How To Climb Mount Everest
So, you want to climb Mount Everest. Chomolungma or Sagarmatha as they say in Tibet and Nepal. Standing at 8,848m above sea level, Mount Everest is the highest mountain on earth and hence it is on the to-do list of many high altitude climbers including those aiming for the seven summits or even the 14 eight-thousanders, but as with any obstacle this massive, the question of how to climb it is a tough one to answer and requires more than a simple knowledge of good footwork.
To answer this question, I will put myself back into my own shoes from January 2011. At that point, my plan to climb Everest was well underway, but I lacked almost every necessity required to make the climb. I had no high altitude climbing experience, I didn’t have any real cold weather kit, I had never been to Scotland – the hallowed training ground for Everest (despite having been to Australia and living only 6 hours away from Edinburgh), I didn’t really have any money, and worst of all, I didn’t have a clue.
A positive was that I was on the cusp of graduating from university, but from my above position, I would expect that most people wanting to have their dream shot at the world’s highest mountain are either in a similar or slightly better off position than I was; to be in a worse position would probably require the loss of a limb and a significant amount of blood, in which case I would advise you seek help from the Walking With The Wounded team who are incredible at showing what is possible even without limbs.
There are a number of fundamentals when it comes to climbing Everest which I will outline below and then aim to elaborate upon thereafter. You first need to realise however that the financial element of climbing Everest is a mountain in itself, and so if you don’t already have the money to make the climb, this should be your number one priority.
3) Raising the funding
6) Choosing a team
7) The jet set to Everest
So as you can see from this 7 part plan, all the elements have been simplified so that each piece can be digested as bite sized amount, rather than seeing the mountain that’s in front of you and panicking, as it would be all too easy to do with an undertaking of this magnitude. Think of these steps as camps up the mountain, so just like every camp between base camp and the summit is designed to breakdown the overall climb, these steps are designed to do the same.
The very first thing to do before checking your bank balance to see how much money you don’t have is to make a plan. This is the basis for your financial proposal, should you need one, and will help keep you on the straight and narrow should you lose your original objectives down the road. There have been many attempts on Everest, including those who wish to ski back down the Lhotse Face, and even paraglide from the summit. When planning your expedition to Everest, the most advisable method is to plan the actual climb of the mountain, and then work backwards. So how do you want to climb Everest? I’m not talking of cheap gimmicks here like becoming the first person from Prestwick to take a rubber chicken to the summit, but instead, I’m thinking more along the lines of your expedition style. Do you want to simply(!) climb the NE Ridge with a commercial team, or do you want to attempt an alpine ascent of one of Everest’s many faces? Do you aim to climb with supplementary oxygen or without? Or do you want to conduct scientific research during your time on the mountain to investigate a hypothesis which really interests you?
To create your plan is to write your intentions of your expedition to Everest, and then state your time scale which you can do once you have factored in your training. So for example, if you want to climb the NE Ridge, you can expect to have been on multiple high altitude expeditions previously, going above 7,000m and preferably on supplementary oxygen in order to stand a good chance at making the summit and returning in one piece. This could take 2 years, or it could take 15 depending on your resources, and your commitments, however if you are starting from scratch and are wanting to make a more alpine orientated ascent, you will clearly need a lot more than 2 years of training before setting out on your bold expedition to climb the Kangshung Face.
For many mere mortals though, it is the commercial routes of the Southeast ridge and North ridge that appeal, and so if it is one of these routes which appeal and will become the focus of this article, then you need to write your plan accordingly.
Of course, everyone is different, and whilst some people will adapt to altitude relatively quickly, others will take longer to cope with the rigors of low oxygen, and so it is important to keep your plans flexible in order to account for more training should you need it.
On planning my expeditions, I soon realised how important it was to firstly learn the skills as close to the ground as possible, and then work upwards. For me, there is only one place to learn how to climb Everest, and this is Scotland. A Scottish winter season is infamous amongst climbers due to the notorious weather that is often encountered, the severity of many of the climbs which range from the mile long North Face of Ben Nevis, to the absolute wilderness of Torridon, and indeed the fact that climbing in Scotland is steeped in history.
After my first Scottish winter season, I began to meet new people and connect with many people with similar aspirations; all of which is a part of the learning curve towards Everest and indeed any challenge in the Greater Ranges.
