Apr 28, 2013

Quaking in my kevlar boots... Welcome to the Khumbu Icefall

The main differentiator between the North (Tibet / China) and South (Nepal) routes to the 8848m summit Mount Everest is where the main ‘challenges’ are located along the way – on the North side, it’s the ‘second step’ – a steep rock wall now ‘simplified’ through a ladder at circ 8500m. On the South side of Everest it’s the notorious Khumbu Icefall which begins just outside of base camp at around 5400m.  

Seeing photographs of climbers on the South Side making their way through the icefall, basking in the sunshine, posing for photographs whilst crossing gaping blue crevasses by means of ladders roped precariously together always sparked my interest – was this the ‘true’ Everest experience?? How would I fare…? 

Well, having now gone through the icefall 4 x (twice up, twice down) I can sum it up quite quickly: Eeeeeek..!!!!

The Khumbu Icefall looks like it was created by an exceptionally moody (perhaps PMS-ing) god-like giant who, one cold and wintery day, threw a temper tantrum and smashed a gigantic, titanic-sized block of ice and snow onto the ground (as if trying to smash a dinner plate) to create a violent, jagged, pile of precariously balanced maze of ice blocks, seracs and crevasses which shift and slide daily – and violently - in response to the movement of the glacier underneath… and swallow, smash, envelop everything and anything in its path.

Standing in the middle of the icefall, looking around is a surreal experience. Whilst it’s eerily quiet, you can hear the cracking of the ice shifting beneath your feet and watch as crevasses widen and shift before your eyes. It is truly alive. It seems almost a magical, beautiful place but deceivingly dangerous – avalanches, falling seracs, ice and the shifting of the living ice beneath your feet create hazards which serve to remind you of the power of nature and the fragility of human life. It’s tempting to stop and take a photograph… but by stopping you are prolonging the amount of time you spend in this ‘garden of eden’.

Icefall Doctors are employed on a regular (daily basis throughout the main Everest climbing season) to ‘tend’ to the icefall and secure a path that allows the quickest possible passage through the seemingly impenetrable maze of ice and snow. They risk their lives to travel through the icefall and set up and ensure that ladders are secured to cross the crevasses and, on a daily basis, monitor the ladders and the route to ensure that it continues to serve its purpose to provide the safest and most efficient route through the icefall. 

There seems to be a direct correlation between the width of the crevasses, the length of the ladders crossing them and the increase in temperature with the arrival of the imminent monsoon season. On our first rotation, I found the ladders horrible but bearable… Having said that, on our last trip through the icefall one particularly nasty, deep, seemingly endless gaping blue crevasse was made passable thanks to 4 precariously tied ladder lengths. I know it’s ‘mind over matter’ but as the points of my crampons pass over the steely rungs and I look down to see a piece of snow fall hundreds of feet, deep into the blue abyss it’s nearly impossible not to swallow and have a moment of hesitation and apprehension..!

Fortunately we only have 2 more passes through the icefall – one up and one down and from that moment forward it will most certainly be an experience that I’ll most enjoy from memory and from photographs..!

Apr 14, 2013

The People You Meet: Lama Geshi - a blessing for the adventure ahead....

We left the comforts of our lodge in Deboche and slowly made our way along the dusty trail toward our home for the next two days – Pheriche. It was a gloriously sunny day and we ambled through the barren terrain and along the beautifully engraved mani walls taking in the stunning peaks which put the challenge of what lays ahead well and truly into perspective..! Beautiful snow capped mountains including views of Everest, Lhotse, and Ama Dablam.

The morning started auspiciously, we went to a blessing held at Lama Geshi’s house, a lama who had escaped Tibet in 1947 and settled in Pangboche, finding a spiritual and real home under the eye of the mountain, Ama Dablam. He is the highest ranking Buddhist Lama in the area. Almost every climber to the Everest region visits him to receive a blessing before their climb. For many climbers and trekkers, this is one of the highlights and life long memory of their visit to Nepal.

