Interview with Mountaineer Ed Farrelly

Ed is a 20-year old mountaineer who has climbed some of the biggest peaks in the world, while still managing to pass his exams at university. What can I say, some of us just walk in the light. 😉

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1.You say you are an Adventure traveller, what does that entail?

My adventure travelling has been focused mainly around mountaineering. Mountaineering expeditions have taken me well off the beaten track to far flung corners of the earth and have normally involved weird and wonderful modes of transport along the way.

2.How did you get your first sponsorship deal?

It came about after I became the youngest person to climb Baruntse (7129m), Nepal, aged 18. It’s when people realised I was serious about the whole thing, although I must say on the whole I am strongly against the idea of climbing mountains for records!

3.You are only twenty years old, do you study on the side or are you a full time mountaineer?

I study full time at the University of York and fit mountaineering into my holidays of which I have plenty! Most of my recent expeditions have fitted around summer holidays, which is the wrong season for a lot of popular high altitude areas. Weirdly it’s perfect for me because I prefer to be climbing off the tourist trail hence my last expedition to Kyrgyzstan.

4.What does your mother think of your lifestyle?

I think she’s happy that I’m happy, although she does sometimes get anxious before I leave on expedition- that’s to be expected I guess.

5.How did you afford to travel and climb and buy the gear before you got sponsored?

Before I was sponsored I did most of my mountaineering in the UK and only a few trips to the Alps so I kept the cost down. Also during my teens rather than head off to Zante or Ibiza I spent my cash on climbing gear and trips- I guess it’s where your priorities are.

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6.Have you climbed solo before or do you mostly go in teams?

I have never been on a mountaineering expedition solo, it’s a totally different challenge to that faced when you’re part of a team. It’s a lot more of a mental game and also far more dangerous. That said I do have my eye on going back to Khan Tengri (7010m- Kyrgyzstan) and attempting it solo but only when I feel ready!

7.Is  fear ever an issue for you?

I often get nerves before a climbing day begins. I think that’s healthy though because it means you realise what you’re doing is serious and not to be taken lightly. I don’t think I’d want to climb with someone who never got anxious, that smells of recklessness.

8. What is the longest you have been out on an expedition?

A couple of months- it wasn’t a mountaineering expedition rather a car race from London to Mongolia followed by the Trans-Siberian railway and then backpacking around Scandinavia. It was awesome!

9.Do you ever feel like you are missing out on the ‘traditional’ student life?

Not really, I fit my expeditions into the holidays and whilst I’m at uni I live pretty much as a student- I drink too much, smoke and don’t do enough exercise. It’s only when I’m in the final few months leading up to an expedition that I really kick into gear.

10.What is it that keeps you going  back to the mountains?

That moment when you unzip the tent look up and think blimey, what an honour it is to be able to here trying to climb that thing.

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11. Can you describe the feeling of frostbite for those of us who haven’t had the pleasure?

It’s pretty nasty; there is an intense throbbing as the blood tries to push its way back into the dying tissue. You know that if you could feel a lot of what’s going on in the infected tissue it would be agony but you just can’t- that’s the craziest thing about it.

12. How did you get so confident at public speaking?

I have no idea, I don’t think I am confident to be honest! Like anything it becomes easier with practise, it also helps when you have something to talk about and feel confident that people want to hear what you have to say.

13.Favourite place to climb?

Kyrgyzstan hands down. The unsupported nature of the expeditions, the sheer remoteness and beauty of the place stand it apart from anywhere else I’ve been.

14. Most important piece of equipment?

Probably sunglasses, they pretty much never leave my head and without which would make me snow blind very quickly. Underestimated in the mountaineers gear arsenal.

15.Plans for the next few years on and off the mountains?

Multi-discipline driving expedition from London to Cape Town, I will be climbing/mountaineering and paragliding/skiing/rafting along the way- It is going to be an epic challenge!

Solo expedition to Khan Tengri (7010m, Kyrgyzstan)

Para-alpinist expedition to Ama Dablam (6812m, Nepal)

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16. What are the most impressive mountains you have climbed?

I guess I would have to say Khan Tengri (7010m, Kyrgzystan) despite the fact I didn’t summit. The mountain is very technical and the expedition was unsupported. Also Baruntse (7129m) was pretty tough considering my age and relative lack of experience.

17. What brand do you think offers the best quality mountaineering gear?

Hmmm It’s hard to say, it depends what you’re after because everything has a price and usually there is a correlation between the two i.e. the more expensive, the better quality.

18. What does the UK have to offer the mountaineering folk worldwide?

Absolutely loads, Scotland has some of the harshest weather and toughest winter mountaineering in the world. Also a lot of the stuff here is cheap, accessible and beginner friendly. People in general become to worked up about heading off to the Alps when actually they could be better served here.

Follow Ed on Twitter: @edfarrelly or via his website.

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Interview with Mountain Guide and Mountaineering Instructor James Thacker:

1.What age were you when you started climbing mountains?

