Oct 27, 2017

The People You Meet: Climbing to Contribute - Mt. Rainier, Washington

“Community is much more than belonging to something; it’s about doing something together that makes belonging matter.”

Climbing has enabled me to join an informal ‘global community’ of people who have influenced my perspectives, helped to fulfil many of my dreams, helped me to celebrate successes and overcome fears, and have provided a support network when things don’t quite work out as planned. As a community, we connect on and through our respective adventures – physically and mentally belaying each other through life's ups and downs and maintaining the tether long after the expedition has ended.  Sometimes an opportunity comes along to contribute to the community in a round-about way....

Lobuche, Nepal - April 2017... 
I was chin-deep in a bowl of spaghetti in a guest house in Lobuche, Nepal in April 2017 when I bumped into my good friend Lakpa Rita Sherpa.  He was on his way to Everest with Alpine Ascents and their team preparing to summit Everest and Lhotse later that season.  

My friendship with Lakpa Rita and his family is a special one. Lakpa and I first met in 2012, working together as brand ambassadors for the global outdoor brand, Sherpa Adventure Gear. Lakpa’s image is the ‘face’ of the brand, and representative of its long-held Sherpa heritage forged deep in heart of the Himalaya. Through this connection, we worked together as colleagues on a fun lecture tour, "Everest Uncovered" delivered across the UK in 2013 with fellow Everest climber Kenton Cool and alpinist Ian Parnell. Our paths subsequently crossed on numerous occasions in Nepal including before and after the earthquake in 2015 and visits to Nepal throughout 2016 and 2017.

Like so many others who have travelled under his leadership and benefited from his experience, I’ve learned a tremendous amount from Lakpa Rita both about climbing and life more broadly.  Raised in the Khumbu (Everest region) in a small mountain village of Thame, Lakpa Rita has been professionally guiding and climbing around the world for nearly two decades. In 2013 he was named one of Outside Magazine’s Adventurers of the Year.  A deserving award reflecting his extensive climbing and guiding achievements - which include 17 summits of Mt. Everest on over 23 expeditions (well over 260 climbers reaching the summit under his leadership) seven guided summits of Cho-Oyu and numerous other peaks in Nepal. In 2009 Lakpa became the first Sherpa and first Nepali to climb the Seven Summits, climbing the highest peak on the 7 continents.

Now, returning to that that fateful day in the lodge in Lobuche in April… With a steaming cup of tea in hand, Lakpa shared details of an exciting project, ‘Climb to Contribute’. For a change, the project didn’t involve scaling dizzying Himalayan heights, wearing down suits or suffering seemingly endless nights in a cold tent eating freeze-dried food… Rather, the project involved climbing to the 14,411 ft (4,392 m) summit of Mt. Rainier in Washington as a fundraiser for the North West Sherpa Association and support their ambition to build a community and cultural centre for the Sherpa community of the Pacific North West. I immediately pledged my commitment. It wasn’t long before August rolled around, my duffel bags were packed and I was boarding a flight to Seattle, Washington.

Seattle, Washington - August 2017...
I was warmly welcomed to Seattle by the Sherpa family. Lakpa and his wife, Phurba treated me to the unparalleled Sherpa hospitality that I have come to know through the time spent in Nepal. Warm, authentic smiles, steaming cups of tea, lots of laughs and delicious meals focused on family, food, gratitude and compassion. Despite being thousands of kilometres away from Nepal, I felt like I was back in the country and felt instantly at home. I’m so incredibly thankful to have had this time with Lakpa, Phurba and their family and don’t even know where to begin to thank them for being such wonderful, gracious hosts. 

The day before we set out for the climb, the entire team met for a gear check at Lakpa’s house. It was great to meet everyone and exchange stories about our respective adventures in the hills and how we all came to learn about the Climb to Contribute project.  There were many laughs as the team bonded over packing-checklists and the supporting mountains of kit spread haphazardly across the floor of Lakpa’s garage.

No less than 24 hours later fully caffeinated and raring to go, we were in the parking lot at the base of Mt. Rainier with packs strapped to our backs and taking our first steps to the summit. Here we also met our other two guides – the wonderful Lakhpa Gelu Sherpa and Jangbu Sherpa – both experienced guides and part of the Northwest Sherpa Association.

It was unusually warm in Seattle that weekend. Rather than the standard balmy 23 – 25 degrees, the sun bore down on our heads at a scorching 30+ degrees. The heat was sweltering. Layers were quickly peeled off and litres of water drunk as we strained our necks beyond the horizon to see where we’d be pitching our tents for the evening. We reached our camp a hot 4 hours later.  Tent platforms were quickly established and we set up our ‘home away from home’ for the next two nights. Alpine Ascents had kindly donated the use of their kitchen-tent so Lakpa quickly set off to prepare dinner while we put on warmer layers and watched the sun set. I shared a tent with my good friend Christa who had joined me on the trip from her hometown of Sudbury. We were both giddy with excitement - it may sound ‘cheesy’ but I absolutely love being on expedition, sleeping in a tent, wearing all of my warm down gear, thick socks and wrapping mittened hands around steaming bottles of hot tea.

