Jun 10, 2018

Destination Denali: "You're off to great places, today is your day! Your mountain is waiting so get on your way!"

You're off to great places,
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting, 
So... get on your way..!
-Dr. Seuss, Oh the Places You'll Go

A few final thoughts as I drag a heavy bag out the door and onto Anchorage, Alaska and then 90 miles north to the town of Talkeetna and the flanks of Denali! I've put project management skills into overdrive and my bags are parked at the front door waiting to whisked away on this adventure..! 
There are plenty of emotions going around in my head ranging from – “OMG what did I get myself into?” to the adrenaline rush you get when you stand on the cusp of the unknown and prepare to leap... 

Soon this journey will 'formally' begin... and I can't wait..! 
The biggest challenge on this expedition has been making the decision to ‘go for it’. Stepping out of your comfort zone, finding your purpose, and following it through – this is often more daunting than the mountains we find ourselves on. But the glory is in the journey – the lessons learned and the people you meet along the way - and the place that we leave in the world as a result. 
Climbing a mountain like Denali is no different to many of the challenges we aim to overcome in our lives. Whether starting a new job, mending a broken relationship, fighting an illness or stepping outside of our comfort zones, we’re all climbing mountains of sorts. These experiences require us to be stronger than we think we are, endure more than we think we can, and become more than we dreamed possible. 

It’s always my hope when setting out on these slightly mad adventures that I can make a small difference in the world. And I have all of YOU to thank for helping me to do this..!


Before leaving a few "Thank You's"…

A huge thank you to my friends:

Thank you to my friends - for your kindness and patience. You're the best and I really, really can't wait to have a very large margarita with you all on a very sunny, hot patio this summer.

Thank you to the Reaching New Heights for Women's Health expedition Partners:

A huge thank you to Women's College Hospital Foundation and Wellbeing of Women: 

Thank you Shannon and the entire team at Women's College Hospital Foundation. We spent a lot of time talking about the importance of 'purpose' earlier this year - which has been incredibly helpful in my journey to 'settling' here in Toronto. Learning about the research and ambulatory care provided through the hospital has been eye-opening and I can't wait to continue working with you and your team to provide continued research into the health and wellbeing of women.
Thank you Asha and the entire team at Wellbeing of Women. We've been on these crazy adventures for a while now and I am so grateful for your continued motivation...! 

A huge thank you to my family:

Thank you to my family - for the spirit of adventure that I'm certain I inherited from you.... although there is some disagreement about which side of the family it actually comes from..! I know how much you worry about me but, in the same breath, totally stand behind and support everything that I do. And for that I’ll be forever grateful.

A tremendous thank you to YOU!

A final thank you to everyone who has kindly and generously donated to Women’s College Hospital and Wellbeing of Women. On behalf of the charities, Thank You.

If you haven't donated but wish to support these charities it's not too late..! The links are below: 

Next stop - Denali!

“So be sure when you step, Step with care and great tact. And remember that life's A Great Balancing Act. And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and ¾ percent guaranteed) Kid, you'll move mountains.” 
― Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You'll Go!

** I will not have access to communications whilst on the mountain so all updates from 11 June will be provided via: http://www.alaskamountaineeringschool.blogspot.com **
The team name is “10 June Expedition with Wes” 

Please wish us luck and see you in July!!

Jun 5, 2018

Hoodies, Bisons, Diamonds, Traverses and Wipes - All you ever wanted to know about expedition gear

Toronto is known for a lot of things - the CN Tower, its vibrant food scene, the ROM and an abundance of hipster coffee shops. Unfortunately (for me) it’s not exactly famous as the mountaineering mecca of the world. You’re more likely to find a pair of Gucci heels or an Alexander McQueen gown within a ten kilometer radius than a pair of high-altitude boots – Mountain Equipment Co-Op excepted of course! 

This makes preparing for the -40-degrees conditions expected Denali an interesting challenge. Kit can make or break an expedition.  A thought provoking article by Gear-Guy, Douglas Gantenbein of Outside Online put things in perspective:

“I want you to take off your shoes and socks…. Then, hold your feet and hands out in front of you, where you can see them. Now, for each digit, assign a dollar value. Take your time. What’s that pinkie worth? $100? A big toe? $250? Think hard. Don’t think this exercise odd—you are doing it right now. You are hoping to save a few hundred dollars on gear. And in doing so, you are weighing those dollars against body parts.”

