Dec 21, 2013

"Keeping it Real" - Ice Climbing in Cogne, Italy

Every once in a while I have to remind myself to ‘keep it real’. Life is short, it can be tough. There are moments when reaching for a hand-brake to slow things down a notch or two would certainly help provide the life-balance when it flips out of kilter. In the absence of a ‘hand-brake’ I have found the perfect alternative – the great outdoors. For me, there’s something incredibly therapeutic about being outside and ‘feeling’ – feeling cold, hot, happy, scared, tired, hungry in a pure, unadulterated state…. engaging the mind by trying something new and drawing energy from the passion of people you meet along the way. 

I was just coming off of a hectic few weeks at work and was feeling the need to ‘keep it real’. When my climbing guide and friend Isabelle Santoire suggested that I join her for a weekend of at the Ice Climbing Opening in Cogne, Italy I jumped at the opportunity. Having spent an exceptionally cold but fun day learning the basics with Isabelle in Cogne last winter I realized that this was fantastic way to get back into the ‘groove’. What better way to feel alive than to embrace the biting cold in the shade of an icy rock face at the end of a belay or to climb up a frozen waterfall, arms pumped, trying hard not to think about the sheer lunacy of hanging off of a frozen waterfall on ice only a few centimeters thick by only a few sharp metal points. On the flip side, what better way to feel alive than drink hot chocolate so thick you can chew it and laugh so hard with people you’ve just met that it makes your belly ache.

The annual Cogne Ice Festival is organized by hugely talented, hardcore ice climbers, Matthias Scherer and Tanja Schmitt. The festival is a quirky, fun, non-pretentious gathering place which presented an opportunity to learn, to have fun, to meet new people and share experiences. It was sponsored by Arc’teryx, Black Diamond, La Sportiva, Suunto, Sterling Rope, Glorify, and Chimpanzee who were all on-hand to answer kit questions, sharpen tools and ensure that even if you showed up without anything you could be fully kitted out and walking to a frozen headwall in about 5 minutes.  I tried out a new set of Black Diamond Stinger crampons and a new BD  Speed-range climbing pack – both of which exceeded expectations.

It was an absolutely brilliant weekend. A number of clinics were on offer ranging from navigation through to the more hard-core ice-climbing clinics. For both the Saturday and Sunday I joined a women’s clinic with 7 other women of mixed abilities but all sharing common goals – to have fun, to laugh, to learn. And that we did. In spades. We proved that the outdoors can bring together a mix of cultures – in my group alone we were a feisty mix of Brits, Swedes, Italians, Canadians, Norwegians, Germans, French. With a shared passion for the outdoors we proved that this shared passion can transcend language barriers and spent the two days on routes which offered different levels of challenge and opportunity. And learned, amongst other things, one key message – “Don’t let go”. A message which was confirmed during Saturday evening’s programme.

On Saturday evening, we were treated to several presentations from the athletes including Jeff Mercier showed a video on his new route in the Dolomites. Klemen Premrl presented Wolverine, a short clip about his achievements with Tim Emmett, Will Gadd and Raphael Slawinski, on Wolverine, one of the wildest, steepest and most difficult ice climbing in the world located in Helmcken Falls, Canada.  Matthias Scherer and Tanja Schmitt showed their movie on Kjerrskredkvelven, the giant ice line in Norway. Finally, Matteo della Bordella and Luca Schiera talked about their new route on Torre Egger, and Ezio Marlier talked about Repentance, one of the most iconic ice falls in Cogne.

I sometimes find it tedious watching accounts of adventures which focus purely on ‘The Epic’ - the records broken, the near-death experiences, the summits achieved, the testosterone-driven ‘gnarliness’ of it all… especially when the ‘gnarly’ isn’t appropriately balanced with the reality of why these amazing athletes push themselves to these extremes of challenge and discomfort. It’s certainly not about the money or the fame (we’re talking about climbing here!). It’s the buzz. It’s about keeping it real. It's about the thrill of the challenge and the fun. This came through in the videos - especially Tim Emmett's account of how he and his team mates approached Wolverine (I encourage you to boil the kettle, make yourself a brew, and take a few moments out of your life to enjoy it). I absolutely loved it not only for the aesthetic elements but also for the passion and enthusiasm for the project before, during and after the climb. This passion was something that we could relate to as we’d experienced it first-hand on a smaller scale during our own ‘epic’ experiences on routes significantly less gnarly. 

There are few things in life as vicariously satisfying as self-indulgence after a big day outside. On Sunday afternoon we found ourselves back in the pub with rosy cheeks with steaming cups of hot chocolate and mulled wine… and sorting out our next adventures as we flipped through our reams of photos documenting our ‘hero shots’. We agreed to meet again for more shared fun in Norway on 21 Feb for the Rjukan Ice Festival‏..! 

