Meet us, the team

MEET THE TEAM

Meet Secret Compass’s UK-based staff and the industry-leading expedition professionals who lead our adventurous projects in the world’s wildest places. For questions about working with us, read our Journal, The Compass, or how to work with Secret Compass.

Tom Bodkin

Director and Co-founder

Tom co-founded Secret Compass and is its Managing Director. Tom has extensive experience in providing innovative and creative risk and location management solutions to TV and Film in remote and hostile environments for the BBC, Ch4, Discovery and Nat Geo. He has worked in locations as diverse as Afghanistan, Norway and Nicaragua. He spent six years as an Officer in the Parachute Regiment, working in Africa and the humid rain forests of Brunei. He is a qualified Jungle Warfare Instructor and commanded on operations in Afghanistan in 2008 and 2010, where he worked alongside Afghan security forces.

A highlight for him in the early days of Secret Compass was pioneering tourism into South Sudan, where he led a team into the Imatong Mountains. Tom was central to our ground-breaking expeditions into Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor, leading the first ever mountain bike expedition through the high mountains. He has explored southern DRC and pioneered a route though Upemba National Park. He has also led jungle trekking trips in the Darien Gap and Madagascar, mountain biking projects in Ethiopia and ski touring expeditions in Lebanon.

Tom’s qualifications include Security Risk Management (Level V), Mountain Leader, MTB Leader, Swift Water Rescue and Wilderness EMT. He is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and is passionate about ski-touring, snowboarding, kite-surfing and mountain biking as well as travelling through the world’s wildest places.

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Bryony Balen

Operations Manager

Bryony has managed to tame her itchy feet long enough to join the Secret Compass operations team. Her mission ‘not to have a boring life’ has taken her all over the world with expedition highlights including becoming the youngest British woman to ski from the Hercules Inlet to the South Pole and cycling the length of New Zealand.

Her expeditions with Secret Compass include exploring DRC’s Virunga National Park as well as crossing Madagascar, traversing the Sinai desert and assistant-leading the 2017 AMECA fundraising challenge to Malawi. Always looking for another challenge, if she can’t be out on an expedition the next best thing is planning them for other people.

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Rowan Poulter

Project Manager

Having managed to stay under the radar for the last 2 years, Rowan has finally bowed to peer pressure and let us feature her on this page.

After walking the length of Italy (detouring across the Apennines for the Moto GP of course) and driving 25,000 miles around Australia in a beat-up van, Rowan joined us as an Operations Assistant in 2017. Quickly progressing into the fast-paced world of Project Management, she has completed the RGS Off-Site Safety Management course and qualified as a Security Risk Management Consultant.

Accidentally finding herself as the go to girl for all things to do with the ‘Stans’, Rowan has quickly found herself dealing with some of our more weird and wonderful projects. Highlights so far include analysing risk assessments for chemical drug labs, supporting the epic Everest in the Alps endurance event and facilitating world record attempts.

She is putting her master’s degree in Marine Biology to use in a unique way; an avid open water swimmer, she has recently completed the 6km Bantham Swoosh race and gained Polar Bear status for clocking up over 9200m of cold water winter swims in temperatures as low as 1°C!

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Amy Bibby

Project Manager

As a member of the Secret Compass operations team, Amy ensures our team expeditions and projects run smoothly. With a background in environmental science and volcanology, she’s always had a passion for wild landscapes and mountains.  Her favourite place in the world is “probably anywhere in a tent!”.

Though her first love is hiking, she’s willing to use most methods of transport to get herself to a beautiful camping spot, be that hiking, paddling or cycling, and has recently taken up riding lessons to add to her repertoire. Her travels have taken sea kayaking amongst icebergs in Alaska, up active volcanoes in Mexico and to the mountains and valleys of Nepal.

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Rea McGown

Operations Coordinator

Despite only intending to venture south of the border for a few months, Rea is now a permanent fixture in SCHQ and the driving force behind our adventures. With countless hours spent gathering inspiration, pouring over maps, browsing social media and navigating many a time zone, she is the first point of contact for anyone looking to escape their everyday.

With a degree in Adventure Tourism Management and a commission from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst; planning, problem-solving and quick thinking is second nature to her.

Rain or shine, mountains are her favourite playground and first ascents are quickly becoming her thing. With exploratory travel experience in over 40 countries, when she’s not busy developing new ideas or assisting on our unique TV projects, you’ll find her taking every opportunity to work remotely in an attempt to satisfy her wanderlust.

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Chris Hunt

Content Manager

With a background in content creation and a degree in journalism, Chris spent his early 20s as a writer in the surf industry, travelling wherever possible in between largely in the pursuit of waves. Before landing at the Secret Compass headquarters in 2017, he spent the previous year working his way south from Mexico to Chile dividing his time between organic farms, vineyards, mountains and the coast.

