There is one distinct advantage to launching your Everest bid from the shores of the Dead Sea in Jordan at 420m below sea level. That figure can be added onto Everest's height to deliver a total ascent of 9,269m, making it, the world's longest climb.
I was lucky enough to be part of the Everestmax team when we were the first in the world to achieve this by completing the 8000km bike ride from the Dead Sea and then summiting Mt Everest. It took 6 months to complete and getting to the start line was no easy task
I was working for Glenmore Lodge as a Marketing Manager at the time. I went to Tim Walker my boss and said ' I want to do the world's longest climb by cycling over 8000km from the Dead Sea to Mt Everest Base Camp and then climb to the summit of the big girl herself.....what do you think? Oh, and by the way, can I have 6 months off to do it?' His response was suitably mixed. 'I think you are crazy! 6 months! It sounds fantastic. Of course you can. If this doesn't inspire adventure in people, what will?' I had never really fancied older men before, but just then, at the tender age of 41, I found myself thinking Tim Walker was the sexiest man on the planet – his wife totally understands. Thankfully he was suitably inspired to let Phil take 3 months unpaid leave from his full-time instructor post. Phil is my super star mountaineering partner and husband who came to do the Everest section with me. So, after renting out our home, asking Phil to live in our camper van for the winter while I did the cycling and getting a healthy loan from the bank – I was off!
Dom Faulkner was the Expedition Leader and master mind behind the challenge. He had spent 2 years preparing, along with help from others. I had only joined 10 weeks before departure due to last minute problems with another team member dropping out. Yes, I was there by default. We were also raising money for charity, and still are. This made the whole thing not only an adventure, but a worthwhile adventure.
Our team consisted of 5 cyclists and would be Everest summiteers and 2 support team. I had only met 2 of them for one night. Believe it or not, the question of whether I would get on with them or not never crossed my mind until a couple of days before when a friend asked what I would do if after a month I hated them all. As it was, my gut reaction that anybody signing up for the trip would be my kind of person was absolutely right. What a fantastic team! I reckon it took a few weeks to settle into each others quirky habits and from then on banter ruled the day. The more adverse the situation the more we rose to the challenge and made it fun. The most consistent challenge we had to face was the weather. We cycled threw torrential rain, snow, sand storms and wind. In fact name any weather condition at its most dramatic and we had it! We had no choice as we had deadlines. We needed to be in Kathmandu ready to leave for the mountain by April 1st and we needed several days before that to get the freight and admin sorted. We had also already been delayed by over one week because of our Iranian visas. We could not afford to stop for weather...we had 13 weeks to get to Kathmandu from Jordan!
The first day on the bikes was one of my most nervous. I was the oldest at 41 and least rehearsed at long distance cycling. If I was not up to standard on the first day, it would have been easy to fly home with the harsh reality that it was too late to train. Our first day was 75 km from the shores of the Dead Sea to Amman with a height gain of over 1200m (not including the ups we had to do when losing height). Intimidated? Yes!!! As it was I held my own and although the slowest, there were no egos to deal with and the supportive nature of the team was apparent from the beginning. After that, a short day was under 100km and a long one was over 150km. All of us managed fine and as time went on (about 6 weeks) I actually started to race with the leaders....they humoured me well.
There were too many highlights on the bike journey to even attempt to summarise. However, the outstanding feature was the consistent hospitality, welcome and generosity we experienced throughout our journey. Watching Syria take headline news as a place of civil unrest at the moment is tragic. Iran is a country we all anticipated would be 'anti-western'. Not in the slightest. I can't do justice to the overwhelming acts of kindness we received on an every day basis. Pakistan was the place I associate with sport. Every time we stopped we got out the football or cricket bat. We had big and small matches all the way through this truly dramatic country. Travelling on a bike opens the senses. You don't miss any smell, sound or opportunity. It is fantastic.
By the time we got to Everest Base Camp, we were such a good team, it was mixed emotions of celebration and tears. It had been such a successful trip you wanted to celebrate, but at the same time incredibly sad because that stage was over and never to be repeated. I felt very lucky.
We were joined on the mountain by 8 other climbers (including Phil). The team size had doubled, and we were going to be in the same place for the next 7 weeks....it really was all change. Having Phil there meant I automatically felt 100 times safer. I had never doubted we were going to summit, but now I knew we would do it in style...yes I am a big Phil fan but also a big fan of climbing with people you know and trust on a mountain. Everest conjures up so many different images for so many people. Some associate it with the ultimate challenge, others the ultimate queue for a summit and all those in-between. I was somewhere in the middle. Now I have been there I have very different ideas. I have huge respect for the dangers that are involved but believe that it is 70% judgement and 30% luck. If the weather comes in earlier than the best forecasts can say or you get sick, that is bad luck. Everything else is down to experience, team and kit.
The harmony was not as consistent as on the bike section as we were now geographically split into those at Base Camp, intermediate camp and Advanced Base Camp. This was to confirm to me that it is always best to talk face to face on important issues. For the first time in the trip we had disagreements but lets face it, this is a life and death experience. Despite these few incidents, the trip was an utter success. I was privileged to be chosen to climb in the first party with Phil. We climbed without Sherpas, however, the trip would never have been possible without them. The Sherpa team were responsible for putting out tents up at all the camps and getting the oxygen up there too. They are strong, brave, and a joy to work with. As we left Camp 3 for the final summit day push I turned to Phil and said ' If I get snappy, don't take it personally....... I am just scared!' As it was we were in perfect harmony and saved all our energy for the climb. We passed very steep drop offs and had to do some tricky mixed rock and snow climbing, much trickier than I had lead myself to believe. We also passed 3 bodies that were humbling reminders that we were in the death zone. I had to talk to myself and convince myself that they did something wrong and we were doing everything right. We reached the top. The weather was perfect. The views were amazing and we were both feeling fine. I had carried the video to capture the moment that the EVERESTMAX team had reached the goal we had all been focussed on for the last 6 months. I was euphoric when I used the radio to call down to the team at ABC. They cheered and passed the radio around. It was a true team success and I was the lucky one who could send the news from the summit. Phil however, had his professional head on and knew that we were at our most vulnerable on the summit. It had taken 9 hours to get there and would take the best part of 6 hours down. We only had enough oxygen for that time so off we went after 15 minutes of being at the top of the world.
It was an amazing journey with wonderful people who all had relatively normal lives, a teacher, marketing manager, gym instructor, 2 students an artist and ex-naval officer. If I could pass any words of inspiration, it would be that if you ever have the opportunity to do something that makes you have sleepless nights of excitement and fear but you feel in your heart you could do it...............DO IT! Even if you think the odds are against you, be prepared to enjoy the journey for as far as you can go. That isn't failure , that is experience. I live by the cliché that life is not a dress rehearsal. I would have loved this journey if we were the last people to do the world's longest climb.
- For more information on the trip and on Pauline's book visit Pauline's Website
NB. 50% of all profits from the sale of this book will go to SOS Childrens Villages and Practical Action