The tears choked my family as I waved goodbye and shuffled through security at Manchester Airport. The big day was here. “I’ll see you in June!” I cheered, but that didn’t quite have the desired comforting effect.
I’ve never been away for this long; let alone to go and climb Everest. Mum hugged me so tightly I could visualize Everest even more vividly with my breath squeezed out of me!. I couldn’t help feeling guilty, making them endure uncertainty and helpless anxiety for 2 months.
But they’ve known this has been my ultimate goal for 4 years. A dream I’d simply refuse to just sweep under the carpet; I’m a doer, I like to make things happen. I knew I was making them very proud, and that meant more than words could. I couldn’t believe this was really happening; I was here, the trip was paid for, I was very fit.
The hardest parts were over with.
I sat on the crowded plane smiling, listening to the music that had accompanied me throughout my training, thinking how lucky I was to have gained such amazing support and new friends along the way. It’s surreal to finally be here. That’s all I can say. 15 months in the making, 4 years of dreaming.
Now I’m here in Nepal I’ve been trying to make sense of the total change of scene. I feel somewhat lost with no more need to send emails all day. I calculate I’ve contacted over 700 companies over the last year. I’ve spent 5 days a week emailing and doing other admin from waking up until sleep, fitting in training as and when required. I’ve worked at my local pub at weekends washing pots and (just about) fulfilling my travel, bike repair costs and coffee budget. Who cares about the material goods in life? Everest has been my life; it has had to be. I’ve always believed in the old Mark Twain mantra that “the harder we work the luckier we get.”
To be entirely frank, for me there’s nothing sweeter than proving something that others say we can’t do. We should never stop testing our limits; not to be smug, but to find our own capabilities. You have to accept from the start that you’re going to get knocked down a few times.
For 12 months I’ve had dozens of sponsorship rejection emails a week; you can let it crush your hopes, or remember you only need one “yes”. I’ve even had major sponsors say “yes” only to pull out at the very last minute; one on New Years Eve this year!
This left me with a very large deficit to raise in just 12 weeks; knowing full well that if I didn’t get it, I wasn’t going. I paid my non-refundable deposit knowing that I didn’t yet have the funds to pay the final bill! I took a leap of faith knowing that if I persevered I would get the result I needed. It’s always going to be a risk and a sacrifice but as Bear Grylls said to me last week; “if you risk nothing you gain nothing.”
My Baruntse training trip was also a real knock to my confidence as things didn’t go at all to plan, and in all honesty,
made me reassess the whole situation and nearly call it off. Ultimately though you just have to keep getting back up again. So that’s what I did, and I’m so glad. I couldn’t ignore the calling of Everest, neglect my dedication or let myself and supporters down. I COULD step up to the mark.
Once I returned from Nepal in Autumn last year my entire mindset changed; thanks to my personal trainer Ian my training revolutionised. I was now cycling for hours at the crack of dawn on an empty stomach, running out of gas and literally crawling home and having to push the last mile or two. I’d cycle in rain, wind and every other weather. People branded me a complete nutter and even ‘obsessed’. I’d cycle to the train station at 5am, walk alone in the Snowdonia mountains all day then cycle home in the dark. I wild camped alone in Scotland and the Lakes, and on Ben Nevis at 2am with a friend.
Stretching out of my comfort zone in more ways than one; helps prepare for the harsh environment of Everest. I was burning up to 5000kcals in sessions. In 16 weeks I was slogging and suffering as much as I could. I’m always believing everything happens for a reason; as just in time my second major sponsors Pingtree and UK Loans came on board and saved the day.
As a result, It’s just 6 months after my Baruntse trip and I’m back again in the hustle bustle of dusty Kathmandu. I’m more focused, disciplined, physically conditioned and ready to dig deeper than ever before.
Without the setbacks I know I wouldn’t be here today.
Kathmandu is quite a special place, the heat like a furnace, the same rules of traffic and rickshaws beeping “move out of the way” or you’ll likely be in pain even before you’re slogging up the Lhotse Face! It’s quite a cosmopolitan place with probably more outdoor shops per square foot than the Lake District but still a very poor country. There’s anticipation in the air. Bumping into other teams and friends who I’ve made on this journey and struggling to believe I’m really part of it. I’m just Alex, right?!
