I had an interesting conversation with my Brother recently about my attempted completion of the 7 summits by the end of this year. ‘But you’ve left the 2 smallest ones to the end’ he said. ‘Surely small means cheap and easy’ then followed. In mountaineering terms unfortunately, this is not the case. Yes, my fabulously designed (by a great friend) 7 summits banner does show that Carstensz Pyramid in Papua New Guinea and Mt Vinson in Antarctica are the smallest 2 of the 7 but by no means are they the easiest and certainly not the cheapest either.
So, with my Brother’s comments in mind and to those of you who are wondering what it is all about, here is my explanation of each mountain, what the 7 are all about and why on earth am I trying to complete this challenge by the year end. Here goes!
A bit about the 7 – the What?
There is absolutely no point in me re-writing the history side of things as it is all said so well on Wikipedia but basically the 7 are the highest mountain on each of the 7 continents. Having never set out to climb the 7, rather they just snuck up on me, I am now aiming to complete the Messner version by the end of this year….with a fair wind blowing, a huge amount of good fortune and a whole heap of hard work and as with Everest and Denali, continue to raise funds and awareness for children’s mental health charity Place2Be who are celebrating their 25th anniversary this year.
‘But everyone has climbed the 7’ is also a comment that I’ve heard often. To put it into context, thousands do climb Kilimanjaro each year, around 500 non Sherpa (give or take) climb Everest on a yearly basis and only 430 (as of 2016) have completed either of the 7 summits versions or both. More up to date stats will follow but that number isn’t likely to suddenly jump up a great deal.
My journey with the 7 goes like this:
Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, Africa - 5895m: October 2008
Back in October 2008 I was assistant leader on my first Kili trip with Discover Adventure. I had been to 4500m before, on a bike in Peru and up to 4200m on foot, again in Peru, so had a little understanding of what it felt like to work hard at altitude and how to deal with altitude. Drink plenty, go slowly, eat well and rest a lot. I thought that was going to be my only climb but I have now led 30 expeditions on the mountain, and counting, and I am most definitely hooked!
Kili is the mountain that most people climb as a first experience at altitude and some come away thinking ‘brilliant, that’s the first of the 7’ and they are quite right but things get a little harder with each mountain left to come.
Aconcagua, Argentina, South America - 6962m: December 2011
Aco was my 2nd of the 7, although to me it wasn’t a ‘thing’ back then, was with great friend Rolfe Oostra and 360 Expeditions. I had said no often to climbing this particular mountain. It’s cold, it’s very windy, it’s very hard work, it’s dangerous. Yes, it most certainly is all of those but if you have the right warm gear, have trained hard enough, have the right mindset and are careful with the risk factor, all will be well. I learnt so much about myself on that mountain and much more about dealing with my body and my mind at higher altitudes.
Aconcagua is a kick ass mountain. She is a fickle beast with weather to match and you have to play along to the beat of her drum rather than trying to stay fixed to your own tune. We were lucky with the weather. It was pretty windy, extremely cold, very hard work but not so dangerous. We were careful with our plans, had amazing guides along with Rolfe and an eclectic mix of a team who played cards often and laughed a lot. We simply got on with the job in hand and all stood on the summit together just before New Year.
Aco is a much bigger proposition to Kilimanjaro with the expedition being nearly 3 times longer than Kili, at around 24 days with 18 – 21 days on the mountain. You carry your own kit above base camp, Plaza de Mulas at 4300m. Loads of up to 18kg are slogged up the mountain, doing cache dumps in various camps before we scuttle back down for rest, recuperation, a regular trip to the mountain Doctors for the ultimate sign off to summit. There is a good deal of down time in between the hard work and this as a challenge is much more about the team and it’s work together than us as individuals. I loved it and have been fortunate to lead 2 expeditions on the mountain since my first summit as a client way back then.