SO, given the above response from Gear-Guy and our shared appreciation for digits, it goes without saying that I’ve become slightly obsessive about gear for Denali. This leads me to a quote from the legend that is Sir Ranulph Fiennes, “There is no bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.” As a farmer’s daughter, I also know that there’s little point in worrying about the weather – but there are definitely things that you can do to prepare for it.

I’ve highlighted a few key pieces that I’ll be taking with me – many are tried and tested from previous expeditions but some are new and reflect huge advancements in kit technology. I can’t help but admire mountaineering pioneers such as George Leigh-Mallory, Andrew Irvine and George Ingle Finch, wearing wool socks, gaberdine jackets and leather boots on the slopes of Mt. Everest in the early 1920s… 

Base-layers – This is a key layer requiring plenty of planning and it's layer that I’ll never take off. Given conditions on Denali, I mean NEVER take off. Like, for the full 3+ weeks. Features I look for when choosing base layers are fabrics that wick moisture from my skin. Fabric technology (yes, there is such a thing) that has evolved includes air permeable fleeces with voided grid construction. When looking at base layers, I look for designs that are women-specific, articulated to move with the body, and layer easily. Hoods on base layers are a personal choice – I personally love them as they’re an extra layer under a helmet and some even have integrated panels that can be worn as a neck gaiter or balaclava. Arc’teryx’s Konseal Hoody is a great example of this. 

On my legs I’ll wear Rho AR bottoms, by Arc’teryx. They’re a versatile mid-weight, insulated tight.

Mid-layer jacket - Cerium LT – Arc’teryx -  I’m slightly obsessed with this mid-layer jacket by Arc-teryx. The Cerium LT is by far the lightest, most compressible and warmest mid-layer down jacket that I’ve come across and a reflection of some great product design. Arc'teryx used synthetic insulation in targeted areas that would most likely see moisture. The water-resistant shell sheds any light moisture that would otherwise rob the lofty down of its insulating properties. Think of it as a perfect jacket for a cool winters’ day or, if you’ve got plans to be trekking, hiking — and therefore sweating — in the dry, cold mountain air. I suspect it will become a permanent fixture on my body until early July.

Crampons – Black Diamond Sabertooth – Now we’re talking tools. When I think of crampons I smile because it means that I’m planning to have some fun. At 910 grams (yes, this is important!), Black Diamond Sabertooth crampons have been my "go-to's" for Scotland, the Alps, Andes and Himalaya. They’re excellent all-arounders perfect for difficult mixed terrain, mountain travel and steep ice. Stainless steel keeps them light. I’m smiling just thinking about them as I type.

Gloves – Black Diamond  Guide Glove & Mercury Mitts – t
hanks to a winter adventure gone-wrong with my brothers as a 7-year old, my hands are my Achilles heel. I had frost nip at a very young age which has made my hands extremely susceptible to the cold. Emotionally scarred by the experience, I’m petrified of having cold hands so the anxiety is mitigated by an investment into a solid glove / mitt system. My hands-down favourite (excuse the pun) for extreme conditions are BD Guide Gloves and BD Mercury Mitts. Both are designed to fend off seriously cold and ugly conditions with tough outer fabrics, and wool pile liners. Dexterous enough that you can fiddle with your bindings, zippers, and gear without having to take them off, yet warm enough to take the edge off the coldest of days. 

Harness  - Black Diamond Couloir -  Function over fashion….! Literally. A harness should fit over bulky clothing. Adjustable leg loops are key for changing pants and navigating through impromptu stops. From tests with a few different brands my preference is the Black Diamond Couloir for its simplicity and ease of wear with a pack. .

Boots – LaSportiva Olympus Mons – Not quite Jimmy Choo’s but nearly as expensive and not quite as practical on a Friday night in downtown Toronto. Going back to Gear-Guys passion for digits, the Olympus Mons are investment I’ve been happy to make. This will be my 5th major outing for my Olympus Mons and I absolutely love them. At 2.26kgs (yes, I weighed them) it’s a great superlight double boot with an insulated inner boot. The thermo-reflective outer boot layers on warmth, and a durable gaiter with Kevlar (yes, bullet proof) reinforcements, making it perfect for conditions on the Alaska Range as well as the peaks in the high Himalaya. 