The following morning was spent basking in the warmth of the sun, eating and practising our crampon and rope skills in preparation for our early-evening departure from camp to the summit of Rainier. The weather was fabulous (hot!!) and it was nice to have some ‘down time’ away from the hustle and bustle of life at sea-level and everything that encompasses..! That evening we dined on the worlds tastiest burgers (kudos to the Lakhpa Gelu the chef!!) in the kitchen tent donated by IMG.  

In the footsteps of legends...
No matter where I am in the world or what mountain I’m setting out to climb, I always get a rush of nervous excitement before a summit push. I think that’s both healthy and normal… The energy helps to prepare me both physically and mentally for the journey ahead. Dressed in down, with head-torches lit and smiles from ear-to-ear, we joined the snaking conga-line across the glacier and set out from our camp at 11pm on the warm August evening.

At around 8am – after an evening of monotonous and steady high-altitude plodding, the summit of Mt. Rainier was in sight. Christa and I shared a rope led by Lakpa Rita. We were making a fantastic pace and stood breathless and mesmerized as the sun cast its early morning glow over Rainier’s snowy slopes around 6am. It was one of the most beautiful sunrises that I’d ever seen – (as documented by about 100 photos on my iphone and numerous unflattering selfies!!). Lakpa did a wonderful job setting the pace and keeping us focused during some of our more chatty breaks. 

Reaching the summit of Rainier was a fantastic achievement - made even more special having done it with both Lakpa Rita and Christa…. Additionally, it was fantastic to have done it to support the Northwest Sherpa Association, a charity that I am both proud and honoured to support. We celebrated our success with some strategic selfies, laughs and snacks for about 45 minutes and welcoming other team members before making a hasty descent to avoid the heat of the day.

The descent from the summit to the base of the mountain was one filled with rewards – a blazing sun, hair-raising glissades, laughter and the promise of a few beers over a momo-dinner before a flight back home. 

The successful Climb to Contribute expedition ended with a phenomenal team dinner at Lakhpa Gelu’s restaurant, “The Wildberry” (just outside of Ashford) and hosted by the Nortwest Sherpa Association. We were all absolutely exhausted but that didn’t stop us from celebrating the success of the first Climb to Contribute program under the leadership of our phenomenal Sherpa guides and friends. The closing dinner marked an important milestone in building a cultural and community centre for the Sherpas of the Pacific Northwest.  The centre will be vital in helping preserve the language and traditions of the Sherpa people outside of Nepal and provide ‘base’ for a support network to new arrivals from Nepal and future generations.

Climb to Contribute - how to sign up for next years adventure!
Lakpa assured us that they would be looking to run future events to raise money for the Community Centre and that future ‘Climb to Contribute’ programmes would be run. To get on the mailing list and be among the first to join this fantastic climb please join their facebook page and /or contact: nwsherpa@gmail.com or enquire via Facebook

About the NW Sherpa Association:
Climb to Contribute is a 3 days and 2 nights trip to climb Mt. Rainier hosted by Northwest Sherpa Association.

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to climb Washington’s highest peak, Mt. Rainier guided by some of the most experienced and well known Sherpa Mountaineers; Mr. Lakpa Rita Sherpa, Mr. Lakhpa Gelu Sherpa and Mr. Jangbu Sherpa.

Northwest Sherpa Association is a non-profit organization, founded in 2003 with members from various parts of the Northwest region, including Vancouver B.C, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana. The mission of NWSA is to preserve and promote Sherpa language, religion, tradition, culture and unite all the Sherpas residing the Pacific Northwest of the United States of America including Oregon, Montana, Idaho, and Vancouver B.C., Canada.

This is a fundraiser to support NWSA “Cultural Community Center” project. All proceeds from will go to build a NWSA Cultural Community Center.

To register or further questions email us: nwsherpa@gmail.com

With Dawa Sherpa, a friend and guide at Alpine Ascents
Team Photo!
Cheeky sunrise selfie...
Christa and Lakpa shovelling tent platforms
Sunrise on Rainier
Dinner is served..!

Jul 6, 2017

Climbing the Blazing Beacon - In the Footsteps of Legends on Mount Rainier: The 'Climb to Contribute' Expedition

Of all the fire-mountains which, like beacons, once blazed along the Pacific Coast, Mount Rainier is the noblest,” wrote American author John Muir.  And thus, this blazing beacon becomes a fitting objective as I prepare for my next expedition – and my first in the continental United States. 

Whilst I am Canadian, (and a proud one at that having just celebrated the country’s 150th birthday!) I must confess that I’ve never actually climbed anything higher than a few flights of stairs in Canada – or the US for that matter! 

