Of course I have a personal interest in climbing the mountain, my last two times ended without a summit, so I am keen to climb Everest. But I am more keen than ever nowadays to make sure that everything I do is for the right reason and done in a clean spirit.
Climbing Everest is nothing so childish as simply a holy grail for me and nor is it about 'name and fame' which is, and always has been, my most detested of motivations to do anything in life. Its funny how people with limited knowledge of both Everest and the type of people who climb it, often assume that everybody is up there simply to put another notch on the anecdotal bar post.
Although that person definitely does exist, I need to be very sure in my own heart that my motivation comes from two distinct sources: a desire to climb a mountain 'well', without any external support of bottled oxygen, simply because I love mountaineering & a passion to use this expedition to raise money for the projects in the villages of Nepal and the slums of Kenya
Of this I am sure, and my last visit to Nepal only confirmed it. Fitness has been an issue because of the bone I sheared in my spine last year, and a rigorous training programme earlier this year meant I suffered horrendous back pains for about 5 weeks. However I sought expert help and had a complete detox, and am now feeling in excellent spirits ! I'm also lucky in having so many fantastic friends around me who are honest and supportive and who understand what this is all about.
As usual though, Everest is as much to do with physical fitness as it is to do with with mental preparedness and spiritual confidence. This is more to do with humility in approaching the mountain since, as any mountaineer will tell, conquering it is not the aim.
That confidence comes from years of climbing mountains now, and some unique experience at over 8000 metres which has led me to understand that metabolically I seem to be able to survive up there. This is more a case of being lucky than anything else since far better mountaineers than I have been unable to climb above 8000 metres for the simple reason of their body not being able to acclimatise appropriately.
In 2002 my friend Will and I climbed to 8,750 metres (28,875 feet ) without oxygen on the North side and without any Sherpa support, which meant doing all the work of 'setting' the mountain up ourselves. When Will dislocated his kneecap just below the summit it was early afternoon on the 16th May, and we had to descend to the northeast ridge, at 28,600', and sit there for an estimated 3 hours. We then descended over the following 3 days, much of it in a storm, to eventual safety. Will was heroic and both of us suffered emotional breakdowns back at Advance Base Camp. I remember clearly hallucinating after so long without food, or water or sleep. I remember also that having held back our emotions for so long on those desperate days, it was like a tidal wave when we eventually knew we had reached safety.
I guess part of me knows that our descent in 2002 was harder than any 'normal' summit would have been, and how we managed to survive above 8000 metres for so long is quite beyond us. It took both of us many weeks to come to terms with the whole experience and my return to UK was heavily marred by circumstances which even now are hard to reconcile. Everest in by no means the most technical of mountains but when an incident occurs at such high altitude forcing you to deal with highly unusual situations, then it undeniably takes a little time to 'come down from'. Will's fiancee went for four days not hearing a word from us, which must have been dreadful beyond belief.
I have made some changes to the original plans for climbing the mountain and perhaps unusually I will not be using Base Camp as my base camp, but the small lodging at Gorak Shep which is actually the site for the 1953 Base Camp. This means a longer day to get onto the mountain but because I am on my own I do not feel the need to sit in a tent on a glacier for long periods of time. I shall use the bothy and every day exercise at 19,000'.
My good friend Dr Ger Flaherty has been advising me on
matters physiological and after years of research now on altitude related
illnesses, and of course all my experience, I feel confident that I know
what my body will be doing and how to at least limit the likelihood of
problems on the mountain.
The biggest hurdle will be the issue of decision-making at an altitude where there is a third of oxygen at sea level and mental acuity is around 25% of the norm. Every move on the mountain has to be decided upon using all factors that face any mountaineer such as weather, terrain, ability, acclimatisation, fitness and so on. I will not have any access to satellite weather forecasts so getting this right will be the absolute crux of my whole time there.
Fixed lines will be there to use. People with limited and no knowledge of Everest assume that suddenly Everest is easy because of this but the Khumbu Icefall is just as prone to collapsing, the anchors holding the fixed lines often more flimsy than would be considered safe, and the process of climbing just as physical wearing as ever. I have seen more accidents from people wrongly relying on fixed lines, not attaching themselves properly, slipping while unattached and from anchors popping free in the heat of the day, than I care to imagine. The Lhotse Face is still a 5000 foot 70 degree slope whether there's a bit of rope attached to it, and I remember very clearly the complete tangle of old ropes hanging off the Geneva Spur in 2000, none of which would be considered usable.
I have bought 400 metres of fixed line myself and a number of snow stakes and ice screws to do my own fixing. I also have three tents for the expedition and I am indebted to Tiso the Great Outdoor Specialists for supplying me with my summit tent, a Wild Country Gemini which only weighs 3.2 kgs and is perfectly suited for the job.
I'm also indebted to Tony Broderick of Berghaus in Ireland who has supplied me with all my clothing over the years, so I now have the most modern, up-to-date lightweight gear on earth. Berghaus is very much cutting edge when it comes to new materials coming out, and I speak with some considerable experience when I say it is all extremely good. On the summit of Denali in a minus 30 gale in 2003, I wore only a Berghaus Choktoi fleece.
Also to Chris and Andy in the office here. Things are exceptionally busy this year and all our trips are nearly full, and here I am swanning off to Everest ! Thankfully with all the staff here and in Kenya, Nepal and Russia, things are going very well indeed.
Additionally the charity Moving Mountains is going fantastically well and thank you to the hundreds of supporters. We have maintained an absolutely strict and transparent policy of expenditure, and I am entirely happy that we as Trustees are adhering to the Deed I drew up back in 2001 so that many people are benefiting from all our fundraising. Adventure Alternative still covers all the overheads of the charity except it's liability insurance, so 98% of all funds goes direct to the beneficiaries.
I leave at the end of March.