Sleeping Bag – Western Mountaineering – Bison – Think of it as a high end duvet from Wayfair at around the same price-point – just with more colors, a hood and rated to a balmy -40 degrees F (minus 30 – 40 degrees C). The aptly named Bison is a mummy-style sleeping bag with 4–lbs (~2 kilos) or more of high loft down My sleeping bag serves as a “locker” for storing water bottles, batteries, liner boots, and anything else that needs to not freeze. From experience, my sleeping bag is about 30% “Best Buy” electronics and 70% me. 

Altimeter – Suunto smart-watch technology I am a bit of a tech-geek and have been
making the most of the leaps and bounds made by companies like Suunto when it comes to smart-watches. Ten years ago I bought my first Suunto Core – it had the ‘core’ features I needed – altimeter, time, light and alarm. With the rise of smart-technologies and integration with fitness, Suunto has come forward with leaps and bounds. Whilst I use a Suunto 3 Fitness to track my day to day activities (e.g. steps, training, health stats - and yes, even boxing!) I’ll be using the Suunto Traverse on Denali. The Traverse uses the same features as my much beloved Core PLUS it’s also equipped with a digital compass, barometer, thermometer, altimeter and GPS tracking and navigation features.

Toiletries – Interestingly, we’ll be experiencing 24hrs of daylight on Denali – so the much feared cold of the early hours of the morning (think bitterly cold alpine starts) is slightly averted. I've stocked up on sunscreen in stick format as anything liquid / crème will freeze in the sub-arctic conditions. My go-to is Sun-Bum.. "cause you gotta trust the bum."

Many people ask about washing. For those eating lunch, you have my permission to stop reading now. Truth be told, we won’t be showering for the full 3 – 4 weeks… BUT, anyone who's spent any time with me outdoors knows my secret weapon. It’s a product which, despite the name which induces blushes even in hypoxic conditions (apologies to male readers!) is THE best kept secret for outdoor activities. Ten years ago I discovered a brand of individually wrapped ‘wet-wipes’ called, ‘I Love My Muff’ in a swanky little London salon. Intrigued, I contacted the Canadian-company and received said sample ‘muff wipe’. I tested them on Everest and they were amazing. Wait. That’s an understatement. They were game changing.... 

Eyebrows were raised by my male-dominated team but it wasn’t long before I received humble requests from the same male teammates* for said ‘muff wipe(s)’ and the sweet aromas of cucumber, chamomile flower, and lavender were soon wafting across camp. Beautifully smelling they are vegan, free of parabens, synthetic colors and fragrances. They're made in Canada with pure essential oils and are non-toxic, biodegradable and feel luxurious to use. And you can buy them here:  https://ilovemymuff.com/products/fresh-wipes  You’re welcome. 

And on that high note, and before I geek out any further I’ll end this blog here! I hope it's been insightful. I've benefited tremendously from the experiences and recommendations from others and would be happy to play it forward - so please feel free to get in touch! 


*no egos were harmed in the writing of this blog.

-----------------------------------


So what's next?

In 3 days I depart for Alaska to brave severe conditions to climb the tallest mountain in North America – Denali via its notoriously challenging west buttress route. Located 130 miles north of Anchorage, Alaska, Denali rises an icy 6,190m (20,310 feet) out of a sea of glaciers and other peaks that comprise the Alaska Range. 

High altitude, sub-Arctic conditions, fickle weather, unpredictable storms, steep slopes, and deep crevasses combine to make Denali one of the most difficult and severe mountains in the world. The climb will involve relaying loads of equipment over 66 kilometers (41 miles) in 22 days, establishing camps and climbing slowly enough for proper acclimatization. In addition, I'll be carrying a 60 pound pack and pull a 40 pound sled, loaded with gear to establish camps on the mountain as I prepare to get into position to summit in late June. 
So, if you've read all the way down of this article - brilliant and thank you (!) - I hope that you'll consider taking a quick minute to make a small donation to support lifesaving research.

Wellbeing of Women (UK): https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/WellbeingofWomenDenali


Women's College Hospital (Canada)http://wchf.convio.net/site/TR?fr_id=1160&pg=entry


I'm taking on this challenge to raise funds and awareness for two incredible charities My goal is to raise $2,000 for Women's College Hospital (Canada) and 2,000 GBP for Wellbeing of Women (UK) to help fund critical and lifesaving research into cancers impacting the health and wellbeing of women and their families. All donations - no matter how big or small - are tremendously appreciated. 

THANK YOU so much!



