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Roll up, roll up, here’s your chance to bet against me finishing the Thames Path 100…

Friday, March 15, 2013 AT 17:48 PM Comments0 Comments

Roll up, roll up, here’s your chance to bet against me not finishing the 100 miler next weekend!…5, 10p a mile? Please, please, please…

On Saturday 23 March 2013, I am taking part in the Centurion Running Thames Path 100 both for personal challenge and more importantly to raise money for a very good cause for which we would massively appreciate your support.

A few months ago a friend of mine (Dylan Hall)’s younger brother Callum Hall collapsed after having stepped on a sea urchin whilst on holiday in Greece. The infection caused an epidural abscess in his spine which needed removing as it had burst and the infection spread through his body…he had hours to live. He had life-saving surgery, which was followed by three months at a specialist hospital in Wakefield. Cal, who is 20 years old, is now paralysed from the chest downwards.

Fortunately, Cal is also incredibly optimistic and is determined to regain the use of his legs and even has ambitions of competing in the Paralympics in Brazil in 2016. He has managed to wiggle his toes and twitch his knee but realises that his recovery will take some time. His attitude and determination has been inspiring! I hope I can do him justice next weekend!

Any money I manage to raise will go towards equipment such as an “Easy Stand” (which will help Cal stand on his feet and aims to connect the brain back to the legs) and an FES (Functional Electrical Stimulation) bike which helps to get his leg muscles working again and again connect the brain to his legs. Now that he has been discharged from hospital, he is dependent upon this equipment to continue his recovery.

Please donate whatever you can – £5-10 would be amazing (that’s just 10p per mile!) – to help Callum get back on his feet (literally) and incentivise me to actually make the distance!

You can donate here: http://www.callumhalltrust.com/donate/ Please enter “Bens100-ish” into the special instructions section. Alternatively, you can donate by cheque or if you would prefer to give me cash, I will make a lump sum donation after the event.

For more info on the Trust please see here http://www.callumhalltrust.com/ or https://www.facebook.com/CallumHallTrust

There’s also been an amazing response in the national press for Cal, which has lifted his spirits and spurred him on:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2266968/Sporty-student-paralysed-treading-SEA-URCHIN-holiday.html

http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/4758413/Urchin-vincible-Sports-student-paralysed-by-a-sea-urchin.html

Thanks in advance for your support,

Ben


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An hors d’oeuvre to my oeuvre: Why I adventure – My Dinner with Andre:

Saturday, October 22, 2011 AT 10:59 AM Comments0 Comments

I’d been writing this blog post for nearly two months! It would’ve seemed completely out of left field, a bit multi-directional and from time to time self indulgent. Well, I would’ve hoped so, because that’s kind of the point! It had been binned and taken back out and eventually reached over 20,000 words, so I’ve decided that I am going to save the text for people who want to find it!

So rather than a ‘service à la française’, if you are at all interested in ANYTHING, to do with ‘adventure’ activities, either taking part or simply as a voyeur, although it might at first seem of no relevance, please, I implore you to try take two hours out of your day when you can, either get a strong brew and a biscuit, or pour yourself a nice glass of an ’05 Lafite or ‘summat’, and let yourself be distracted by the 1981 ‘masterpiece’ ‘My Dinner with Andre’.

It’s a fantastic film for all sorts of reasons (which has taken me over 20,000 words to get anywhere near explaining the relevance of) but of primary importance for this blog it is, for nearly two hours, purely just two old ‘friends’ that work/worked in the same industry, the theatre, having a conversation, challenging each other and discussing ideas!

‘Wow that sounds dull/hard work’! I’m sure will be most people’s first reaction, but don’t worry, that’s a completely ‘nurtural reaction’, and one of the reasons I’m posting this blog at all, but also because I’m sure I can’t be the only one that is ‘bored’ of the ‘social thalidomide’ (yes, used as a sedative, and ‘known’ to cause birth defects!) we are force fed on a daily basis, on every channel, in every ‘entertainment genre’, like ‘The only way is Essex’, ‘something Chelsea’, ‘I’m a celebrity/want to be a celebrity, get me out of here/on TV’ – you know, the ‘Reality TV’ that has nothing ‘REAL’ about it!?

So, you can watch the whole thing on Youtube, but as a taster, or, as an hors d’oeuvre to both the film, and to what I consider my own ‘oeuvre’ here’s a clip that seemingly even has a direct ‘adventure’ reference for all those that were already losing interest and concentration:

Watch the clip


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Places my fingers have been!…and where they are now!?

Sunday, October 2, 2011 AT 15:18 PM Comments3 Comments

Everyone will be glad to know that this is not a ‘who’s who’ of my debaucherous mid twenties; It is, by ‘popular’ demand simply a picture of my finger tips which were snipped off following the frostbite I sustained on Everest.