We stopped in at Lama Geshi’s incredibly ‘atmospheric’ home to receive a blessing and a small gift. This includes a piece of paper which has been blessed and inscribed with a prayer, and a string of coloured cord (a sungdi) to wear around the neck, with a knot representing the prayer to the goddess and for our safety. In return we must respect; respect the mountain and each other and Lama Geshi asked us not only to think of doing well on this expedition to Lhotse, but also in life. Be a good person was his message. The message was delivered through a chant of prayers for our safety and permission to climb the mountain while tossing rice into the air and occasionally ringing a small bell. The entire ceremony lasted about 20 minutes.

Sitting in front of Lama Geshi and receiving the blessing along with the rest of my team was a very humbling experience which promoted a time of personal reflection. A beam of light seemed to shine down on the Lama as he sat in front the only window in the dark, dusty room which seemed to let in a trickle of light. He sits surrounded by years and years of climbing history and Buddhist symbols. His smile was gentle and his eyes full of wisdom…  Lama Geshi also conducts pujas where climbers receive his blessing for a safe climb. Many Sherpa will not touch a mountain without his blessing.

We then enjoyed our walk in the sunshine up to Pheriche and the comforts of the Himalayan Lodge. The Himalayan Lodge is a fantastic little lodge with excellent food and a great atmosphere – the main room was packed with climbers from all walks of life including a Qatari prince and a team from Extreme Everest who are studying the effects of altitude on the body.

Apr 13, 2013

The People You Meet: The Lhotse 2013 Climbing Team..!

What I love about expeditions is the experience of meeting new people, with an often similar sense of adventure and enjoyment of a 'challenge', and the evolution of the team. When signing up for an expedition I generally look at the reputation and quality of the guide and the company itself and the pricing of the overall package then becomes a secondary consideration - the rule of thumb, 'you get what you pay for' generally rings true! The composition of the team - your 'family' for the coming 2 months - is reliant on the 'vetting' procedures of the company and is, hence, tremendously important especially when climbing 8000m peaks when previous climbing and altitude experience is very relevant. I've always been exceptionally careful in this respect and, as a result, have had excellent experiences and have made 'friends for life' on my expeditions and learned a tremendous amount about leadership and teamwork in the process. I sense that this season will be no exception..!

This season I'm climbing with Adventure Consultants. Adventure Consultants is a world-renowned mountain guiding company with a legacy of climbing expeditions to the world's highest peaks, and wilderness treks to the more remote corners of the globe. Its philosophy of only operating with small guided groups provides a more personalised service. This minimises environmental impact and continues to have a proven advantage in its success rates.

Adventure Consultants offers expeditions, treks and wilderness journeys to the Himalaya, Antarctica, Arctic, South America, Greenland, and Alaska in addition to a world class mountaineering guiding service and climbing school in New Zealand and Europe with our IFMGA / NZMGA mountain guides.

The Adventure Consultants Lhotse Expedition 2013 guides, team members, Sherpa and staff are:

Expedition Leader - Guy Cotter - Our guide for Lhotse is none other than Guy Cotter, the Director of Adventure Consultants. Well known Everest chronicler Alan Arnette recently did a fantastic interview with Guy as part of an ongoing series he does each season with Everest climbers and I encourage you to read it and check out Alan's fantastic blog in the process (http://www.alanarnette.com). A short excerpt of Alan's interview with Guy can be found below...

"Guy Cotter has been running the company since 1996 with a strong philosophy of keeping it small, and safe. But he is not a behind the scenes boss, but rather climbing with the best of them, including Peter Hillary recently...."

"Guy, a native Kiwi, lives on the South Island of New Zealand in the amazing town of Wanaka on the shores of Lake Wanaka. He takes total advantage of everything his country offers from climbing to skiing to mountain biking. As the owner of Adventure Consultants, his company supports the best of New Zealand by being part of world-class movies, and running guided trips to their pristine mountains and ski slopes...."

