Mar 28, 2013

Doing our part: CAC - Climbers Against Cancer

If your Easter activities have involved getting ‘out and about’ in the hills and enjoying the great outdoors, the mountain fashionistas amongst you may have noticed some brightly coloured t-shirts dotting the landscapes with huge contrasting font reading, ‘CAC’ – or rather, ‘Climbers Against Cancer’.

Cancer. A word that so many people are terrified of. Cancer will affect every single person in the world, directly or indirectly. Cancer used to be thought of as the end of a life but now we have found ways to treat it – research into new treatments, tools and services continues to bring people hope for tomorrow. This shows that we can find the cure. And we can use our skills to help as much as possible.

I’m very proud to have had the opportunity to support ‘Climbers Against Cancer’, brainchild of the whirlwind that is John Ellison. In October 2011 John was told he had advanced terminal cancer and instead of hanging his head he decided to make the most of the time he has left, one of his favourite quotes being: 

"You can't do anything about the length of your life, but you can do something about it's width and depth". 

Rather than giving up on life he decided to start fighting! John’s vision was to raise not just money but awareness about cancer within the climbing community.

Whilst at a meeting with the Sherpa Adventure Gear team here in the UK a few weeks ago we did our part to show our support… and will jointly continue to raise awareness about this fantastic cause during forthcoming expeditions to Nepal and climbs throughout Europe. Many thanks to Mark Richardson for organising the photo shoot and to Kenton Cool and Neil Gresham for showing their support..!

"Life is not measured by the breaths we take, but rather by the moments that take our breath away"

You can order your own t-shirt and support this incredible cause by visiting the website,  So please, go and get a shirt in your favourite colour and then upload your pictures of you wearing them wherever that might be on the CAC website. Spread the word, spread the awareness, it’s time for the whole climbing community to step up…!

Mar 21, 2013

The People You Meet: Tashi Sherpa, President & Member, Sherpa Adventure Gear family

In November 2012, whilst in Kathmandu and just back from expeditions to Makalu and Ama Dablam, I stopped into the  Sherpa Adventure Gear flagship Kathmandu shop, to pick up a few Christmas presents for my family and say ‘hi’ to the friendly team. The gorgeous store, spread over three floors with a traditional, dark wood interior contrasted by the bright, welcoming displays of jackets, fleeces, hand-knit hats, and outdoor kit, is an oasis of tranquillity in the dusty and chaotic hustle and bustle of the city.

My visit coincided with that of the President and founding member of the Sherpa Adventure Gear family, Tashi Sherpa.  From the moment of my arrival in the shop I’m again treated to true Sherpa hospitality as am escorted up to the rooftop terrace and treated to an absolutely delicious curry lunch and aromatic tea while Tashi smiles calmly and shares his story. What strikes me from the outset is the philosophical and almost poetic nature of his words – how he seemingly effortlessly has combined years of concrete business experience with a holistic philosophy and spirit that has led the brand from strength to strength since it was founded 10 years ago.

The 'Backstory' of this unique and historical brand...
10 years ago, Tashi and his family owned an import clothing business in the US. Whilst on his travels, a magazine featuring a very recognisable and familiar face commemorating the 50th anniversary of the first ascent of Everest caught his eye. The craggy lines of the familiar face staring at him from the cover belonged to none other than his uncle, Ang Gyalzen Sherpa - one of the original Sherpa on Sir Edmund Hillary’s celebrated expedition in 1953 which first reached ‘the roof of the world’.

Though often unrecognised for their contributions to mountaineering expeditions, the Sherpas are the unsung heroes on the slopes of the Himalayan giants including Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse, Makalu… just to name a few…! For it is the Sherpa who set the routes, carry the loads and lay the rope all the way to the summit and back. They risk their lives for a pittance and smile through the life threatening ordeals on the flanks of Everest and surrounding peaks. But rarely do they receive any of the fame or recognition that follows a successful summit.

As Tashi Sherpa stared into the wise-eyes of his uncles’ weathered face, and read the story of the many unsung Sherpa heroes like his uncle who live in total anonymity—and often utter poverty—in the shadow of Everest, he felt a powerful urge to share the Sherpa story with a wider audience. So he created Sherpa Adventure Gear and began making outdoor clothing and gear. He then started sponsoring the best high altitude climbers in the world to test the products - the Sherpas themselves.