Instead, I discovered my love for walking up big hills in the shadow of soaring Himalayan peaks, under the watchful eye of Sherpa guides and a community of Sherpa friends and family. Through these experiences, the renowned Sherpa hospitality and culture has instilled in me a broader, more holistic view of expeditions – moving away from a ‘simple’ physical definition of an expedition to one with strong cultural and spiritual influences. An expedition isn’t just about moving up and down snowy mountain slopes. For me, the term ‘expedition’ conjures vivid memories of humbly receiving blessings from Lama Geshi in the Sherpa village of Pangboche, participating in traditional puja ceremonies in remote Himalayan base camps, drinking bottomless cups of sweet tea, playing endless card games, being mesmerised by melodic murmers of prayer, enjoying the sweet scent of juniper drifting over our camps, and sharing heartfelt laughter and smiles trekking through the villages in the Everest region and onto the slopes of some of the highest mountains in the world. This is what I think of when I hear the term ‘expedition’… and these are the memories that are among the happiest of my life.

It seems rather fitting then that my first expedition in North America is being led by an esteemed group of Sherpas.  More importantly, it’s also fitting that the expedition offers an incredible opportunity to ‘give back’ to a community and a culture that has had such a tremendous influence on me. In late July I’ll participate in an expedition called, ‘Climb to Contribute’. Climb to Contribute is a 3-day and 2 night climb of Mount Rainier and serving as a charity fund-raiser organised by the Northwest Sherpa Association (NWSA) to raise money to build a NWSA Cultural Community Centre.

The NWSA is a non-profit organisation, founded in 2003 with members from the Pacific Northwest including Vancouver, Canada as well as Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana in the US. The mission of NWSA is to preserve and promote Sherpa language, religion, tradition, culture and unite all the Sherpas residing the region.

In the Footsteps of Legends 

Our guides for this landmark expedition are among the worlds most experienced Sherpa mountaineers. Their influence both on the Sherpa community and on the international climbing community more broadly cannot be underestimated. We’ll be led by three legendary Sherpas, Lakpa Rita Sherpa, Lakhpa Gelu Sherpa and Jangbu Sherpa.

I first head about the expedition from my friend, Lakpa Rita Sherpa who I first met in Nepal nearly 8 years ago and have had the wonderful opportunity to work with both in Nepal and in the UK. Raised in Khumbu (Everest region) in the village of Thame, Lakpa Rita Sherpa has been professionally guiding and climbing around the world for nearly two decades. His mountaineering achievements are significant, with in incredible 17 summits of Mt. Everest plus 22 guided summits of Cho-Oyu and numerous other peaks in Nepal. Lakpa Rita was the first Sherpa and first Nepali to climb the Seven Summits (the highest peak on every continent), leading teams on mountains including Aconcagua, Denali and 13 summits of Mount Vinson in Antarctica. He has summited Mount Rainier over 200 times and in 2013 was named one of Outside Magazine’s “Adventurers of The Year”.  He has been a friend and a constant presence for me during my many visits to Nepal with his warmth, grace and good humour.

Another of our Sherpa guides for the expedition will be the legendary Lhakpa Gelu Sherpa who is known to run up hills - literally! Lhakpa Gelu is best known for holding a world speed record on Mount Everest, climbing from base camp to the summit in just 10 hours, 56 minutes, 46 seconds, on May 26, 2003. But his achievements in mountaineering don’t end there. He’s reached the summit of Everest 14 times and has scaled many other high peaks in the Himalaya and abroad. Lhakpa Gelu Sherpa began guiding on Mt. Rainier in 2008 and has led hundreds of clients to its summit. 

Last – but certainly not least – we’ll be guided by Jangbu Sherpa. Jangbu has climbing in his blood. He has lived most of his life in Nepal surrounded by the majestic Himalayan peaks and has been guiding for 12 years, leading countless expeditions with clients from around the world. Jangbu was fortunate enough to stand on the summit of Mt. Everest in 2011. He has also led successful expeditions on the iconic Himalayan peak, Ama Dablam in 2009 & 2011. Jangbu came to the US in 2012 as a Wilderness First Responder and in 2013 he finished his certification as an International Mountain Guide. He is also an experienced canyoneer and was part of an expedition that opened the highest canyoneering route in the world in Naar Phu, Nepal. 

The 'blazing beacon'

As for the blazing beacon that John Muir refers to in his infamous quote, it will provide a fitting stage for our adventure. Mt. Rainier rises an icy 4,392m / 14,410 ft above Washington State. Its combination of high altitude, variety of routes, and unpredictable Northwest weather has provided a perfect backdrop to generations of adventurers from around the world. I certainly didn’t hesitate when the opportunity came up to climb Rainier in such esteemed company and for such a wonderful cause.