 

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Laura Saxon

Sales and Community

Laura brings her strong background in adventure travel predominately for charity clients to SCHQ and the role of looking after the SC community. Having completed her history degree in Bristol, she has returned to the city after her stint in Wiltshire working for an adventure travel company both in and out of the office. When not helping to plan bespoke adventures and taking care of the SC team mates, you will find her out on her bike, on a pair of skis during the winter or riding her horse.

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Gilbert

Chief Office Dog

Gilbert is our resident SC office dog. A norfolk terrier from Rugby originally, Gilbert is the first port of call for anyone dropping in on SCHQ. Gilbert takes his role of chief office dog very seriously, but he also enjoys his lunchtime walks in the park down the road. Outside of work, Gilbert enjoys going out cycling in his specially adapted backpack and eating.

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Dave Lucas image in DRC

Dave Lucas

Expedition leader

Dave has spent over 65 months on expeditions in 85 countries from Europe and Asia to Africa and Latin America. He thrives on exploring for unclimbed areas of the world and has climbed new routes in dozens of countries. To Dave, the climbing is the ‘icing on the cake’ and the real ‘fruit and nut mix’ is made from the people you meet, the animals you encounter, the sights you see and the wonderful food you eat.

Dave’s adventures have been on the National Geographic Channel and on Sky TV; in four books; and in seven magazines. He has been recognised by the Royal Geographic Society and has been a fellow since his mid twenties. Dave inspires others by speaking about his adventures at numerous public speaking events. Just one of his many adventures was climbing new routes to explore a ruined inaccessible Ethiopian palace for gold, treasure and legends. Dave lives for adventure and this combined with his professional manner and experience has resulted in his being a very sought after expedition guide.

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Expedition leader Rick Morales Panama Darien

Rick Morales

Expedition leader

Skilled naturalist Rick Morales has done what very few trekkers would even dare to attempt. He’s mapped out a new hiking trail across the length of his home country: Panama. As an expert naturalist and expedition guide, Rick has explored some of Panama’s most remote areas and other neighbouring regions including the Darien Gap between Colombia and Panama. He is highly recognised for his skills and knowledge of Panama’s abundant and diverse wildlife and has had personal encounters with indigenous species including viper, jaguar, monkey, quetzal, puma, ocelot and tapir.

Rick is the founder of the TransPanama Project which aims to develop map sections of trail connecting regions and people throughout Panama. In 2011 Rick became the first person to walk the Panama Trail, a through-hike from the Colombian border to Costa Rica.

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Rebecca Coles

Expedition Leader

Rebecca has been leading expeditions for 15 years. She works as a full-time climbing instructor and leader in the UK and overseas and holds the Winter Mountain Leader, Mountaineering Instructor Award and International Mountain Leader qualifications. Her work and personal expeditions have taken her to all seven continents and most of the Greater Ranges. When not leading expeditions or instructing she is planning her own climbing trips. She has climbed 7000m peaks, first ascents in South Georgia, Antarctica, a major ascent in the Hindu Kush, Afghanistan and been exploratory mountaineering in Tajikistan. In 2011, she returned from Nepal overland and has cycled the length of Lake Malawi solo. Last Autumn Rebecca made a first ascent of a 6000m peak in the Far West of Nepal.

Rebecca has a PhD in Glaciology, is a Wilderness First Responder, sits on the Mount Everest Foundation expedition committee, Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, Member of the Alpine Club and is a brand ambassador for Lowe Alpine.

Read about Becky’s First Ascent of Lasarmula (6250m), Nepal in Sidetracked Magazine.

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Expedition leader Luca Alfatti prepares for his day of trekking

Luca Alfatti

Expedition Leader

Luca is the overall winner of Wanderlust Magazine’s World Guide Award 2012. He has travelled extensively, has his Mountain Leader qualification and is a linguistic sponge and walking Wikipedia according to the many happy walkers, trekkers and adventurers with whom he has travelled.

His favourite journeys to date include London to Beijing overland, Istanbul to Cape Town and Quito to Ushuaia. We look forward to working with Luca more on future expeditions.
Read about Luca in Wanderlust

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Expedition leader Lachlan Bucknall preparing dinner

Lachlan Bucknall

Expedition Leader

Lachlan is a former Army Officer, qualified Mountain Leader, UK climbing instructor and ski instructor (alongside facilitating leadership and management training), who has enjoyed mountaineering internationally for over 15 years in Europe, the Americas, SE Asia, Norway and more. Lachlan now works as an expedition leader and his career highlights include leading Secret Compass’s first Burma expedition in 2015, skiing from summits to the sea in the Arctic circle, climbing Illampu (6,400m) in Bolivia, skiing Chamonix’s Haute Route and surviving a two-night bivouac on the North Face of L’Aiguille du Midi. Lachlan enjoys Enduro mountain bike racing, sea kayaking, sky diving and anything else that involves some kind of adventure! Lachlan is a member of the Institute for Leadership and Management.

