May 21, 2018

Consulting, careers, crevasses & cold – lessons learned along the way

A passion for adventure balanced against a career in consulting has taught me a lot about the fine art of multi-tasking, deep breathing and smiling bravely through those moments when you realize that there are only 24 hours in the day and you've planned for 30. These are the moments when I find myself in the gym after a long day at work, gasping for breath on a treadmill whilst reading emails on my iphone and deciding what to have for my 11pm dinner once I've finished my third can of Red Bull. I’m exaggerating slightly – but you get my point..!

One of the most challenging parts of an expedition is in the preparation for the expedition itself – my experience in preparing for my expedition to climb Denali, the highest mountain in North America, has been no different. Managing work and personal commitments, time for training, charity fundraising, equipment organization, managing stakeholders, finances, and taking time out for myself - it's easy to become overwhelmed. And I have. 

Over the past few weeks I've had to consciously stop and take a few deep breaths, revisit the to-do checklist, re-define key dates, re-prioritize and let my body catch up with my brain. These are the times when I’ve really needed to focus and be disciplined in deciding what things on my 'to do' list relate directly to achieving my goals and which are just ‘nice to haves’.

Having been on over 25 major expeditions in the Himalayas, Andes, and the Alps over the past 9 years, I’ve realized that this planning and re-planning is a critical part of the process and will pay off in the longer-term. Discipline and rigor are critical in this preparatory stage so that I don't find myself on the mountain without a sleeping bag or return from an expedition without a job!

I’ve summarized below four key themes and lessons learned from expedition reflections and preparations...

Disciplinebe disciplined in your focus on attaining your goal. 

A focus on the end goal is a bit like having a personal GPS. Once you type your destination into a GPS, it cleverly spits out step by step details in how to get there. If only there was a GPS of life..! I’ve learned to manage goals by breaking key activities and events down into priorities: What needs to get done today? What can wait until tomorrow? What can wait until next week? Over my morning Nespresso, I spend the first 15 minutes of every day prioritizing so I know exactly what I have on my plate for the day ahead. There are plenty of apps (e.g. Trello, GTask, Tik Tik) out there that can help with this - Wunderlist is a personal favorite. 

Before every expedition I spend time thinking about my end-goal and the steps (real and proverbial!) required to achieve it. Is it the summit? Is it to raise money for a particular charity? Is it to improve my skills and fitness? Is it to experience a new part of the world? I then write down the activities required to achieve my goals in a step-by-step list. 

I’ve found that without this rigor and focus, I’m easily distracted ad diverted. As a highly skilled procrastinator this includes distractions like the dishes that need washing, the floor that suddenly needs vacuuming or the trip to the grocery store that just can’t wait. Just as a traffic accident, road congestion and construction requires the GPS to recalibrate, I’ve learned that my daily ‘to do’ list helps me to keep sight on goals no irrespective of the detours that pop up along the way. 

Commitment don’t give up when you’re forced beyond your comfort zone or when setbacks or disappointments happen. 

There’s a great quote by Kenneth Blanchard, ‘There's a difference between interest and commitment. When you're interested in doing something, you do it only when it's convenient. When you're committed to something, you accept no excuses; only results.” 

If I was only ‘interested’ in climbing Denali, I’d deprioritize training, planning, fundraising and expedition preparations, only focusing on the expedition when it was convenient.  Also, when on the expedition, I’d likely give-up with my first shiver in the -30-degree temperatures. Commitment to a project like Denali means that even when I’m exhausted from a long day of work, I still go to the gym to achieve my training goal. Similarly, it means that I’m laser-focused and committed to reaching the summit and descending safely, even when things get uncomfortable – which I anticipate will be regularly!

Those people who are successful in the mountains – as in life – are people who are unrelenting toward the pursuit of their goal. Sure, they experience setbacks and failures like everyone else. But what sets these people apart is their ability to get back on track and learn from their mistakes. Success and commitment to achieving a goal is about the ability to do this time and time again until they gain the prize that sets them apart.

A very recent example of commitment is the story of the 69-year old Chinese double amputee Xia Boyu. Last week on May 13th,  Mr. Xia summited Mount Everest on his fifth attempt after both feet were amputated in his first bid 43 years ago. In 1975, his team were trapped in a storm near the summit and he suffered severe frostbite, losing both his feet after he lent a teammate his sleeping bag.  In 1996, he was diagnosed with lymphoma, a form of blood cancer. After recovering from cancer, he attempted the summit three more times in 2014, 2015, and 2016. In 2014, climbing season was cancelled due to an avalanche on Everest. His attempt in 2015 was called off after a magnitude-8.1 earthquake shook Nepal and triggered more avalanches. Then, in his fourth attempt in 2016, Mr Xia's dream seemed within reach - the team was just 300ft from the summit when a blizzard forced him to turn back… And then last week, on his fifth attempt, Mr. Xia achieved his dream of reaching the highest point on earth and becoming the second double amputee to ever do so.  A tremendous achievement and a true testament to commitment and an unrelenting pursuit of a goal.