“From the highest reaches of the Himalayas, our people lead the world in mountaineering with warmth, grace and good humor. In our humble experience, there is no better place for testing equipment - and character”

Giving back...
Since its inception, the majority of Sherpa Adventure Gear products are designed and manufactured in Nepal where it employs over 150 people.  It's also committed to continued manufacturing in the country, which is crucial, because for all its astonishing scenic beauty and the sheer loveliness of its people and culture, Nepal is an incredibly poor and both politically and economically unstable country, so it needs all the foreign currency and employment opportunities it can get.

One of Tashi’s main goals in creating this company was to support and honour these people who do so much for so little.  Up to $.50 from every product sold goes to a special fund for the underprivileged Sherpa children of Nepal called the Paldorje Education Fund.

The Paldorje Education Fund "provides much-needed headstart scholarships to less fortunate Sherpa children. In Nepal, where many children grow up in remote mountain villages deprived of basic education, it is the our mission to help those in the next generation find their way to a brighter future. By doing this, we honor the dreams of our elders to make a better world." Approximately a dozen children currently benefit from the company’s education initiatives, which typically fund a child’s entire education through high school, and for some, through college. 

Sherpa Adventure Gear is also in the process of setting up additional non-profit partnerships to benefit the health, education, and welfare of underprivileged Sherpa children.

Each season the Sherpa Adventure Gear family grows. But at the core it will always be a small company with a simple vision of doing business in the inimitable way of the Sherpas… One step at a time, helping each other on the climb up, and never losing sight of the destination. 

Mar 13, 2013

The People You Meet: Piers Morgan, journalist, author and television presenter

“Do you think that I could give my blackberry to a cab driver and have him go to Oxford Street to get me a replacement screen?” questioned Piers Morgan on a particularly sunny afternoon at Lords Cricket Ground in mid-May. He brandished his very flashy, very expensive and very cracked Porsche blackberry in front of my face. “I dropped it…” he mumbled likely wondering how he was going to keep his 2646899 followers on Twitter updated on the latest Arsenal updates, and cricket scandals all whilst directing regular jibes at Sir Alan Sugar and Wayne Rooney prompting multi-sided exchanges (celebs and plebs alike), for which I probably require a three-dimensional format to represent adequately….

Fortunately for Piers, whilst the screen did not look dissimilar to a tiffany jig-saw puzzle, the blackberry itself still worked and one of his loyal twitterati responded within minutes, promising a new blackberry by Monday… Twitter disaster averted, Blackberry saves the day, and the rest of the afternoon continued without incident (apart from several glasses of red wine spilled over more than a few members of the cricket elite and me innocently asking Sir Viv Richards (perhaps the regarded as the most devastating batsman that ever played cricket) if he watched cricket often… I can personally attest that Sir Viv has has a sense of humour. To put it in perspective (to my fellow Canadians), this would be like asking Wayne Gretzky if he watched a lot of hockey…

Piers Morgan, the former Daily Mirror and News Of The World editor is best known for his “take-no-prisoners” style on Britain’s Got Talent, as well as probing celebs on Life Stories. Known on both sides of the pond, Piers Morgan made a name for himself in the newspaper business in England before becoming a TV star in both the UK and the US appearing as a judge on the talent shows America's Got Talent (2006) and Britain's Got Talent (2007), with Simon Cowell, launching interview shows in the UK and winning the top spot on Donald Trump's Celebrity Apprentice (2008). Piers Morgan debuted an interview show in the US on CNN in 2011, Piers Morgan Tonight, taking the evening slot once held by Larry King which he continues to host today. He has since covered the Jubilee, Olympics and keeps us all engaged (and amused) by his opinions on VanPersie-gate, the latest developments at Arsenal and the scandal around Kevin Pieterson and the parody Twitter account.

Whilst the world of Piers Morgan is as far as one can possibly get from the world of mountaineering, what I have found fascinating about Piers is his interest in people’s stories and his unnerving ability to probe and prod, and dig mercilessly to the ‘heart’ of issues which has produced varying results.

One would wonder what Piers would have uncovered about past and present mountaineers and some of the more controversial summit claims?

The People You Meet

(1)   If you were to go on an expedition for 2 months and hand-pick a team of individuals to be on your expedition team, who would you pick and why?

Piers: My 2 Sherpas would be Ian Botham and Freddie Flintoff, two big strong lads who'd never give up however tough the going got up there. Cook would be Marco Pierre White, mainly because I suspect he can kill animals withhis bare hands, which is always handy on a mountain. My Guide would be Richard Branson, he always knows where he's going and is usually, the odd balloon crash excepting, successful. Other team-mates would include Scarlett Johannson, purely for aesthetic reasons - it can get lonely up there! - Jessica Ennis, to cajole the men when they inevitably start moaning about the cold etc, and Robin Van Persie, so I could push him of the summit when we get there.  