I first started walking with my parents when we moved to Derbyshire in my early teens.  We spent most weekends exploring the moors of the Peak District and later climbing on the grit-stone edges.  My parents despite being active weren’t walkers so we started together really, learning to navigate and look after ourselves on the hill.

-What was the first mountain you climbed?

Most likely Kinder Scout in Derbyshire, but the ones I most vividly remember are Tryfan in North Wales and Ben Nevis in the Highlands.  Tryfan was particularly exciting as it involved a lengthy scramble up the north ridge and I had never experienced anything like that before.  Ben Nevis I also remember as we turned back from fairly close to the summit in bad weather, we were worried about the large cliffs of the north face in bad visibility.  Turning round was a good learning experience an something that might be essential on any mountain.

Mont Blanc du Tacul

2.What are the most impressive mountains you have climbed?

Argh, hit me with a difficult question there.  This is a tricky, I guess for me I like the variety so it’s nice to climb summits in Derbyshire, remote Scottish Munros and peaks in the European Alps.  The ‘Steeple’ in the Lemon Mountains of East Greenland stands out as one of my best achievements, it’s fairly low and technically relatively easy by modern standards but is very remote.  I climbed this route in 2000 on an expedition to Greenland with some friends, all in their 20’s at the time, making a number of first ascents including the Steeple which had been attempted previously by Chris Bonington.  22 hours after starting we were back at our skis having climbed a fantastic icy couloir line aided by the “midnight sun” of the Arctic Circle.  Some seven or eight years later I went on to climb the North Face of the Eiger in Switzerland with Nick Wallis, a route with a considerable reputation and standing out as a definite high point for me.  Firstly, because of the route and secondly getting to share it with Nick – we had a great time and everything went well which was great as we had bumped into each other in Chamonix randomly.  It just felt right!

3.Any good stories of danger to share with us?

By choosing to visit the mountains we all expose ourselves to greater risk that is always present.  Certainly for me part of the appeal of climbing is trying to minimise this risk as much as possible.  Being adequately prepared, checking the weather and avalanche forecasts, choosing the right route and partner are all really important.  But inevitably some things are out of your control, or sometimes you just overstep the mark.  Getting avalanched in Greenland, was a massive learning experience, nearly getting hit by a collapsing ice fall in France meant I learned a bit more…

4.Why did you go into mountain guiding?

I always wanted to be a fighter pilot to be honest!  Having got as far as doing my aircrew selection for the Royal Air Force, I realised that the shortest contract I could sign up for was eighteen years and I was eighteen at the time.  To start such a career at the time just seemed inconceivable so I chose to go to University to study Geology instead.  Going to University in Sheffield I inevitably met some really keen climbers and decided pretty soon that I wanted to climb professionally.  As a teenager I had been on a climbing course at my local outdoor centre, the course being run by a British Mountain Guide – this was a really positive experience and the first time that I realised that there were people out there who could take you to amazing places or reach elusive summits.  

5.Whats next on the list to climb?

Today I am checking the weather forecast to see if I can climb Mont Blanc over the weekend.  I then have a week with a friend and regular client Martin, we are yet to decide on exactly where to go – but we could go anywhere and thats the beauty in guiding with a person you know well.  Later in the year I am off to Ama Dablam in Nepal.

6.What needs to be done to save our mountains of the world from problems such as litter, etc.?

As individuals I think we just need to be a low impact as possible when visiting the mountains.  That might mean taking your litter home or making sure that you employ local porters and kit them out properly at the other end of the scale.  The danger is that people fail to even give it some thought.

Abseiling on Creag Meagaidh

7.How many times a week do you get out yourself on the climbs or are you mostly a man of the office now?

I am better at climbing mountains than sending emails, so I am usually out working whether it be in Derbyshire, Scotland or here in the Alps.

8. What are the most popular climbs your company offers?

Most of my work is done at fairly low ratios (i.e. one or two people) and is pretty flexible in it’s nature.  As a result I get to go to lots of different places and do different things.  Of course some climbs, summits or itineraries are more popular than others so I often find myself on Ben Nevis winter climbing, on Mont Blanc or in the Swiss Valais for example.  This year I have already got some requests to go Ice Climbing in Norway, rock climbing in the Lofoten Islands and mountaineering in Nepal…

9.Is there a particular big or difficult climb that you really want to do in your lifetime?

I have always wanted to climb the six classic North Faces of the Alps: The Eiger, Matterhorn, Grandes Jorasses, Cima Grande de Laverado, Petite Dru and Piz Badile.  I have done four of the six so the remaining two i.e. Colton/MacIntyre on the Grandes Jorasses and the Schmidt Route on the Matterhorn.  The Colton/MacIntyre was climbed in 1976 by British alpinists Nick Colton and Alex MacIntyre and remains a classic and highly saught after prize today.  By chance I bumped into Nick Colton the other day and was dying to ask him (again) about the story of the first ascent.

10. What do you bring with you on a long climb?

On a big route, quite simply as little as possible.  The lightest equipment is the stuff you left behind.  On big alpine routes there are a few things that always go with me, the first is some abseil tat (i.e. cord) and a knife incase I need to retreat.  The second is a MacDonalds straw – sometimes these can be really useful for collecting melting snow which saves on the amount of gas you might need to carry.