Elbrus, Russia, Europe (it is, really it is!) - 5642m: July 2015
Everest was in the running to be #3 but a wee wobble put pay to that. I came back from Nepal shaken, but not stirred and needed to get back out to the snowy stuff quick sticks. Rolfe was leading an expedition to Elbrus in the July so I jumped on board and never looked back. Elbrus was a great healer for me, I cried a lot on that mountain simply getting the emotions of the past 4 months out of my system. I had led 2 very challenging bike rides just before this expedition, so the solitude of the mountain and the team spirit really gave me a massive boost.
Elbrus is not to be underestimated! It may be smaller than Kilimanjaro, but she is a tougher climb with harsher conditions. We climbed the North-South traverse which is quieter, most people climb from the South as logistics are generally easier but who needs easy! In my mind this variation has better acclimatisation, better scenery and a tougher summit day too.
You need winter skills to climb this mountain which are all taught, if not known beforehand, whilst we are acclimatising. Self-arrest, how to walk on crampons, how to walk on a glacial rope, how to deal with the cold, how to stay focussed with an often flexible itinerary due to the very changeable weather and how to stay safe in this glaciated terrain. Whilst we only have 2 camps and do a couple of kit hauls, summit day is by far the biggest test. A climb of 2000 vertical meters over a good number of KMs, it’s certainly a test of endurance and simply putting one-foot in front of the other. Apparently, the views from the top are amazing! We had great views but freezing weather until we were on the summit plateau and then the clouds came rolling in as they had been chasing us all the way up. This mountain is a great example of the fact that smaller does not mean easier. An expedition and challenge well worth taking on.
Everest, Nepal, Asia – 8848m: May 2016
What more can I say about this expedition other than it was all that I had expected and some that I had not. Again, she was a mountain that I had never dreamt of climbing. I wasn’t capable, she was too high, too dangerous, those ladders oh those ladders, too many armchair mountaineers commenting on something they knew nothing about, a journalistic circus which I didn’t want to be involved with. However, none of those excuses are actually reasons so in the end I sucked up my courage and went for it.
With the curtailment of our climb in 2015 due to the earthquake on 25th April when we were at Camp 1, I really didn’t think I’d get the chance to climb it again. Roll on 4 days after Mother Nature’s big paddy and I find my mobile under 1m of snow and ice at a truly devastated base camp. Roll on a text conversation with my sponsor who then gave me and Rolfe the chance to head back in 2016. To be given the opportunity once was incredible, a 2nd time was just a dream.
Everest is a big mountain and not just because of her height. Our expedition was a well-trodden path for us, the long slow burn of life up high, the steady and flexible mindset, keeping out of the guff that other people create, sticking to our guns and keeping the faith. We climbed Island Peak (6163m) and Lobuche East (6119m) as acclimatisation on the way up to EBC. We had hoped to then only do 2 rotations through the Khumbu Icefall including our summit attempt. Hope was a word we used a lot.
Our arrival at Camp 3 on our 2nd rotation heralded the route to summit but a radio call with our Camp Manager suddenly thwarted all plans for an early view from the top. A storm as rolling in a lot quicker than anticipated so after a calm night at 7000m Rolfe and I decided to hot foot it out of harms way and back down to EBC for (relatively) more oxygen, better food, a shower, wifi (that’s relative too) and the wait for calmer and better weather conditions. Our gamble paid off and 3 days later we were schlepping our way back up the mountain, first staying at Camp 2 (6400m), then Camp 3 again where the wind had picked up and a restless night was had by all. Off to Camp 4 and into the death zone at 8000m on 18th May, a few hours rest, rehydration, a bit of food and then the off up higher starting at 8.30pm that night.
At 6.45am, 19th May 2016, we were stood on top of the highest point on earth. It was a busy and slow ascent with those who decided not to try in the high winds 24 hours before joining us but we were also making up the numbers so could not complain about there being ‘too many people on the mountain’. We had chosen to be there, as had others, we were all in this together.