Nov 23, 2013

The People You Meet: Rotary Club of Road Town, British Virgin Islands

Bikinis, sarongs, SPF 20, 30 and 40, shorts, t-shirts, sundresses… a down jacket, spikey sharp crampons and my 8000m boots. Not quite the typical packing-list for a trip to the British Virgin Islands..! As random as the packing was, it did leave me smiling and looking forward to a week of adventures in the sunshine and alongside the crystal clear Caribbean waters. As well as a week of relaxing, there was some work to be done - my brother Ryan had invited me to present at the Road Town Rotary Club, Tortola, BVI where he is an active Rotarian.

I must confess, I was slightly apprehensive about the presentation… My mind boggled with the challenges presented by the contrast between the icy-cold slopes of the highest peaks of the Himalayas and the warm sandy beaches of the British Virgin Islands. I knew it was going to be a ‘tough sell’ to my esteemed Caribbean audience and that I’d really have to present a compelling story to ensure that my audience of Rotarians could (1) relate and (2) enjoy the presentation without thinking that I was completely crazy..! A common thread was desperately required to make this relevant...

About Rotary:
I’ve had the opportunity to work with and present to a number of Rotary clubs in Rotary’s international network and have personally benefited from Rotary’s work in the community – I attended my first ever conference through sponsorship from the Ridgetown Rotary club when I was about 11 years old. Since then I’ve met with and presented to Rotarians in Ridgetown, Malaysia, Kathmandu, Chatham, the UK and now the BVI..!

What struck me about the Road Town Rotary club, as with all other Rotary Clubs that I’ve had the pleasure of visiting, is that the Rotary is very much at the heart of the community - members are passionate about the communities in which they live and work. Members of Rotary bring about positive change in their communities locally and overseas; they support those who need help; they strive to improve lives; they stand up against injustice and wrongs within society. A perfect example of this was at the Road Town meeting where a number of initiatives were organised to help those in the Philippines affected by the typhoon which more than 5,200 people lost their lives and displacing 4.4 million people. The club committed to support a Rotary Telethon on the BVI in partnership with other Rotary clubs and looked to leverage the Rotary network to the Philippines clubs to see what other support / help they could provide.. as well as connecting to the Filipino community in the BVI itself.

The other thing that struck me about the Road Town Rotary Club is that they like to have fun. From fines to happy dollars to good food to fellowship among friends it was great to meet such a positive group of people..!

Presenting to the Rotary Club of Road Town, Tortola...

Drawing from my professional background as a management consultant, I focused on management ‘lessons learned’, drawn from my experiences in the mountains – specifically around teamwork, leadership, decision making and risk management. Through mountaineering case studies, I brought to life some of the challenges that are faced on expeditions and not dissimilar to those challenges faced by organisations around the world. For example, managing a diverse team from different backgrounds, with different levels of experience and differing goals. For some people, the primary objective is to reach ‘the top’, whilst for others, it’s to make the decision to come back in one piece with 10 fingers and 10 toes in tact, to live another day.  As a leader, how do you manage these divergent goals and work as one team, functioning effectively to minimise risk and bring out the strengths of all individuals in the team to make the team as strong as it possibly can be? What are the leadership qualities that bring out the best in individuals? Surprisingly, in spite of the contrast between the two environments, the qualities that make a good leader good and a great leader great are not dissimilar… a great leader brings out the very best in individuals, the very best in the team, and achieves the goal.

Whilst in the BVI, preparing for my presentation in the comfort of the lovely Grape Tree villas overlooking the stunning Long Bay, I was able to appreciate other similarities between the Himalayas and the BVI. The views.  The power of nature.  How they made me feel – truly alive. I’m once again reminded that there are few things in the world that are as mesmerising and hypnotic as the sheer power and beauty of nature and our natural environment – the sound of the wind whistling down an icy slope or the crashing of waves over a deserted sandy beach… there are few things that put us, as human beings, so fundamentally in our place.  I’ve sat overlooking the Western Cwm from high up the Lhotse face as the sun bounced off the ice with the shadow of Mt. Everest looming above me… and I’ve sat on the sandy white beaches of the BVI, in the shadow of palm-trees,  watching the clear-blue waves break and crash rhythmically on the shore… never missing a beat. The feeling I have in these two contrasting environments – whether wrapped up in my down suit and 8000m boots or in my bikini and sarong - are the same… so perhaps it won’t be as difficult to convince the Road Town Rotary Club of why I love this ‘vertical world’ as much as I do..! Perhaps I only need to share with them my love of life? 

Many thanks to the Road Town Rotary club of the British Virgin Islands for their hospitality, their interest and fellowship. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening and I feel so privileged to have had the opportunity to share my experiences with you!

Nov 3, 2013

Sherpa Adventure Gear Lecture Tour: Everest Uncovered - closing thoughts...

When I first started this blog, "The People You Meet Along the Way..." I thought that it would be a good way to document my mountaineering ‘journey’; a way to think through and remind myself of the many lessons that I have learned and the many inspirational people that I have met along the way. By blogging, I’d have the opportunity to share my stories, thoughts, reflections via this online forum as a vehicle to prompt others to reflect on their journeys, their passions, the people that they’ve met and drawn inspiration from… and who, in turn, draws inspiration from them. 
One thing that I’d never (in a million years) expected when I started writing out my thoughts was that I would be taking my humble journey to a whole new level and speaking about it…. In public. To lots of different people. Across the UK. Alongside some of Everests’ most accomplished mountaineers. And representing a brand that I am truly proud to be part of. 

