Posts Tagged ‘everest’

Sir Ranulph Fiennes, often called the world’s greatest living explorer… what an inspiration! I can’t believe that it has taken me so long to finally finish reading the book (I kept on getting distracted, but that wasn’t fault of the book, because when you are reading it, it is not easy to put down… just reading on São Paulo buses isn’t so easy!), though I will probably re-read it just to jot down more notes about everything…! Thanks to my sister Lesley for giving it to me as a present!

His autobiography, details his adventures from early ages, in the army, the Poles… seven marathons in seven continents in seven days; learning how to climb mountains (at over 60 years old and after having had a heart attack) in order to face his vertigo; his first attempt at Everest and his climb up the north face of the Eiger… cutting off his own frost-bitten fingers… In a word… wow!

The autobiography is honest: He gives fantastic insight into the life of adventuring around the world, what has driven him, and what it takes, not just to succeed but also to admit defeat when you are so close to your goal. He shows himself to be critical of himself and others in appraisals and very much self-deprecating. I might not necessarily agree with some of his opinions about some of the legendary polar explorers in history, but still the stories that he tells throughout the book are pretty gripping and told in a good no-nonsense style.

I think this book is essential reading for any potential explorer and anybody who wants to get inspired by ideas or journeys that are seemingly impossible. Indeed, as Sir Ranulph shows in the book, “impossible” is pretty much defined by our own minds and imagination.

Seeing deaths in any sport is never good, and mountaineering is an activity that sees its fair share of fatalities. Last week has been bad when we look to see how there were four deaths on Mount Everest, near the summit. Happening just before our adventure into the Andes, the timing for us reading about these things isn’t great either in terms of making us nervous.

Photo by Lesley Weber at Alligin, Scotland. Beautiful region; potentially deadly without the right preparation…

Mount Everest might be the highest, but it isn’t the hardest mountain, technically speaking, in the world to climb. Hundreds of people climb it each year. Tamae Watanabe has become the oldest woman to climb the mountain, at 73 years old. Other mountains are much more dangerous – on K2 for example, around 25% of those who have attempted it have perished. But people still get killed climbing Everest, just like they do on lower mountains. The mountains in Scotland are by no means the highest in the world, but people still get killed climbing them. One of my sisters, Lesley and her boyfriend Billy frequently venture into the highlands – they can easily talk about how the conditions in the mountains can change from pleasant to terrifying there…

Things can go wrong, even for the most skilled and experienced mountaineer, no matter which mountain range they are going up.

Up in the mountains, the weather can change in the blink of an eye, and if you find yourself in a blizzard, you can quickly find yourself disoriented. Even with experience you will be in trouble, though with inadequate preparation, you could easily become lost, frostbitten or falling off the edge of an unseen precipice…

After 2,500 metres, the altitude starts taking effect. Though there are times of day and periods when the risks of avalanches are higher than others (fresh, heavy snow is always a high risk, and as the temperatures warm up, so does the likelihood of snow falling), you can always be unlucky to be on the wrong end of one….

Above 5,000 metres and you are reaching the extremes already. Couple this with the physical exertion of mountaineering, and you are taking risks. Going too high too quickly will make things even worse and increases the risks of disaster. Becoming fatigued and arriving too late in the day at the summit will increase risks of exposure to the elements… equipment problems won’t help…

A host of other reasons can contribute towards a tragic end.

Not the best thoughts to have as we start on such an expedition, huh? Maybe not, but at the same time we always need to remember how we need to always be as careful as possible. Huayna Potosi is generally considered one of the “technically easier” mountains, though in spite of this, we will not be taking it lightly in any way; we are there to climb, enjoy the experience but also respect the mountain; we are there to learn and to train for greater challenges ahead, not take unnecessary risks with our lives. Indeed, respecting the mountain and being aware of all of the risks and possibilities is a good way to start minimizing the risks as we are making our ascents.

For the first eight years of my life, my family lived on the Orkney Islands, on a small island called Stronsay and then on the “mainland” in the fishing village of Stromness. It could probably be considered a pretty idyllic place for kids to grow up as we could wander around everywhere and always be able to get back home, and there were plenty of things to keep curious and adventurous children quite active. One day, my sister Lesley and I went to the beach with one of our elder brothers, Mark. When we got there, somehow we got separated from Mark near a grave-yard – Lesley and I thought that ghosts or something got him and made our worried way back home to tell mum what had happened. Mark came back hours later even more worried about how he would tell mum about how he had lost us!

Being the youngest of seven children, I would often wander off and get myself into bits of bother here and there (though I wasn’t the only one). I think it was Mark (I can’t remember, this is only what I was told) who had to wade into the sea after me when I had gone in and got a bit out of my depth with the sea dragging me away from the land. At another time, my parents had taken their eyes off of me and before they knew it, I was half way up a six foot wall (which had a ten foot drop on the other side). Apparently when my dad saw me, he almost panicked, but my mum stopped him from shouting at me for fear that startling me would make me lose my confidence and fall. So he rushed to get a camera and take a couple of photographs instead… Not sure as to exactly how I got down, but I survived to tell the tale.