The mountains have been my training ground for many life lessons – the literal and proverbial highs and lows. From leadership to decision making to risk management to communication and planning - the mountains have often proven to be both humbling and ruthless. There is one thing that has remained constant throughout these hard-earned life lessons  – and that is the warmth, compassion, strength and humility of some of my greatest teachers - the Sherpa people. And it is now both a privilege and an honour to be able to provide my support in the building of NWSA community centre. I couldn't be more excited to be part of this landmark expedition...!

Please do contact the North West Sherpa Association on the NWSA Website,  Facebook page or via email to nwsherpa@gmail.com if you'd like to be kept up to date about future events or to contribute to the building of the community centre.

Many thanks for your support..!

Apr 15, 2017

The People You Meet... Paul Oakenfold, SoundTrek, Everest & "The Worlds Highest Party"

I’ve got a bit of a reputation for singing off-tune. I’m not picky on the genre – I’ll attempt anything from Bieber to Beegees to Beachboys to Blackbox... (the eclectic list goes on). These outbursts of song take place when I’m happy, when I’m celebrating, or when I’m with friends sharing a mutual joy for a moment, event or tune.  I sing most when I’m happy. As such, many of these ‘renditions’ have taken place on expedition in the shadow of Mount Everest – specifically at Everest Base Camp.

I remember one celebration in particular. It took place in late May 2013, following our teams successful summit of Lhotse & Everest. One of our team members revealed on our final evening in camp that he was actually an Icelandic-born Elvis impersonator. That night he broke out into the dulcet tones of ‘Love Me Tender’ and ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ while the entire team (plus our 30-40 party guests) whole-heartedly joined in song and dance. He was brilliant. It was from the heart, a perfect way to unwind after a stressful few weeks and it was outrageously fun. Exhausted, I remember retiring to my tent around 10.30pm. I lay in my sleeping bag with a huge smile on my face as the music continued to waft through the night over Everest Base Camp. An evening celebrated, shoulder to shoulder with our Sherpa team and (vocally!) enjoyed and remembered for the music, smiles, laughter and fun. 

*     *    *   *

This April I was fortunate enough to spend a few days at Everest Base Camp early in the Himalayan climbing season. I joined a Sherpa team and I ‘watched and learned’ (in pure awe) as they set up their team basecamp. Many of the Sherpas had already been at basecamp for 2 – 3 weeks, building platforms out of the ice, setting up tents, organising food, and ensuring that the relative ‘creature comforts’ were ready for the arrival of the wider teams from mid-April. 

One of my favourite parts of the day would take place around mid-afternoon when the Sherpas would turn on their music and sing and dance together whilst they finished off the last of their days activities. They always looked at me suspiciously when their ‘didi’ ('sister') broke out into an off-beat, hypoxic and coughing-infused rendition of their tune. I won’t begin to describe my dance moves…

  *     *    *   *

Earlier in the season, whilst trekking into Everest Base Camp I heard about a project called, ‘SoundTrek’ – the unique project of world-famous British DJ Paul Oakenfold and his creative team. Through SoundTrek Paul planed to stage performances in unexpected places around the globe, showcasing music from each locale and highlighting critical issues facing local communities. For the past 2 weeks, Paul and his team had been making their way up to Nepal's 17,600ft / 5200m Everest Base Camp under the leadership of professional guide and 12x Everest summiteer Kenton Cool

The ultimate vision for the project was for Paul to gain a deeper understanding of the importance of music and dance to the Nepali people, and especially the Sherpas. He would use this to promote the country in his own unique way – e.g. leveraging his talent as an artist and the power of his global brand. 

I was initially sceptical, and found myself already pre-empting the comments that would no doubt surface from others as quick to jump to conclusions as myself.  Having said that, and knowing some of those involved, I did my best to keep an open mind…

I began to follow along on the SoundTrek social media sites (Instagram, Twitter & Facebook). I interacted online as the team collected their Himalayan artefacts of sound, sight, smell, taste and touch and translated this into a visual narrative of their experiences along the trail. This included visits to the Monasteries where Paul and his team listened to local music in an attempt to try and understand what music means to the people, how they make the music and how they move to the music…. It included a visit to the local Lama, plus families and children in several local schools and even participating in a high-altitude game of football. Paul then took these influences and artefacts and begin his creative process – e.g. a digesting, mulling over, infusing, translating, shaping, personalising and translating into a final art - a performance reflecting his world-famous music style infused with strong local influences. The final product - a reflection of his journey from the initial inception of the project through to his arrival at Basecamp - nearly 2 years later.

And the final result? One of the most unique, memorable, and positive experiences that I have ever had at Everest Base Camp. In a nutshell, what I thought would be a straight musical set ‘the highest party on earth’ soon became so much more… 

The set took place on 11 April -  just as the climbing season ‘formally’ begins. For many Sherpa teams, the work of preparing the camps has nearly reached completion and there is a natural ‘lull’ before the arrival of the client teams.

The set began at 11am and ran for 2 hours. This meant that the trekkers coming to Basecamp could be part of the project as well as those already on Everest preparing the mountain for the climbing season. This is unique in itself as there is little (if any) organised social interaction between the ‘groups’ from early April. The 11am timing was also a natural break in the day for an early lunch break.