The Sherpa Adventure Gear ‘Everest Uncovered’ lecture tour, held its grand finale to a full house at the Royal Geographical Society, London on Friday, 25 October. This followed two previous lectures in Edinburgh and Manchester and concluded a tremendously successful, fun and action packed whirlwind week which has proven to be one of the highlights of my mountaineering ‘journey’ – to use the cliché, it was ‘my Everest’.  

A journey which led me to share a stage with Kenton Cool and Lakpa Rita Sherpa, and Ian Parnell.  Kenton, Lakpa Rita and Ian are internationally renowned legends in the world of mountaineering – both on and off the mountain. Between them, these men share a total of 29 Everest summits and a unique outlook on the history and future of the world’s highest peak. If, 5 years ago, someone would have said that I’d be speaking alongside these athletes in places as esteemed as the Royal Geographical Society, I’d never have believed them..!

Reflecting on the week that was, ‘Everest Uncovered’ I can’t help but jot-down some of the highlights…

- Spending time with the inspirational and truly humble Lakpa Rita Sherpa and his lovely wife Phurba. As the ‘face’ of the Sherpa Adventure Gear brand, I felt like Lakpa was a long-lost friend - our paths had crossed briefly on a particularly cold morning in the Western Cwm of Everest this past spring but it was hardly the time and place to chat…! So it was truly an honor to be part of Lakpa’s and Phurba’s first visit to the (rather rainy!) UK and share in some of the UK’s culinary delights – which included the biggest naan bread we’d ever seen (at an Indian restaurant in Manchester) and an evening of clubbing in London at the exclusive alpine-themed club, Bodos Schloss (where we drank from a ski boot!).

- Gleaning words of wisdom and engaging in healthy debate and laughter with Kenton Cool. About 5 years ago I attended a lecture at the RGS in which Kenton was on a panel of speakers which included Doug Scott and George Band addressing, the commercialisation of Everest. Kenton’s passion for the mountain and its people, his understanding of the history of the Everest region and his as experience as both a guide and an athlete shone through in spades. I could relate to many aspects of Kenton’s point of view as I rely on people like him to ‘make my dreams come true’. Having said that, as someone with an interest in the ‘geographical tradition’ I could certainly empathise with Doug Scott and George Band who had come to know Everest and the Himalayas in a different time and experienced the mountain in a different, very personal way. Fast forward 5 years and Kenton has, in so many ways, played an instrumental part in my ‘journey’ – even before we became friends and peers through the Sherpa Adventure Gear brand. With our paths crossing in the Himalayas, the Alps and now in the Lakes, I feel truly privileged to continue to draw from his experience and insights and look forward to future adventures both on and off of the mountain. 

- Meeting Ian Parnell. I'd heard amazing things about Ian both as a person and as an alpinist prior to the Everest Uncovered lecture tour and he certainly lived up to his brilliant reputation. Ian, is one of Britain’s leading alpinists and nominated four times for the Piolet D’Or (equivalent of the Oscars for mountaineers), and has made significant ascents in the Himalayas, Alaska, Kyrygyzstan, Greenland and Patagonia. He name is synonymous with 'first ascents', 'epics' and climbing grades that I could only dream of. It was humbling (to put it mildly) to be interviewed on a stage in front of hundreds of people about my experiences by someone quite considerably more accomplished than myself... Meeting Ian was certainly one of the key highlights of the lecture tour and his personal and professional insights, thoughts and feedback certainly has led me to rethink and reflect on many different aspects of my mountaineering journey and ambitions.

- Spending time with the Sherpa Adventure Gear team– the people who, through their passion and belief in the brand, work tirelessly to bring Sherpa Adventure gear to the European market and, in turn, support the Paldorje Education Foundation. Through their efforts and our clients around the world, scholarships and much-needed programs to benefit Sherpa children are awarded through the Foundation. Huge thanks goes out to Julie, Mark and the rest of the team at Bradshaw Taylor for your support, your patience, for bringing everyone together and bringing a vision to a reality..! We most certainly could not have done it without your stellar organisational skills and professionalism..!

- Seeing the look of utter disbelief and sheer joy on the face of a waiter at a great Nepali restaurant, The Gurhka café, in Edinburgh… As soon as Lakpa walked through the door a massive smile of recognition broke out over the waiters face -  he was originally from Namche Bazaar in Nepal and immediately recognised Lakpa and even followed him on Facebook! The food was absolutely fantastic as was the atmosphere and hospitality.