Jun 4, 2018

TRAINING: Leave your summits at the door & step into the ring

One of the most common questions I'm asked (especially here in Toronto) is, “How do you train to climb a mountain like Denali?” 

Well, Torontonians are very astute. There clearly aren’t any mountains on my doorstep and apart from 12 flights of stairs when the elevator breaks down, vertical movement doesn't often feature in my routine. 

But, the long and short answer is, “Boxing”. 

Before you think I’m a bit of a brute, let me give you some context and background…

I discovered boxing in the most unlikely of places – on the slopes of the Eiger, a notoriously dangerous 4,000metre mountain in Switzerland. I was on an expedition with a friend who was using the climb as part of his training for a white-collar boxing match. He was incredibly fit and basically ‘ran’ up the mountain and despite a swanky gym-membership, I huffed-and-puffed my way behind him. When I questioned what his secret was he answered ‘boxing’.  The rest you could say is history… 

Power of Boxing

Back in London, my friend invited me to join a “Power of Boxing” boxing session at the iconic Fitzroy Lodge Amateur Boxing Club (ABC). I admit, I did think ‘Me? Boxing?I was slightly daunted (*understatement*) by the prospect of super-fit muscle-men throwing punches at me. Walking into the Lodge, my eyes were drawn to the weathered black and white photographs depicting of some of the greatest boxers who had set foot in the ring (e.g. Cornelius "Boza" Edwards, Neville Cole and David Haye). The place oozed soul, grit, and history. I was self-conscious and wondered if I was ‘tough’ enough. I began to worry whether the MAC concealer in my handbag was heavy enough to hide a black eye…

I had nothing to worry about! I soon realised that I’d found one of the most rewarding, all-round workouts that I’d ever experienced. From a physical perspective, it was tough and challenging. From a mental perspective, I was given heaps of positive encouragement by other boxers and by the trainers themselves. I pushed myself through the rotations - learning how to spar, getting on the running machines to test my limits on cardio, rounds of skipping and push ups and finishing with three rounds on the bags. By the end of the hour I was sweaty, exhausted BUT exhilarated and instantly hooked.  

But was I sore? I’m not going to lie. Hell yeah. I was sore. Fantastically sore. But I had the satisfaction of having earned it and needless to say, I was back two days later and haven’t looked back since..! 

9-Round

When I moved to Toronto, joining a boxing club was one of the first things on my to-do list. I’m terrible at motivating myself and can usually find about 10 different things on my never-ending-list as an excuse to avoid going to the gym – washing the dishes, doing laundry, ironing suddenly seem so much more appealing..! I came across 9Round, a gym offering 30-minute drop-in boxing classes few blocks from my flat. The format and schedule of 9-Round suited me perfectly and I signed up immediately.

As is pretty evident from this blog, one of my passions is mountain climbing and, unfortunately, I do need to be fit both mentally and physically travel to and survive in these environments. Boxing has been a fantastic ‘fitness vehicle’ for me to prepare to head into the mountains. Training sessions provide a group-environment that is individually oriented, intense, and affordable, and under the guidance of great instructors and surrounded by a fantastic network of support.

And the best part about boxing is that you’re not “fighting” anyone but yourself. Unless you’re sparring with one of the trainers, most of it is you and the bag, or the circuits and you’re in control of how fast or slow you go. Boxing (like climbing) is much more mental than people might realise. It's about endurance and growth. Perfecting your form, learning new combinations and trying every class to get a little farther, push yourself a little more. 

The only person you're trying to beat up is you. 

Keeping motivated...

There are days when I arrive at a boxing session after a long day and think, ‘Ugh. Am I really up for this. There's a margarita in the pub around the corner calling my name...’ No sooner does the session begin then endorphins kick in and all the days stresses and worries are forgotten.  When you walk through the door you leave your work behind. Everyone is an equal, everyone is authentic. There are no games, no prejudices, no preconceptions, no judgements. It’s a place where ‘you can be you’. If you’re having a bad day, you’ll be guaranteed to walk out of the session with a smile on your face – the result of the feel-good work-out endorphins, some healthy banter and the sense of satisfaction that you’re healthier and fitter than when you walked through the door thirty-minutes earlier. 

And if you're still "on the ropes" wondering if this is a sport you might want to try, here are a few more reasons to check it out...

