He has worked in some of the world’s most hostile and unforgiving environments, but for Point Assist’s tour operator Mark Direen, there is no greater thrill than climbing mountains.
“When you finally get to the top, that feeling is pretty epic,” the 40-year-old from Hobart said.
“That sense of achievement at the end is worth every aching muscle – and if you are lucky enough to climb with a friend, then the experience is even better.”
While he no doubt loves the physicality of trekking, the self-confessed adventure seeker is not immune to the challenges of scaling that next mountain, crossing “one more river” or staying in an unknown town.
“I’ve climbed many mountains in Tasmania during winter and haven’t always made it to the top because of the conditions,” Mr Direen said.
“But I enjoy pushing the boundaries to see what’s possible and I guess, the boundaries just keep giving.”
Mr Direen’s passion for adventure and travelling has translated into a new career with the former Australian military sergeant and Special Forces patrol commander launching his adventure trekking business.
“I got more and more into trekking over the past five years, but it wasn’t until I ran a few small treks for clients here in Tassie that I realised, ‘wow, this is awesome stuff’ and that this could be my next career move,” he said.
During this time Mr Direen was working “on and off” in Kabul as a security officer for the Australian Embassy, a job he “lucked into” after discharging from the full-time military in 2009.
“I started out as a driver for diplomats in Kabul and was then appointed team leader,” he said.
“We’d scope out locations to make sure they were safe and add in security measures to facilitate meetings for diplomats,” he said.
Despite finding the job exciting, Mr Direen said he knew his “true calling” was in the adventure travel industry.
“It has always been a long-term goal of mine to run my own adventure trekking business,” he said.
“The idea behind Point Assist developed while I was still in Kabul, but the business model itself took about two years of fine-tuning once I got back to Tassie and gained all the necessary accreditations.”
Point Assist specialises in unique multi-day adventure tours to isolated locations and distant cities around the world.
It offers a variety of experiences, from bespoke adventures and small group tours to executive travel and teamwork, each of which is tailored to clients’ individual needs and goals.
It may be the remote outback of Australia or the cities and towns of Asia on the edge of mountainous rainforests and spectacular coastlines – “the more unique, the better,” Mr Direen said.
“I love the idea that each person who goes on a trek feels like they are the first person ever to visit that area.”
He is currently focusing on developing the Tasmanian component of the business and pitching it to mainland markets.
“Tasmania is very unique, and not just in the sense that our wilderness is pristine, but because it is so remote.”
“I often say to clients interested in exploring the state, let’s pick a mountain in Tasmania that no-one has ever climbed and let’s work together to build an expedition around that.”
“For those keen on an easy trip, while wanting to see something spectacular, I would suggest Mt Field or Freycinet.”
“Once you venture out beyond Wineglass Bay to climb Mt Graham, it is very rare that you will see another soul.”
Mr Direen said the mental and physical skills honed during his 20-year career in the military, security and safety sectors had contributed to his ability to survive in some of the toughest conditions.
“Everything I learnt in the military complements climbing a mountain in Tasmania, from the equipment you take, the planning, navigation and leadership skills you employ to living and surviving in the field,” he said.
“Fortunately, my planning has always been good enough that I haven’t been stuck in a prolonged survival situation.”
A natural-born leader, Mr Direen finds it deeply rewarding training and empowering clients to achieve their goals, whether it is around fitness, motivation, preparation or mindset.
“I’ve spent years in the military developing my leadership skills and years building and leading high-performing teams in complex and high-threat environments,” he said
“These are the skills that enable me to travel to locations that are missed by other adventure tour operators.”
Mr Direen, who has been licensed to operate “off-track” for 12 months, has recently incorporated helicopter travel into his treks.
“We love a helo pick-up after a rewarding multi-day hike into the Tasmanian remote wilderness. It’s a great way to top off the experience,” he said.
“One trek begins with a helicopter drop-off into the Florentine Valley before an attempt on the summit of Wylds Craig.”
He already has a number of adventures in the pipeline for 2017, including trips planned for Northern Cambodia, Mongolia and, of course, climbing mountains in Tasmania.
“There are so many things on my bucket list. I could really go anywhere given the opportunity and an enthusiastic client.”