It’s now over four months since I stood on the top of Mount Everest with a frozen hand having sustained a small case of frostbite around 7 hours before the summit (and when I was covered in my own p*ss and sh*t). Read about how this happened here.

And it’s just over two months since the demarcation of the dead tissue was significant enough for the surgeon to remove the redundant pieces of my fingertips without removing any of the remaining functional tissue.

Frostbite doesn’t ‘just’ make you look cool! It hurts! I genuinely didn’t get any sleep or real rest for nearly two months after summiting Everest as the pain, was constant, 24-7, as each of the affected cells and nerve endings in my fingers were exploding, slowly dying and attempting to naturally separate themselves from the rest of my living body. It’s a pain that is a good 9 out of 10, with a 10 being, ‘I’ve had enough of this now, where’s that gallon of Propofol?!’.

The fingertips were removed using a ‘guillotine amputation’ which basically means that the dead tissue is removed, with essentially a big pair of nail clippers, and a ‘CRUNCH’! (I was awake during the operation and couldn’t help watching my finger ends being pulled off – which was fascinating but maybe something I shouldn’t have done!…things like this is why I may seem to have a somewhat desensitised perspective?!); and, that’s it! They don’t do anything else, there’s no pain killers or antibiotics at this stage, they simply ‘put a plaster on it’ (that’s a ‘band-aid’ for our American friends) and send you on your way!. They DO NOT sew up the ends! (In order to try save as much of the length of the finger as possible). And it’s worked, you can hardly notice, other than the absence of the finger nails, any real shortening of my fingers, and I still have 99% of the function that I always did. My typing is still appalling, but my ‘short hand’ is improving! 😉 And the doctor insists I will be able to play the piano, which is odd because…(sorry old joke). I just won’t ever be able to use the phrase ‘it fits like a glove’ again…!

The only problem is that it’s still not quite healed and although it didn’t stop me going out on expedition over the last few weeks in Iceland (where we spent one very cold night up on the highlands slept in a cave without a tent), there is still a very small piece of bone sticking out of the end of one of the fingers which the skin still hasn’t quiet managed to grow over yet…which is just about starting to p*ss me off a little bit!

Having said that though, someone did tell me to ‘Man up, soft lad’ when I mentioned this yesterday, and they were of course, quite right! It is ‘just a scratch’, there certainly isn’t any reason to cry over the milk I’m ‘inevitably’ going to spill! 🙂

So, to cut to the chase, my finger tips served me well, and travelled to some interesting places with me, they’ve been up mountains, across oceans, ice caps and deserts, but have now clearly become superfluous, and as lightweight travel is a bit of an obsession and a necessity, this can be written off as a beneficial weight saving going forward!?

I would never say ‘my fingertips were lost’, because I know exactly where they are, they are here with me now, in a jar!…(and now I’ve varnished them they can be attached to links on my cufflinks whenever I want…you know, for a ‘special’ occasion!?)

I’m trying to save details, stories and images like this for the book I’m compiling, which still remains unfinished and without a publisher, and I expect will do for a while, if I am to get my way – stories from the field with concepts of human evolution and existentialism threaded through them, written with genuine insight, charisma and a sense of humour rather than what I would see as unnecessary grandiosity, and refinement for the absence of progressive sensibilities, is not of interest to a large enough market; apparently! Hmmm, if only I was prepared to ‘get my t*ts out’….! – Anyway that’s a disturbing thought for another day! Here’s a sneak peak as requested…


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Expedition misrepresentation – ‘Rant in NP minor’ – Rowing the Arctic

Thursday, September 1, 2011 AT 11:05 AM Comments25 Comments

I’m going to start off with an apology, I’m pleased for the guys onboard for achieving their objective (what that was has unnecessarily become the debate), and because I am actually polite and well mannered and am, for the most part, hugely supportive of other people doing whatever they want to do in the outdoor industry, sorry, if anyone doesn’t want to hear what follows this then stop reading it! If you want to ‘unfriend’ me on Facebook or ‘unfollow’ me on Twitter because this particular truth is not to your taste then PLEASE DO!

For starters, from an outside/inside perspective here’s ‘Modern Corinthian’ Jock Wishart (who I think I met out in La Gomera in 2007 and seemed a nice enough bloke at the time in the bar), the ‘only man to walk to unsupported to a pole and Row an Ocean’ (Hope Fedor Konyukhov doesn’t hear him say that, because I ‘think’ he did that, and some other stuff?!) laying sugary chocolate arse nuggets into the ears of the mass media and the public; (Whilst of course celebrating with a nice Malt Whiskey!…’What brand of whiskey’?!)

“We are sitting in the position of the North Pole, a real true global first and one of the greatest Ocean Rows of all time”

(When asked what message do you come away with in terms of the melting ice cap?) “Well, this is one of the last true polar firsts and certainly one of the greatest Ocean Rows of all time” followed by some subjective insight into climate change….