Whether you're pounding a punch bag or skipping your heart out, boxing is something I can’t recommend enough. On top of toning your muscles, it offers heaps of benefits that make it a brilliant all round exercise choice…

Earn that extra chocolate! Boxing burns calories. For me, a 30 minute class can burn about 400 calories (based on my weight and intensity) but it can be up to around 500 calories or more.  And the benefits don’t just stop there - you also lose visceral fat (the fat around the stomach). Visceral fat is a key player in a variety of health concerns, so focusing on getting rid of it is important. 

You’re in control.What you put into it is what you get out of it. 
If you want to see results, you need to keep at it. At first you'll gain muscle weight. Put in a few more sessions and you'll see your endurance grow. 

Push yourself. Boxing makes you strong.
To build up speed, endurance and keep your body in optimum health, it needs to be strong. Boxing is the perfect exercise for achieving absolutely all of those things and I can’t think of a more satisfying way to get the job done!

Had a hard day? Boxing is a brilliant stress reliever.
You might think that pounding away on a punching bag will send your aggression into overdrive but it’s actually incredibly therapeutic. Boxing helps relieve physical and mental stress and tension with every punch. Boxing decreases stress hormones like cortisol and increase endorphins (aka - your body's ‘feel-good’ chemicals), giving your mood a natural boost.

On a budget? Boxing is inexpensive and easily accessible.
Different to high altitude mountaineering, boxing requires very little investment – just bring yourself, boxing gloves, hand wraps, a skipping rope, a pair of trainers and away you go..! 

Don’t count the days, make the days count.” – Muhammad Ali


So what's next?

In 5 days I depart for Alaska to brave severe conditions to climb the tallest mountain in North America – Denali via its notoriously challenging west buttress route. Located 130 miles north of Anchorage, Alaska, Denali rises an icy 6,190m (20,310 feet) out of a sea of glaciers and other peaks that comprise the Alaska Range. 

High altitude, sub-Arctic conditions, fickle weather, unpredictable storms, steep slopes, and deep crevasses combine to make Denali one of the most difficult and severe mountains in the world. The climb will involve relaying loads of equipment over 66 kilometers (41 miles) in 22 days, establishing camps and climbing slowly enough for proper acclimatization. In addition, I'll be carrying a 60 pound pack and pull a 40 pound sled, loaded with gear to establish camps on the mountain as I prepare to get into position to summit in late June. 

I'm taking on this challenge to raise funds and awareness for two incredible charities My goal is to raise $2,000 for Women's College Hospital (Canada) and 2,000 GBP for Wellbeing of Women (UK) to help fund critical and lifesaving research into cancers impacting the health and wellbeing of women and their families. Links are included below and all donations - no matter how big or small - are tremendously appreciated. 

So, if you've read all the way down of this article - brilliant and thank you (!) - I hope that you'll consider taking a quick minute to make a small donation to support lifesaving research.

Wellbeing of Women (UK): https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/WellbeingofWomenDenali

Women's College Hospital (Canada)http://wchf.convio.net/site/TR?fr_id=1160&pg=entry


THANK YOU so much!



May 21, 2018

Careers, consulting, crevasses & cold – big mountains, big decisions and the lessons learned along the way

A passion for adventure balanced against a career in consulting has taught me a lot about the fine art of multi-tasking, deep breathing and smiling bravely through those moments when you realize that there are only 24 hours in the day and you've planned for 30. These are the moments when I find myself in the gym after a long day at work, gasping for breath on a treadmill whilst reading emails on my iphone and deciding what to have for my 11pm dinner once I've finished my third can of Red Bull. I’m exaggerating slightly – but you get my point..!

One of the most challenging parts of an expedition is in the preparation for the expedition itself – my experience in preparing for my expedition to climb Denali, the highest mountain in North America, has been no different. Managing work and personal commitments, time for training, charity fundraising, equipment organization, managing stakeholders, finances, and taking time out for myself - it's easy to become overwhelmed. And I have. 

Over the past few weeks I've had to consciously stop and take a few deep breaths, revisit the to-do checklist, re-define key dates, re-prioritize and let my body catch up with my brain. These are the times when I’ve really needed to focus and be disciplined in deciding what things on my 'to do' list relate directly to achieving my goals and which are just ‘nice to haves’.

Having been on over 25 major expeditions in the Himalayas, Andes, and the Alps over the past 9 years, I’ve realized that this planning and re-planning is a critical part of the process and will pay off in the longer-term. Discipline and rigor are critical in this preparatory stage so that I don't find myself on the mountain without a sleeping bag or return from an expedition without a job!