11.What brand do you think offers the best quality mountaineering gear?

Well I have been supported by Haglöfs and Edelrid for a while now, both of whom make very good clothing and equipment which I would now find difficult to be without.  The reality now is that the mountaineering market is so competitive that bad equipment or brands just don’t flourish or even survive.  The result is that we have so much good gear available now to make our lives easier (or more comfortable) on the mountain.  I’m glad to have been a small part of that by providing product feedback for Haglöfs and Edelrid.

12.What does the UK have to offer the mountaineering folk worldwide?

The UK has a great mountaineering pedigree.  We are used to putting up with bad weather and making the most of it, and sometimes just toughing it out a bit with a slow and stready approach.  That results in British alpinists having a really good expedition record in the greater ranges but also an ability to miss the telephriques in the alps and get benighted!  The British Mountaineering Council run a popular Winter Climbing International Meet in Scotland every two years and climbers from around the world are always amazed at the Scottish weather and the climbing.

13.Its a pricey sport; how long did it take you to build up equipment stocks when you first started?

It can be expensive, but so are golf clubs, paragliders etc!  One of the best things about climbing is that you can participate at different levels.  I started out bouldering and soloing on Derbyshire outcrops with a chalk bag and a pair of rockshoes (now probably available for £120) max.  Other kit can then be built up as you go along, and or be split with a climbing partner.

14.Did you ever have any accidents while out on a climb?

No yet! But I did badly break my leg skiing.  

15. What is the average age group of your clients?

I have worked with everybody from 12 years – 65+ and age isn’t a barrier to climbing really if it’s your thing.  Most clients are 35-50 I would guess.

Mont Blanc de Cheilon

16. Is fear still a factor for you after so many years experience?

Fear, yes definitely.  Ultimately, fear is what keeps us safe.  I think you become better at managing it and deciding whether it is rational or irrational and then getting on with the task in hand.

Check out Jame’s website and Twitter @jamesthacker.

The Ultimate Trilogy – Interview with Margaret Bowling

“In 2013 four of the world’s most experienced female adventurers take on the Ultimate Trilogy of modern day exploration and adventure. 2000km of wilderness terrain covered in 10 weeks by human power: skiing, rowing, walking, climbing.”

Meet one of the team Margaret Bowling.

1.It is an all female expedition. Was this a conscious decision or just something that happened?

It was a conscious decision. I did my first ocean row with another woman. Since then I have been on mixed teams and worked with some pretty capable men, who I had become overly reliant on. After so many things went wrong on my first trip (19 major rudder repairs, electrical faults, broken watermaker, and much more) I knew I could deal with pretty much anything out in the field but I’d become lazy. I had slipped into patterns that are so familiar in our culture – always asking the guys to “just fix this for me” or “just carry that for me”. So this expedition is an opportunity to be the strong self-reliant woman that I know I am.

2.How do you think females are progressing in the field of adventure these days?

We may be in the minority but there are some big advantages to being a woman in the field of adventure. It’s easier to get sponsorship and the press are often much more interested in your story. Again I think this is cultural. I meet women every day who are capable of doing what I do. We just don’t live in a society where they are encouraged to give it a go. So when women do give it a go, it catches people’s attention.

3.How do you all know each other?

Tara and I met at the start of the 2007 Atlantic Rowing Race and have been hoping to do a row together ever since. Linda is one of my heroes so I aimed high and asked her to join us. We then needed a mountaineer to complete the team but nearly all of my contacts are ocean rowers or polar explorers so I came up with a shortlist of female mountaineers who had either done the 7 summits or spoke Spanish and sent out a cold call email inviting them to join us. And that’s how we found Cathy.

4. What does your training consist of for each section of the journey?

The main thing is to develop muscle memory in the disciplines I’m not familiar with. I can get in a boat and row without any problems so my focus is on climbing stairs and hills wearing a pack and pulling tyres along the beach. And of course general fitness is key. I work best with small training goals so have just entered the City2Surf here in Sydney.

5. In the team you all have a specialty!

  • Linda Beilharz  (AUS): Polar traveller – 1st Australian woman to ski to both South and North Poles.
  • Margaret Bowling (AUS): Ocean rower – 1st Australian woman to row an ocean (Atlantic) and the first Australian to row an ocean twice.
  • Cathy O’Dowd (ZA/AND): High-altitude mountaineer – 1st African to climb Everest. 1st woman in the world to climb Everest from both sides.
  • Tara Remington (USA/NZ): Ocean rower— World record holder for fastest all-women Atlantic crossing, east to west, with a four-person crew.

How do you think this will help the team?

It will help us immensely. Because we’re all specialists in our own disciplines we each bring a level of knowledge to the leg we’re leading which would be hard to find anywhere else. For me that’s what makes this an Ultimate adventure.

6.  There will be a lot of Expedition firsts in this journey:

  • 1st team to do a multi-terrain traverse of this nature in Chile
  • 1st all-female team to cross the Northern Patagonian Ice Cap
  • 1st team to attempt a modern-day ocean rowing expedition in South America
  • 1st women to do a sea to summit ascent of Aconcagua

Are you doing it so as to achieve these firsts or why are you doing it?