- A fantastic day out in the Lake District with competition prize winners courtesy of the BMC. Whilst it was lashing with rain for most of the day it didn’t stop us from having a super fun afternoon, sharing stories and experiences whilst scrambling over rapidly flowing streams, clamouring over wet, steep and slippery rock and enjoying spectacular views characteristic of the Lakes… inadvertently testing the kit..! I can personally attest that it was waterproof and all but my feet remained dry! It was my first trip to the area and it certainly didn’t disappoint. A great experience with friends, old and new with the day ending in a delicious and well deserved pub lunch.

- Raising over £7350.00 through the Everest Uncovered lecture series through the silent auctions of the fantastic signed prints donated from Doug Scott. The proceeds were split between the two tremendously worthwhile causes, the Paldorje Education Fund and Cannepal.

- Brainstorming, dreaming, pondering and reflecting with fellow mountaineering affectionados all of the adventures of the past and the many adventures ahead.... 

- And of course, last but certainly not least, meeting everyone who came to the lecture tour in Edinburgh, Manchester and London..!  Thank you for your interest, your fantastic questions, your shared passion for the mountains, your inspiration, your support for the Sherpa Adventure Gear brand. I hope that our different points of view were able to dispel some of the misconceptions about Everest, shared our personal and professional experiences as guide, Sherpa and commercial client, and brought to life some of the challenges and opportunities which unfold in one of the planet’s most extreme environments. 
Big crowd in Manchester!
Fantastic audience in Edinburgh
Great day out in the Lakes thanks to the BMC. Congrats to the competition winners!
Zoe, Lakpa and Phurba
The Lakpa Rita Jacket kept me dry... if only I could say the same for my shoes

Sep 16, 2013

Beyonce and Vogue on the Roof of the World

I feel like I'm about to make a revelation worthy of a Daily Mail editorial...

Spare yourself no illusions that I, as a high-altitude diva in down, was heroically trudging knee-deep through steep snowy slopes on the far flung reaches of Everest this spring, clinging onto my jumar with clenched teeth, breathing each breath as if it were my last… Oh no....  

It's time to for the 'reveal' before I'm unwittingly 'outed' by the press and the cynics...

I'm slightly reluctant to share this video as it will no doubt quash the little credibility that I have as a 'mountaineer' and may rather confirm my status as a 'mountain diva'. On the plus side, it may however be living proof of the closest Beyonce has ever been to the allusive Roof of the World.... and I think it's safe to say that Anna Wintour can also be added to that prestigious list... AND it's living proof to my parents that after years of lectures, I can, in fact, keep my room clean.

Presenting the Mountain Manor... Many thanks to the team at Adventure Consultants for putting together this little gem...

I think it's safe to say that I'm homesick already!!

Aug 31, 2013

Sherpa Adventure Gear: "Everest Uncovered" - Lecture Tour Edinburgh, Manchester & London - October Dates Announced!

Ok, so clearly I’m super stoked to be sitting alongside Kenton Cool and Lakpa Rita Sherpa, two peers from the Sherpa Adventure Gear athlete team for the forthcoming Lecture Tour, Everest Uncovered. 

Having said that, I’m also uber, uber nervous… and it’s prompted some serious reflection. Who am I as an ‘outdoor affectionado’ (as I don't consider myself a hardened mountaineer!) and what messages can I share which complement the messages of these incredible athletes..? 

Both Kenton and Lakpa Rita are internationally renowned legends in the world of mountaineering – both on and off the mountain. I’m just a girl who, by chance, fell into climbing 5 years ago when walking up mountains seemed just as enjoyable as skiing down them... and I couldn't afford the lift ticket!

Lakpa Rita Sherpa was 2013 Outside Magazine Adventurer of the year. He has reached the summit of Everest 17 times, Cho Oyu 12 times, Pumori twice, as well as Shisapangma and Ama Dablam. He has also climbed Mt. Vinson, Denali, Aconcagua and attempted K2 and the south face of both Annapurna and Shishapagma. Clearly he has a penchant for altitude..!

Kenton Cool is a bit of a legend in his own right (understatement of the year!). He’s the first European to summit Everest 11 times and the first non-Asian to summit Everest twice in one week. His achievements hit the headlines earlier this year when he summited Everest, Lhotse and Nuptse in one week. Additional accolades include guiding Sir Ranulph Fiennes to the summit of Everest and the Eiger (raising £3m for Marie Curie Cancer Care) and holding the title of being the only Briton to ski down two 8000m mountains. 

Between them, these men share a total of 28 Everest summits and a unique outlook on the history and future of the world’s highest peak.

So clearly, I think that they're pretty cool and pretty interesting people...

So who am I and what can I tell you about Everest..?

Whilst I have spent about 6 months of my life on Everest (both on the North and the South over the span of 3 climbing seasons) I'm certainly not your ‘typical’ mountaineer…and I certainly don't have my wikki page!!  I do lots of ‘stuff’ that I’ve been fortunate enough to do thanks to some very flexible employers and supportive family and friends who have tolerated my outdoor-addiction - combined with a pretty strong work ethic. Achievements beyond my job as a management consultant at Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) include having had the opportunity to spend time on the flanks of mountains including Everest, Lhotse, Makalu, Cholatse, Aconcagua, Kilimanjaro, Mera Peak, Island Peak, Lobouche East, Kyajo Ri and skiing and climbing extensively in the Alps.  I’ve also managed to sneak in a few non-altitude driven cheeky little adventures such as cycling 500kms across Tanzania, 7500kms across Canada, dragon boat racing down the Thames, white water rafting on the Bhote Kosi and Karnali rivers in Nepal, walking 100kms / 24 hours for the Trailwalker Challenge....  