People had the option to ‘dip in and out’ according to their tastes and timeframes. Some stayed for the full 2-hour set whilst others popped round to see the unique sight of the breathless, down-clad singers and dancers trying to maintain their balance on the small scree stage. Some people partook in hypoxic dancing whilst others simply pulled up a boulder and sat sipping water from Nalgene bottles along natural perimeter of the site.

The ‘stage’ was shared with a local Nepali DJ, Ranzen Jha, whom Paul had contacted and mentored along the 2-week trek. The local DJ had never been to the Khumbu so the challenge of getting to basecamp also appealed on a personal level. In many respects, DJ Ranzen mentored Paul as much as Paul mentored DJ Ranzen. This story was also shared through the SoundTrek social media pages.

As part of his tour, Paul played gigs in Singapore and in Kathmandu and both times he personally donated his fee to local charities (www.supportingnepalschildren.org.uk). In addition, there is ongoing fundraising for children charities both in Nepal and in the UK.

The sound equipment and speakers were being donated to a School in Kathmandu as well as a Bhuddhist Monastery in Thangbouche – often frequented by both locals and foreigners – and also impacted by the devastating 2015 Nepal earthquake. 

Reflecting on the day itself, it was amazing and inspiring to see equal numbers of Sherpas standing shoulder to shoulder with trekkers from around the world all with big smiles, all dancing or enjoying the beat and the rhythm of the dance in their own unique way. Everyone was on an equal footing having fun and expressing themselves through the power of music and dance. 

During one song we joined arms in a 30-strong traditional Sherpa ‘line dance’ and together sang out, ‘Aint No Mountain High Enough’. During another memorable moment the traditional sound of yak-bells was layered upon the sound of the wind whistling through the mountains and laced with a slow hypnotic beat. The melodic melange left the audience entranced and reflective. 

Seeing and experiencing firsthand the shared joy of both local people and its visitors as we danced and celebrated this wonderful country and its culture in such a unique way is something I’ll never forget.

As is the basic premise of this 'climbing blog', I continue to be inspired through my travels by those people I meet who encourage me to keep an open mind.  Some of these people dazzle with their genius and art. Others share insights about how to live. Others devote their lives to helping others. Some conquer mountains while others build business empires. Some are great artists while others entertain with their brilliant musical talents. One thing that they all have in common is that they are passionate, talented people who add color to life and help to gently shape the moments (& mountains) that make up up the journey. Without the tremendous support of these people life would not be nearly as fascinating and mountains would be significantly higher....

Well done and thank you to everyone involved.

Mar 9, 2017

A Life In Transit...

"I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions." –Stephen Covey (educator, author, businessman)

A backpacking trip that started 17 years ago now brings me full-circle... Today I find myself in the organised chaos of Kathmandu as all of my worldly belongings (now filling a more than a few backpacks) make their way over the Atlantic ocean and to my new home in Toronto. 

Smells, sounds & sights - Kathmandu, Nepal
I start my journey in Kathmandu – my ‘home away from home,’ enjoying the unparalleled hospitality of the Sherpa family at their cosy bed & breakfast, ‘The Terrace’. The Terrace is an oasis of tranquillity moments away from the hustle and bustle of the touristy-hub of Thamel. With its beautifully decorated rooms, delicious breakfasts and steaming coffee, it’s  an idyllic place to unwind, regroup, and reenergise before and after a trek or to use as a strategic outpost before venturing into the endlessly fascinating (but sometimes infuriating!) back streets of Kathmandu. Plus The Terrace is strategically located above the flagship Sherpa Adventure Gear shop so a great place to stock up on any kit that may have been forgotten...! 

I can’t help but be fascinated by the crazy city. I’m not sure what it is... Perhaps it’s because everyone and everything seems to ‘blend’ into the fabric of the streets, 'bonded' by the pollution and dust; a city where ‘everything goes’ (or doesn’t go at all). Haphazardly hung electrical wires, cracked buildings, bumper-to-bumper traffic, ramshackled rickshaws and pot-holed sidewalks serve as the backdrop for local merchants selling their wares – gurkha knives, Buddha statues, DVDs and rows and rows of outdoor gear and pashmina shops. And between these are the money changers, the booksellers, the trekking agents, rickshaw drivers, and the artists. And of course, the tourists.  The background noise is relentless and overwhelming to the point where the noise becomes indiscernible. Honking horns blend with music echoing from the shops, friendly ‘Namaste’s, and the hypnotic chant of ‘Om mani padme hum’. An urban orchestra.

Chaotic clouds of colour - Holi Festival, Kathmandu
Whilst in Kathmandu, I’ll celebrate the Holi Festival on 12 March. Holi is better known as the ‘festival of colour’  and based on what I've read about the celebrations in Kathmandu, it's a day of raucous celebration where the dusty brown streets of Kathmandu are brought to life through chaotic clouds of colour and singing and dancing. The festival marks the start of spring and the triumph of good over evil.  