We’re all united by the same dream and all in the same place to try and make it happen:
“Will the mountain and weather will be kind to us?”
“Will we make it? Do we have have what it takes?”
“Is this our year?”
But it’s important not to start getting summit fever now, to take each day as it comes and enjoy it. It’s exciting, a mix of emotions. There’s no competition but you do sometimes have to remind yourself that mindset matters as much if not more than physical ability and not to try and compare yourself.
I met with my expedition leader Tim in the hotel on the first night after a sleep deprived flight. I was playing song after song on my iPhone reminiscing on the journey to get here. This last year sure taught me more than school ever did. We headed into Thamel for dinner and chatted about what lay ahead. I was eager to get moving. Another feeble attempt to sleep in my humid hotel room. Maybe the frenetic week prior to the trip and 1am/2am bedtimes had thrown me out of sync. I had my gear packed and I’d visited the breakfast buffet 4 times before 8am, which is probably a record-breaking feat in itself. I’d waited long enough to get back to Thamel and it certainly felt familiar. Locals trying to sell you makeshift instruments as always. I could recreate a bit of the charm from last Autumn but this time, it was the real deal, not the warm up.
We sorted out permits at the Ministry of Tourism and bought last minute kit. It was so pleasant to relax after a hectic week, and indeed this was part of the reward of the intense months to get here. Time flew by and I was keen to get into the mountains for some fresh air though the dusty air in Kathmandu was almost hypoxic in it’s own right, like having cinnamon powder thrust down your throat.
Today we flew early to Lukla and fortunately this time no Russian Army helicopters were involved although it was certainly a bumpy ride. A surprisingly smooth transition. We met some of Tim’s staff, our sirdar came the night earlier, and one of the Sherpas who’s climbed Everest 8 times. One of the Sherpas with us has summitted 18 times. I bet they haven’t been doing hill sprints, squats or 60 mile cycles in the rain but they are INCREDIBLY strong; almost inhuman. We couldn’t do it without them. It’s clear that we have a great support team with Himalayan Guides. I couldn’t believe my name was there on the permit, I had to read it again and prove it in my own mind. I’d left an insurance tag and prized chain in my hotel room the night before but one call and it was on it’s way to Lukla! Tim played an April Fools joke and told me my bag had been taken to Mera Peak by mistake. My face dropped and provided some entertainment.
Tim’s humour, constant mentoring and fastidious attention to detail like regularly reminding us about hydration and sun cream, will make a big difference; I know we are in for a great trip and I’ve come with the right person. I can put a lot of faith in the people around me but at the end of the day, only I can put one foot in front of another.
We hit the trail and it was great to be back. I never grow tired of the the scenery and spectacular mountain vistas. Did I feel fitter than last year? What if I didn’t beat this cold I’d brought with me? It didn’t matter. I have to believe I’m in the best shape of my life and grab control of my inner conscience when it start to run around with pointless worries and negativity. We set off slowly with one of our porters. I found after a few hours I was tiring, perhaps from the big jump in altitude. I’m not worrying as we escaped the crowds and basked in the heat. There’s no rush and no race. “Just go at YOUR pace and drink plenty.” I love this place and I’m so grateful to be here.
Stopping for lemon tea, biscuits and lunch. Dodging the odd Yak train on the dusty winding paths. Tim basically knows everyone out here! We’ve had good luck wishes and gifts off his Nepali friends and other intrigued trekkers which is such a humbling and exciting feeling. We bumped into the Irish Seven Summits guys earlier which was cool. We’re staying in the relative comfort of teahouses for the next 2 weeks before base camp. Basically a Nepali B&B. At Monjo (2800m) tonight and looking forward to seeing Everest tomorrow from Namche Bazaar after a steep height gain, but on that note, I’m going to bed. The sooner I do so; the sooner I get to the Everest Bakery in Namche for Chocolate Cake and good coffee. Taking each day at a time and enjoying every step! Looking forward to base camp – here we go!