The lessons I’ve learned on these journeys and the people that I’ve met along the way have allowed me to draw from my experiences and work with both internationally recognised alpinists and leaders in the finance sector to develop parallels between leadership lessons learned and challenges faced on a mountain and those faced by businesses today.

Somehow I've made all this fit - amazing what you can do with your time if you're dedicated to setting and achieving goals..!

So what’s my message going to be?

Good question… I’m pretty average – I have 24 hours in my day just like the rest of the world. In those 24 hours per day, I’ve made good decisions, I’ve made bad decisions, I’ve gained a lot in life-experiences but have sacrificed an equal amount… My collection of strappy shoes and oversized handbags is nearly as extensive as my collection of mountain boots and padded-out packs. But everyone has their ‘thing’. 

One thing that seems to have worked in my favor has been my ‘can do’ attitude. I find myself saying, ‘yes, why not, I’ll give that a shot’ more often than I say ‘no, I can’t do it’. This attitude filters across all aspects of my life – both at work and on the mountain. It’s required a lot of courage, commitment and discipline…. And some creativity

And this attitude ultimately led me to the mountains where I discovered myself and met a plethora of people who have truly inspired me and continue to inspire me every day.

I've often been asked if climbing has become an obsession… I’d certainly argue no. I think that my ‘obsession’ is pursuing things that I feel passionate about – which I have an uncanny knack of ‘packaging’ as adventures. I love climbing but it’s not an obsession in its own right. Climbing, like my job, serves as a vehicle that enables me to challenge myself emotionally, mentally and physically. I plan adventures every day but these adventures are as much about self-discovery and awareness as they are about physical challenges.

For example, I’m currently planning my ‘adventure’ for the Spring, then I’ve got a big challenging work-project to tackle while planning for my next assignment followed by organizing an expedition to lead a group of women to climb Kilimanjaro. Scattered between these milestone events are adventures like learning how to use my new iphone and meeting my new goddaughter.

So, I haven’t quite figured out what I’m going to say or how I’m going to say it but I have some ideas and look forward to taking some of the experiences I've had and people that I've met and contributing to this fascinating evening of discussion and debate.

If you’re interested in a fun evening out, fancy learning something about Everest, and possibly discovering something about yourself in the process, I encourage you to come out for the evening..! Details can be found on the Sherpa Adventure Gear website.

Really looking forward to sharing an enjoyable evening with you..!

EVEREST UNCOVERED: Lecture Tour dates

Tuesday 22nd October 2013 – George Square Lecture Theatre, Edinburgh  
Thursday 24th October 2013 – University Place, Manchester
Friday 25th October 2013 – Royal Geographical Society, London

Doors Open at 6pm, lecture starts at 7pm. 

Aug 27, 2013

Feel-good endorphins reactivated after a weekend in Chamonix

There's nothing like heading out into the great outdoors to awaken the senses. After even just a few minutes outside the grass just seems greener, the sun seems brighter, and somehow challenges which seemed gargantuan before now seem so much more manageable... 

Anyone who has gone for a run around Hyde Park, a climb up Ben Nevis or enjoyed the snowy slopes of Whistler or Chamonix would certainly be able to relate to the (not surprising) findings from a recent study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, conducted by a team at the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry which found that exercise in natural environments was linked to greater feelings of revitalisation, increased energy and positive engagement. Levels of tension, confusion, anger and depression were found to be lowered by exercising outside.

I was feeling the 'need' for some of these feel-good endorphins at the start of last week so immediately gave my good friend and Chamonix-based guide Isabelle Santoire a call to see if she could squeeze me in for some 'fresh air therapy'. 

Needless to say, Isa delivered and the weather did as well - despite arriving in Chamonix to an orchestra of torrential rain, thunder and lightening show which would have made Danny Boyle sit up and take notes... 

The forecast remained bleak so we decided for a straight forward walk up to the Charles 1er hut on La Tour to see how the weather would pan out. Our plan was to do some scrambling on ridges near the hut and then climb the Aiguille du Tour - a nice easy and straightforward climb (plod!). 

I'm not sure if it was the good karma generated by helping with the dishes that night in the busy hut or whether we just had some good ol'fashioned luck as we were greeted by clear, starry, moonlit skies at 4.30am as we set out for the summit. The conditions were exquisite - crunchy snow, mild temperatures and not a soul to be seen. I was reminded with each step why I love the balancing-feeling of being outside, in the hills, doing something I love.

Feel-good endorphins clearly reactivated!!

Happy that the sun is finally beginning to appear 
Doing dishes in the kitchen at the Charles 1er hut
Isa and our AMAZING Argentinian kitchen staff!