As I sat there for 15 minutes looking out at Tibet to my left and Nepal to my right, viewing Lhotse which was meant to be our next objective less than 12 hours later, I did wonder how on earth I had managed to get here. From a risk averse height hating comfort loving gal to someone who relished the challenge of pushing herself beyond what she thought was capable. It just goes to show that with a change of mindset and a champion or two behind you, telling you to believe in yourself, anything is possible.
Denali, Alaska, North America – 6194m: June 2017
I had first read about Denali, or Mt McKinley as some will know her by, in Mark Beaumont’s book, Cycling the Americas. He had climbed both Denali and Aconcagua, topping and tailing his cycling from North America right down to the bottom of the South America. His writing had peaked my interest but once again, I never thought I was capable. This mountain is a tough old boot, one that takes a huge amount of training and a huge amount of mental flexibility whilst you are on there.
I trained like a demon, dragging my 23kg tyre called Dave around the New Forest, North Wales, South Wales and anywhere that I happened to be working and had some spare time. Up steep hills, through rutted forest tracks, adding bottles of water into his innards for added weight and all the while carrying up to 20kgs on my back. For this is an expedition with no Sherpa support, no-one is bringing you a cup of tea in the morning, no-one is carrying your kit, no-one is setting up your tent for you. You, your team and your amazing guides do it all and I loved that fact.
This expedition was absolutely everything I had been expecting and more, in a good way. We had a great team, great guides, very changeable weather and the tiniest of windows to summit on 20th June 2017, a year, a month and a day to when I had stood on top of the highest point on earth.
My training had paid off and my tent buddy, a GB age group IronMan triathlete, fellow female, fellow Brit and fellow mountain ninja Linda kept me laughing all the way. I missed her presence on the summit but was surrounded by 4 of the loveliest blokes on this planet and guys I couldn’t have wished to share a better day with.
At ‘just’ 6194m and ‘just’ 3 weeks on the mountain, once again height or the length of expedition bears no relation to ease. You work your butt off, eat beige food every day, poop in a bucket dug down into the snow and, quite rightly, carry the contents off the mountain. You walk by night for the first few days in the gentle glow of the 24-hour daylight, you bake or freeze your butt off during the day when you are trying to sleep depending on whether the sun is out or blocked by the clouds. Higher up you generally just freeze, get blown off your feet, your pulk doing somersaults when you are going around Windy Gap, did I mention the beige food?! You will eat more carbs and fat than you ever thought possible, simply to replace the calories lost hauling and carrying your loads ever higher up the mountain but it is all worth it, oh so worth it.
When we landed at base camp, dropped off by our ski plane and our pilot who, having clonked me on the head with some kit by mistake said that he would have rather slapped my arse. Our guide Andy was somewhat apologetic about the Neanderthal comments of this grizzly bear. The success rate so far that season had been 12% and the weather coming up was looking somewhat challenging, and it was. We had a lucky break occasionally but were also holed up in camp for more days that we cared to remember. It’s amazing how many times you can watch The Notebook on your phone and still cry every time!
Our lucky break came, Andy popped his head into our tent on that magnificent day and said ‘we’re off in an hour’. The most perfect 12-hour camp to camp summit day ensued. It couldn’t have been a better expedition if it had tried, even with me carrying 7kgs of poop uphill by a mistake. The moral of that story is that if it smells like shit, it usually is!
Denali was #5 and I now have 2 more to complete the 7. Stats wise, you can view more details via this link on my website. I have asked the powers that be for more up to date stats so will be updating the info as soon as it is in my sticky mitts.
Now for the final 2 and going back to the comment that my Brother made about the 2 smallest surely being the 2 easiest. If only.
#6: Carstensz Pyramid, Papua New Guinea, Oceania - 4884m: aiming for late Sept/early October this year
Set just above the inhospitable jungle on this island, you can either walk for 10 days through the rain and swamps to base camp or get a helicopter straight up above the jungle. Originally, I had wanted to do the whole expedition with the walk in and out however having taken a great deal of advice I have now opted for the chopper in and chopper out option. It doesn’t sit so well with me but with political situations as they are and safety first, choppers are the safest.