“This is probably one of the most difficult exercises ever done in the polar region since (Edmund) Hillary took tractors across Antarctica. It’s no light feat and it’s no job for the faint-hearted.”

“We have accomplished a truly great goal first and certainly a goal that will go down in the record books.”

“It was a real true global first and probably one of the greatest ocean rows of all time”

‘And, as he sipped a malt whisky to celebrate, he said: “It is one of the greatest ocean rows of all time.”’

(edit insert 13th Sept 2011) – ‘First to Row to the North Pole’ (Monday 12th Sept skip to 23:55)

The reason I feel strong enough to rant about this in my own tiny personal piece of web space, to less than a few hundred people, is that when certain expeditions like, pour exemple, ‘The Old Potsie Row to the Pole’ are misrepresented, either by the media or by those leading it, they diminish anything which remains genuinely ‘good’ and interesting about the industry which we live and work in, and ultimately from a selfish point of view they affect my lively hood and ability to fund and carry out expeditions for myself and for other people!

There are lots of examples of things that are just plain wrong at the moment in our industry, and it seems to boringly hinge around certain definitions. E.g. The number of people who call themselves ‘Explorers’ these days is laughable! Hardly anyone can call themselves (or rather should be referred to as) an explorer these days, so if you see someone called an explorer on TV you can be forgiven for first assuming they are either a charlatan, or the defrosted corpse of Captain Scott which has been kept in a sort of natural cryostasis! You can only be an explorer if you are going somewhere that we have either never been to before, or, somewhere which has only ever been explored once or twice and you are furthering that exploration in some way, and in addition, if we’re honest, if you’re doing less than one ‘exploration’ a year or even just one in c10 years then you are probably doing something else for your ‘day job’.

But beyond that, what title do we have? Well, it loathes me to say this, because I too have had to serve my apprenticeship, but the only thing we are left with these days is ‘Adventurer’.

After nearly ten years of gaining experience, spending a fortune out of my own back pocket (which I had to earn in a 9-5), learning and doing different things across different genres, training my ass off every week (because If you wanna be the best, and you wanna beat the rest. Oo-ooh! Dedications what you need), running ultra marathons, because aside from the enjoyment, it gives potential sponsors a tangible insight into my physical capabilities, and even being willing to, and then actually losing parts of my own body for my ultimate goal; to finally build up a modicum of credibility and/or respect from my peers for things that I’ve done and am working towards (and even now being a lifetime away from where I want to be i.e. dead(?) happy), and to turn what I love doing into a profession, I’ve started to realise, that I could, if I had wanted, and could have lived with myself and slept at night; simply not bothered, and simply lied?! (Or misrepresented).

One of our problems is, anyone can ‘call’ themselves an ‘adventurer’ (and sadly some even choose ‘Explorer’ without genuine fact) because the scope for adventure is so wide (And that is actually a great thing). An adventure can be anything from going for a nice walk in beautiful weather to a place in the countryside that you haven’t been to before. Or it can be rowing an ocean or climbing Mount Everest, and that sliding scale extends all the way to having unprotected sex at a ‘strip club’ in Botswana!

I think there has to then be a distinction between ‘professional’ and ‘non-professional’, and in realising that fact, we as ‘professionals’ should conduct ourselves, in everything relating to our expeditions in a ‘professional’ manner. So that means, if you have a genuine product, sell it and sell the shit out it. But if you shovel shit, please don’t sell it cheaply to the uninformed consumer as Shinola! Particularly when the uniformed consumer happens to be the mass media! (And yes granted my perspective is slightly altered on what is shit and what is Shinola! – and I’m certain not saying the ‘row to the pole’ was shit I’m saying a lot of what was shovelled to the media was!).

For me personally there are certain rules or definitions I like to use to define my personal ‘adventures’ and those I design and facilitate for other companies, like;

• There should be a definitive, none-contrived or arbitrary start and finish point.
• The true goal or real reason for the expedition should be honestly and openly portrayed. If you’re raising money for charity, great, but be careful not to say you are ‘doing it for charity’ or ‘to highlight climate change’, unless you have no other reason to do it, other than that stated.
• Be 100% clear about what it is you are actually doing.
• A personal choice now is that it needs to be an ‘expedition’ in a pure sense i.e. unsupported, as much as possible away from civilisation, off road etc. (NB: This is my personal choice now and it certainly does not detract from the great work of Al Humphreys on the microadventure, which gives people the realisation of the essence of adventure, which is a great message!). So as a side note from my rant a note to myself, I may be looking for a new working title in order to make a distinction, and before anyone says it; I’ve already considered ‘Arrogant, self important prick’ but I don’t think it will get me nearly as many girls as being ‘an adventurer’ does!) [citation needed].
• And maybe most important, when it’s done, have some f*cking humility man! Even if you had just somehow magically managed to combine “One of the last great polar firsts” and “One of the greatest Ocean Rows of all time” – Of which, many will say this was neither!…Don’t sit there and say it! (But you did on the BBC News, when you hadn’t even!) – Titles like this should not be bestowed upon oneself or one’s own achievements but should be a matter of debate and conjecture for everyone!