Courage learn to say ‘no’. 

One of my favorite artists, Ed Sheeran once said, “I can’t tell you the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everyone’. How right he is..!

Learning to say ‘no’ takes courage and continues to be one the most challenging things I’ve had to learn in planning expeditions and everything that comes with it. Over the past few years, I’ve realized my people pleasing tendencies were creating stresses and inefficiencies which were impacting my work, personal life and time spent outdoors. Thanks to some great coaches and simple exercises in saying ‘no,’ I've begun to preserve my most valuable resource – time – while growing personally and professionally. By saying ‘no’ to some things, I’ve realized that I’m actually saying ‘yes’ to other things – for example, a steps toward a professional or mountaineering goal. Saying no to a new commitment honors your existing commitments and gives you the opportunity to successfully fulfill these commitments.

What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint – and that’s never fun – especially if you’re a ‘people pleaser’ like me. Second, in the context of work, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that. 

There are plenty of business books written on different ways to ‘say no’ and offering tips and tricks to help convert the ‘no’ into a yes. A few of my favorite tips are:
  • Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that.
  • Know your priorities. If you do have some extra time, ask yourself whether this new commitment is how you want to spend that time? 
  • Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word – it’s actually quite empowering. 

Creativitylook for ways to overlap things. 

Asking my boss for the two-months off to climb Everest was a nerve-wracking experience. I’d already listed out all of the reasons why he might say ‘no’ and hadn’t ever considered why he might say ‘yes’. As it turned out, he was an avid ‘arm-chair adventurer’, and immediately understood the drive-behind my nervous request. We spent the remainder of the meeting discussing the ‘leadership’ qualities of adventurers like Sir Ernest Shackleton and how these leadership qualities were also found in business leaders. My boss suggested that I conduct a presentation for one of his team meetings on ‘leadership lessons learned’ following my Everest expedition putting the lessons into the context of the project-based environment that I work in as a change management specialist. I obliged and a few months later following my return from Everest, was amazed at how much I’d learned from my interactions with our guide, other team members, the preparation for the expedition, and the challenges we faced individually and as a team on the mountain. 

From that first trip I started building a portfolio of “lessons learned” on a range of topics including risk management, decision making, communications, experiencing failure, and leading through adversity. Rather than seeing the time-off work as a ‘career limiting’ move, it became ‘career enhancing’, gave me confidence and independence and purpose. It tapped into my love of story-telling, adventure and I became a more effective consultant as a result.

A few years later I was approached by several colleagues to organize a charity trek of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania to support one of our firm’s charity partners, Wellbeing of Women.  Our team raised 30,000 GBP with that first trek and helped fund critical research into the health and wellbeing of women and babies. The news of our success spread across the firm and subsequent trips were quickly organized. Today, nearly five years later we’ve organized 7 charity treks to Kilimanjaro and have also added Everest Base Camp to the portfolio.  We’ve raised over 250,000 GBP for the charity. Equally importantly, over 50 colleagues have become friends, have learned to fundraise and have experienced literal highs (and lows!) together, forging friendships and memories that will last a lifetime.

May 2, 2018

Destination Denali: Reaching New Heights to Support Research into the Health & Wellbeing of Women

My passion for adventure is the by-product of a love for the outdoors instilled by rural Canadian roots and an inherent sense of ‘wanderlust’. These same rural roots have also instilled in me the importance of community and my personal responsibility in playing a part to make it better. 

Over the course of the literal (and proverbial) ‘highs’ and ‘lows’ of the past 10 years of adventure and expeditions, I’ve sought to leverage my experiences climbing some of the highest mountains on earth as opportunities to inspire others and to give back to my community by raising funds and awareness to support the health and wellbeing of women and babies around the world through research, training and education.

The Challenge

From June 10th  - July 1st 2018, I’ll brave severe conditions to climb the tallest mountain in North America – Denali via its notoriously challenging west buttress route. Located 130 miles north of Anchorage, Alaska, Denali rises an icy 6,190m (20,310 feet) out of a sea of glaciers and other peaks that comprise the Alaska Range.

