Everest, Volcanoes & The Problem With Adventuring

Claire asks herself, ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’

“Being adventurous is simply who I am – whether it be nature or nurture I’m not sure, but there are stories of me wandering off as a two year old seeking my own adventures, much to the anxiety of my parents, yet it’s also from their influence that I have the desire to try new things instilled in me.

As a child I wasn’t aware that I was particularly adventurous, as going camping in the wild, hiking over the moors and finding new hideouts was the family norm most weekends.CK

However, it was only in my late twenties that I started to push myself beyond my comfort zone and I became more aware of the adventures other people were having, which made me envious, and I developed a thirst for wanting to push myself more and more, often not really sure if I was capable but at the same time not really thinking it through either. I developed an attitude of ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’ and the more I pushed myself, the more I wanted to see what else I could do.

In 2009 I took a year out, rented my house out and set off on my biggest adventure yet. I booked 4 flights, Manchester to Mexico, Argentina to North Island New Zealand, South Island New Zealand to Hong Kong and Nepal back to Manchester. And that was as far as my planning went. All I knew was that I was craving a culture shock. Although Mexico was a great country, thick in customs and tradition, it also had a large American influence and it wasn’t until I headed south to Guatemala where I started finding life very different and a lot more uncomfortable. I thrived off each nerve-wracking experience, asking myself ’what’s the worst that could happen?’ – It was a love-hate sensation, well more hate (at the time) and love (once I’d succeeded).

I travelled my way by chicken bus through the very poor but beautiful Latin American countries, largely keeping off the tourist path, living with local families, learning Spanish and meeting fantastic people along the way. I made my plan as I went along, either from recommendation or by reading the travel guide whilst being bashed about on a packed out, rickety, old bus on muddy tracks, finding it hard to concentrate as Latin music blurted out of the speakers and at every stop several ladies hopped on trying to convince you that you need to buy yet another snack.

The only goal I had set myself from the outset was to go running in every place I went to, as you see so much more when running around places, and doesn’t require any preparation. Running was the one thing I had in common with people where ever I went, and I often ended up with a local who running alongside me, wanting to chat, intrigued by me (usually as they were often running in jeans, sweatshirts and woolly hats and I was in a t-shirt and running tights).

In Ecuador, I joined a local’s mountaineering group who taught me how to alpine climb and I had some great adventures with them, summiting several of Ecuador’s highest glacier topped volcanoes. Ironically, it wasn’t the mountains which I was most nervous about but whether I would be able to understand a thing with my not so fluent Spanish (at this point I had only been learning for 8 weeks) but I thought ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’ Well, when I struggled to understand they simply repeated it louder (and my reaction tended to be smile and nod). I did become a bit of a mascot for the group and gradually made some great friends (as my Spanish improved).

The thing I found was that whatever I was doing, I always met someone doing something ten times more adventurous than me whether it be mountaineers, or people on their own hunt for adventure such as charity workers, using their time and skills to help others, such as the volunteer vets helping the sloths and turtles and the aid workers supporting orphaned children and women who had escaped violent homes. This spurred me on to push myself even more and make the most of every opportunity.

As Nepal was my final destination, and my 30th birthday, I had decided to treat myself and had booked with a company to do a 3 week expedition, incorporating three 6000m mountains in the Everest region. I headed to the Annapurna region and raced around the circuit and sanctuary in ten days, a) to get some fitness and b) to see as much as I could as I only had 2 weeks before my expedition started. On returning to Kathmandu, I found out that my expedition had been cancelled – I was so disappointed. I started walking around the tour offices to find other adventures to do and came across the Tenzing-Hillary Everest marathon. This would be the perfect finale to my goal of running in every place! However, I had never run a marathon – and the running I had done throughout my trip had been an hour maximum at jogging speed. I wasn’t really sure if I was capable but ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’ I asked myself…well my flight back to Manchester was on 1st June, and the marathon was on 29th May – that was quite a major factor (as I was pretty homesick by this point and was looking forward to going home). I told myself to stop thinking and just do it, after all I still had 4 weeks to train for it J.

I set off to the Kumbu region, trekking from teahouse to teahouse and visited most of the villages in the area. I met many brilliant people, all doing amazing and inspiring things, people who had either summited, or were en route to summiting Everest; I had afternoon tea with David Walsh, the famous Sports Sunday Journalist who was writing about Lewis Pugh who was there to swim in a glacial lake at 5300m in just speedos to make the world aware of the problems of climate change. I met a guy sponsored by Skype setting up internet links between the primary schools around the region so that they could support each other more and I was humbled by the work of the volunteer doctors who had set up medical rooms in tea houses to treat the porters who often suffered maltreatment.

I managed to summit two 6000m mountains before heading to the Everest Base Camp to start the marathon. The marathon was the best (and hardest) thing I had ever done to date and I was high on adrenaline during the whole race, being cheered on by teahouse owners who I had befriended along the way. I made it to the finish at Namche Bazar in one piece – much to my amazement!