So to the example of the much reported ‘Old Potsie Row to the Pole’:

A great idea and an interesting project, yes. Unfortunately, for me (but who cares what I think) and a few more important people, who may bite their tongue, certain aspects of its portrayal in the national media were really annoying! Which would be fine, I live with being constantly annoyed, but the ramifications of portrayals of expeditions such as this are not good for our industry and I think we should all be careful about the way we present the things we do, because unless we are all aiming for ‘mediocrity and banality’ as a matter of course or worse to ‘become famous by simply over serving our corporate overlords/sponsors’, when we finally get to where we want to be, doing things ‘from our hearts, that really f*cking ROCK!’, no one will care or understand the difference between those and, ‘Vanilla Ice’. (I’m going to explain this homonym ‘Vanilla Ice’ reference because it’s too good to miss, listen up, I think there is a certain amount of ‘corporate pleasuring’ as per the Bill Hicks Vanilla Ice link, that has resulted in the misrepresentation of this expedition in the mass media and the expedition itself out there on the ‘Ice’, when looked at in a little more detail, is a little bit more ‘Vanilla’, i.e. ordinary, than you may be lead to believe!)

Some specific things about the representation of the ‘Old Potsie Row to the Pole’ that have been a hotbed for cringingly quiet debate in our Adventure community. Well, balls out, here they are;

• Starting with the obvious, and to try give the benefit of doubt as much as possible here, it was poorly represented by some of the media, but ‘maybe’ there’s no smoke without fire; (Let’s be honest, the media will have been fed a press release at some point stating certain things and those things were compounded in live interviews on national and international TV and radio programmes by Jock Wishart).
o Fact: It was not to the assumed and nonchalantly implied ‘default’ North Pole (i.e the Geographic North Pole – which, if you were wondering, means it was not to the ‘top of the world’), nor was it even to where the compasses point, the Magnetic North Pole, yes those two poles are actually different! Ha! Who knew!? It was to where compasses used to point to in 1996! A couple of hundred miles away from where it now is I believe. (Crew member and adventurer Mark Beaumont has done an excellent job of trying to make this clear, which is burden he does not deserve).

• Question: How can someone be an ‘Explorer’ by going somewhere that has long since been explored and, to the extent that the whole real reason for the expedition was to reach somewhere that was documented as the Magnetic North Pole way back in 1996? Is that what we call ‘exploration’?! How sad for us all…Shall we just accept the true ‘age of exploration’ is over and happily move on to bigger more challenging things!? I think some people and areas of the media are ‘holding on too tight and should turn in their wings, before we all crash and burn’!

• Self proclaiming on live TV that what you’ve done is one of “the last great polar firsts” and “will go down in history as one of the greatest Ocean Rows of all time” not only is inaccurate on a number of levels but is also reminiscent of being at school when an unpopular kid would join a new class and give himself a cool new nickname like ‘The Dude’, or ‘Big nuts’….”Hi, my name’s Eugene, but people call me, erm, Big Nuts”…(Not to mention, even if that was the case, how arrogant would you have to be to give yourself that much of a pat on the back?!).

o The fact is this is not one of ‘the last great polar firsts’, it is an interesting project, but there are a number of ongoing projects for a number of great polar firsts, such as Reaching the North Pole of inaccessibility, An on foot unsupported return journey to the South Pole, one particularly close to my heart, a full 1800 mile traverse of Antarctica and I’ve even heard of a South Pole in winter expedition! In reality, yes it’s the first time a rowing boat has gone to the 1996 magnetic pole, which, granted is kind of cool! But it was from an arbitrary distance away, and if certain other people in the community had been that way inclined they could have flown a boat out to within 100 or even 50 miles away, or rowed to another arbitrary point on the map and got there in a couple of days and saved everyone from the bravado.
o Nor was it one of the ‘Greatest Ocean Rows in history’, it lasted just over 3 weeks, covered just c450 miles and, here’s the kicker, it’s not even open Ocean! There were camps on land? And sections man-hauled? (It was in a modified Ocean Rowing boat, whose designs maybe have a questionable origin, but it was not even AN Ocean Row! Ocean Rowing is the sport of rowing across Oceans) if anything this was a coastal row)

• If this was truly done to show climate change, why on ‘God’s green earth’ accept a sponsorship from a Whiskey company? If the whole honest goal was to highlight climate change, which, I maybe wrong but I thought was said on BBC news, why not use that platform to work in partnership with and promote a ‘solar power company’ or something alike? There certainly seemed to be more of a subjective rather than an entirely scientific approach to recording this when asked about it on BBC news?