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TOM MCLAY

EXPEDITION LEADER

As a teenager living in North Wales Tom McLay learnt to push his kayaking abilities to become a river guide and hone his mountain biking and hill skills. Now, from battling through Bolivian jungle to hiking high passes in Tibet, Tom thrives on culturally diverse and exploratory river expeditions. Working as a Paramedic, he affords plenty of time to both personal and professional expeditions and highlights some of his favourite journeys as the Humla Karnali; Western Nepal, Grand Canyon of the Stikine, British Columbia and the Yangtze river, Western Sichuan. Awarded a Winston Churchill Fellowship in 2016 he also plays an active role in river conservation.

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Expedition leader Dave Luke Kurdistan

Dave Luke

Expedition Leader

Dave fled the Emerald Isle as a teenager and a travelling obsession ensued. He has led expeditions and supported TV productions in the Himalayas, Andes, Rockies and South African and European Alps; to the deserts of the Middle East; and to the jungles of Central America and Madagascar. He is Mountain Leader, Wilderness First Aid and Vector Borne Disease Control qualified and is a member of the Alpine Club. Career highlights include climbing L’Esfinge (a 22 multi-pitch, 5.10d Alpine rock route in Peru at 5,300m) and guiding Cholo Peak (6,091m) plus volcanoes in the Pacific NW of the USA and European 4,000m peaks from the Matterhorn to Mt Blanc. Dave joined Secret Compass in 2013 and has led our expeditions and TV crews successfully across deserts, through jungles and summiting unclimbed peaks. This followed 14 years in the military as a Royal Engineer with whom he worked in Iraq and Afghanistan, and qualified as an Army Diver and Airborne Sapper.

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Alex Bigwood

Wilderness Instructor

Alex has 15 years of military expertise, partly in Special Forces. He has been leading expeditions and instructing wilderness related courses for almost a decade on multiple continents including, Antarctica, the Middle East and the Americas, specialising in medical support and private services in high risk areas.

His qualifications include Red Cross Advanced Wilderness and Remote First Aid Instructor, Certified Wilderness Instructor for the Professional Association of Wilderness Guides and Instructors (PAWGI) and multiple Military qualifications in medicine and advanced warfare. He is passionate about wilderness survival and wilderness medicine, and currently serves in the Army Reserves as an Infantry Instructor.

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Paul Spackman

Expedition Leader

Paul is a highly professional and experienced mountain leader, alpinist, ultra-runner and former British Army Officer who is happiest when climbing, running and leading on mountains. He’s been to the top of a number of Alpine classics such as the Matterhorn, the Eiger, Mont Blanc and the Dent Du Geant to mention a few. Further afield he has climbed and guided in Wadi Rum in Jordan, on Kilimanjaro, summited Island Peak and thoroughly explored the Himalayan Khumbu Valley. Between summits he turns his attention to long distance running and has completed the iconic UTMB (106 miles with 10,000m of elevation) race, was one of only 40% of starters to finish the inaugural OMAN by UTMB (137km across the heights of Jebel Akhdar) and finished in the top ten of the Jurassic Coast ultra. Paul is passionate about the mountains and truly believes in their power to inspire people’s positive outlook on life .

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Expedition leader Paul Taylor Nepal

Paul Taylor

Expedition Leader

Paul is a former soldier with 26 years of service around the world. He is a jungle warfare instructor and has trained soldiers in Borneo, Belize and in Sierra Leone where he spent a year running a battle school near the Liberian border. He is now a mountain and expedition leader who, when not travelling, enjoys fell running and ultra marathons. He has completed the Marathon des Sables and the Brecon Beacons Traverse (31 peaks over 2,000 ft in 24 hours) and came joint first in the inaugural ‘Hadrian’s Hurdle’ race along Hadrian’s wall. Paul also works with Team Rubicon UK and been deployed on operations to Nepal, Haiti, South Carolina (USA) and Keswick, Tadcaster, UK.

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Jan Bakker

Expedition Leader

Jan hikes, climbs, bikes and surfs whenever he can. His love for expeditions has taken him to remote mountain ranges on six continents. Highlights include an ascent up the 7105m high Pik Korzhenevskaya in the Tajik Pamirs, an expedition in the off- limits border zone of the Caucasus between Azerbaijan and Russian Dagestan and two long-distance treks in the Afghan Wakhan Corridor. Jan is co-author of the very first printed guidebook Trekking in Tajikistan, published by Cicerone Press. He’s also co-founder of the Zaghouan Mountain Film Festival, Tunisia’s first event of its kind. In 2019 he co-produced an adventure film in Lebanon, descending the highest mountain in the country to the Mediterranean on snowboard, mountain bike and surfboard. Currently he resides in Kampala, Uganda with his family from where he’s guiding expeditions and working on a new trekking guide dedicated to the mountains of Uganda.