World records weren’t something I was thinking about until we put together our website and promotional material. My focus was always on putting together a cracking squad of female explorers and creating the Ultimate team.

7.You will embark in late December 2012 and return in  early March 2013, On average you will spend ten weeks completing the expedition. That is a fair chunk of time, how do you keep morale and enthusiasm up when going on long adventures such as this?

With difficulty. But our ability to manage the stresses and stay focussed is one of the things that really excites me about working with a team of such experienced women. With every expedition you do, your resilience improves so I expect fewer blow ups and dark moments than I’ve had when I’ve been with expedition novices.

8.What will you be packing?

EVERYTHING. We have to prepare for 3 legs which all have very different requirements so this is going to be one monster packing job and each leg has to be packed and carefully planned in advance. It’s lucky my mind works like a tetris game.

9.What will you be eating?

Freeze dried meals most of the way and lots of high protein snacks like salamis, chocolate and peanuts.

10.How will you navigate?

Compass, maps and handheld GPS devices are our main tools.

11.How did you come up with the idea?

I was working on a multidisciplinary endurance event called the Trip to Remember which gave me the idea to do an ultimate expedition trip that incorporated the big 3 disciplines of modern day exploration and adventure. I then spent a lot of time trawling through maps of the world to find the perfect location.

12.Why the charities you picked and why pick one’s based in different countries?

We’re doing this expedition for largely personal reasons and not ‘for charity’. Although we are focusing on the Charlotte Lucy Trust, the Wilderness Society and the Wilderness Foundation (who we each have longstanding affiliations with) we hope that by sharing our love for wilderness we will inspire people to either donate to or campaign for causes everywhere that embody our ethos of women and wilderness.

13.It is a physically demanding expedition, how will you keep your body in good condition?

On the ice any injuries we get won’t heal and on the water they will rot so preventing them is out top priority. And that is done by making sure we’ve done our research, have the right gear, are in great physical shape before we go and monitor any niggles and don’t let them turn into severe problems. Keeping hydrated and eating enough is also very important so we’ll be monitoring our daily calorie and fluid intake very carefully. We were quite concerned about muscle wastage and sea legs after the boat leg. Attempting to set off with big packs in that state is a no go so we’ll be fast packing for the walk from the port at Valparaiso to the base of Aconcagua and relying on the support team to carry the bulk of our gear.

14. How do you set a time limit for completion of a journey like this?

Sorry – pass. Not really relevant because we don’t have one.

15.Is there a level of fear in undertaking an expedition of this scale?

Yes, a massive one! I am scared shitless. I’m reliant on the skills and experience of my team mates to get me through 2 out of 3 legs so I have to be prepared to trust them 100% and let them lead those legs.

16.What kind of tent do you have to sleep in?

We’ll be taking Hillebergs. They’re the best tents on the market and I wouldn’t take anything else on an expedition like this.

The Snow Leopard Award -The Complete Interview

1.Nice Twitter line; “Expedition leader, mountaineer, skier & photographer, usually found on big mountains in cold places, planning expeditions, drinking tea or eating percy pigs!”

How did you get to this stage?

This statement is surprisingly accurate to my life at the moment!! The photography started as a hobby and then continued on to University where I did a degree in fine art specialising in photography. I qualified as a mountain leader age 20 and since then have been away on big expeditions every year both personal and leading, and now its a quite a few a year!! In the past two years i have lead more than 10 overseas expeditions! I would class myself as a mountaineer, over a pure climber as I enjoy all aspects of climbing in the mountains. I set up my own company at 23 and now run a number of expedition each yeah with private groups aiming to provide a professional and personal service – hence the planning expeditions part. I enjoy drinking tea and love eating percy pigs!

 

Courtesy of Jon Gupta

2.How long have you and Nick known each other and how did you’s meet?

Nick and i have been friends for around 3 years – we met through a friend on a winter climbing trip in 2009. We climbed together on a few ice routes and enjoyed each others company. We climb well together, almost telepathically and have good banter – always important when times get tough. Since then we have climbed together in the Alps and more recently skiing some incredible off piste lines together. We are both ambitious and motivated to achieve in the outdoors.

 

3.What is the appeal of the Snow Leopard Award?

I was looking for an idea and some inspiration to do a big expedition and ideally a world first or a british first expedition and fell across an article on Peak Lenin (one of the 5 peaks). A few links and click-throughs later and i arrived at the snow leopard award. At first i got very excited then did some more research and spent time pulling information from all over the web – which was hard as there isn’t much about. As soon as realised not a single british person has achieved, it that was it, this was my expedition for 2012!!

I like SLA because it is very ambitious, five 7000m peaks back to back is tough, and only 14 people in the world have ever achieved it. My life, my work and my play revolves around mountains and i wanted to do something that would stand out and that people would enjoy following and reading about, and ultimately inspiring them to get out and do something!

 

 

4.What does your training consist of?