On completion of that first Scottish winter, I knew for sure that I wanted to continue my pursuit for Everest, and so the next phase of training begins. Up until this point, things have been very cheap. Climbing in Scotland, if you know the right people, can be done very cheaply, and so it’s not until you start to venture overseas that the lines between training and financing start to become blurred.
The first thing to note is how unnecessary it is to climb Mount Blanc. Climbing in the French Alps, especially with Chamonix as a base will always be ultra expensive when using guides, since they all need to hold the IFMGA carnet, and being the highest mountain in western Europe means any ascent of Mont Blanc with a guide is generally going to hurt the bank and also your view of alpine refuges when you find yourself crammed inside the Goûter Cabin the night before your ascent.
Since Everest isn’t in Europe, it is also a good idea to introduce yourself to the culture shock you can expect to receive when entering foreign cities such as Mumbai and Kathmandu. So instead of Mont Blanc, consider replacing this with a 6,000m mountain such as Peak Chapayev in Kyrgyzstan’s Tien Shan, or even Island Peak in the Khumbu valley of Nepal which will give you a direct introduction to Everest.
Whilst these bigger expeditions may be as expensive or slightly more than a Mont Blanc ascent, you get infinitely more for your money, such as the invaluable experience of looking after yourself on a ‘proper’ expedition, something which is worth its weight in gold by the time you reach Everest base camp.
After your first foray into the Himalayas or Greater Ranges, it’s time to consider something bigger and more technical. For me, it was the combination of Mera Peak and Baruntse, but others have done Manaslu, Cho Oyu or something similar in preparation.
And so this is your plan. Or rather it is my plan, but something that needs to be adapted to your own personal taste and desires, remembering that wanting to climb the same mountain as someone else doesn’t mean that you can’t make your expedition your own, embarking on a journey which no one else has taken, despite eventually ending up at the same point.
As for the training side, this is far easy to answer. Firstly, have a read of my blog on specificity: The Need for Specificity. Your preparatory peaks prior to Everest form the most specific element of your training, which includes the fundamentals of travel at altitude, personal admin, the mental capacity to summit big mountains, and the ability to cope with the extreme levels of stress of all different types faced on extended trips. If you are a guide, this stress will be focused upon keeping your team, and also yourself safe. For the climbers, the stress is usually centred on staying as healthy as possible and keeping up with the rest of the team so you have the best possible chance for the summit.
Whilst you’re at home however, training doesn’t need to be as complicated as you might believe. Keeping fit by running and cycling are all key, plus a number of big days out on the hill with a heavy rucksack will also aid your progress. The biggest key is dynamic apnea training which can be simplified as swimming under water. For the full explanation, see my Apnea Training Article.
Climb in Scotland and the Lake District as often as you can, and try not to focus any of your attention on ‘bulking-up’ with muscle. Muscle is hungry for oxygen when it’s working, and so your aim is to be as lean and strong as possible without looking like Mr. Universe.
Now that you have your plan, you know if you are going to try and break a record or two, and know what training you are left to do, the absolute necessity is now to raise the money. For most people, the situation will be similar to mine. You have either just finished university, or are in a full time job. You have cash, but nothing which amounts to that which you will need for Everest which as a rule of thumb is around £30,000 – £40,000. You also might have working commitments, and also financial commitments such as a mortgage or wife/husband to take care of. In this case, asking for a divorce and renting out a council house is a sure fire way of quickly raising capital, but it isn’t necessarily the most practical method.
The problem is usually described as, “you either have the time but not the money, or you have the money but not the time; people rarely have both”.
And this describes the situation for the majority of Everest hopefuls. The truth is, many could summit, but most struggle with the one thing that you don’t ordinarily associate with climbing; money. For some, their commitments outweigh their desire to make the climb, but for those who are absolutely determined, and would go to the ends of the earth to make their Everest dreams a reality, this is what you need to do.
Lets first outline the possibilities for funding:
1) Family & friends
2) Remortgaging & quitting job (with the hope of finding something on your return)
3) Religiously saving
4) Corporate funding
As you can see, there are four options; only you can decide if the first three are viable, but usually, and just like for me, number four was the only option, and if you too decide to go down this path, you have a second mountain to climb, infinitely more frustrating than Everest, before you even make it to base camp.
