I have one year to go until I set foot on Mount Everest once more. I remember in 2013 heading down below the death zone at 7,500 metres and thinking – never again! The journey was so tough, physically and mentally with twists and turns at any given time. I was completely exhausted on my return and was more than happy to plan polar expeditions rather than focus on heading into altitude at that level again.
What ever journey I set out to do I need a reason to explore – if I am going to put myself into situations of stress then the reason needs to be solid. Mount Everest hasn’t really got any technical climbing routes on it so it allows for people like myself, who are not professional mountaineers to attempt it.
Polar exploration is my passion and where I feel comfortable – which means that I like skiing at sea level where the oxygen is pure – I feel uneasy on high mountains like I’m not really in control.
In 1953 the Everest summit route had been established by people such as Tenzing Norway and Sir Edmund Hillary. At that time high altitude climbing appealed only to a certain breed of person. However, due to the pioneers of the late seventies, early eighties a system was developed to allow people like myself to attempt mountains such as Everest.
The question of how can experienced climbers make a living out of taking trained novices above 6,500 / 7,500 metres was answered with a 3 stage approach.
Acclimatisation is helped by descending from the height your working at to allow your body to adjust to the pressure and lack of oxygen. The stages to support this begin by moving up from Base Camp (BC) to Camp 1 and 2 and then returning to BC. After a 5 day period of rest the second stage is to then to C1, C2 and C3 before heading back to BC again for another few days of off.
The final ascent and the 3rd stage is then based on a weather window which will put you in a good position to head to the summit. So once again you would move through camps 1,2 and 3 to then rest for a few hours at Camp 4 (just below 8,000 metres) to make your final push to the summit. For me you are only half way there at that point as the decent is when mistakes can be made – your focus can swift as you feel its all over but the mountain is still in control of you.
A standard Everest ascent can take up to 45 days to complete – in 2013 I spent 72 days in the mountains which was mainly based around acclimatising. Everest to me is a chess game with two opponents, yourself and mother nature.
A few days ago whilst Skype calling a school in the USA I was asked, why do you want to climb Everest? My answer was, I don’t want to climb it, Everest scares me – its unpredictable and the glory of standing on the top with a flag isn’t really appealing to me.
However, the team I am going to work with are built up of a great creative camera crew who can capture the whole journey, experienced Nepalese guides who will assist in keeping our team safe whilst progressing and 4 million students / scouts around the globe who will learn so much about the planet and themselves.
So the stress, the unpredictability and the day to day slog of the ascent is worth it as I will be in good company.