You are now higher than you have ever been before.. How did you feel hitting the nr 7000m mark?
Sheena: I loved Aconcagua. For me, once I got the mountain bug I just had this strange desire to go higher and higher in altitude and see how far I could push myself. Aconcagua is that next stage at almost 7000m. It was the highest I had ever been and I worried how I would react to the altitude but it’s well supported on the mountain with doctors checks along the way which was a great comfort to me.
Base camp is a hub of different nationalities and always fun, The food is great and the occasional hot shower a real treat !!!
What advice can you give for when the going gets tough?
That last push is tough but SO worth it. I have learnt now that my body is capable of so much more than I used to give it credit for and with a bit of determination it is amazing what you can achieve. We were blessed with the weather, the sun was out, the wind was low and we could see what felt like the whole world !!
Aco is notoriously a hands-on expedition .. we believe this sets you up for the bigger peaks thereafter .. What would you consider as your next mountain?
I loved every minute of Aconcagua and once standing at 7000m all I could think about was the next mountain!! 8000 m became my mission. So a few years later I did Cho Oyu and crashed though that barrier into the death zone. Wow, what a view!
This is about extreme rock climbing and traversing thorough tribal land where some are still known to practice cannabalism. Was this a dream peak or did you head here as it was part of the 7 summits?
Alex: I heard about Carstensz Pyramid (or as the locals call it Puncak Jaya) when I was reading about the 7 summits. When I realised this peak was the harder choice (Messner’s version of the 7 summits) over Kosciuszko in Australia, I knew I wanted to climb it. For the last couple of years, climbers have been flown to Base Camp from sea level in a helicopter, skipping the 5-6 day jungle trek (that’s each way!) for safety reasons. This also reduces the time to take off for the expedition.
What surprised you the most about this expedition?
Alex: I have limited experience in rock climbing however I found the route from Base Camp to the summit challenging but incredibly rewarding and doable. The traverse was a bit scary (I have vertigo!) but gave me such a buzz!! There are sections to rest and take a breather before tackling the next part. I really enjoyed the complete remoteness of the area, it’s not a touristy place to go climbing and since Carstensz can be climbed most of the year, you don’t get masses of people on the mountain. It’s a rugged, rocky, beautiful place and very different to all the other 7 summits mountains, definitely a unique experience.
The training for Denali is immense. What did you do in the build up?
Stu: My Denali training was like any other mountain I’ve trained for. There is no secret formula. I just got outside and hiked hills. For 4-months, any time I had spare, I was outside hiking hills with heavy boots and a weighted rucksack. Training should be tough so the expedition isn’t. As a result, I actually found Denali easy!
Jo: As Denali involves pulling heavy pulks (sleds) and carrying heavy packs I did just that at home. I spent many hours in the few months run up to Denali dragging Dave the Tyre around the New Forest or in North and South Wales carrying an increasingly heavy expedition pack and it certainly paid off. You’re not going to get fit by sitting on the sofa or by doing ‘just enough’ I needed to be on top form for Denali and I was just that when I stepped onto the mountain in June 2017.
The days are light and the weather window is tight. How did you mentally prepare?
Stu: Mental preparation. I didn’t mentally prepare. I just hiked. The more training anyone undertakes (proper training, not just going to The Lake District, going on an easy hike, then getting drunk in a pub) and the more we push ourselves during training, the better prepared – both mentally and physically – we are for any expedition
People are constantly looking for short-cuts and/or secret training methods. There are none. Just get outside and hike. Push yourself. Training shouldn’t be easy!
Jo: I’m fortunate to have built up a bank of mental experiences of having to sit out bad weather on previous mountains and practice made perfect on Denali. We were tent bound for a few days in a couple of camps but my tent buddy, GB Ironman triathlete and fellow Brit, mountain ninja Lynda Blakely and I kept ourselves entertained with books, cards or films on our phones. We also talked, a lot! You can do nothing about the weather so there is no point in getting frustrated and burning unnecessary calories by worrying. It came right in the end, just for the window we needed, just!
Did you have any technical skills before climbing Elbrus?
Ryan: I’d gained the technical skills required from several other trips with 360 Expeditions including Aconcagua, Stok Kangri, Kilimanjaro and of course their brilliant Winter Skills course in the Pyrenees. These ranged from simple things like load carrying and being self-sufficient through to avalanche awareness, crampon work and ice-axe self-arrest.
What did you learn the most on this expedition?
Ryan: The most I learnt from this expedition is that the summit day is a lot of ascent, i.e. almost 1900m which is one of the bigger summit days on any mountain anywhere. I also learnt that whilst Elbrus is notoriously cold, extreme heat can also be a big challenge, as we experienced unusually hot conditions so hydration and sun protection became even more crucial. Lastly I learnt that stubborn determination WILL get you to the top. Due to the length of the ascent (13+ hours) several of us were on our last legs, however they can go a lot longer than you think. Back to the ABC mantra of one foot in front of the other then repeat until you get to your goal.
Which bit of kit was new and shiny, and the most useful?