Right now Nick is living in the Alps and has done for most of the past 12 months. In the summer he was climbing a lot and now he is taking his level 1 & 2 BASI ski qualifications – so skiing a lot!

I continue to work freelance and have just returned from 2 months leading and climbing Nepal. As for expeditions prior to the SL expedition i will be leading on Kilimanjaro, Island Peak and hopefully climbing Everest all before July. In between expeditions (i drink tea and eat percy pigs) and climb as often as i can and very occasionally run a bit!

So the short answer is we don’t train – but the long one is we are constantly in the mountains, and are both young, strong and fit!

 

 

5.This will be the first British expedition – how would it feel to get that on your record?

It would be phenomenal – and i would be very proud. It would be a great achievement for Nick and I and for British Mountaineering. My future dream is to climb big unclimbed peaks and visit remote places where humans have never been – for now leading and successfully completing a British First Expedition would be dream come true!

 

6.Why pick mountaineering as your sport?

Have you ever asked a climber/mountaineer ‘why do you climb’? It’s a tough one to answer – and you will get some interesting answers!

I’m not sure if i chose mountaineering or mountaineering chose me. I have been climbing in the mountains for nearly 8 years and have never had a day where i wished i wasn’t there. The thought of going to an office and sitting at a desk all day makes me swirm, i simply couldn’t do it. I have worked hard to get where i have and now i can call my office the world, one week in Africa, the next in Greenland – i have the best office and the best job in the world. I gain huge satisfaction from leading groups in the mountains, introducing them to another world that they had only heard about in writing. I feel alive in the mountains, and this means I’m happy almost all the time.

 

 

7.How did you set the time limit of 40 days?

Our first and main aim is to complete the challenge in one season – which last around 2 months. Denis Urbeko, a legendary climber holds the record at 42 days. If we are going well and the weather is on our side we will also attempt to beat this – and therefore gaining the world fastest completion of the SLA.

 

8.Whats it all about for you?

In some ways it’s a chance to prove myself within the mountaineering world and to make a name for myself. In another way it’s just another expedition which needs a lot of planning and preparing, perfect logistics and some great climbing conditions! In another way it is the next level, the next step up – I’m continuously pushing my level and wanting to climb higher, harder and faster.

 

 

9.If you succeed in this, what is the next step?

I would like to share this experience with as many people as possible. It is such a huge and ambitious expedition that if it comes off and is successful than I think many people could take something from it, the main thing being that anything is possible. I believe that if you really really want something then anything is possible. It would love to have an audience at RGS and inspire a world of both legendary mountaineers and arm-chair readers alike into getting up and getting out there!!!

 

10. What do you have to pack, monitor and work on for this trip?

Our kit list is extensive and is too long to write down here! Our kit will need to keep us warm and dry on the glacier and high up at over 7000m where temperatures can drop below -30 degrees c. For this time we will need to melt snow and ice for water and cook high calorie food to keep our energy levels up. It is inevitable that will lose weight on this trip – so best start eating some more now!

At the moment we are working on gaining followers and generating interest in the expedition and contacting potential sponsors and funding options. Things are going really well and it seems lots of people are keen to follow ESLtwelve. Will still need a lot of financial support for the trip!

 

 

11.Why did you pick this particular challenge?

It’s exactly in line with what i do. I climb mountains, and a lot of these are very high and this challenge encompasses everything i have worked towards for the past 8 years. Only a small number of people have ever completed the challenge and even fewer have done them in one season. I believe around 8 times more people have summited Everest than have climbed all 5 Snow Leopard Peaks.

 

 

12. Why did you pick Dyslexia Action as your charity?

My choice to raise money for Dyslexia Action was simple. I am Dyslexic. In year 3 of school i was diagnosed with dyslexia and for the next 4 years i attended a dyslexia school in Bristol 3 times a week. I developed quickly and managed to achieve above average at both GCSE and A levels. I have never been an academic and at school sport and art were by far my strongest subjects. Supporting Dyslexia will also help with my aim of inspiring people particularly those who do find academia difficult and to install confidence and self belief into them, that they can achieve.

 

13. Who is your inspiration?

There are numerous mountaineers who inspire me – mainly ones who are doing what i hope to achieve for my self one day. I am inspired my big high cold climbs that require a whole repertoire of skills and oodles of determination to achieve, but that are not necessarily linked to super hard technical ability. For example Cory Richards, Denis Urbeko are currently out there achieving first winter ascents on 8000m peaks – that’s some serious suffering, awesome! Im also inspired by those that achieve phenomenal physical feeds such as Eddy Izard running 43 marathons in 51 days! And of course the amazing mountaineering achievements of Reinhold Messner.

 

 

14.How important is it for you to document the experience?

This expedition is going to be quite different from my previous trips. On ESLtwelve i want the readers to feel part of the expedition and enjoy being there as it unfolds through the highs and lows. Once out website is up and running we hope to be as interactive with our followers and readers before during and after. With modern-day technology we also have twitter and Facebook accounts, and hope to keep the expedition every much online when we are in the field. Weekly video blogs and photos to document the expedition are on the cards.