• And one last small point but, it wasn’t even rowed the whole way, it was man-hauled too? Which ‘kind of’ nullifies the climate change argument because this arbitrary point could have been reached by rowing AND man hauling anytime! For reference and example of conduct, Rune Gjeldnes and Cecile Skogg made it clear this summer they were kayaking and man-hauling to the North Pole.

The reason these misrepresentations are so detrimental to our community, aside from the fact we collectively get a reputation for being dishonest spenders of other people money for our own personal pleasure and advancement of notoriety; the more the public and the mass media believe has already been done in the Adventure/Exploration community (let’s be honest almost everything has been unless it is genuinely difficult), the less likely companies are to be interested in sponsoring genuine projects that attempt the properly hard core remaining ‘firsts’ that genuinely prove or advance something. What happens in 20 years time when we’ve all got perma-sun tans, climate change actually turns out to be real based on real data and someone wants to row to the geographic pole – hasn’t that already been done? Or what about when someone wants to get sponsorship for a Geographic North Pole traverse – can’t you take a boat up there these days? Or even, anyone wants to row across a whole open Ocean, and that effort is belittled by a row/man haul within an archipelago because that, was supposedly “one of the greatest ‘ocean rows’ of all time”!?…..F*CK! is my Ocean row, or any other Ocean Rowers row which actually crossed an Ocean, not as ‘great’ as Jocks paddle?! (Well, I know it and they f*cking are, and in the context of Ocean Rowing, are more so!)

So has anything been learned here or are these things we already knew? Yes it’s a rant! But the only important thing is to draw attention to the fact that misrepresentation of expedition’s goals and outcomes, although easily done, is detrimental to ourselves, our community, our own projects and reputations going forward and we should all be more careful/honest from now on.

PS. I’m running across Iceland soon, it’s going to be ‘The greatest ever run across a continent in history’


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Why ‘I’ climbed Mount Everest, and maybe why you shouldn’t?

Monday, August 15, 2011 AT 09:53 AM Comments2 Comments

This is an abridged extract from a chapter of the book I’m writing that also includes the stories of how ‘a whale’ smashed our rudder off our ocean rowing boat in the middle of the Atlantic and how we were hunted by two Polar Bears for two days in Greenland:

I’m not going to lie to you; I’m not the first person to climb Mount Everest!

For me climbing Everest, wasn’t about doing something that would grab the headlines and it wasn’t about doing something completely contrived or exaggerated to seem more interesting or grandiose than it actually is.

I wasn’t going to ‘do it for charity’ (I worked hard and saved up for it for ten years and still had to borrow a large amount from the bank as I didn’t pursue any sponsorship), and I wasn’t going to do it on a pogo stick or be ‘the first person to carry a bottle of Reggae Reggae sauce to the summit’. (And now I’ve done it I’m not going to claim some stupidly specific title like ‘first man to row the Atlantic, ski across Greenland, run the Marathon des Sables, traverse Denali, climb Mount Everest, be 5’ 8” and live in Leeds’, because I don’t know, or care if I am or not’!)

I climbed Mount Everest purely for the love and experience of doing it.

Climbing Mount Everest has simply always been something that I have wanted to do ever since I can remember, but I remember specifically when I committed to it. It was the 13th of May 1995 (my 15th birthday) and there was a piece on ‘Newsround’ about Alison Hargreaves reaching the summit of Mount Everest. I remember standing there watching it, knowing, that I was going to do that one day (and secretly hoping to summit on my 30th birthday).

Climbing Mount Everest was actually part of a long list of things which formed naturally through childhood that I ‘knew’ I was going to do and which I’m working my way through. The big three (which are public knowledge) of the longer list were to Row the Atlantic, climb Mount Everest and Ski to the South Pole, which I grouped together into a personal project which goes by the name of ‘The Adventure Trilogy’. The idea with the Trilogy was that I would have to, ‘to some extent’, master three very different disciplines in three very different dangerous environments and I would get to experience firsthand everything that goes with that. It’s never been about doing ‘something’ out of the ordinary for me, it’s always for me been about certain specific things and I’m pretty sure once the list is finished I give it all up and go and live in a log cabin somewhere away from everything. I think if you don’t inherently already know what the majority of your next c10 projects are going to be, and you’re searching around to create ‘something’ to do, maybe whatever you end up doing perhaps doesn’t mean that much to you and maybe, you’re just doing it for a different reason? – Which is fine, I understand that, and each to their own.