Ryan: My only shiny new piece of kit was the 360 Expeditions logoed Berghaus Extrem Micro fleece. However due to the amazingly warm temperatures I never once wore it, not during the evenings at camp or even on summit day night!
How did you physically and mentally prepare for the expedition?
Jo: As with Denali, I have racked up many a big day on the hill and mountain, all good practice for the big one. I had also reached the summit of Manaslu (8163m) 2 years before Everest came around. That was a 6 week expedition and a good grounding for what was to come on a potentially even longer expedition and most definitely a higher mountain. Again, it’s about going with the flow. Some are so stuck to a schedule or an itinerary that they get overwhelmed when the weather gods don’t play ball or things don’t go according to plan. Patience is a virtue! Physically, it was all about strength and fitness so I devised my own plan for the outdoors and was supported by my amazing trainer, Matt Chappell at Evolved Health Salisbury who made sure I kept on track with everything. I was super fit and super strong for both my 2015 and 2016 climbs. The hard work most definitely paid off.
What was going through your mind as you were approaching the summit?
Jo: Holy Cow – I’m actually going to make it! It had been a long and very slow climb and yes, we did queue! There had been very bad weather the day before so the climbers who had hoped to go then hunkered down and came up with all of us. It was busy, it was slow but you can either get frustrated with it, do something about it or go with the flow. We opted for no’s 2 and 3! We were also supposed to be climbing Lhotse straight after Everest so I had to make sure I kept some mental and physical energy in reserve. When I reached the summit I just couldn’t believe it. This former no-saying, height hating, comfort loving sofa surfer can climb!
Everest is an incredible challenge.. what would be your advice to someone who’s thinking about giving it a go?
Jo: It’s an awesome objective but so should everything else be that prepares you for it. Don’t set a short time line if you have little or no experience, but enjoy the experience of gaining the right experience on other mountains. It’s an investment in your life after all! Definitely go for it but do it for the love of mountaineering, not for a tick in the box.
Would you recommend Kilimanjaro as a first expedition to someone who’s keen to take the next step?
Shadi: Absolutely yes. The it is not only a physical challenge but also a cultural experience. You’re going to learn a lot about the local culture, it’s absolutely a spectacular geographic location to visit and once in a lifetime opportunity to do so and it really helps with fitness goals. We all have goals in life that we put it place normally on the 31st of December. Often those goals are forgotten by the 2nd of week of January but if you’re signed up on a Kilimanjaro trip, the days that you don’t want to go out to train, you are going to go out and train. It’s really good to stay on that path of health, fitness and wellbeing.
What drove you to climb a mountain?
Shadi: I really enjoy the outdoors; I find it peaceful and it is essential for our wellbeing especially in the busy world that we’re living in currently and I wanted to share my love for the outdoors with other people. I’m also super passionate about fundraising; when you’re putting yourself through a challenge and pushing yourself to the limits when you’ve got a purpose (for the great of good as mankind) when things get tough and you’re on the mountain, you have that reason to continue so I wanted to raise a lot of funds for great local charities. What better way of doing that by putting a team of novices together, taking them to the outdoors, getting to fall in love with the mountain and raising shed loads of money for the greater good of others.
What did you learn from this trip?
Shadi: I have leant that climbing the mountain is secondary. The process, the journey is primary objective. From the moment you’ve signed up the process of sharing that with your family, getting ready, getting the right kit, training, meeting some of the other people on the team, that is the richest part of the expedition. The summit is secondary. And I’ve learnt that thanks to some very brave people on my team who boldly decided that they got to their own personal summit and I think that should be super respected. I take my hat off to those people.
There is only daylight in Antarctica, how did this effect on your climbing?
Jo: The 24hr bright sun was more of an issue with sleeping rather than climbing but as the expedition is quite short you can just suck it up and get on with it. The only time it made a difference was at Low Camp which is in shade from around 3am to about 9am. In between those times it’s absolutely baltic so you stay in your sleeping bag but either side a steady -15c feels quite balmy.
You get very close to your tent buddies sharing activities such as pooping in a bag.. what was your highlight?
Jo: Fortunately the lovely ALE team build walls around the toilet buckets so you have some modicum of privacy. It is quite strange having a chat with someone whilst you are sat on the bucket and they are having a pee in the pee hole about 10ft away! They were definitely toilets with a view and as we were fortunate with the wind weather wise (or general lack of it) it was quite a pleasant experience!
The cold is intense and temperatures can drop down to -40. What extra kit did you have for this summit push?
Jo: I have built up a good set of PHD and Paramo kit over the years so was prepared with the right kit for the right temperatures. I’m a great one for layering and pretty much stayed in a set of clothes for the majority of the summit day and whipped on my -25c PHD jacket over the top of my layers when we came to the particularly windy spots. It was truly Baltic at times but good kit wins out every time and I was toasty on the inside. I also kept my toes and fingers protected with heated insoles (battery operated) plus head packs for my gloves. I haven’t lost any extremities yet and I don’t plan to either! (she says keeping her very attached fingers crossed!)