The simple solution here is that you have to become an entrepreneur, and you have to become one fast. You need to take your plan, your dream of climbing Everest, and sell it to a company or organisation; in other words, quite simply, you need to make them an offer they can’t refuse.
Your offer of partnership should be written as a proposal, it should be short and concise, less than 3 pages, and in it you should write three fundamental things. Firstly, who you are and what you are aiming to do. Secondly, how much you are asking for. And thirdly, what you are going to do for the company to prise a small fortune from them.
This all sounds simple, and it really is common sense, but time and time again I get asked “why is my proposal not working” or “why is no one sponsoring me”.
In terms of the actual proposal, it needs to be professional. This, in my opinion, is too long, however the proposal for the South expedition is your benchmark proposal in terms of quality and professionalism:
Now you know what the proposal should look like, you now need to know what to put in it. As I said earlier, there are three fundamentals, so I will expand on these a little. When writing about you, be as short as possible. You have to imagine you have 2 minutes to impress a CEO, so hearing about your successes on Bronze DofE won’t cut it unfortunately.
The second part of the first fundamental is to explain what you are doing. The key here is to think BIG. I will give you two examples, which do you think sounds better to a multinational corporation?
1) I am aiming to climb Mount Everest via the SE Ridge, and in doing so, raise £5,000 for my local charity.
2) I am set to climb Mount Everest, the highest mountain on earth, from where I will fly your flag, and raise £1 Million for Comic Relief and Cancer Research.
Just remember, when you are talking to a company with a net profit in excess of £1 Billion per annum, money talks, and they are much likely to support you if you set your sights high. Equally, you might never make your target, but setting your sights high and missing is always better than comfortably hitting a target with no effort.
Think of what your target company wants to hear. They want big publicity and they want their brand associated with someone doing big things. As much as you want to help a local charity, doing this alone usually won’t cut it, so think of your current plan, and simply make it bigger. Even if you don’t know how you are going to raise £1 Million for charity, put it out there, you’ll work it out somewhere between the Hillary Step and the summit.
The second part of your proposal is what you are asking for. Don’t shy away from numbers. I made a sponsorship pitch to DHL who in 2011 had a revenue of €52.82 Billion. I made my pitch for £50,000, which is 0.00009% of their revenue, absolute pocket money.
Do not worry about odd £000’s either. If you work out that you need £48,581, just round it up to £50,000. It is true that once you get your foot in the door, you can ask for whatever you want within reason, the hard part is having someone believe in your proposal to get your foot in the door in the first place.
This section of your proposal should also be brief. The CEO doesn’t want to know how much money you are spending on sat-phone calls vs. food. Just group costs together logically, and make the total as obvious as possible.
Finally, you come to the section that needs to hold the attention of the busiest CEO or CSR Exec. What are you going to do for them? Whilst this section, just like the rest of the proposal needs to be brief, you also need to make your claims massive. Unfortunately in this day and age, saying you are going to get their brand to the top of the world isn’t enough. You firstly have to think of how the company might use your expedition, and usually it will be for marketing or rebranding purposes.
So the key with marketing is think of something big, and then do it bigger. Companies want publicity, and so one photo of their banner on the summit is not enough. Let’s say for example you are approaching a phone company such as Apple. You want to take their iPhone to the summit.
Your proposal to them needs to state that you are going to film the entire expedition in broadcastable quality. This will then be live-streamed from your website which currently has an audience of 10,000,000 people. For a company like Apple who have many competitors when it comes to the iPhone, to be able to show their customers that their phone works on the summit of Everest shows how tough, user friendly and reliable their phone is. You might also suggest that you are going to develop an App in conjunction with Apple that documents a specific element of your expedition, and lets other Apple users interact with you on the mountain.
This is the scale of what you need to pitch. Having a potential audience of 10,000 people is not enough. Your expedition needs to be global, with the sponsoring companies help of course. Your personal web page should be number 1 on Google, and you should be using that platform to scream out your expedition intentions. You need the world to be talking about you, and then once you have achieved this, your chances of securing your required funding become significantly easier.