The celebration consists of ‘playing’ Holi when revellers paint each other’s faces with brightly coloured red, yellow, purple, blue, orange or pink powder or by throwing colored water at each other from buckets and water balloons. It’s all in good fun – organised anarchy - and almost everyone walking along the street in Kathmandu on the day of the Holi Festival should consider themselves a moving target and run the risk of being a mobile colour chart for days or weeks after. Yikes..!

Portfolios, projects & progress - The Chaudhary Foundation
After the Nepal earthquake in April 2015, I was introduced to the Chaudhary Foundation. The Foundation is the corporate social responsibility arm of the Chaudhary Group, Nepal's largest conglomerate. I’ve greatly enjoyed keeping in touch with the CF team over the past 1.5 years and have been inspired by their commitment to improving the health and wellbeing of Nepali people through initiatives in the social (education, health and sports); the economic (social business and enterprise initiatives); and finally the environmental sectors. In October 2015 and in March 2016, I had the opportunity to see firsthand the Foundations successful 'temporary shelter' programme which provided thousands of shelters and hundreds of schools to those communities hardest hit by the earthquake. I look forward to spending a few days with the team learning more about their portfolio of initiatives being rolled out across the country.

Mountains, Monasteries & Magic - Bhutan
On 20 March I’ll travel to the Kingdom of Bhutan. There are images of places you see in books and magazines that capture your imagination, invoke curiosity and prompt wanderlust of epic proportions. Bhutan has always been one of these places for me since I first saw pictures of it in an old geography text book (pre-internet!). Closed to foreigners until the 1960s this little Kingdom has managed to preserve its rich cultural traditions and protect the diversity of its flora and fauna whilst carefully embracing global developments… I look forward in particular to seeing the mandatory national dress and, of course, the iconic Tigers Nest monastery perched precariously in a cliff face high above the small city of Paro.

Resourcefulness, resilience & respect - The Khumbu
The next chapter of the journey will take me back to Nepal into the Khumbu of the Himalaya. From a personal perspective, the journey is a poignant one as it’s my first time back since visiting the ‘Everest region’ immediately following the 2015 earthquake.  I look forward to revisiting the many families the people met along the way on that emotional 2015 journey – particularly the villages toward Namche and in Thame. 

When I left in 2015, I remember seeing the resilience and resourcefulness of the local people as they started rebuilding their homes mere days after the quake.  I can’t wait to see how this resilience has manifested itself in the new homes, guesthouses, shops and schools which again line the well-trodden trail. 

Change, climbs, & (new) challenges - Lobuche Peak
I’ll continue my trek deeper into the Khumbu retracing steps towards Ama Dablam, Cholatse and Everest – stopping at the base of Lobuche Peak to step into my crampons, big boots and don my helmet to climb the 6100m peak. I must admit, I’m absolutely itching with excitement at climbing in the Himalayas again after a 2-year ‘pause’ to focus on my job and also regain some of the confidence and focus lost when the earth moved in 2015. Regaining confidence and focus has been a journey in itself and I’ve learned more then I ever imagined possible – about resilience, resourcefulness, and respect for our living planet. I’ll be literally ‘soaking up’ the Himalayan panorama with newfound joy and excitement. I’ve earned this!

Everest expeditions & experiences - Everest Base Camp
From Loboche I’ll continue on to Everest Base Camp. Here I’ll meet with a team of colleagues and friends from PwC who have made the long trek to raise both money and awareness for the health charity, Wellbeing of Women.  I’ve worked with the team from Wellbeing of Women for the past 3.5 years, organising charity challenge trips to Kilimanjaro. This will be our first Wellbeing of Women charity challenge trip to Everest Base Camp and I’m thrilled that the timing has worked out to allow me to join the team and celebrate their success..! Thus far we’ve raised over £140,000 / $175,000 to enable the funding of research into the health and wellbeing of women and babies. This includes IVF, premature birth, stillbirth, cervical and ovarian cancer… among many other lifesaving projects.  You can find out more about this amazing charity via, http://www.wellbeingofwomen.org.uk

To New Beginnings... - Toronto
And finally, what will no doubt be the biggest adventure of all – my new home in Toronto…! I can’t wait to join PwC and their Consulting arm in Toronto, picking up where I left off in London.

It’s been a long time since I called Canada ‘home.’ As this new chapter begins I am filled with gratitude for the many people who have been part of the journey thus far... Some of these people have inspired me with their genius and art. Others have shared with me insights about how I can live. Others have devoted their life to helping others. Some have conquered mountains while others have built business empires. Some are great artists while others have entertained with their brilliant musical talents. One thing that they all have in common is that they are passionate, talented, and amazing people who have added colour to my life and have helped to gently shape the moments that make up the journey – both at work and at play.