 

 

15.What do you anticipate the biggest challenge will be?

Remaining positive and keeping moral up for 5 weeks in an expedition environment will be tough. Everyone has down days and in a tent environment it is quite intense. Also weather will play a huge part in our expedition and could be the deciding factor if we are successful or not.

 

 

16.Why are you doing this? Why not pick the easier life, the traditional route?

Because that would be boring, and i would be like everyone else, taking the easy road. Mountains make me feel alive. I want to inspire people to believe in themselves.

 

 

17.When are you’s set to depart?

We depart early July, and have flights for 2 months.

 

Follow their journey on Facebook, Twitter or their website.

A Record Breaking Attempt at the Snow Leopard Award

Published in Beyond Limits magazine on 10 January 2010

There is a niche of people in this world, albeit a small one, who are rising up against conformity and taking their lives into their own steady hands. Jon Gupta, Nick Valentine and photographer Alexandre Buisse are a trio who have adopted this stance.

In July of 2012, these three mountaineers will attempt to win the prestigious Snow Leopard Award, which dares climbers to combat five 7,000 meter peaks.

The current record, made by Denis Urbeko, sits at 42 days. Gupta, Valentine and Buisse want to beat it, which would add the impressive tagline; “World’s fastest completion of SLA” to their already glistening title of “British first.”

Feeling like an amateur, I was forced to pose an obvious question,  why not choose  the easy life?

Gupta took the reins and answered, “Because that would be boring, and I would be like everyone else, taking the easy road. Mountains make me feel alive. I want to inspire people to believe in themselves.”

Gupta and Valentine met on a climbing trip in 2009 and have been fast friends ever since.

“We climbed together on a few ice routes and enjoyed each other’s company,” Gupta said, “We climb well together, almost telepathically and have good banter which is always important when times get tough. ”

On a search for the next big thing, Gupta fell across an article on Peak Lenin, one of the 5 peaks and the idea was planted.  Immediately the two realized there would be no reneging.

“As soon as I realized not a single British person has achieved it that was it, this was my expedition for 2012,” Gupta explained.

Their lives reads like a graphic novel, always scaling a cliff edge, or head down pushing through a blizzard, an almost permanent red siren screaming danger in the background while they look past it and continue to succeed in the face of adversity.

“I like SLA because it is very ambitious, five 7000m peaks back to back is tough, and only 14 people in the world have ever achieved it,” Gupta said, “My life, my work and my play revolves around mountains and I wanted to do something that would stand out and that people would enjoy following and reading about and ultimately inspiring them to get out and do something.”

The lifestyle the three climbers lead is the perfect training for their expedition. Valentine currently resides in the Alps and is in the process of taking his Level 1 and 2 BASI Ski Qualifications. Gupta on the other hand has just returned from two months leading and climbing in Nepal and before the Snow Leopard departure date he expects to have climbed Kilimanjaro and Everest.

In short, Gupta says, “We don’t train.  We are constantly in the mountains and are both young, strong and fit!”

To the outside world, Kilimanjaro and Everest are everything, but to the climbing world, they are just two rides in a whole carnival of peaks.

As with many expeditions these days, the team will climb not just for themselves but for a charity.  Each team member will be raising money for a cause that is important to them.

Gupta is collecting for Dyslexia Action.

“My choice to raise money for Dyslexia Action was simple,” Gupta said, “I am dyslexic. Supporting it will help with my aim of inspiring people, particularly those who do find academia difficult and to install confidence and self belief into them, that they can achieve.”

While Valentine climbs in aid of Multiple Sclerosis, the choice is again a personal one after seeing firsthand the effects of MS on a relative.

But all of this, the PR, the fancy title, even the charity, is not the whole picture.   In the end this is a challenge beyond anything most of us can imagine.

“Our kit will need to keep us warm and dry on the glacier and high up at over 7000m where temperatures can drop below -30 degrees Celsius,” Gupta said, “For this time we will need to melt snow and ice for water and cook high calorie food to keep our energy levels up. I think the hardest part will be remaining positive and keeping moral up for five weeks in an expedition environment. Everyone has down days and in a tent environment it is quite intense.”

This is an extreme sport. The few that pursue it have committed their whole world to the mountains. It is not a hobby.  It is an obsession.

Gupta brings the interview to a close with these final lines, “I’m not sure if I chose mountaineering or mountaineering chose me. I have been climbing in the mountains for nearly eight years and have never had a day where I wished I wasn’t there. The thought of going to an office and sitting at a desk all day makes me squirm, I simply couldn’t do it. I have worked hard to get where I have and now I can call my office the world, one week in Africa, the next in Greenland – I have the best office and the best job in the world. I gain huge satisfaction from leading groups in the mountains, introducing them to another world that they had only heard about in writing. I feel alive in the mountains, and this means I’m happy almost all the time.”

Follow Jon, Nick and Alex’s quest to on FacebookTwitter or their website.

