So after nearly a whole week in Kathmandu I’ve had time to dwell on the events that I’ve been through on this rollercoaster of a month. I’ve been able to soothe my frustrations before I return to my disciplined fundraising and training regime… again. I’ve gained a better understanding of myself and my motivation for doing what I do. I’d much rather be at home but couldn’t get a flight so have bought a new ticket for Saturday evening, booked into one of the cheapest hotels here and eating little (compared to normal at least) in a bid not to spend anything I don’t have to, on what has turned into possibly the most expensive base camp trek in history. I was almost looking forward to returning to Kathmandu emaciated and tired to pamper myself after becoming an Everest summiteer and spending lots of time deteriorating above base camp. But it just doesn’t feel right or appropriate to celebrate anything. I am fortunate and grateful to be coming home safe; fruitless but safe. It’s when I look more closely that I realise I didn’t trek out of base camp empty-handed. In order to catch the last flight for a week we had to get to Lukla in 2 days- the 38 mile journey normally takes 4. I recall turning round to look at the top of Everest, distinguished in it’s own glory and in it’s own class, untouched in the jetstream.
There was one final, taunting glimpse that almost mocked us. We wouldn’t be getting up there this year. It was cruel. In some ways it was good to finally put my training into some use on a moderately long day finishing alone by head torch. It was then that I realised my training had not at all been wasteful- being super fit and healthy is never a bad thing- and that if I’d had the chance to get to summit day I strongly felt I’d have physically and mentally made it. Even if not, the days of walking alone in the rain, cycling to the train station at 5am, running late to meetings, weight training until I writhed and swallowing swimming pool water until I threw up; were not wasted. As well as sore calves and impressive blisters, I came away deep in thought. Reminiscing and reflecting on this experience. We’d had the makings of an unforgettable trip- and it was. The trophy was merely sheared in half. The like-minded friends I made and the memories we shared, all seen slightly differently through our own perception, are the main thing. Nothing can change that. We all sighed at the thought of the party we’d have had on hopeful return from the summit: so we had it anyway.
The two main positives I take away from this are that everything happens for a reason, and I have another year to train and return better prepared. The loss of the Sherpas could not be positive in anyway, and is nothing but a tragic accident that won’t be forgotten in the Khumbu for years to come. That’s why in comparison, we don’t really have a right to complain. Although, we have still lost out, and so the scapegoats accusing us of being unsympathetic are unfair. The truth is, the tragedy was hijacked by a political agenda of protagonists, and the avalanche alone didn’t need to call the season off. But from a climbers personal point of view, we can’t always see why, but the season being called off could mean something if we dig deep enough to find it. I can admit that in the first days it felt simply like a kick in the teeth, and in some ways it still does. I really owe it to my team mates for their support, as together we kept each other going. My leader Tim for a superb base camp trek, teaching me lots and for top-notch mentoring, plus accepting me onto his team to come here. Also to our base camp manager Henry Todd, sirdar Kame, and other leaders Rob Casserley and Tim Calder who fought very hard and selflessly to try and resolve this very difficult situation for us all. In true British solidarity we were one of the last teams to pack up, having explored every avenue and idea. They were as gutted as us.
I just can’t help but think that we’re not meant to be here this year. Sadly, we heard yesterday that a Camp 2 cook from the Adventure Consultants team was struck by lightning and killed below Lukla. I’m not a religious person, but it does seem like we’ve upset the mountain gods and maybe this year it’s best to leave Everest alone and respect the fallen. Upon returning to civilisation like lost Sheep, we have been hounded by the media. The reasons for our departure still remain very much unchanged. Frustratingly, the majority of press reports we’ve seen have been largely incorrect. The mountain was never closed. It was well agreed the route was no more unsafe than usual. It seems some teams blamed the safety of the route as their reason for leaving- whereas really it was the insidious threats being made to teams’ climbing Sherpas and the Icefall doctors. Without them we cannot continue. We know who the troublemakers are and I’m keen to tell my version of events about the second tragedy- the political agenda that collapsed the rest of the season. The vast public have been understanding and patient: although as me and a friend discussed yesterday over a farewell coffee, it really doesn’t help to be told “The mountain will be there next year!”- because the opportunity may not be. When you’ve trained and grinded yourself to the ground, convincing your family it’s what you really really want, you could draw comparison to running a marathon then walking off home at mile 20.
Miserably, the stereotype theme of “greedy Westerners” has re-emerged again. The media love that stuff. It’s hard not to feel as if everyone is against us, but perhaps these people are just jealous towards others who are prepared to give what it takes to achieve their ambitions in life? Not everyone at base camp is a well-off businessman with two Bentleys. I’m a professional washer-upper at my local pub for a modest £5 an hour. Like many other people and my newly acquired friends, I am simply prepared to devote my life to making this a reality. Some may read this and snigger that I’m earning more than the Sherpas… but what about all the clothes we (you) wear from Primark? Ignorance is bliss…The Sherpas are our friends and have been for many years. Without us to support them things could be very different. We need each other.
My biggest frustration, is for my team mates who put far more on the till than I and sacrificed so much, over many years, to be here. They have been cheated and will never get the chance again. The fact that the majority of these climbers have returned with a positive outlook speaks volumes about the sort of people they are. And on that note… I am extremely fortunate that I leave knowing I will return. I’m young and so I have the opportunity. I did this year, along with 333 other Western climbers, but it wasn’t to be. I just need to keep the momentum going and believe in the long run that it will work out for the best. It has indeed been a rollercoaster of emotions. But as one door closes, another opens. I could sulk and complain then go off the radar for a while. I certainly felt like it, but it don’t inspire nobody…. Nothing can take away that I managed to get here through sponsorship when some said it was impossible, at 18 years old. To get so many brands proud to support me is a humbling feeling. I hope that I can work with them next time- after all, the trick is always to try one more time, right? I felt I was championing the way for young people and what they can achieve. I’m sure that like my sponsors they have been disappointed- but hopefully not discouraged from trying. That gives me another good reason to come back stronger rather than to stop here now- I owe it to them. Maybe this is preparing me for something.
On the trek out, in the oxygen-deprived mountain air, the possibilities and disappointments conjured into the decision that didn’t need much pondering. I had unfinished business. I raised £5000 for charity, thanks to all of your kind donations, but that was still £24000 short of my target. I had to come back- that would be the true test of my character. I think if it wasn’t for the past setbacks and disappointments such as Baruntse last year, I wouldn’t have kept my head held so high after this trip. But nowadays it’s just a normal staple of life. I spoke to one of my team members, an enthusiastic Brazilian who was always smiling, who said “You can believe you have 7 days stuck in Kathmandu bored brainless… or you can believe you have 7 days stuck in Kathmandu to party and have fun”. What matters is not the kick, but how we react to it. Maybe these are just new chapters in my book! I had an email yesterday telling me how I’d inspired a 22 year old to get into mountaineering. We truly can change the lives of others by simply following our own path and dreams in life. Even without climbing Everest, that makes going home irrelevant.
So without further ado, you’ll be glad to know planning for Everest 2015 is already underway. I have a few smaller plans up my sleeve and details which I will announce soon, but one of my charities will be the Sherpa Family Fund, supporting the 16 victims’ families and more. My bank balance is £0 and I’m technically starting from scratch. Another interesting year ahead, but I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again…
You didn’t think I’d give up, did you?
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