(2) What was the biggest mountain that you've ever climbed - either figuratively or literally?

Piers:  My Dad took me and my brother Jeremy camping on Mount Snowdon in Wales once. All went well until an angry Ram attacked our tent one night, destroying everything in its wake. Who knew sheep could be so dangerous? 

As or metaphorical mountains, I'd say getting fired from the Mirror was the biggest. I never thought I'd be anything but a newspaper journalist. But I dusted myself down, didn't feel sorry for myself, confined all and bitterness to the dustbin of my consciousness, and cracked on. And it worked all pretty nicely! Moral of this, as with mountaineering, is: never let the buggers get you down, never quit, and never stop seeing the funny side of life.  

Mar 10, 2013

NEWS! Spring 2013 - the Lhotse Face (8516m / 27,940ft)

I first marvelled at Lhotse, the 'unassuming' neighbour of Mount Everest in the autumn of 2011 from a Base Camp high up on Kyajo Ri, a quiet 6000m peak in Nepal's Gokyo Valley. From camp, under a stunning pink sky, we were presented with a breathtaking snow-capped panorama of Himalayan giants including Everest, Makalu, Nuptse, Pumori... and the Lhotse Face.

Unlike many past expeditions on mountains including Everest, Makalu and Cholatse, I never considered climbing Lhotse until this past Autumn while descending from our attempt at Makalu and reflecting on options for the Spring (I never seem leave one expedition without having planned for the next!) Lhotse appealed as a viable option for many reasons... the opportunity to return to the Khumbu on the 60th anniversary of the ascent of Mount Everest by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay certainly appealed as did the geography of the mountain itself... Lhotse is a formidable mountain with steep precipitous faces, many of which remained unclimbed. On Lhotse's West Face there is a weakness known as the Lhotse Couloir. Narrow and steep, this icy gully allows access to the ridge from where the summit can be reached. I also liked the idea of experiencing the 'Everest culture' without experiencing the crowds higher up on the mountain.

In spite of sharing the well-known Everest South Col route (including the well-documented and deadly Khumbu-Ice-fall), Lhotse has received less than 400 ascents - with Everest well over 4000 ascents.

The Route...
To climb Lhotse the route follows the well-known Everest South Col route to Camp 3 (7,300m) high on the Lhotse Face. From camp 3 Everest and Lhotse climbers continue up the face and make the long gently rising traverse up to the Yellow Band. Following an ascent of the band the Everest climbers continue their traverse to the Geneva Spur whilst climbers looking to continue on to the summit of Lhotse, veer  upwards toward a rocky outcrop nicknamed the 'turtle shell'. The rock shelves at 7,900m provide small platforms where tents can be placed and Lhotse Camp 4 can be established. Leaving Camp 4 very early the entry to the couloirs is reached. Narrow and steep the couloir is climbed for 500m until the ridge is reached. Once on the knife edge ridge, a left turn and some tricky climbing leads to the summit.

Spring Plans and logistics...
I leave for the hustle and bustle of Kathmandu in a few weeks time and have already ramped up my training routine - the altitude tent, a popular feature here in the flat, "Gloucester Glamour" has been erected and my muscles are aching regularly from the challenges set by my personal trainer. On the work front, the delicate balance between 'work' and 'life' continues but is going well and I am again thankful for the support provided by colleagues and friends. Similarly, my credit card statements look more like I am setting up an outdoor adventure shop in central London.

Climbing to bring cancer treatment closer to home - Hope for Tomorrow 
I'll be climbing Lhotse to raise money and awareness through the national cancer charity, Hope for Tomorrow. Hope for Tomorrow is dedicated to bringing cancer treatment closer to home via mobile chemotherapy units. These units serve to  which bring vital care to patients and their families, reducing travel, waiting times and the stresses and strains of busy hospitals. Hope for Tomorrow anticipate that in 2013 they will give over 6,000 treatments and save patients over 240,000miles of travel. Each mobile chemotherapy unit costs £260,000 to build and maintain for 3 years.

The People You Meet... is back!
Once again, I'll be documenting my adventures around highlighting the inspiration provided to me by those that I meet in the planning and during this next adventure...

