Mount Everest is not just the highest mountain in the world,
It's my childhood dream.
Adventurer. Mountaineer. Ironman.
THIS IS MY STORY
Reaching the summit of Scafell Pike 3 days after my last GCSE exam; aged just 16 and with my 70-year-old grandad John, unlocked a plethora of emotion, achievement, freedom and a real sense of belonging. I wouldn’t know at the time, but this would be the start of my Everest story.
Having been an athletic child and teenager, sport was something I always loved. From karate, archery, badminton, swimming and football, I spent most evenings and weekends outside. Now, I will be the first to admit that I never felt I achieved what was within my capabilities as a teenager and this is something I have come to reflect on, giving me this yearning for future success. Sport can be a selfish place, yet I have always had pride in being a team player and sharing accomplishments with your friends and teammates is something I still strongly believe in today “alone we can do so little, together we can do so much”. All these qualities mixed with an inner strength I never knew I had and a competitive drive for hard work, grit and determination, allowed me to take to mountaineering in a flash.
My subconscious desire for reaching the top of the world began from reading Bear Grylls Facing Up Everest story. I was only 11 years old and with a keen interest in bold adventures, Bears Everest seemed like a fitting match. It would be another 5 years before I reached into my bookshelf after Scafell Pike and re-read the tales of Everest and that’s when I made myself promise to one day stand at the top, look down the famous Hillary step and view the curvature of the world.
Since completing Scafell Pike for the first time in 2012, I have been back more times than I can remember. Taking on my treasured mountain as part of the Huw Thatcher Trust 24 hour national 3 peaks challenge was one occasion I won’t forget- we completed Ben Nevis, Scafell and Snowdon in under 19 hours, raising over £2000 for a charity very close to me. In 2015 I ventured into higher altitudes and took on the prominent Kilimanjaro (5895m). Summiting on new years day 2016, watching the sunrise for the first time that year with a group of climbing friends, will always hold a special place in my heart. Tanzania is a fantastic, adventurous country that has a real warmth and passionate soul- very special indeed. Soon after Kili, I acquired new skills on Scottish winter courses- from snow holes, avalanche rescue, rope techniques, ice axe arrests and crevasse rescue, I soon felt the desire to push onto more demanding expeditions, and 6 months later I was ready. Mount Elbrus (5642m) in Russia would be my next pursuit. As the highest mountain in Europe and with unpredictable weather patterns, mixed in with short food supply and testing terrain, we managed to successfully summit from the north side, taking in a gruelling 1.9km vertical ascent summit day that would stretch over 14 hours.
Reaching the summit of Mt Elbrus allowed me time to reflect on my Everest dream. I had completed two of the 7 summits by the age of 20 (the highest mountains on each continent) and was planning my next steps for making Everest a reality. I would have to be in peak physical condition to undertake such a feat and so on my 21st birthday (after a tequila or two) I booked Ironman Zurich in Switzerland. The 3.8km swim, 180km bike and 42.2km run all had to be completed under 16 hours, this would surely put me to the test!
In the lead up to Ironman Zurich, I raced 24 triathlons, ranging from super sprints to middle distance (half ironman distance). Triathlon is tough! It takes a combination of resilience, determination, competitiveness and the will to carry on when everything is telling you to stop- I believe these attributes 100% help me when I’m on the mountain. On the 30th July 2017 I successfully finished Ironman Zurich, it was up until that point the hardest challenge I have ever undertaken.
After Ironman Zurich I developed a condition called PID (post ironman depression). Now some may read this and think I’m talking complete rubbish, but it’s a real thing! I had just completed my hardest ever feat, finishing 18th in my age category, feeling like I was unstoppable- the king of triathlon, and then you return home back to day to day life and you seriously just go through the motions, its a real roller coaster ride. One thing I have quickly learnt is that you must always have a challenge on the horizon, something to push for and to drive towards! And this brings me back to Everest and my training for the mountain started to notch up a few levels.
4 hours north of Oslo on the Swedish border I began my Nordic winter training. Over the back end of Christmas and well into the New Year, I endured the worst winter Norway had in recent years. I covered momentous distances cross country and down slopes, honing in on our skills. Enduring temperatures as cold as -20 in the process, battering snow storms and wind chill all for ‘fun’! I took away one great piece of advice from this expedition “cheerfulness in the face of adversity” and its become my mantra for every challenge I now undertake.