Having rowed the Atlantic in 2008 I had planned to go to Everest in 2010 but due to a set back out in Greenland in 2009 on an expedition we were using as a precursor to our South Pole attempt (The ENDURE MORE expedition), Everest had to be put back to 2011. When I finally got to base camp this year in Tibet it was everything I had imagined and planned for, for all those years.

Sitting back at home now feeling fine I could find it easy to say it was a piece of cake but I have to admit it was a lot more difficult than I was expecting! It is difficult, anyone who thinks because it’s a popular mountain these days that it is easy, is an idiot. (And as you can probably tell I’m pretty tired of hearing things like ‘more people have climbed Everest than….rode a bike along this obscure coastal track whilst wearing a tutu’, or something to that effect).

I climbed Everest via the North East Ridge which is the route made famous by Mallory and Irvine’s 1924 ill fated attempt. For me because of the history and the actual climbing en route to the summit this offered the most interesting climbing option as opposed the southern route first climbed by Norgay and Hillary in 1953. (Who along with Mallory and Irvine, having been there now myself, my already gushing admiration for has grown significantly).

Above the mass of crevasses, over hanging seracs, avalanche hazards and ice walls that is the North Col and the deceptively steep (and seemingly never ending) snow slope of the North Ridge, the climbing really gets interesting! But I can’t really tell you anything about the route that you can’t find in a book somewhere else, other than maybe; there is “a big rock” at c7200m!

What I can tell you is that my summit day and the events that unfolded I’ll never forget and may have changed my life a little.

Summit day really starts from camp 2 at 7800m as you spend so little time at camp 3 at 8300m (the highest campsite in the world) before the final push for the summit. When we started out from 8300m in the dark at around 21:00, it was cold but not too cold (about -20 centigrade) it was snowing a little but there was hardly any wind. Even though I was already tired, being well above my previous altitude record I started strong, but it wasn’t long before things started to go ‘downhill’.

There are around 12 dead bodies of climbers on this route above 8300m, one wrapped in a tent just a few yards from where we started in camp 3 but mostly they’re up high on the ridge above 8500m. After a few hours we made it up onto the North East Ridge itself and ‘took a right’ just before the famous ‘landmark’ of the body of an Indian climber, Tsewang Paljor, now referred to as ‘Green Boots’. I’m not going to sugar coat this, the route is so narrow at this point you have to pass within 2 feet of his body, and although I’m not squeamish or affected by things like this it is a very real reminder that you are pushing the limits and should things go wrong in the next 12 hours this is where you’ll stay!

After passing Green Boots, on the ridge there are just the three famous rock ‘steps’ to negotiate and over a mile in length of highly exposed ridge. “What could be simpler, there are fixed ropes and ladders, it’s just a walk” – I have to say that this view which I’ve heard a few times is not only flippant and uniformed it’s a little bit stupid!

The three steps each produced events that I will never forget. It was still night as I made it to the first step and below us, a long way below us, we could see the flashing and cracking of thunderstorms in the clouds over in the distance towards Cho Oyu.

I committed to climbing the first step in my smaller gloves as it appeared a lot more difficult than expected and as it wasn’t particularly cold I’d benefit from the added dexterity. Unfortunately climbing the first step took longer than expected and my hands got extremely cold due to a combination of a number of contributing factors, and because of where I was, hanging off the mountain over a substantial fall I couldn’t stop to either warm my hands properly or get my biggest mitts out. I was a little bit unlucky, and by the time I reached the top of the step and a place where I could stand and stop, my hands were frozen! When I removed my gloves to assess the damage I could see my right hand in particular had no blood in any of the fingers past their base at the palm of my hand, I had frostbite!

I now had the difficult decision to make, do I go back down and try and save my fingers, or do I carry on to the summit and risk losing them all?! After warming my hands the best I could, stood there on a knife edge ridge over 8500m in the dark, I managed to get blood back almost right to ends of my fingers, and as I was alone at the top of the step I simply radioed into Advanced Base Camp, “Just climbed the first step, moving on toward the second’. I decided to carry on toward the summit.

Although the summit was still around 7 hours away at this point and the decision resulted in me losing the distal phalanx of two fingers when I got back home (which I’ve had made into a very nice, albeit macabre, pair of cufflinks) I don’t regret it one bit, because to me, it was worth it! (Anyone that says climbing Everest isn’t worth losing the ends of a few fingers for maybe isn’t as passionate about climbing it as I was, or maybe to them it isn’t worth it, which I understand. To me it was. I certainly wouldn’t advise making the same decision as I did to someone else though, I’d tell them to go down immediately, as would the guys I was climbing with, absolutely, which is why I kept it to myself!)

So with a frozen hand I moved along the ridge towards the second step, famously the crux of the route. Because it is the crux, it is a lot more discussed than the other two steps so before you get there, you will have seen pictures of it and discussed it in more detail, and generally will be well prepared for it. What I wasn’t prepared for was what happened whilst I was climbing it.