Hot tea after a wet walk up to the hut
Stellar climbing conditions

Jul 21, 2013

Taking time out for reflection... The "L&Co Talks with..." interview

Sometimes I find myself getting so caught up in the physical hustle and bustle of life - planning expeditions, running to and from meetings, and keeping fitness levels up to snuff... that I forget to take time out and reflect on how this crazy personal and professional journey has evolved, what I've learned from it all... and, perhaps more importantly for me personally, the 'why' behind it. Many thanks to  entrepreneur Shannon Lewis, a seasoned communications professional and President of Liberty and Co, a strategic communications consultancy for encouraging me to stop in my tracks and reflect on the journey through some thought provoking questions through her L&Co Talks series. 
The full interview can be found here:

L&Co. TALKs this week with high altitude mountaineer and savvy business women Heather Geluk. Heather’s story is one of adventure in attitude. She has reached the highest points on earth climbing Cholatse, Ama Dablam, Island Peak, Mera Peak and Everest and currently summiting the famous Eiger in the Bernese Alps of Switzerland. Heather’s inspiration of  pushing beyond one’s limitations can be applied to our daily lives in facing new challenges, seizing new opportunities and testing yourself against the unknown.

L&Co: What words do you live by?

Heather: Discipline. Commitment. Courage. Creativity.

L&Co: What were your motivations to climb? What brought you to the mountain?

Heather: To prove to myself that I could do it and to set out on the journey to make it happen.  Life can be full of ‘Everest-like’ challenges. We all have the ability to conquer these challenges by facing and overcoming our fears, by believing in ourselves and putting our hearts and mind to the challenge. We set our own limits. Sometimes the only thing between us and our dreams is ourselves.

The summits of the mountains I’ve climbed, I always hoped, would serve a greater purpose and have a deeper meaning than just accomplishing a goal. I am fuelled by the strength and courage of cancer patients and their families who face the challenges of cancer on a daily basis. These challenges are much more significant than an 8848m peak. Through my climbs I support the charity Hope for Tomorrow whose mission it is to bring one Mobile Chemotherapy Unit into operation in every county in the UK. Treating as many as 20 patients a day, Mobile Chemotherapy Units bring vital chemotherapy treatment closer to patient’s homes reducing long distances of travel, waiting times and avoid the stresses and strains of busy oncology centers. Each bespoke unit costs £260,000 to build and maintain over 3 years – a nominal amount when you consider the tremendous impact that they have on the quality of life to so many patients and their families.

L&Co: What is the most challenging part of your Himalayan climbs?

Heather: I love my job as a management consultant and have been lucky enough to lead individuals, teams and organizations to their own ‘Everests’ – in a business context.

The results-driven nature of these projects motivate me to deliver my best – even if this means working long hours and skipping that gym session or two just for the thrill of working with others to achieve their goals. Finding the balance between my job plus training, raising funds for charity and developing my personal ‘brand’ hasn’t been easy. And balance as more precarious than any summit ridge I’ve ever been on!

I believe that I’m a better consultant because I climb and a better climber because I’m a consultant. If you’re able to find that balance and stay true to yourself then reaching the summit is simply a matter of putting one foot in front of the other.

L&Co: Speaking of the summit, what is the view and feeling being on top of the world?

Heather: Summit views are all about seeing ‘possibility’.  From the Lhotse summit, I watched as the spindrift blowing off of the steep face shifted to provide glimpses of the slopes of Everest and of the myriad of peaks beyond – new possibilities spread out tantalizing below.  Some of these mountains I’d already attempted or climbed – Cholatse, Ama Dablam, Island Peak, Mera Peak and Everest.

L&Co: Can you describe what was going through your mind when you are reaching the summit?

Heather: Why can’t I enjoy a beach holiday and a mojito like normal people?

When the steep rocky summit came into view I felt a broad range of emotion – from euphoria to fear to vulnerability to feeling truly ‘human’ and truly alive in an environment that I didn’t physiologically belong in. I felt an overwhelming sense of calm. I couldn’t believe how close the sun felt and how far away the rest of the world seemed.

I felt truly ‘alive’, very conscious of my vulnerability and nostalgic. I thought of my family in Canada. I thought of the charity, Hope for Tomorrow and the ‘Everests’ of those people and their families battling with cancer. I reflected on the journey I’d taken to get here – the experiences both on and off of the mountains I’ve climbed and the lessons learned. The hours of training, the worries, but also all the pure joy, the happiness, and the truly inspiring, amazing people that I’d met along the way. We didn’t stay on top too long as it was about -45 degrees C and we still had a long descent ahead. Just long enough to enjoy the views, have a team hug and a photo.

L&Co.  With your climbing team, how much to you rely on them? What was the dynamics like? 

Heather:  People are people, no matter what the environment. Team dynamics on a mountain are like team dynamics at work – the stakes are just different and the impact of the decisions that individuals make and the risks that they take can have fatal consequences.