The blizzard conditions that followed me into the UK at the start of 2018 gave me the opportunity to continue my winter training. This involved serious kit adaptations- going through several technical tools to practice and hone in my skills. I also started to follow a structured gym plan, that involved a series of non-body weight movements to increase flexibility and balance, and then heavyweight platforms to strengthen and improve core muscle groups for power and speed- all of which I would come to rely on in my next challenge. My South America expedition was set for July and in the hot summer build up me and my UK climbing partners decided to mix things up a little and undertake the national 3 Lakes Challenge (kayaking the 3 biggest lakes/lochs in England, Wales and Scotland) We stored all our equipment into our 4×4 and pitched up tents by the water’s edge – kayaking up to 6 hours at a time was brutal! But an easy challenge isn’t a challenge worth doing right? The weekend after the 3 Lakes Challenge, we decided to tackle the Welsh 3000’s 24-hour challenge (26 miles with 14 peaks over 3000ft). This experience is definitely not to be underestimated, at points I found it a real challenge and although we ate far too many Mars bars and ran out of our only water supply, we managed to finish in 16 hours and be the first team back that day in time for a drink at the Vaynol Arms pub in Nant Peris.
The final few weeks leading up to the South America expedition were a nervous mix of emotions. Leaving for any expedition isn’t easy, especially ones that last months at a time. We were a team made up of 12 strong climbers and the travel into Bolivia couldn’t have been more exciting! Over the course of the next 30 days, we acclimatized, drank and ate as much as we could. Our first successful summit would be Pico Austria (5270m) swiftly followed by a beautiful ascent of Pequeno Alpamayo (5410m). This was the groups first real test in whiteout -20 degree conditions, and me and my guide Marcelo (la bestia) were the first to summit. Huayna Potosi (6088m) was another very difficult climb, not as technically graded at Alpamayo (PD+) but just a very long summit slog, again me and my guide Marcelo were the first to summit and incredibly we caught the sunrise for the new month start on the 1st August just as we touched the summit top- beautiful. Mt Illimani (6438m) stands towering over La Paz city. It was our final summit after 20+ days in the mountains and wow it didn’t disappoint. We successfully summited after a 12-hour challenge which saw several groups turn back after getting into avalanche difficulties. I also learnt a harsh lesson that still to this day I reflect on- the famous cliche of “getting to the top is optional, getting down is mandatory” rang so very true in my ears. On the descent from the summit, I was leading at the front of three, visibility was extremely poor in whiteout conditions and the biting wind was touching at near -30 degrees, this with an accumulation of fatigue and snowdrifts meant I couldn’t see my impending fate and I suddenly dropped into a hidden crevasse. As adrenalin rushed through my veins, I violently came to a stop. Thankfully my teammates were in a safe position and took care of the situation by hauling me back onto the glacier top- close call right! It’s these experiences that make me a more knowledgeable climber and one that will hopefully allow me to pass on wisdom to the next generation of mountaineers.
Courage, determination, unselfishness. These are the characteristics that make up any great mountaineer and although I’m only 22 I feel confident in my ability to express these qualities in any environment or situation. Since returning from the Bolivia expedition I have trained extensively in Cornwall and cycled around Lake Garda in north Italy. Over the next few months in the build-up to Everest I will be following a specific training program designed to push my body to the limits and pass all previous boundaries I thought were impossible before. I also have several media commitments to get my story heard and seen in the run-up to Christmas, so organisations wanting to be part of this exciting journey can get in touch here.
I have a long, tough journey ahead. It won’t be an easy task and I’m going to face several challenges on my way to the top. But, I always tell myself if you find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere. I have been told a thousand times that I won’t succeed in this dream, “It’s too dangerous and you could die” are the main assumptions people make and my response to them is always repeated “the death rate for people who play it safe and for people who live boldly is the same: 100%”. I believe in my abilities, and I believe that in May 2019 I will be standing on the top of the world as the Youngest Yorkshireman, Dream Big. Dream Everest.