I’ve summarized below four key themes and lessons learned from expedition reflections and preparations...

Disciplinebe disciplined in your focus on attaining your goal. 

A focus on the end goal is a bit like having a personal GPS. Once you type your destination into a GPS, it cleverly spits out step by step details in how to get there. If only there was a GPS of life..! I’ve learned to manage goals by breaking key activities and events down into priorities: What needs to get done today? What can wait until tomorrow? What can wait until next week? Over my morning Nespresso, I spend the first 15 minutes of every day prioritizing so I know exactly what I have on my plate for the day ahead. There are plenty of apps (e.g. Trello, GTask, Tik Tik) out there that can help with this - Wunderlist is a personal favorite. 

Before every expedition I spend time thinking about my end-goal and the steps (real and proverbial!) required to achieve it. Is it the summit? Is it to raise money for a particular charity? Is it to improve my skills and fitness? Is it to experience a new part of the world? I then write down the activities required to achieve my goals in a step-by-step list. 

I’ve found that without this rigor and focus, I’m easily distracted ad diverted. As a highly skilled procrastinator this includes distractions like the dishes that need washing, the floor that suddenly needs vacuuming or the trip to the grocery store that just can’t wait. Just as a traffic accident, road congestion and construction requires the GPS to recalibrate, I’ve learned that my daily ‘to do’ list helps me to keep sight on goals no irrespective of the detours that pop up along the way. 

Commitment don’t give up when you’re forced beyond your comfort zone or when setbacks or disappointments happen. 

There’s a great quote by Kenneth Blanchard, ‘There's a difference between interest and commitment. When you're interested in doing something, you do it only when it's convenient. When you're committed to something, you accept no excuses; only results.” 

If I was only ‘interested’ in climbing Denali, I’d deprioritize training, planning, fundraising and expedition preparations, only focusing on the expedition when it was convenient.  Also, when on the expedition, I’d likely give-up with my first shiver in the -30-degree temperatures. Commitment to a project like Denali means that even when I’m exhausted from a long day of work, I still go to the gym to achieve my training goal. Similarly, it means that I’m laser-focused and committed to reaching the summit and descending safely, even when things get uncomfortable – which I anticipate will be regularly!

Those people who are successful in the mountains – as in life – are people who are unrelenting toward the pursuit of their goal. Sure, they experience setbacks and failures like everyone else. But what sets these people apart is their ability to get back on track and learn from their mistakes. Success and commitment to achieving a goal is about the ability to do this time and time again until they gain the prize that sets them apart.

A very recent example of commitment is the story of the 69-year old Chinese double amputee Xia Boyu. Last week on May 13th,  Mr. Xia summited Mount Everest on his fifth attempt after both feet were amputated in his first bid 43 years ago. In 1975, his team were trapped in a storm near the summit and he suffered severe frostbite, losing both his feet after he lent a teammate his sleeping bag.  In 1996, he was diagnosed with lymphoma, a form of blood cancer. After recovering from cancer, he attempted the summit three more times in 2014, 2015, and 2016. In 2014, climbing season was cancelled due to an avalanche on Everest. His attempt in 2015 was called off after a magnitude-8.1 earthquake shook Nepal and triggered more avalanches. Then, in his fourth attempt in 2016, Mr Xia's dream seemed within reach - the team was just 300ft from the summit when a blizzard forced him to turn back… And then last week, on his fifth attempt, Mr. Xia achieved his dream of reaching the highest point on earth and becoming the second double amputee to ever do so.  A tremendous achievement and a true testament to commitment and an unrelenting pursuit of a goal.

Courage learn to say ‘no’. 

One of my favorite artists, Ed Sheeran once said, “I can’t tell you the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everyone’. How right he is..!

Learning to say ‘no’ takes courage and continues to be one the most challenging things I’ve had to learn in planning expeditions and everything that comes with it. Over the past few years, I’ve realized my people pleasing tendencies were creating stresses and inefficiencies which were impacting my work, personal life and time spent outdoors. Thanks to some great coaches and simple exercises in saying ‘no,’ I've begun to preserve my most valuable resource – time – while growing personally and professionally. By saying ‘no’ to some things, I’ve realized that I’m actually saying ‘yes’ to other things – for example, a steps toward a professional or mountaineering goal. Saying no to a new commitment honors your existing commitments and gives you the opportunity to successfully fulfill these commitments.