There’s always some element of ‘give and take’ on any team but you need to be clear on the basics – the degree of risk you’re willing to take and build a solid foundation of respect and camaraderie as you work toward an agreed joint vision or goal. I rely on my team for physical support and also for emotional support.

L&Co. Everyone tends to focus on the Summit, but often the journey down can be most treacherous. How do you prepare for this, mentally & physically?

Heather: Every summit is different so there is no best answer on how to best prepare. What needs to remain front of mind on both the ascent and the descent is around understanding as an individual how much risk you are willing to take and when it’s time to turn around. This needs to be understood and respected by the team. A dead body sits frozen just below the summit of Lhotse – still dressed in his down suit, attached to his rope and wearing his big mountain boots. He serves as reminder about the fatal consequences of taking undue risks and making good decisions when it’s time to turn around and go home. There are some risks that simply aren’t worth taking.

L&Co: Where do you find inspiration?

Heather: I meet inspirational people every day – in basecamps and boardrooms. Some of these people have dazzled 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 color to my life and have helped to gently shape the moments that make up my 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.

It’s not just the mountain but the mosaic people you meet along the way that make life such an incredible adventure.

L&Co: There is controversy that too many climbers on the mountain are not experience and its over-crowded,  should anyone be able to venture to the peak? Or should it be only those who are highly skilled, especially we so many fatalities? 

Heather: Everest was crowded this year with about 1000 people at Base Camp and about 600 or so people going for the summit at various times during the late-May weather window. It was quite different to Makalu, a much more technical 8000m peak I attempted in September 2012 where there were only about 20 of us in Base Camp.

So yes, it was busy but I didn’t ever feel ‘threatened’ by the number of people on the mountain. What concerned me more than the numbers was the number of inexperienced climbers going with low-cost, low budget operators, signing up for expeditions without understanding the undue risk that they are taking for themselves and how these low budget operators impact the better organized operations on the mountain, looking to them when there’s trouble. Many of these operators serve low quality food, don’t have the appropriate supporting infrastructure with tents, oxygen, sherpas, radios etc. By the time that clients realize they are in trouble on a mountain and/or that this infrastructure doesn’t exist then it may already be too late. There were several deaths on the mountain this year that definitely could have been avoided this year.

L&Co:  You are also working in London, UK at a high profile job at PWC, what keeps you on top of your game, balancing climbing adventures, work and life? 

Heather: After returning from climbing Makalu and Ama Dablam in Nepal in November 2012, I took some time out to reflect on how my love for the mountains fits into my career as a management consultant. I’m not your typical ‘climber’ and I’m not your typical ‘consultant’ either. I like my ‘creature comforts’ but there are more than a few days when I’d quite happily swap a pair of Jimmy Choo’s for a pair of LaSportiva boots, a Burberry trench for a Sherpa soft-shell and a Birkin bag for a Berghaus.

I love and thoroughly, appreciate, embrace, and soak-up every moment I spend in the mountains however I also love the time I spend in the office, drawing insights and inspiration from my colleagues, clients and helping individuals and teams to reach both short and long-term goals. I feel that the contrast between these two environments has helped to shape the way I approach challenges, make decisions, manage risk and manage my time.

Balance is not better time management, but better boundary management. Balance means making choices and enjoying those choices. I am creative in the way that I balance my work and passions outside of work – this means prioritizing and saying ‘no’ when I have too much on my plate and becoming disciplined in the management of my time.

L&Co: Has climbing become an obsession? Will you climb Everest again or are you onto another adventure?

Heather: I love life. I am happiest when pursue things that I feel passionate about. I love climbing but it’s not an obsession in its own right. Climbing, like my job, serves as a vehicle that enables me to challenge myself emotionally, mentally and physically. I plan adventures every day but these adventures are as much about self discovery and awareness as they are about physical challenge.

Next week I’m off to climb the Eiger (also known as ‘wall of death’) in Switzerland… then I’ve got a big challenging work-project to tackle followed by organizing an expedition to lead a group of women to climb Kilimanjaro. Scattered between these milestone events are adventures like learning how to use my new iphone and meeting my new goddaughter. 

L&Co: What is your favorite app or digital tool on the mountain? 

Heather: I love my kindle – light and easy to pack and has a great battery life. I have a lot of ‘down time’ on big Himalayan expeditions when I often find myself stuck in a small tent with the wind howling outside. Diving into a warm sleeping bag with a collection of my favorite literary classics a click-away is an absolute luxury. When I first started climbing I was limited to carrying up one (if any) book at a time to save on weight. Reading ‘War and Peace’ at 8000m would have been unheard of!

L&Co: How would other describe yourself in three words?

Heather: Unique. Bold. Positive.