The oxygen masks we were using which are the best performers at high altitude have a rubber valve on the right hand side to allow ambient air flow into the mask to mix with the flow of oxygen from the oxygen system itself. The valve itself is covered by a small piece of plastic which keeps your down jacket from obstructing the valve. When I was climbing the second step I noticed that this plastic cap had fallen off, and the reason I noticed it was missing was because the rubber valve which it covers was now completely frozen and not allowing any air into the mask at all. I was gasping and again found myself in a position not conducive to sorting problems like this out.

Then, when not only was I climbing the most strenuous section of the route, with a frozen hand, and a broken oxygen system in the dark at c8700m, all of a sudden my guts woke up for the day! I’d had the shits for the last few days and at this point with everything else going on I wasn’t going to be able to stop here, loosen all my down clothing and under garments and relieve myself (at least, outside my clothing). So I literally, and quiet happily at the time, shit myself!

At the top of the second step I managed to unfreeze the oxygen masks valve by removing the mask completely and breathing as hard as I could onto the valve to defrost it. This was only a temporary fix though and every 20 minutes or so from then on I had to stop as the mask collapsed against my face as it repeatedly froze , inevitably when I needed air the most, and try again and again to defrost it. This was a less than ideal situation to be in above 8700m at the top of second step where there is an obvious scattering of dead bodies, most of whom I believe were attempting to summit without oxygen, and again I had to assess this time whether my now less than perfect oxygen supply was reason to continue or to retreat. This will sound bad but, I never had any doubt that I was going to reach the summit so even though things were going far from ‘the plan’ this was just another thing at the time to accept and deal with, and I carried on.

Shortly after this the sun came up and we could see the curvature of the earth and how beautiful everything was so far beneath us, although this was only appreciated in hindsight looking back at photos taken, because at the time, as everyone is at this point, I was pretty much on my last legs and really pushing myself to the limit and it was intense focus, at least for me, that seemed to mask any sentimentality or appreciation for the beauty of where I was.

By the time you get to the third step it feels pretty close to the summit and I climbed this with relative ease only to discover that above this, on a very exposed knife edge section where there’s an enormous serac over hanging the 13,000ft, almost vertical, drop of the Kanshung face; there was no pre-fixed rope and the section needed to be traversed free (and very carefully). It wasn’t until on the descent that it became apparent there was actually a rope, but it was pulled off the ridge down the north face by the body attached to it of an Irish climber we had met alive and well just a few days before down in Base Camp.

So after another hour or so, and a very exposed final traverse of the highest part the North Face at c8800m I finally made it to the summit ridge and set foot on the summit of Mount Everest on the 26th May 2011, 16 years after I committed myself to it.

Exhausted, with a frozen hand, massively hypoxic due to problems with my oxygen mask (and not forgetting the altitude!), sat covered in my own piss and shit having had to literally climb over the dead bodies of people we knew to get there, I didn’t exactly feel particularly triumphant as you might have expected one would do, being able to look down on the rest of the world; and having never had any doubt I would get there I didn’t feel the need to savour the moment or celebrate too much so I only spent a few minutes there before I set off down to ensure that I got down alive and we could call the climb ‘a success’. (Watch video from the summit here)

The descent, as expected, was infinitely harder than the ascent and I was ‘in the hurt locker’ like I’d only been once or twice before, once at the end of a 100 mile nonstop ultra marathon over the Pennines and when we crossed Greenland in 2010 in 15 days, but I do think it was these types of experiences that got me down, because I ‘knew’ I could keep going!

I was completely alone when I descended the hardest part of second step safely and just as I was feeling that I could make it down in one piece my crampon slipped on some loose snow and I took a fall off the edge of the step over the north face and landed flat on my back on a very small ledge about 5-6 feet below where I should have been and about 1 foot higher than where the rope would have broken my fall completely – the drop beyond the ledge was only about 8000ft. I wasn’t hurt but laying there on my back I looked up over my shoulder to see what I think was the body of another climber who I believe had done a similar thing on descent but broken a leg and consequently had not been able to move any further.

It was time to stop messing around at this point and I pushed hard to get down and made it back to high camp a few hours later where I stayed for just a few hours more before setting off again to get below 8000m to camp 2 at 7800m. Camp 2 was a welcome sight but after being on the go for around 20 hours, reaching the summit, getting back down, being covered in my own piss and shit, hypoxic, with a frostbitten hand, I was incredulous to find two European climbers inside my tent on their way up the mountain with no kit of their own! One was even inside my sleeping bag refusing to get out because, I quote, “my hands are cold”!