This is a very different mountain to the rest. Yes, it is the smallest and not the most technically challenging, unless you take into consideration the rock climb and the wire crossing between the fore summit and the true summit. The terrain, it’s location and the hugely changeable weather add to the challenges which I am really looking forward to experiencing.
#7: Mt Vinson, Antarctica – 4892m: aiming for December this year
Once again, not the highest but logistically probably the most challenging. A long journey down to Punta Arenas on a commercial aircraft or two then a rather huge cargo plane down to Union Glacier then into a teeny tiny plane to Vinson Base Camp. From there it’s back to Denali expedition style, carrying and pulling all of our kit. This is not a technically difficult mountain but the changeable weather, exposure and the shear fact of where it is makes it the most incredible challenge and hopefully the grand finale to my unexpected 7 summits challenge.
I have more details about the stats and figures on my 7 summits page on this website. Numbers don’t matter to me, I’m not in it to win a place on a podium or become the first or the fastest but to put it into context, I could become the 10th British woman to complete this 7 out of around 440 climbers worldwide. That would be pretty cool!
A bit about the 7 – the Why?
When my sponsor agreed to, well, sponsor me for Everest I thought that would be it. I never in my wildest dreams thought that he would want to continue with this journey but he, fortunately, did. We agreed on me tackling the last 3 of the 7 and Denali was completed in June 2017. 2018 was a bit of a bad year emotionally due to the loss of my Father and my sponsor also had to unfortunately pull out of the 7. I owe my sponsor a huge debt of gratitude, not only for making Everest and Denali possible but for also introducing me to Place2Be. But, as my Father had instilled in me over the last 47 years, never ever give up. I was so incredibly fortunate to have been give a rather large boot up the 7 summits ladder and now it is my time to continue and finish this journey.
When Everest surfaced, as did my sponsor, I started raising funds and awareness for children’s mental health charity Place2Be. Please take a look at their website to learn more about this all-important charity. We have so far raised over £25,000 to help their work within primary and secondary schools throughout the UK. This has been achieved not only by donations but also the sale of headbands from Nepal, advertising spaces on my van and expedition pack, photo and logo spots on the Everest and now 7 summits banner as well as my DofE students, who trekked to Everest Base Camp and climbed Lobuche East with Rolfe and myself in 2015 who also raised some funds for Place2Be as part of their challenge.
In order to complete the 7, I now need to raise £50,000 for the expedition costs and in order to raise more funds and awareness for Place2Be I need and want to do these summits and complete this challenge. It seems that people like to see me suffer but also are keen to come on this journey with me and the charity too.
A bit about the 7 – the How?
I am now not only offering up talks and workshops to corporates and groups, details are on the pages above, but also selling more advertising spaces on my van at £500 a slot. If your business would like to travel around the country with me on my van Bimble (photos to follow shortly) then please drop me a line to firstname.lastname@example.org
If you would like to make a donation personally then please do head to the Crowdfunding page too. For £20 or more you will come with me to the last 2 of the 7 on the 7 summits banner. Just send me a photo of your choice and I will do the rest!
If you as a company can offer up flights to Indonesia and/or Chile through your business or AirMiles, I would also be very interested to talk to you. I have all of the right kit, insurance and the will to get there, I now need to sign on the dotted line and get going.
I have a huge mountain to climb just to confirm these expeditions. With £6,000 of personal funds saved through the sale of my old van, expedition kit and anything else I can get my mitts on to sell I’m slowly getting there but the end of this year is not too far off!
Thanks for reading down this far, your support is always hugely appreciated. Please share with anyone and everyone you may feel is interested in supporting possibly the 10th British woman to complete the 7 as well as Place2Be, from getting groups together for talks, a business contact who is looking for a motivational speaker or a school looking for some inspiration for their students. I’m here!