Without the tremendous support of these people life would not be nearly as fascinating and mountains would be significantly higher.

Onward and upward!

Dec 22, 2016

Holiday Traditions: Cogne Ice Climbing Festival - December 16 - 18, 2016

Christmas is a time of traditions – traditional foods, traditional songs, traditional stockings hung by the fire… For me (as well as about 80 others!), the Christmas season is marked by another tradition - an annual migration to the Aosta Valley – to Cogne, Italy – for the Cogne Ice Opening celebration. 

Spearheading this annual event is no easy task – fluctuations in weather, coordinating ice-themed movies and gathering an array of inspirational speakers, and promoting the event (in 4 languages!) is a challenge in itself! For the fifth consecutive year, professional ice climbers Matthias Scherer, Tanja and Heike Schmitt met the challenge with gusto. Leveraging their creativity, huge talents and a contagious passion for the many disciplines of climbing, an array of nationalities from Finland to Canada to Holland to England took the opportunity to embrace and refine ice climbing, mixed climbing and dry-tooling skills.

The festival, one of the first key social events of the winter in Cogne, is an opportunity to learn, have fun, meet new people and share experiences. The event is sponsored by Arc’teryx, Black Diamond, La Sportiva, Petzl, and Sterling Rope, who are all on-hand to answer questions, sharpen tools and ensure that even if you were to show up in a pair of Bermuda shorts you could be fully kitted out, cramponed up and climbing up a frozen waterfall in about 10 minutes. 

The first sip of hot mulled-wine (Italian style) in the bar at the ‘Apero’ on Friday evening indicated that the festival had well and truly begun – the atmosphere was already buzzing and a growing group of participants were chatting about the options available given this seasons already mixed conditions. This is my fourth consecutive year attending the festival. One of the highlights for me is seeing so many familiar faces – many met whilst hanging off the ice last year!

Early on Saturday morning, under a clear crisp sky and temperatures hovering well below zero, participants broke out into their climbing groups, led under the watchful eyes of guides from Italy, France, Switzerland and Poland. Led by our guides Heike and Isabelle, our group began the trek up to the ridgeline to a route which would not only challenge us but also provide a safe learning ground for new skills. The trek was invigorating and proved to be a wonderful opportunity to warm up our muscles whilst meeting new people and sharing previous climbing (and life!) experiences. 

Isabelle Santoire and Heike Schmitt shared their experience and insights with us. There was a strong focus on safety and skills balanced in equal measure with a sense of fun. 

About 5 hours later, the laughs, pumped arms, tingling toes and rosy cheeks were evidence of our brilliant day out. I learned and practised new techniques and certainly gave my arms a workout. By around 3pm with chilled fingers and toes we all began to head down to the bar for liquid refreshments and the opportunity to share stories with other groups coming back from their own adventures.

That evening we headed into the quaint town of Cogne for an ‘All about the Ice’ movie night. With bellies full of Italy’s finest pizza, we sat back in the theatre to be inspired… and were not disappointed. With presentations from athletes and films from extreme climbers including Rudi Hauser, as well as the inspirational Heike and Tanja Schmitt and Matthias Scherer we quickly realised the tremendous dedication, passion and commitment required in climbing – or any sport for that matter. 

Sunday presented us with an equally stunning blue-sky and crisp clear conditions. Under the watchful eye of  our guides for the day, Nicholas and also Jon Bracey, we headed up to a more advanced route. I was a bit nervous as the degree of difficulty was a significant step up from the previous day but aided by a solid top rope and a group of supportive ‘cheerleaders’ it was a perfect training ground. You don’t feel ego here and it quickly became clear that I was in the company of some very experienced climbers, yet the set-up had something for all levels.  We jumped in when somebody needed a belay, encouragements were shouted, and we learned from each other. It was clear from the outset that the routes tested our abilities and we all came away from the day with a tremendous sense of satisfaction and a desire to continue pushing ourselves to the next level. 

It was a brilliant weekend. Piling into my Swiss Air flight back to London that evening I’d already begun planning my next trip to Cogne as well as additional winter adventures. 

The annual Cogne Ice Festival welcomes people of all abilities and tailors the sessions around your level of experience and what you want to get out of it. If you're intrigued by the sport of ice climbing and want to have a go, there are a number of options available:

  1. Try it out at one of the UK’s indoor walls: Vertical Chill in Ellis Brigham Covent Garden, (London) or Ice Factor (Europe’s biggest indoor ice climbing wall) in Fort William, Scotland
  2. Check out www.mountainwomen.net to learn ice climbing in small groups
  3. Sign up for an introductory course in the Alps or in Scotland. Rijukan, Norway is very popular for ice climbing too
  4. Hire a private guide, such as Heike Schmitt, Jonathan Bracey, or Isabelle Santoire (all based between Chamonix, France and Cogne, Italy) to show you the ropes for a day or two. For an action packed weekend, combine this with a skiing trip in the Alps!