Thankfully the other guy wasn’t an arse hole, and after 20 minutes of what I’ll describe as ‘polite discussion’ (officially no swearing or threatening each other involved at all), we agreed I was right! (To quote Brian Clough), and he removed himself from my tent and I slipped into my nice ‘pre-warmed’ sleeping bag and went soundly to sleep.

(Everest pictures here)


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Indian Ocean Rowing Record Crews Wanted!!!

Monday, July 18, 2011 AT 14:28 PM Comments0 Comments

ATTENTION! This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to put yourself in the Ocean Rowing world record books!

In 2009 the ‘Woodvale Works’ team set the fastest crossing of the Indian Ocean when they successfully rowed from Geraldton, Western Australia, 3600 miles to Port Louis in Mauritius in their boat ‘Aud Eamus’ in 58 days 15 hours and 8 minutes.

In April 2012 the ‘Woodvale Works’ team is returning to the Indian Ocean with TWO other boats from their fleet which have already proven to be faster than Aud Eamus on the Atlantic Ocean and fully expect to re-set the speed record for the Indian Ocean.

Both boats, ‘The Oyster Shack’ and ‘Brittania III’, have already had elite sub 40 days crossings of the Atlantic Ocean with the Oyster Shack still holding the record for the fastest ever crossing of the Atlantic from Canaries to Antigua.

The ‘Woodvale Works’ teams boast more successful Ocean Rows, more Ocean Rowing records and have also successfully led more ‘composite crews’ and record attempt projects than anyone else in the world.

Each boat will be skippered by a professional Ocean Rower/Adventurer with experience of at least one speed Ocean Rowing expedition and there are 16 crew places available!

DON’T MISS OUT ON YOUR PLACE IN HISTORY!

For more information please contact Ben at ben@woodvale-challenge.com


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Everest Summit! Full story and pics to come…

Wednesday, June 15, 2011 AT 14:51 PM Comments1 Comment

I just want to take the opportunity to say a big thank you to all that have followed and supported me on my expedition to the summit of Mount Everest, and thank you for all the congratulations I’ve received.

Things are hectic to say the least now that I am back home, as we are preparing for the Adventure Hub Expedition series, but I promise to upload all my photos, video and a synopsis of what happened asap, please watch this space!…

…as a little taster here’s my video from the summit…


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ON TOP OF THE WORLD

Thursday, May 26, 2011 AT 03:33 AM Comments2 Comments

Information taken from the Adventure Peaks website (see adventurepeaks.com) –

5th May 02:45 (7:30am Nepali time) Update from Heather at ABC.
Mark reached the summit at 7am Nepali time along with Mingma sherpa and Ben & Andrew have just reached the summit with KB and Dawa. George and sonam are 5 minutes away from the summit and well on his way to setting a new world record for the youngest person to climb the true Seven Summits at 16years and 361 days. So two records in less than one hour not bad for Geordie and George.
Stephen and Pasang are about half an hour away. Zac, Greg and Ang Phurba are about an hour away from the top.

The Adventure Peaks news page has more details about the whole party.

Congratulations from the people here at home


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ALMOST THERE

Tuesday, May 24, 2011 AT 18:10 PM Comments0 Comments

All our preparation and training have paid off and got us to within touching distance of the summit. We are at Camp 2 @ 7800m and will leave early tomorrow for Camp 3 @ 8300m. Then we go for the summit to arrive early Thursday. Most of team are well but sadly one member has had to call it a day and return to base camp. Some are using oxygen now, we all will be soon. The weather forecast for the last stage is good. We are split into 2 groups for the summit push, one leaving an hour ahead of the other. Hopefully the next update will be after we reach the summit.


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EVEREST UPDATE via the team at home

Saturday, May 7, 2011 AT 13:18 PM Comments0 Comments

Today is Day 36 since leaving Heathrow on Saturday 02/04/11. There have been lots of interesting and new experiences. I’ve visited Kathmandu Phakding, Namche Bazaar, Khumjung, Pangboche, Dingboche, Ama Dablam, Lukla, Fienship Bridge and Nylam.
We’ve had blessings ceremonies from local Lama. I’ve flown, trekked, driven, climbed and camped. There has been the ‘luxury’ of rest days at Base Camp and more basic camping at the North Col.
I’ve been up to slightly above 7500m more than once and returned via Advance Base Camp to Base Camp. We’ve had hot sun, heavy snow, freezing temperatures, calm days and high winds.
All this was just the preparation and, particularly, acclimatization to the low oxygen levels at high altitude.

We are now all prepared and have tested and familiarized ourselves with the climbing and camping gear and the oxygen bottles and masks. The plan is to now take 3 rest days at Base Camp and then, depending on a weather window, move to Advance Base Camp, then North Col and then on to 7800m where oxygen supplies will be needed.. Then, again depending on the weather, we will make our summit attempt, probably between days 47 and 59.

Fingers crossed for good conditions!!


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