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Expedition leader Phil De Beger smiles contently all geared up for his trek in Kurdistan

Phil De Beger

expedition leader

Phil has first ascents of extreme grade rock routes on five continents. In 2009 he was part of the first team ever to ski between the two most northerly Inuit settlements in the Canadian Arctic. He has led successfully on 8,000m peaks but is now going back to his routes as a first ascentist and leading on virgin Himalayan peaks. Supported by RAB, Phil aims to start working towards IFMGA certification this year. Phil’s also qualified as a Remote Medical Practitioner, is a member of the International Society of Remote Medical Practitioners and is a Fellowship Candidate for the Academy of Wilderness Medicine.

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Pat Barrow

Expedition Leader

Pat Barrow has been involved with Secret Compass since 2015 when he pioneered an exploratory Single Track MTB expedition in Kyrgyzstan’s Talas Range. Pat has travelled to around 60 countries and lived and guided in Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Central Asia for over a decade; he speaks fluent Russian and specialises in exploratory adventures in the Russian speaking world. His first official job in Kyrgyzstan was ‘Hutman,’ and helped manage a mountaineers hut at 3000m. Adventure Highlights have been a 6000km solo MTB escapade across West China and Tibet, including Everest Base Camp and the Aksai Chin; riding 200km above 5000m. Pat has guided in Ecuador, Vietnam, Indian Himalaya and Nepal and currently guides Secret Compass Nenets Expeditions to the Yamal Pennisular in the Russia Artic. He led the first commercial crossing of the frozen Gulf of Ob back in 2016. Pat graduated Anthropology at university in Australia, has a background in outdoor education and a keen interest in traditional cultures and immersion.

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Robert Molnar

Expedition Leader

Growing up in Soviet era Hungary, Robert developed a love for outdoor sports from young age. His main sport became orienteering and where he competed at an international level, representing Hungary at 6 world championships including both normal and ski orienteering events. Specialising in central Asian and Arctic environments, Robert has worked as an outdoor instructor and educator for more than 20 years and has led more than 30 expeditions around the world. With a degree in sports science, a masters in altitude physiology and a wilderness EMT qualification, he also has a keen interest in expedition medicine. Now based in Norway, Robert has spent the last 14 years working winter seasons as a head instructor and guide for a mountain hotel where he manages all the winter activities including skiing and snowshoeing. For the rest of the year Robert splits his time between teaching outdoor education and sports to the younger generation and leading expeditions around the world.
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Chris Shirley

Expedition Leader

Chris’ love affair with high, cold and remote places started as a Royal Marines Commando officer working in some very challenging environments: From the unrelenting cold of the Scottish Highlands, the flash floods in the unforgiving Mojave Desert, surviving a massive rockfall on Mont Blanc and the snake-ridden jungles of West Africa. Alongside his years spent advising the media and humanitarian sectors, he has spent many months of his life leading and working in the mountains – notably Oman, Scotland, the French alps, Nepal and Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush. He has finished the infamous Marathon des Sables, rowed across the Atlantic ocean in a team of 5 (setting a world first record in the process), led teams to complete the gruelling Devizes to Westminster canoe race and UK Ironman triathlon. As well as a passion for getting to places that others cannot, he brings his skills as an accredited remote area medic (EMT-B), mental health first aider, disaster response volunteer and photojournalist to Secret Compass expeditions. Outside of adventure, he is a keen supporter and advocate of sports teams in conflict zones, regularly visiting Afghanistan to work with millennial athletes across the country.

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Rob Kenning

Expedition Leader

Rob has worked in expeditions since 2008. He loves connecting with people, nature and getting out in the world, and these interests have taken him from a film shoot on the top of Kilimanjaro, across deserts of Kazakstan on an 8000 mile journey in Fiat Panda, and down to the jungles of Costa Rica for 10 months of remote conservation work, without electricity or running water. As a Mountain Leader and active Mountain Rescue member near his home of Sheffield UK, he is most happy in boots and a backpack, but brings substantial experience from all angles of expeditions from desk-based planning & logistics, to leader training & development and emergency support. He has worked with Secret Compass since 2015 and when not overseas, he works as a Personal & Business Coach and National Park Ranger. He likes to call himself an “Ironman” but his wife says these things have an expiry date after 3 years so he has to do another to keep the title.
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