There are plenty of business books written on different ways to ‘say no’ and offering tips and tricks to help convert the ‘no’ into a yes. A few of my favorite tips are:
  • Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that.
  • Know your priorities. If you do have some extra time, ask yourself whether this new commitment is how you want to spend that time? 
  • Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word – it’s actually quite empowering. 
Creativitylook for ways to overlap things. 
Asking my boss for the two-months off to climb Everest was a nerve-wracking experience. I’d already listed out all of the reasons why he might say ‘no’ and hadn’t ever considered why he might say ‘yes’. As it turned out, he was an avid ‘arm-chair adventurer’, and immediately understood the drive-behind my nervous request. We spent the remainder of the meeting discussing the ‘leadership’ qualities of adventurers like Sir Ernest Shackleton and how these leadership qualities were also found in business leaders. My boss suggested that I conduct a presentation for one of his team meetings on ‘leadership lessons learned’ following my Everest expedition putting the lessons into the context of the project-based environment that I work in as a change management specialist. I obliged and a few months later following my return from Everest, was amazed at how much I’d learned from my interactions with our guide, other team members, the preparation for the expedition, and the challenges we faced individually and as a team on the mountain. 

From that first trip I started building a portfolio of “lessons learned” on a range of topics including risk management, decision making, communications, experiencing failure, and leading through adversity. Rather than seeing the time-off work as a ‘career limiting’ move, it became ‘career enhancing’, gave me confidence and independence and purpose. It tapped into my love of story-telling, adventure and I became a more effective consultant as a result.

A few years later I was approached by several colleagues to organize a charity trek of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania to support one of our firm’s charity partners, Wellbeing of Women.  Our team raised 30,000 GBP with that first trek and helped fund critical research into the health and wellbeing of women and babies. The news of our success spread across the firm and subsequent trips were quickly organized. Today, nearly five years later we’ve organized 7 charity treks to Kilimanjaro and have also added Everest Base Camp to the portfolio.  We’ve raised over 250,000 GBP for the charity. Equally importantly, over 50 colleagues have become friends, have learned to fundraise and have experienced literal highs (and lows!) together, forging friendships and memories that will last a lifetime.

So what's next?

"A master in the art of living draws no distinction between his work and his play; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both." An apt quote by British philosopher L.P. Jacks.

With just over two weeks before I depart for Denali, work commitments are largely organized, stakeholders are managed, bags are packed and I’ve only had a few ‘OMG’ moments on the treadmill - but most importantly, I am having fun, learning with every step of the journey - the consulting, crevasses, crampons, cold... and everything else.

My focus now turns to another goal - to raise funds and awareness for two incredible charities My goal is to raise $2,000 for Women's College Hospital (Canada) and 2,000 GBP for Wellbeing of Women (UK) to help fund critical and lifesaving research into cancers impacting the health and wellbeing of women and their families. Links are included below and all donations - no matter how big or small - are tremendously appreciated. 

So, if you've read all the way down of this article - brilliant and thank you (!) - I hope that you'll consider taking a quick minute to make a small donation to support lifesaving research.

Wellbeing of Women (UK): https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/WellbeingofWomenDenali

Women's College Hospital (Canada): http://wchf.convio.net/site/TR?fr_id=1160&pg=entry









May 2, 2018

Destination Denali: Reaching New Heights to Support Research into the Health & Wellbeing of Women

My passion for adventure is the by-product of a love for the outdoors instilled by rural Canadian roots and an inherent sense of ‘wanderlust’. These same rural roots have also instilled in me the importance of community and my personal responsibility in playing a part to make it better. 

Over the course of the literal (and proverbial) ‘highs’ and ‘lows’ of the past 10 years of adventure and expeditions, I’ve sought to leverage my experiences climbing some of the highest mountains on earth as opportunities to inspire others and to give back to my community by raising funds and awareness to support the health and wellbeing of women and babies around the world through research, training and education.

The Challenge

From June 10th  - July 1st 2018, I’ll brave severe conditions to climb the tallest mountain in North America – Denali via its notoriously challenging west buttress route. Located 130 miles north of Anchorage, Alaska, Denali rises an icy 6,190m (20,310 feet) out of a sea of glaciers and other peaks that comprise the Alaska Range.