The adventure will be extreme. High altitude, sub-Arctic conditions, fickle weather, unpredictable storms, steep slopes, and deep crevasses combine to make Denali one of the most difficult and severe mountains in the world. The climb will involve relaying loads of equipment over 66 kilometers (41 miles) in 22 days, establishing camps and climbing slowly enough for proper acclimatization. In addition, I’ll be carrying a 60 pound pack and be pulling a 40 pound sled, loaded with gear to establish camps on the mountain in preparation to get into position to summit in late June.

I’ll draw from a significant track-record of experience from over 25 major expeditions to the highest mountains on earth including Everest, Lhotse, Makalu, and others in the high Himalaya, Andes and Alps.  On these expeditions I’ve learned to ‘dig deep’, tapping into reserves of strength and determination to put one foot in front of the other. But even before that, I’ve learned to manage training and extensive preparation around the commitments of a demanding job by honing skills in discipline, commitment, courage and creativity.

Giving back

I wanted to be in a position to give back to the communities and the people that have played such an important role in my life. This is why I have chosen charities in the UK and Canada.

I'm raising funds and awareness to support the life saving work of Women’s College Hospital Foundation (WCH) in Canada and Wellbeing of Women (WoW) in the UK, focusing specifically on research into women’s cancers including breast cancer and gynaecological cancers including ovarian cancer, cervical cancer and womb cancer.

This field of research into women’s cancers is hugely underfunded, particularly given the staggering and sobering facts about women’s cancers in the UK and Canada.

Wellbeing of Women (UK)

Wellbeing of Women is the charity dedicated to improving the health of women and babies, to make a difference to everybody's lives today and tomorrow. Every year the charity invests in special research projects and allocate funds towards the training of specialist doctors and midwives. Established in 1964 Wellbeing of Women remains unique in having such a comprehensive remit for women’s health. Wellbeing of Women are one of very few funders of peer-reviewed medical research on topics such as the menopause and endometriosis alongside work seeking to prevent premature birth and recurrent miscarriage and to discover new therapies for gynecological cancer.

Women’s College Hospital (Canada)

For over a century, WCH has been at the forefront of closing health gaps for women and their loved ones and is an internationally recognized leader in the research, diagnosis and care of women’s cancers. By scaling up important innovations and education in the areas of breast and ovarian cancers, WCH reaches healthcare providers, institutions, women and their families in every part of Canada, through the national reach of the Canadian Cancer Society, with a goal to deliver new models of care.

Mountains of our lives

 “Climbing Denali is no different from any other challenges we aim to overcome in our lives.  Whether starting a new job, mending a broken relationship or stepping outside of our comfort zone, we’re all climbing a mountain of sorts.  These experiences require us to be stronger than we think we are, endure more than we think we can, and become more than we dreamed possible. By supporting the work of WCH and Wellbeing of Women I want to play a direct role in making those proverbial mountains so much easier to climb by helping to advance the health and wellbeing of women and creating solutions for the healthcare system that benefit all people – making everyone’s lives better and easier today and tomorrow."

Click here to help fund lifesaving research: Wellbeing of Women: 
Click here to help fund lifesaving research: Womens College Hospital: 

For more information:

About Wellbeing of Women

Wellbeing of Women is the charity dedicated to improving the health of women and babies, to make a difference to everybody's lives today and tomorrow. Every year the charity invests in special research projects and allocate funds towards the training of specialist doctors and midwives. Established in 1964 Wellbeing of Women have enabled the major breakthrough's in obstetrics and gynecology.
Wellbeing of Women remains unique in having such a comprehensive remit for women’s health. Wellbeing of Women are one of very few funders of peer-reviewed medical research on topics such as the menopause and endometriosis alongside work seeking to prevent premature birth and recurrent miscarriage and to discover new therapies for gynecological cancer.
To donate and show your support: Wellbeing of Women:    

About Women’s College Hospital

For more than 100 years Women’s College Hospital (WCH) has been developing revolutionary advances in healthcare. Today, WCH is a world leader in the health of women and Canada’s leading, academic ambulatory hospital. A champion of health equity, WCH advocates for the health of all women from diverse cultures and backgrounds and ensures their needs are reflected in the care they receive. It focuses on delivering innovative solutions that address Canada’s most pressing issues related to population health, patient experience and system costs. The WCH Institute for Health System Solutions and Virtual Care (WIHV) is developing new, scalable models of care that deliver improved outcomes for patients and sustainable solutions for the health system as a whole.

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: 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:

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 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. 

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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…

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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 ( 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.