These formative years of my life were when I started to be told tales of Scott of the Antarctic (watching the 1948 film on our old black and white TV), and the ascent of Everest by Hillary and Tenzing, and though we can be quick to dismiss childhood dreams of wanting to be explorers and the like (afterall, I imagine that so many children have these dreams), I remember distinctly saying I that I wanted to reach the South Pole and I wanted to climb Mount Everest. These dreams faded as we went away from the islands to England and the larger towns and cities, though I guess always lingered, and for me it’s great to have finally re-discovered them and to be in a position to work to make them happen. Hopefully it will all work out!

Have you any forgotten dreams that would love to make happen? Just curious to know…!!

A little about the hardest challenges on this expedition and the preparations that are going in for them.

Before we started this project, I had never climbed properly before. Sure, going up the Chinese mountains along the tourist trails was something, but that was walking, not proper climbing. Having been very much afraid of heights ever since I was a child certainly was a contributing factor.

Going up escalators, I prefer to be on the side nearest a wall or where you can’t see down below. Walking over those grids in the street isn’t exactly nice either, and I can’t watch people standing on the edge of the balcony in a theatre; by the edge of a large open window on anything higher than a first floor, or at the top of a high building…Taking work from the top of our office building of the city around us… not nice at all. And, going up the mountains in China on stairs carved into the rock where there were sheer drops to the side: absolutely terrifying!!

Well, it’s something I really do have to get over and am not sure of what other ways to do it apart from what we are doing now which is climbing just about every night of the week. This coming weekend, we will be going to a place called Pedra Bella to go climbing for real in the natural environment – again, it’s another new experience and will lead to lots of new aspects of this project: In about four months or so, we will be going to Bolivia for some proper mountaineering.

I still don’t deal too well with heights – still not the best feeling at the top of the climbing wall looking down even though its only fourteen metres or so. Just thinking that Natalia just needs to lose concentration or the rope snaps, and I start to feel a bit queasy, and am always extremely happy when my feet touch the ground again. Things have certainly got to change for me to get up Everest!!! But slowly and surely am working on it and am determined to make sure it doesn’t stay any problem – at least I can make it to the top of the climbing wall now and next week, Pedra Bella awaits..!

One of the questions lots of people have asked us as our project has moved forward is why Mount Everest as well as everything else…!? Isn’t life going to be hard enough and surely you need years of experience to be able to climb this mountain? Isn’t it incredibly dangerous? Is it really essential for us to complete it in order to complete the full circle of the world? – indeed, once we are in Nepal at Kathmandu, we will need to head north-east in order to get there and we will go back to Kathmandu once we have completed the journey.

What is more, by attempting to climb Everest, we are going to make the who journey last about a year longer than if we just waved hello to the people going up, because of the seasonal climbing windows for timing the North Pole, the South Pole and the Everest aspects of the expedition.

No, from the point of view of completing the circle, Mount Everest is not essential. Yes, it is dangerous and yes it is a bit out-of-the-way. There are all sorts of challenges with climbing it – not least is that of altitude sickness, with decreasing oxygen pressure as we go higher up: the world’s highest peak stands at 8,848 metres above sea level, and we generally start feeling the effects at around 2400+ metres. Exhaustion is a problem and at those heights, it takes much longer to walk even the smallest of distances. The weather on the mountain is also a massive challenge – with the cold, the altitude and the wind… you get stuck in a storm when you are exposed and… well that will be the end of your story, and you might keep in mind that there are about 150 bodies on the mountain that have never been recovered.

Well, we have the romanticism of childhood dreams; admiration of Mallory, Hillary & Tenzing, Bonnington and of course Ranulph Fiennes, and just the very thought of standing on the roof of the world. Also, after having been to base camp on the Tibetan side, and remembering how much in awe we all were of the mountain, it would be great to go back and make the ascent.

However, more importantly, one of the main points of this expedition is about facing the extreme environments that are on the Earth, and the challenges they present. This is why we are taking two and a half years to train for these challenges prior to embarking, and why we will continue training during the expedition with climbs of various mountains on the way, and why we will also work with experts who have climbed the mountain before. Also, whilst individuals have reached the two Poles and Everest, they have done so in separate projects – this will be the first to manage them all in one larger project… which would be incredible..! Just imagining the sense of achievement is quite a powerful factor. So whilst not essential for the whole 360 Extremes expedition, Everest is certainly a key point.

Ultimately, as with any climber going up Everest, we are going to have to really respect the mountain. If the weather is against us, we won’t make the ascent. One of the biggest challenges will be to know if and when we are beat, and it is the most important challenge. There will be no sense of shame in turning back as safety is the most important point and we won’t compromise this.

