the Chinese/Tibetan side. The pair reached the Second Step at 8610m when Will dislocated his kneecap and was unable to continue up. There followed a dramatic three day descent in poor weather down the North Face and back to Advance Base Camp.

Mount Everest (8848m), South East ridge, 2005
Gavin climbed alone on this expedition without using bottled oxygen and employing only one camp at the top of the Western Cwm at 6500m. This was a ten week expedition, training on several other 6000m peaks nearby in order to avoid multiple journeys through the Icefall. Gavin also used the original 1953 Preliminary Base Camp at Deboche (near Thyangboche) as his base point, about 12 kms down the valley from the Advanced Base Camp at the base of the Icefall. He made a single push from Camp 2 to the summit but was turned back at 8750m by queues of other climbers between the South Summit and the Hillary Step.

Mount Everest (8848m), Traverse of North Face/North East ridge & South East Ridge, 2007
Gavin climbed alone and alpine style on this ten week expedition without using bottled oxygen and no high camps, intending a traverse from North to South. He trained on nearby Cho Oyu (8201m) for four weeks, then moved to Everest Advanced Base Camp on the Rongbuk Glacier at 5150m and did multiple rotations up to 8000m over four weeks. For the summit day he employed Pasang Tendi Sherpa to follow at a distance with bottled oxygen. On summit day Gavin climbed non-stop to the Second Step at 8610m before being overcome by a pulmonary oedema. Pasang Tendi found him and provided oxygen and there followed a dramatic descent over two days back to Advanced Base Camp.

Mount Everest  (8848m) South East ridge, 2009
Organiser and leader of a commercial expedition with two clients to climb Mount Everest by the South side using bottled oxygen and the traditional four camps with an interim base camp at 6400m. A team of five Sherpas supported the team, led by Pasang Tendi Sherpa. On summit day one client turned back early with low energy, one client made it to the South Summit and Gavin turned back just above the Balcony at 8400m due to an iced-up valve on his oxygen mask.

Mount Everest South East ridge, 2011

Organiser and leader of a commercial expedition with two clients to climb Mount Everest by the South side using bottled oxygen and four camps. A team of five Sherpas supported the team, led by Pasang Tendi Sherpa. On summit day one client turned back at the Balcony due to tiredness, the second client Dave Hill summitted and Gavin summited with PT Sherpa.

Note: all the Everest expeditions were self-funded, self-organised and led. Gavin received kit sponsorship from Tiso's of Scotland for the Millennium Expedition and from Berghaus.

Cho Oyu (8201m), Tibet, 1998
Gavin was a member of a four man team from Ireland on the normal (Herbert Tichy) route with no Sherpas and no bottled oxygen, using three high camps. Summit was reached by Gavin and Pat Falvey.

Cho Oyu (8201m), Tibet, 2007
Organiser and leader of a six man team with no bottled oxygen on the normal route. The team reached 7500m but were turned back by hard ice on the headwall. Gavin used this expedition as acclimatisation for his attempt at a North-South traverse of Mount Everest. 

Mustagh Ata (7547m), Pamir Mt Range, Xinjiang, China, 2010
Organiser and co-guide of a fourteen man team  on the Normal route. The four week expedition involved crossing the Taklamakan Desert and putting in two high camps. Gavin reached the summit on snowshoes with eight of the team.

Mount Aconcagua (6962m), Argentina, 2000 -2015
2000: Horcones Route, 12 man team, summit
2002: Horcones Route, 6 man team, summit
2004: Vacas Valley Route, 6 man team, summit
2007: Traverse, 4 man team, summit
2009: Horcones route, 5 man team, 6500m
2011: Horcones route, 14 man team, 6200m
2015: Horcones route, 12 man team, summit


Mount Ojos del Salado (6950m), Chile
2006: normal route, 7 man team, summit.
2007: normal route, 9 man team, 6900m

Mount Denali (6456m), Alaska, USA
1997: West Buttress route, 12 man team, summit (ski descent)
2000: West Buttress route, leader of 10 man team, summit (ski descent)
2004: West Buttress route, co-leader of 6 man team, summit
2012: West Buttress route, leader of 6 man team, reached 6000m

Mount Elbrus (5642m), Russia, 2000 - 2018
17 trips on both north and south side and 12 successful summits.

Mount Vinson (4897m), Antarctica, 2000
As part of the Millennium Seven Summits Expedition Gavin summited the peak in December 2000 with an international team.

Carstenz Pyramid (Puncak Jaya) (4884m), Irian Jaya, Indonesia, 2000
Organiser and guide of 6 man successful team on the normal route.

Mont Blanc (4808m), France
1995 & 2002: summits on Goûter Route

Island Peak (Imja Tse) (6185m), Nepal, 1998 - 2011
Organiser and guide on 17 commercial expeditions.

Pokalde Peak (5745m), Nepal, 1999 - 2011
Organiser and guide on four commercial expeditions.

Mount Kilimanjaro (5895m), Tanzania, 1991 - 2018
Organiser and guide of 56 successful ascents to Kibo summit using all routes.

Mount Kenya, Kenya 4995m
Organiser and guide of 46 successful ascents to Point Lenana.
Ascent of Nelion Peak with Kenyan guide, 2004.

Mount Kinabalu (4042m), Sabah, Malaysia
Organiser and leader of successful summits in 2001, 2005, 2009

Mount Toubkal (4167m), Morocco, 1998 - 2018
Organiser and leader of 11 successful winter summits on normal route.