The Edinburgh Mountain Film Festival

I took my place amongst the crowd in George Square Lecture Theatre. I was alone, as usual so I automatically tuned into the casual banter taking place around me. Common themes arose, travel, adventure, kayaking, cycling….. I looked around and unsurprisingly the words matched that of their owners. They all, myself included, had that rugged look that can’t be faked, the mark of a life outdoors. I realised that I was way too comfortable for an unfamiliar territory. I was settled in to my comfy chair, notepad in hand, listening to people talk about their adventures. I was home.

On cue, the room was plunged into darkness, the laughter stilled and the host Stevie Christie took to the stage. Sunday afternoons agenda at the Edinburgh Mountain Film festival included three diverse films and a lecture by the notorious (in a good way) Alistair Humphreys.

The first film,’ La Logia’, saw four adventurers kayak Norway, India and Nepal, riding the craziest drops I have ever seen, exploring unmarked routes and generally making up their trip as they went along. “The bigger the risk, the better the reward”, is what they were preaching and I quote; “it’s not a test of your paddling capabilities but of how big your balls are”, aka it is a head game. However the film was more than simply watching kayakers doing crazy shit, it was a documentary on risk taking. A successful one, converting the fainthearted into full on adrenaline junkies.

The next two films were composed by local men. The first, ‘The Fastest man in Kashmir’ dealt with skiing in Northern India. The second, Running Wild, obviously dealt with running. Pete Rennie made it about his wife Fiona who runs The West Highland way. Alot.  Her message, “Just do what you want to do and don’t mind other people.”

The films were truly amazing but the finale, Al Humphreys lecture cycled away with the show. He made these grand expeditions accessible, proving that anyone can do them. The self pronounced loser dedicated the lecture to all his fellow losers in the audience. Then, with our guard temporarily down with laughter, he caught us and reeled us in, pulling us with him on his 46,000 mile bike journey across the globe.

According to Al, I think I can call him Al, the best bit of every trip is buying the map, sprawling it across the kitchen table with a cup of tea and imaging yourself as a hero in all these exotic locations.His tale is simple. During university, he scraped up £7,000 and after the four years, degree stowed in his back pocket he mounted a bike alone and left for four years and three months. It was his game, therefore his rules. Being free of sponsors meant he had the added bonus of spontaneity.

What did I learn from this? More than I have in a long time that’s for sure. The following thoughts are probably ridiculously obvious to your genius minds but they had failed to click with me before Mr. Al Humphreys said them.

  • If you cycle all day, every day, you are going to get ridiculously fit. Therefore the actual physical activity itself is no longer the challenge but the mental aspect.
  • The majority of the Middle East’s inhabitants are nice, nicer than us. So ignore what the media are telling us, man up and get over there.
  • In Siberia, ice-cream never melts so you don’t have to bring a portable freezer with you!
  • Don’t be in a hurry to reach the destination or get home, explore it all, enjoy it all. Chill the beans.
  • “In cycling there is no such thing as a tailwind, there is only a headwind and the days that you are a bit of a legend” – Al Humphreys
  • When you are away you will want to be home, you will crave a normal life, but when you are home, you will be bored. Fact.
  • If you need help just ask. What you need to do is phone up local newspapers, radios or get a job in an obvious place (ie if you need a boat, work in a boat shop).  Eventually someone, somewhere will help you. Persistence is the key.

At twenty eight years old he rolled back into Yorkshire, showered, ate and was bored. So he ran the equivalent of six marathons in six days in the Sahara desert, and then he canoed 500 miles down the length of the Yukon River, then he walked across India, and then he did a lap of the M25 motorway.

Nice.

A Guide to Achill Island

A guide to Achill Island. The un-commercial version.The thing about Achill Island is that it can either make or break you and it is a fine line between the two. But if you are one of the lucky few who ventures beyond the veil of torrential rain, you are guaranteed to discover a place of immaculate beauty and adventure.

I present you with a list of things  not to be missed on Oilean Acla.

1. The Greenway: Achill’s latest batch of trials are incredible, running from Mulranny into Achill sound (13km). You can rent bikes in Newport or bring your own.  It is the closest you’ll get to an open top bus tour.

2. If you don’t fancy walking, then I hate to break it to you but you are in the wrong place. Achill hosts several routes, several hundred that is. But my two personal favourites are Keel Beach and The Deserted village

But check out this brochure for all the hill walking routes: http://www.achilltourism.com/hillwalking.html

3.Croagh Patrick. No arguments, just climb it. It is something to add to your bucket list and then tick straight off.

4.Keem – the secret beach. It is not so much a secret as so downright scary to reach the destination that not a lot of people venture there. But if you can bite the bullet and drive over a tarred road that scales the edge of a cliff, then both the getting there and the destination are unreal.

5. Cafe’s: My Mammy’s favourite part of the island and I am sure the only reason she accompanies me on the six hour drive from home. There are a lot of dives but amongst the crap three or four shine through:

-The Beehive Crafts and coffee shop, Keel

-The Cottage coffee shop, Dugort

-Blackfield surf hut and cafe, Keel

-Lynotts Pub, Cashel

6.Now, down to the real fun, Achill is a hardy adventurers paradise. The playing field, the equipment and the teachers are there if you are willing to cough up the dough (money).