Some of these people have dazzled me with their genius and art. Others have shared with me insights about how I can live. Others have devoted their life to helping others. Some have conquered mountains while others have built business empires. Some are great artists while others have entertained with their brilliant musical talents. One thing that they all have in common is that they are passionate, talented, and amazing people who have added colour to my life and have helped to gently shape the moments that make up the journey – both at work and at play.

Without the tremendous support of these people life would not be nearly as fascinating and mountains would be significantly higher.

This blog is my way of reflecting on my ‘mountaineering journey’. It’s not just the mountain but the mosaic people you meet along the way that make life such an incredible adventure.

So I raise a glass and propose a toast - "To Lhotse, to you, to me, and to the people we'll meet along the way..."

Balance is not better time management, but better boundary management.

Balance is not better time management, but better boundary management. Balance means making choices and enjoying those choices.
- Betsy Jacobson, actress, author

It's been a few months since I last updated this blog but it hasn't been for lack of meeting incredible, inspiring and interesting people... It also hasn't been for lack of climbing-themed adventures - both on the mountain and in the office.

After returning from Makalu and Ama Dablam in November, I took some time out to reflect on how my love for the mountains fits into my career as a management consultant for one of the 'Big 4'... I'm not your typical 'climber' and I'm not your typical 'consultant' either... I like my 'creature comforts' but there are more than a few days when I'd quite happily swap a pair of Jimmy Choo's for a pair of Millet Everest boots and a Burberry trench for a Sherpa soft-shell... a Birkin bag <swoon!> for a Berghaus... (I could go on and on...)  I love and completely, thorougly, 120% appreciate, embrace, and soak-up every moment I spend in the mountains HOWEVER I also love the time I spend in the office, drawing insights and inspiration from my colleagues, clients and helping individuals and teams to reach both short and long-term goals.

I feel that the contrast between these two environments has helped to shape the way I approach challenges, make decisions, manage risk and manage my time.

High Performing Teams - Achieving & Maintaining a 'Life Balance'
One of the highlights of the past few months has been presenting at one of our internal work events - an  offsite on the theme of 'High Performing Teams' (pictured above with guest speaker, double Olympic medalist, rower Greg Searle). I co-presented an afternoon session on the theme of 'life balance' which really highlighted for me personally what I have learned 'beyond the mountains' through the delicate balance of working and climbing and trying to manage everything in between..!

My colleague who has two beautiful daughters and I discussed 'life balance' from two very different perspectives. My personal case study focused on how I managed to take chunks of time off at a time, employing techniques such as careful stakeholder management (managing expectations from the outset), project management (being strict with time), 'non-negotiables' (Wednesdays I leave at 5pm for PT), formal HR-tools (unpaid leave), and creative boundary-management such as presenting at work events on the 'Basecamp to Boardroom' and leadership themes. My colleague talked about her passion - her children and the joys received from picking up her children from school, having evenings and weekends to spend with her children, and how to manage expectations around time commitments (both internal and external) with key stakeholders from the outset. She shared personal examples of times when she had to be more flexible with her time and when saying 'no' was the right thing to do. Among the themes that we had in common was the importance of boundary management (e.g. leaving work at work) and the importance of being organised and maximising project management skills in all aspects of life.

Simple steps you can take to achieve a life balance...
What I personally most enjoyed about our presentation was the follow up discussions in the group breakout sessions. Having head some of the ways in which we manage our work-life balance to fulfil our passions outside of work we asked participants to break out into table groups to make a list of things that they will change next week to introduce more balance into their lives. A quiet, very focused group of consultants soon opened up and began to share their passions - family life, running marathons, yoga, sailing... As they spoke and shared their stories their eyes began to sparkle and I felt as though I saw a whole new side to them.  In 15 minutes participants came up with their own plans to achieve a better balance - this included speaking to their managers about being 'life-balance champions' on their project teams, introducing 'non-negotiables', setting up support-networks when working on long-projects off-site, joining gyms closer to client sites, setting up running-clubs and yoga-clubs, working from home on Fridays... one colleague even decided to revisit a lifelong dream he had about sailing across the Atlantic - a personal ambition he put on hold because he didn't think it would be possible in the perceived confines of employment.

It was hugely rewarding to see people leave the session with a sense of control over their own destinies - and a renewed focus on loving what you do and doing what you love.

It also reminded me how fortunate I have been to have found an employer with the time and interest in helping me to 'unlock' this realisation and inspire others to do the same...!

Onwards and upwards.