Huge thanks to Matthias, Tanja, and Heike for organising the event, for your creativity and for sharing your passion with us..! Thanks also to the event sponsors Arc’teryx, Black Diamond, Petzl, La Sportiva, Sterling Rope and to all the guides involved for supporting the festival and helping to open up this icy world... See you next year!!

Nov 2, 2016

FINALIST...! Moving Mountains Shortlisted for Promax UK Awards

Moving Mountains Shortlisted for Promax UK Awards

By Phil Mahony, 2nd of November 2016 for London:DC

The London:DC team is proud to announce our documentary - Moving Mountains - has been selected as one of five finalists in the PROMAX UK short film festival sponsored by Amazon Video.

Shot by Bafta award winning cinematographer Huw Walters, Moving Mountains is a powerful first hand account of London based financial consultant Heather Geluk, who was in Nepal last year attempting back to back 8000m+ ascents when the infamous earthquakes struck. It explores the notions of adventure, disaster, resilience and the enduring qualities of human spirit...

Nov 1, 2016

Article Feature: This Girl Definitely Can. Extreme Adventurer Heather Geluk

Style Altitude: The online ski and snowboard magazine for mountain news, ski and snowboard gear reviews, style views and features with an edge (or two). Park, piste and powder. Off piste, backcountry, slackcountry. Live Mountain Webcam AND Winter Ski Blog. For skiers and snowboarders written by riders for riders,#doitinstyle


Caught in the Nepal earthquake while nearly 6000m up a mountain was the second most terrifying moment of her already quite adventurous life. But THE most terrifying was experiencing the second earthquake while she was in the city of Bhaktapur a month later. Heather Geluk helped tackle the 'mountain' of devastation and is now ambassador for Sherpa Adventure Gear as well as being Change Management Communications Consultant for PwC. This girl not only can when it comes to extreme mountain adventures but she is also an inspiration to women AND men embracing the Sherpa sense of balance in life...

Huge thanks to Style Altitude for the interview... You can find the full interview here: http://www.stylealtitude.com/sherpa-interview-heather-geluk.html

Oct 23, 2016

A Fleeting Sunrise in the Annapurnas of Nepal

Our brief had been to get pictures of, ‘big mountain views’ – but all Lakpa Rita Sherpa, John and I could see was a dense bank of clouds which had culminated to produce a steady drizzle. The view from Sarangkot's perhaps optimistically named ‘Sunrise Point’ wasn’t looking too promising that Saturday afternoon. A local guest house owner who promised us the ‘Best Organic Coffee on this side of the Himalayas’ (look out Wholefoods) suggested that we pray for good weather… And pray is what we did.

Sarangkot, the stepping-stone for a trek around the Annapurna Circuit, was my own personal introduction to Nepal and trekking over 16 years ago. Today I was in Sarangkot with some esteemed company – fellow Sherpa Adventure Gear athlete Lakpa Rita Sherpa (17 summits of Everest to his name, along with numerous other notable peaks and recipient of countless accolades for his achievements in the mountains), and award winning National Geographic photographer John Burcham, on assignment for global outdoor brand, Sherpa Adventure Gear.

Despite the dismal weather that Saturday and an even less promising forecast for the Sunday, we agreed to meet in the hotel lobby the following morning for a 6am sunrise – weather permitting.  Plan B was a 6am organic coffee in the rain – better known as ‘kit testing’.

As we drove up the winding road to ‘Sunrise Point’ the following morning I took a sharp intake of breath as we rounded a final hairpin bend....

Despite my many return trips to Nepal, I continue to be left awestruck by the jaw-dropping magnificence of the landscapes – layers upon layers of majestic snow capped peaks, their individual beauty peeled back and their characters tantalisingly revealed by the warmth of the rising sun.  

From the first time I saw it, one of my favourite mountains is Machapuchare. This iconic peak, also known as ‘Fishtail Mountain’ - aptly named because of its twin peaks and notched summit – dominates the panorama. At 6,993m / 22,943 feet it’s considerably lower than Mt. Everest, but this mountain is in illustrious company – legendary peaks such as Annapurna and Manaslu, both in the “8,000-meter club,” are not far away. The difference is that Machapuchare, and its isolated summit is considered sacred. It’s believed to be the home of the Hindu god Shiva. Officially (there are reports of attempts in the 1980s), Machapuchare has never been summited, making its ethereal heights one of the least-visited places on Earth. 

We spent 2 days trekking and taking countless photographs along a small section of trail and never tired of our view of Machapuchare and the fleeting views of the Annapurna range. We regularly found ourselves pausing from our laughter, looking up from our cameras and coffees and staring, mesmerised and breathless, as the ever-changing landscape revealed itself. 

My experiences in Nepal – both on this trip and previous journeys – are most eloquently described using not my words but rather those from author and naturalist John Muir, in his essay ‘The Mountains of California” 

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.”