-Surfing – There is a pile of surf schools to choose from for the young ones. However, if you just want to give it a go yourself, Surf le Thomas is on site at Keel Beach all day everyday at prime time with foam boards for a tenner to use at your leisure.( Would you check out my rhymes!)

-Windsurfing , kayaking and kite surfing (€120 for three hours with PureMagic) all on Lake Keel.

After a few days of this, my advice is take the evenings off, shut your doors, shower the muck and sweat off your face and retire to the couch with a novel, a notepad or a DVD and a lovely cup of tea, I won’t even judge if you add a splash of whiskey to that, you are in Ireland after all.

A trek up Croagh Patrick

If you are a native Irish and are unaware of the status of the mountains that sit on your doorstep, than shame on you, but at least now you know. They are immaculate and grueling and you can find one to scramble up in almost every county. But if you are a native Irish and you are aware of this catalogue of land and still fail to use them, then my apologies but you are a fool and you are missing out.

 

Croagh Patrick is one of Ireland’s more famous sleibthe (mountain) as it is a pilgrimage and recreational route combined. It sits eight kilometers outside the quaint town of Westport, County Mayo and its summits reaches 2,507 ft. All I have ever heard about it growing up, far, far away from it (5hrs) that it is tough, really tough. I did not train for it, but I hold a general level of fitness so on impulse I decided last week that I would attempt to scale this beast. The truth be told, it was grand. Breaking it down, there are two stages, the first is fine once you develop a rhythm. At the half way point it flattens out to meet the base of the steep climb to the summit. Here is where things get tricky, especially if you are trying to drag your mother up it after you.To add to the heartache it is buried in shale all the way to the top. At the base, you can rent sticks to aid your ascent, best one euro fifty I ever spent.

 

It was a pleasant sunnish day for Ireland, so naturally the mountain was packed. People of various sizes and ages littered the main route, with a constant wave of people passing you then stopping to rejuvenate, then passing again. There was the unfit, been dragged up by an eager friend or relative red-faced and bleary eyed, then the foreign tourists speaking in a foreign tongue and smiling at all who they pranced by. There were the seasoned hikers who all dolled up in their hiking gear made it all look so easy and finally there was the minority who ran up it and who I gaped after both astounded and jealous.

 

At a leisurely pace it takes about two hours to get up and down it. A weathered church sits on the top surrounded by a view of the sea and greenery that Ireland can be proud of. People dined there on ham and bread rolls and flasks of tea. What I love about mountains, well hills, and the people who climb them is the atmosphere that is created along the trek. The shared experience of pain and triumph breaks the ice and allows everyone on board to chat, to congratulate or to offer words of encouragement. On the descent I met a local man who had walked this route sixty-nine times this year, instantly I felt like a fool. I smiled at the man while thinking fair play to him who actually got and was living by the code I was preaching. The Irish landscape and the people who walk its green pastures are steeped in history, and there to be taken advantage of if you can just force yourself to look beyond the weather.

Falvey’s Everest Adventure’s

Pat Falvey is one seriously brave Cork man, his feats in the realms of exploring are both intimidating and awe-inspiring. The man has climbed Everest four times, summited twice and he is the only person in the world to have conquered the world’s seven summits twice. Then he traversed Greenland (first Irish team) in 2006, the South Pole (first Irish team) in 2007, the North Pole 2009 and sometimes just for the craic he does so without the aid of oxygen, or as he puts it, “just to prove to myself that I can do it”. He has redefined the term, ‘pushing the limits.’ In his spare time, he obviously does not sleep; he is an entrepreneur, motivational speaker, team trainer, environmentalist, author, photographer and film producer.
“Why do I do it? I have a passion to discover what’s beyond the horizon. At times it gets tough, but I treat adventures like life, there are low points and high points.” says Falvey. He has seen 13 of his friends die at high altitude, so naturally the fear factor is respected. The next exploration on the cards is the North Pole, if completed, it will be his teams equivalent of winning the Grand Slam.

“Everyone has their own Everest. The majority of people do not do what I do, because of the fear of failure. People make excuses, but they can achieve anything, it is simply a question of will.”

Falvey lives on the doorstep of the Macgillyicuddy’s Reeks which he has climbed roughly 2,500 times. It is his mountain. “The light and beauty seen from its summit still catches me,” he insists. Kerry is the mecca of Ireland’s climbing scene and Falvey’s personal training spot. Ireland is a playground for hillwalkers of all levels, with Carrantuohil hosting the highest peak and comes highly recommended by Falvey.

Pat Falvey is an Irish hero, anyone that sleeps for only 4hrs a night and can still climb for three hours the next day, do yoga for one, go to the gym and still have a day job deserves a medal. One of the negative’s is you have to make sacrifices, he is away exploring for seven months of the year.

At the moment he is training for the North Pole trek while working on a flood of documentaries, including one on Ger Mc Donnell the first Irish person to reach the summit of K2. Pat will be speaking on Sunday the 22nd of May at The Adventure Weekend Expo in the RDS.