The adventure will be extreme. High altitude, sub-Arctic conditions, fickle weather, unpredictable storms, steep slopes, and deep crevasses combine to make Denali one of the most difficult and severe mountains in the world. The climb will involve relaying loads of equipment over 66 kilometers (41 miles) in 22 days, establishing camps and climbing slowly enough for proper acclimatization. In addition, I’ll be carrying a 60 pound pack and be pulling a 40 pound sled, loaded with gear to establish camps on the mountain in preparation to get into position to summit in late June.

I’ll draw from a significant track-record of experience from over 25 major expeditions to the highest mountains on earth including Everest, Lhotse, Makalu, and others in the high Himalaya, Andes and Alps.  On these expeditions I’ve learned to ‘dig deep’, tapping into reserves of strength and determination to put one foot in front of the other. But even before that, I’ve learned to manage training and extensive preparation around the commitments of a demanding job by honing skills in discipline, commitment, courage and creativity.

Giving back

I wanted to be in a position to give back to the communities and the people that have played such an important role in my life. This is why I have chosen charities in the UK and Canada.

I'm raising funds and awareness to support the life saving work of Women’s College Hospital Foundation (WCH) in Canada and Wellbeing of Women (WoW) in the UK, focusing specifically on research into women’s cancers including breast cancer and gynaecological cancers including ovarian cancer, cervical cancer and womb cancer.

This field of research into women’s cancers is hugely underfunded, particularly given the staggering and sobering facts about women’s cancers in the UK and Canada.

Wellbeing of Women (UK)

Wellbeing of Women is the charity dedicated to improving the health of women and babies, to make a difference to everybody's lives today and tomorrow. Every year the charity invests in special research projects and allocate funds towards the training of specialist doctors and midwives. Established in 1964 Wellbeing of Women remains unique in having such a comprehensive remit for women’s health. Wellbeing of Women are one of very few funders of peer-reviewed medical research on topics such as the menopause and endometriosis alongside work seeking to prevent premature birth and recurrent miscarriage and to discover new therapies for gynecological cancer.

Women’s College Hospital (Canada)

For over a century, WCH has been at the forefront of closing health gaps for women and their loved ones and is an internationally recognized leader in the research, diagnosis and care of women’s cancers. By scaling up important innovations and education in the areas of breast and ovarian cancers, WCH reaches healthcare providers, institutions, women and their families in every part of Canada, through the national reach of the Canadian Cancer Society, with a goal to deliver new models of care.

Mountains of our lives

 “Climbing Denali is no different from any other challenges we aim to overcome in our lives.  Whether starting a new job, mending a broken relationship or stepping outside of our comfort zone, we’re all climbing a mountain of sorts.  These experiences require us to be stronger than we think we are, endure more than we think we can, and become more than we dreamed possible. By supporting the work of WCH and Wellbeing of Women I want to play a direct role in making those proverbial mountains so much easier to climb by helping to advance the health and wellbeing of women and creating solutions for the healthcare system that benefit all people – making everyone’s lives better and easier today and tomorrow."

Click here to help fund lifesaving research: Wellbeing of Women: 
Click here to help fund lifesaving research: Womens College Hospital: 




For more information:

About Wellbeing of Women

Wellbeing of Women is the charity dedicated to improving the health of women and babies, to make a difference to everybody's lives today and tomorrow. Every year the charity invests in special research projects and allocate funds towards the training of specialist doctors and midwives. Established in 1964 Wellbeing of Women have enabled the major breakthrough's in obstetrics and gynecology.
Wellbeing of Women remains unique in having such a comprehensive remit for women’s health. Wellbeing of Women are one of very few funders of peer-reviewed medical research on topics such as the menopause and endometriosis alongside work seeking to prevent premature birth and recurrent miscarriage and to discover new therapies for gynecological cancer.

 http://www.wellbeingofwomen.org.uk
To donate and show your support: Wellbeing of Women:    

About Women’s College Hospital

For more than 100 years Women’s College Hospital (WCH) has been developing revolutionary advances in healthcare. Today, WCH is a world leader in the health of women and Canada’s leading, academic ambulatory hospital. A champion of health equity, WCH advocates for the health of all women from diverse cultures and backgrounds and ensures their needs are reflected in the care they receive. It focuses on delivering innovative solutions that address Canada’s most pressing issues related to population health, patient experience and system costs. The WCH Institute for Health System Solutions and Virtual Care (WIHV) is developing new, scalable models of care that deliver improved outcomes for patients and sustainable solutions for the health system as a whole.