The ‘problem’ with being adventurous is that you’re never satisfied – once you’ve achieved something you thought you couldn’t do, you gain that little more confidence and start looking for something that little bit harder (and scarier!)”

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Surreal Switch from Snowy Peaks to Home Comforts

Zoe talks about team work, cold fingers and the Highlands:

“I’ve been a fell runner for almost three years since I made the switch from road running after taking part in some of the very sociable summer evening fell races in the Peak District and being introduced by my friend Matt to some routes and to Glossopdale Harriers club. Since then I have increased the length and general toughness of my fell running, both in competitive events and in sociable expeditions around the Peaks, Lakes and Snowdonia. To be honest I amaze myself the things I do out on the hills now – night time winter fell running, navigation events and even competing in fancy dress! It’s the great people around me who I have to thank for getting to where I am now. One thing I loved from my first bash at fell running is how friendly and encouraging the community is to everyone, whatever their ability. I’ve now become involved on the committee of the club and make sure that new members, especially female, are supported and given a fun introduction to off-road adventuring. 

Surprise discoveries add to the fun

Surprise discoveries add to the fun

I entered the Highlander Mountain Marathon in 2015 because every year I try to complete a totally new type of event alongside the regular fell races and occasional road races I do. One year it was an open-water swim race, then a triathlon, then winter fell races- you get the picture! As Mountain Marathons are two day navigation events completed in pairs, you carry everything you need for an overnight camp with you, as well as clothing and food to keep you surviving in the wild in whatever weather the chosen area chucks at you. This year the Highlander announced the location was Elphin, in the Assynt area of the NW Highlands. Stunningly beautiful and very rough terrain was what I was told to expect. I asked my friend Viv if she would be up for pairing with me for this event, although we’ve never raced together before though I know her well enough to appreciate she’s tough enough, experienced enough at navigation and fit enough for the challenge. Being the same build as myself also counts for something when it comes to sharing an ultra-lightweight tent for a night in bad weather 🙂 The weather!! Suffice to say that when we arrived in the area there was snow visible on the tops, and after a week of sunny days in Manchester it was clear we were back in winter. We’d packed all the right clothing but I knew we were both apprehensive about we what might have to endure. We weren’t wrong about the weather or the rough terrain! And we were rightly optimistic about the fun times at the overnight camp – a little festival of likeminded, weather-battered, merry and smelly people. My event report is on my blog.

Team mate Viv tackling snowy summits

Team mate Viv tackling snowy summits

I did have my doubts about completing such a tough challenge with a partner I’d never raced with before but these were unfounded. I was impressed with how easy it was for Viv and I to work as a unit with little training and preparation. It turns out that instinct is a good thing when it comes to assessing race partners! We had chatted a little on the long journey North, about what our aims were for the event , which were to get round each day in a reasonable time, flex our navigation skills a bit and have fun. We’re both at about the same stage in the progress of our navigating skills, in that we’ve not taken sole responsibility for navigating in an event of this kind before and had both refreshed our training recently so we knew that we were going to face some degree of challenge. We’d also talked about making sure we looked after one another’s wellbeing. I mentioned the well-known fact that if I stopped chatting for some minutes then it meant I needed food, or a rest or was in some other way in trouble either physically or mentally. It turned out that we both did a great job of looking out for one another, what with my hearty singing of the Welsh national anthem to Viv whilst she struggled through a low patch, to Viv dressing me in an extra jacket and feeding me an energy bar on the second day when my hands were just too cold for anything. Practically, it was easy for us to stay together as a pair, which we needed to as the rules state that a pair must always remain ‘in contact’ with one another, keeping within sight and hearing of each other at all times. There’s no hard and fast distance to maintain – the weather can alter keeping in contact drastically. For example as we ran along a ridge into the hail and wind, a guy passed us, whistling frantically to his partner up ahead about ten metres and failing to attract his attention. His partner couldn’t hear him at all due to combined effect of wind in ears and hail clattering off of him. Two friends of ours managed to totally lose one another on the second day, due to the landscape being a maze of humps, bumps and bogs. Thankfully they re-joined just near to the event HQ at the end but lost all their points as only one of them had visited all the necessary checkpoints. I think Viv and I did a great job given it was our first outing together. 

On returning home I found myself struggling to put the Highlander weekend in context. What we had experienced was so extreme, so far removed from the warm dry house with endless space and food on tap. All the concerns we’d had to keep at the front of our minds, lest we slip up and injure ourselves or become lost, for 48 hours, no longer apply in daily life and I sat bewildered in my dining room. I logged on and blogged, it seemed like a good way to make sense of the experience. I realised that once again I had surprised and amazed myself at my capabilities. I was particularly impressed that both Viv and I had come through the onset of hypothermia and out the other side, in snow with wet feet and sustained our progress for a good few hours after that. I know that my navigation skills were not of a professional standard to start with but I learned a lot about taking the time to make decisions to save wasted effort in your legs, as well as how to read the terrain on the map. I feel more capable with navigating unfamiliar terrain now. I do want to do another Mountain Marathon, I would do the Highlander again though probably an easier class and I would definitely go with Viv again if she will allow it!”

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