I guess I have written briefly about some of the inspiration behind this, but I think it is worth a little more on the subject…

The initial thoughts for this project have been growing for some time – with the early seeds set in childhood, reading about Scott, Amundsen and Hillary, and previous explorers going to then unknown parts of the world; one of my favourite books was Water Music by Tom Coraghessan Boyle, based loosely about a Scottish Explorer, Mungo Park, who went twice to try to find the course of the Niger; dying on the ill-fated second journey. Mungo Park was someone who became intoxicated by exploration and Africa in particular; so intoxicated he would give everything for his thirst for it. Those were truly adventurers, and I often find myself imagining what it would have been like to be an explorer from the west at those times when there was so much to know about the world and we didn’t have Google Maps and Earth to show us everything.

It all began to click further into mind when I lived in China a few years ago – a place which had, prior to my living there, been a complete unknown for me – the undiscovered country, as it were. Shanghai was (and still is, in my mind) a fantastic city to live and work in with so much happening… Going up to the north of the country in winter and experiencing the amazing ice and snow festival in Haerbin – where it was about -40C for the entire time I was there; the river was frozen over completely and there was an entire city made out of ice. I remember the stillness of the place walking back a few kilometres from the ice city to my hotel at 2am; quite beautiful. …

Travelling down along the North Korean border and seeing those security cameras looking over the iced-up river; climbing some of the sacred mountains in the country; and eventually going to Tibet and trekking through the Himalayas to Mount Everest Base Camp with the summit of Everest being revealed through the cloud for, according to the locals at a nearby monastery, the first time in a couple of months. So many spectacular places; interesting people, strange foods (fried silk worm was a particular favourite)… Then you get the massive history of the region, the fantastic stories (among others) of Marco Polo going along the Silk Road, and realise how the eastern and western civilizations have traded with each other for thousands of years.

One of the big parts of this expedition that I am really looking forward is being able to go back through China again, though part of this expedition is about seeing how the cultures, foods and peoples change as we go through different climate zones, and from my experiences living in different countries… I am certain that we shall meet many surprises that will challenge our initial ideas and preconceptions as the journey progresses…

<—- The Journey – Part 1: Going North

So after crossing the North Pole, we have to start our journey down south. The main highlights of this journey are:

May-Mid June 2015: South from Longyearbyen to mainland Norway at the city of Tromso and then cycling south, we go through Finland and into Russia at St. Petersburg, before reaching Moscow a few days later.

From Moscow we will begin the trans-Siberian part of the journey, going overland by hybrid/electric car to Irkutsk on the shores of Lake Baikal, the deepest and oldest freshwater lake in the world – which contains roughly 20% of the world’s unfrozen surface fresh water. We will then get on our bikes and go south, across the Gobi Desert of Mongolia into China.

Mid-June-August 2015: Entering into northern China, we will go down to Hohot before cycling along a segment of the Great Wall of China, we go the five Sacred Taoist Mountains, (Bei) Heng Shan in the north, Tai Shan, Song Shan, Hua Shan and (Nan) Heng Shan in the south. From there we travel to Chengdu and take the 2,413-kilometer-long Sichuan-Tibet Highway to Lhasa – a road that traverses 14 mountains that are around 4,000-5,000 metres in height and can be considered to be one of the more treacherous highways one can travel. From Lhasa we will travel through the Himalayas into Nepal and Kathmandu

August-October 2015: Kathmandu will be the base from where we will start our journey to Everest in an attempt to reach the summit in what would be the first team to reach the summit, and traverse both the Poles in one larger expedition. Climbing Everest is one of the more dangerous aspects of this expedition as whilst there is a climbing window in September-October, weather on the mountain can change at the blink of an eye and when the weather there is against you, no expedition would be able to reach the top as the dangers are so great – especially in the Death Zone after 8,000metres. Occasionally the ascent can be finished by mid-October, though this is entirely dependent upon conditions and many expeditions do indeed have to turn back, even when they are within touching distant of the summit.

November 2015-June 2016: After the attempt at Everest, we will go back to Kathmandu and travel through a couple of nearby national parks, before first going east by bike via northern India and Bhutan to the Paro Takstang monastery. After spending time at the monastery and continuing cycling through Bhutan to the eastern border with India, we will make our way south, through Burma, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore into Indonesia… before crossing to Australia.

July-October 2016: From Darwin we will cross central Australia through the deserts to Adelaide on a journey that covers over 3,000 kilometres. From there we will sail to New Zealand, from where we will go to the Antarctic.

November 2016-February 2017: The Antarctic Expedition: Whilst we are approaching the end of our global circle around the Poles, this will again be another massively demanding challenge – crossing the South Pole by foot – over 1000 miles in the coldest and harshest conditions on this planet. The challenges will be different from the North Pole, with crevasses posing threats of opening up beneath us, and high altitudes also making this an exhausting journey few have completed.

February-March 2017: And so our journey will come to an end as we return to South America via southern Chile and Argentina, with one more major climb at Mount Aconcagua – the highest mountain in South America – before crossing into Brazil at the Iguacu falls and completing the circle in Sao Paulo in March 2017.

From then on… who knows…!?