For me, climbing Mount Everest has been a lifelong dream. I've always been inspired by explorers and adventurers - and I seem to have a magnetic attraction to the mountains. But that's not to say I've spent my whole life planning to climb Mt Everest.
After Fiona and I met at university, we started doing lots of hiking together, and then started tackling some small peaks. Over the years, these gradually turned into bigger and more difficult mountains. Which is when we realised that, hey, we nearly have enough experience to tackle Mount Everest! At first this sent our heads spinning, but we soon realised that we were in a position to do this now and so we set about getting some more experience and training.
But why have we focussed on Mt Everest and not any other mountain? For us, Mount Everest represents a big test of physical and mental endurance – demanding extreme physical fitness and capability, courage, and strength of character. Although there are many mountains which are more technically demanding than Everest, there is no dispute that Everest is the highest physical point on the planet, the roof of the world. Hence Everest seduced both us as it does to thousands of other climbers around the world.
As some of you reading this will know, in 2006, Fiona and I set out to climb Mt Everest and we had a fantastic adventure doing it. Our climb was almost perfect except that my oxygen tank ran out on summit day just 100 metres short of the summit! Needless to say, my hopes of reaching the summit quickly faded as my priority shifted to getting down safely. Fortunately, Fiona was able to continue and she summited on May 23rd 2006. You can read more about our 2006 climb here.
After returning from this trip, I knew I would go back. So many people have said to me that I was so close that in their books, I've already summitted. But I do want to go back and feel what it is like to stand on the very top of the world. At the moment it feels like unfinished business and it's been such a life long goal for me.
But going back was a huge committment. I'd already been training very solidly for 2 years - could I really put myself through another whole year of that? Was it time to get on with my life and come back to this later? After a couple of months on holiday where Fiona and I did some light running but basically gave my body a rest, I decided that now was the time. If I had to start from scratch again in 5 years time, I knew it would be so much harder - better to do it now while my fitness is already high and we don't have too many other committments to worry about.
Last time when we left for Everest, our big question was "can we do it?". We'd done all the preparation we could but still had no idea whether we'd be strong enough against a mountain as big as Everest.
Having been there before, this time my focus is different. I know I'm strong enough - I was strong enough last year and this year I'm even fitter. But that doesn't mean I'm taking anything for granted. In fact, I'm more determined than ever to climb in good style and that means with a good level of safety.
Having experienced it before, and watched 15 others go through it around me, I now know much more about the other factors that can jeopardise a trip - such as health, oxygen systems, weather, mental toughness and attitude, and equipment (although I've no doubt that I'll learn a lot more on this trip as well). Mountain climbing is certainly a dangerous sport, but there are a lot of risks which can be minimised or in some cases eliminated altogether. I also know that it'll be different this time climbing on my own. Although Fiona will be at basecamp for the last part, it'll be different without her right there with me and it's something I'm preparing for with my training, equipment (good radios) and outlook.
Another reason to climb Everest is the natural beauty of the Himalayas. Last year, we were so focussed on preparing ourselves for the climb, that we were taken by surprise at how beautiful Mt Everest is. Base camp is not a particularly pretty place, but we both really enjoyed our time there. We got to know lots of amazing people and lived in a very different community for the period we were there. Once we were climbing, especially above the icefall, the scenery was truly stunning. Yes, the Lhotse face is incredibly hard work, but it's also incredibly spectacular. And the entire climb above camp 3, up to the South Col, and then onto the summit, was truly amazing. These are the images of Everest that I hold in my mind now, and draw me back to climb again.
So why am I climbing? In short, it's because I love being in the mountains and when it comes to height, Everest is truly a mountain of all mountains. Having set Everest as my goal, I want to give myself the opportunity to acheive this before moving on to whatever's next in my life - I don't want to live with regrets. Yes, there are risks, but I intend to take a very conservative, considered approach so that I can really enjoy my time on the mountain.