The key is, be innovative, resourceful, and try every avenue possible; never give up.
Take a look at Daniel’s Everest Million page: http://www.everestmillion.com/
He is aiming to summit Everest in 2013. Take a look at his supporter’s page. Do you recognise any of his sponsors? HTC? Coldplay? Rab? Daniel is aiming to raise £1 Million for Comic Relief, and he has the backing of some big brands. His expedition claims aren’t small; they are the type of claims that will make people stop and notice.
As a final word on funding, do you know who you should be sending your proposal to, now that you have crafted a piece of literary genius? Of course, you will send it to all your contacts, but who next? Are you googling HTC and then sending your email off to firstname.lastname@example.org? If you are, you are absolutely wasting your time. The first rule is that your proposal HAS to get to a person, not a robotic info@ address which will end up on an admin assistants desk prior to being thrown in the bin. Secondly, who are you targeting? You need executive level. You need to target the CSR Exec, CEO, CFO, Chairman, or a board member. There is no point in going lower than this as it will go no further than your email. Now for the final part, you need to do your research. If you want to contact the CEO of HTC, do your research. When you eventually find the name of the CEO (Joe Blogs), you then need to find the email format for that particular company. It’s usually Firstname.Lastname@company.com/co.uk. If you do some more research and find a contact address for Johnsmith@HTC.com there is a good chance that the email address you need is JoeBlogs@HTC.com. Whilst this is a lengthy process, you need to be prepared to do this to get your proposal to the right people.
The key is never to give up, and take rejection on the chin. I sent out 3,000 individual proposals, received roughly 1,000 rejections, but received just one ‘yes’. You only need one.
As for the rest of the answer, once you have the funding, things become much easier. Your philanthropy is simply centred around the charity that you are raising awareness and funding for. You might not want to do this, especially if you are attempting a cutting edge new route, and are keen to avoid any potential gimmicks of a ‘charity expedition’, but realise that companies will usually like to give money to charity to fulfil their requirements of CSR.
Choosing a team will also become easy since you will have done enough climbing to know who is out there and what they offer. Stay reputable; don’t cut costs by going with a ‘dodgy’ operator who runs the risk of running out of oxygen mid way through your summit push. And finally, research the mountain. Know which side you want to go from, these are two great articles for that: http://www.thebige2013.co.uk/everest_2013/south_vs_north.htm and http://www.everestexpedition.co.uk/everest_south_col/everest_s_vs_n.pdf.
This article from Al Humphreys is also worth a read: http://www.alastairhumphreys.com/10-tips-towards-finding-expedition-sponsorship/. Despite it not being orientated to Everest which makes a few points inapplicable, most of the article contains pearls of wisdom for you to use.
And the final point was number seven: The jet set to Everest. If you think outside the box, use your newfound entrepreneurial spirit and start to see your expedition as a CEO will see it, there is every chance that you will secure the funding you need. Unfortunately, not everyone gets a shot. Some people get one, some get more, but if you are lucky, you might just find yourself jetting out to Kathmandu to attempt the trip of a life time. This is where the fun really begins.
In terms of answering the question, how do you physically climb Everest, I don’t think I need to. You will realise that the question was metaphorical in that climbing Everest isn’t just about the time you are on the mountain, it is that relentless journey towards it, all the way from day 1 where the plan was hatched, and all the way until you step back through the double doors at Heathrow Terminal 4 having achieved your wildest dream only days before. Once you are ready to climb Everest, you won’t need to know how to physically climb the mountain, and you won’t need to know where the route goes. You will have had enough time on big mountains to know how to deal with most climbing situations, and have the ability to look after yourself when the going gets tough.
If you are really serious about climbing Everest, and indeed the biggest mountains on earth, and are prepared to follow the endless hunt for sponsorship and funding, then go for it. Sourcing the funding for these climbs is often identical to the relentless struggle faced at altitude, but just like when you are plodding up a never ending snow slope with the summit above and in the distance, if you can but persevere, you will start a journey that is like no other. It will change you, and once you have seen the earth from a mountain top, you will never be the same again.
As a final piece of motivation for those attempting Everest this year, remember just one thing. Once you have climbed through the night to the South Summit and the sun is starting to rise, you will be blessed with a view that you will never forget.