Jul 19, 2013

The People You Meet: The 'Cool Climb' Team & Access Sport climb

I paused briefly from my high-altitude plodding to take in the deep shades of gold and pink being cast over a panorama of snow covered peaks around us here in the heart of the Swiss Alps. Ahead of me and cutting the steps in the snow-covered ridge of the Monch were guides Kenton, Farmer and Margaret and following on the ropes were Nick, Owain, Becca, Montel and myself. Together we formed the heart and soul of the ‘Cool Climb team’ braving exposed ridges, corniced slopes and a hut full of snorers to attempt to climb the notorious Eiger to raise money and awareness for the charity Access Sport. The 4017m Monch was just one of our key objectives – an acclimatisation climb which would prepare our bodies for the duress of altitude which we would experience in the days ahead during our planned ascents of the Eiger and Jongfrau.
It was a beautiful morning for our ascent of this majestic peak. We left the Mönchsjoch Hut at 3658m at 4am after feasting on a breakfast of muslix, cheese and strong ‘bowls’ of coffee and tea. The Monchsjoch hut is one of the highest huts owned by the Swiss Alpine Club. Because of its altitude, the first night in the Monchsjoch Hut, when the body is still adjusting to the ‘thin air’ will always present its challenges and few people manage a good first nights’ sleep at this altitude. Our merry band of travellers proved no exception with everyone appearing a bit more bleary-eyed than usual at breakfast. Only Owain, aka, ‘the Labrador’ seemed as spritely and keen as always and we had to hold him back from running out onto the mountain before breakfast..!
A blast of mild 4am air blew out the cob
webs and we began our silent approach over the glacier to the foot of the mountain where we strapped spikey-crampons to our boots, armed ourselves with ice-axes and donned our helmets! Nervous smiles were exchanged all around at the prospect ahead but we were comforted by our fearless guides who double checked our equipment to ensure that we were well prepared. Montell looked up excitedly and we all remarked how he would fare brilliantly on the ascent – particularly following his flawless (and seemingly effortless!) ascent of yesterday’s 2500m peak. Becca also smiled bravely, pacing on the glacier to keep warm and testing the knife-edged points of her crampons as we roped up and began the climb..!
There’s a common distinction in climbing referred to as ‘Type 1 fun’ and ‘Type 2 fun’.
Type 1 fun: This is when you enjoy the moment / activity as you are living it.
Type 2 fun: This is when the moment / activity is not particularly enjoyable, but in hindsight you enjoyed the experience

That morning, under perfect conditions – mild temperatures, great snow, gentle slope, and a beautiful sunrise is a perfect example of ‘Type 1 fun’. Moving together as a team, sharing the occasional laugh and joke and experiencing the sheer beauty of the mountain under an exquisite sunrise – I found it difficult to imagine anything more perfect.
I’ve spent a few seasons in the Himalaya so am accustomed to the challenges that mountain-terrain can sometimes throw at you – and how challenging it can be to overcome a fear of the unknown. What most impressed me was the way that the team – particularly Montell and Becca – moved over the terrain especially given that they had never even walked on crampons before and, in Montell’s case, had never seen a mountain..! Rather than shy away from the challenge, they embraced it and excelled navigating over exposed rock, steep snow covered ridges, and dizzying heights. It was far from an easy, straightforward climb and yet they smiled through it and kept positive spirits throughout.
Conditions began to deteriorate and the mild temperatures prompted a thick fog to roll in. At around 3950m, on a particularly exposed ridge which presented perfect views of the sheer face of the Eiger Montell and Becca made the wise call to begin their descent. Given the warm temperatures there were additional risks posed by the melting snow and the descent often presents more challenges than an ascent – they showed tremendous maturity as budding climbers in understanding the conditions and their own abilities. The expression, ‘everyone has their own Everest’ sprang to mind and I was / am absolutely thrilled to have the opportunity to share this Everest with Becca and Montell. We took advantage of a break in the fog to capture the moment with a well-placed team photo complete with an Access Sport t-shirt.
Kenton, Farmer, Owain, Nick and I continued to the summit of the Monch while the visibility decreased due to the cloud which quickly began to close in. Every now and again there was a break in the cloud and we were able to witness the many snow covered peaks – the many ‘opportunities and possibilities’ below us. Enjoying these views was short-lived as the narrow summit-ridge was extremely exposed and attention was certainly required to put one careful foot in front of the other..!
When the corniced, precarious summit finally came into view, the satisfaction of having realised our goal allowed us to take a few minutes to enjoy and congratulate each other on our collective achievement – the 4017m summit of the Monch! No matter the mountain, for me personally, ‘summit satisfaction’ feels the same – maybe a perfect example of ‘Type 2’ fun.  There is a moment of happiness for having achieved the ultimate goal followed by an overwhelming with a sense of feeling incredibly ‘tiny’ and powerless in an environment which I feel hugely privileged to experience. The opportunity to experience this with such an exceptional team and for such a great cause made our success even sweeter. Something that I fully appreciated when we were all down from our adventure, safe and sound and enjoying a cold drink back in the hut..!
Huge thanks to our fantastic Cool Climb Team for an exceptional day in the mountains and for yet another incredible alpine adventure..!

Many thanks to our generous sponsors who made this climb possible:
and to Nick House, Owain Walbyoff, and Kenton Cool for their initiative in setting this up this fantastic opportunity for Access Sport..!