Team members:
Suze Kelly, New Zealand
Anthony Baldry, Australia
Heather Geluk, Canada 

Expedition Doctor: Dr Anne Hutchison, New Zealand / Scotland
Base Camp Manager: Anna Simmonds, New Zealand
Base Camp Setup: Caroline Blaikie, New Zealand / Scotland
Expedition Sirdar: Ang Tshering Sherpa, Khumjung, Nepal
Climbing Sirdar: Ang Phurba, Makalu, Nepal
Climbing Sherpas: Dawa Temba, Tshering Dorje, Pemba Ongde Sherpa

BC Members Cook: Chhongba Sherpa
BC Members Cook boys: Dendi Sherpa and Zangbu Sherpa
BC Sherpa Cook: Dawa Thundu Sherpa
BC Sherpa Cook boy: Maila Rai 
Camp 2 Cooks: Pasang Lama and Karma Sherpa
Camp 2 Cook boys: Karma, Nima and Lhakpa Tenzin Sherpa
Water carriers: Karma, Kusang, Dawa Sherpa and Sukuman Rai

For more details about our Lhotse expedition go to

Team photo at our amazing hotel in Monjo..! Silver service in the mountains!

Apr 12, 2013

The People You Meet: Himalayan Healers – the Diva in Down’s (slight) Diversion from ‘The Hardcore”

Despite this blog’s ‘title’, “The Diva in Down”, I *try* not to be a ‘diva’ on expedition. I generally *try* and stay away from worries about ‘hair and makeup’, brightly coloured nail polish, conversations about designer handbags, and the latest fashion tips offered by Maire-Claire magazine… So, it was a bit ‘out of character’ (ah hem) to cut my ‘team coffee’ short yesterday because I had to get a massage.... Needless to say, this raised a few eyebrows as I’d protested earlier that day that even though I was sporting bright blue sparkly nail polish (which matched my jacket and my shoes) that I wasn’t ‘high maintenance’. I could almost hear the eyes roll as my team mates chuckled quietly as I scurried down for my hour of indulgence.

I must admit, I’m not a ‘massage person’ but Sushila Shakya, one of the owners of one of the main and historical buildings on the ‘main street’ (including Cafe Danphe and Namche Cyber Cafe and Restaurant)  in central Namche had given me a tour of the boutique massage and sauna facilities on a previous expedition and encouraged me to give it a try. I’d never had the time to do so but found myself today feeling ‘adventurous’ and treating myself following the long hot slog up Namche Hill…!

The spa is part of the Himalayan Healers social enterprise which was established in Nepal about 10 years ago. It was set up for trauma victims in Nepal – primarily women who have been raped, abused, orphaned and/or trafficked – to allow them to go through a process of rehabilitation while learning healing and massage in the safe environment of a healing arts school in Kathmandu. 

Since its humble beginnings with two massage beds, Himalayan Healers now has branches throughout Nepal in Kathmandu, Pokhra and Namche in many botique hotels. Since its inception, at Himalayan Healers, the message is clear: everyone is equal. The training is open to anyone with a profound need, and the organisation’s success is determined by the healing of its students. 

For the students, the personal healing begins on the first day of training. The students train for five hours a day, six days a week. The training slowly progresses from a simple “feet treat” to a full body massage over the 14-week course. But what makes the programme unique is that all of the students have faced profound trauma. From Ashmita, who was raped and left for dead, to Pooja, who was rescued after being trafficked across the Indian border, each student suppresses many emotions related to these events, and as the weeks progress, these emotions begin to come to the surface as part of their rehabilitation. 

Himalayan Healers work on a social entrepreneurial micro-credit scheme. A good faith deposit based on the student’s economic background, which can range from Rs. 1 upward, is paid by the student towards the Rs. 25,000 fee (circ 250 USD). The student is responsible to repay the fee after they’ve secured employment and their lives have stabilised following the training. The recovered fees pay for subsequent batches of students, helping to make the organisation self-sustaining. Each batch ranges from eight to 10 students, and the school does not take on any student without being able to guarantee employment following the completion of the programme. A majority of the students start by working in one of the five Himalayan Healers Spa Boutique locations and several have chosen to take positions at world-renowned spas abroad. For others, the confidence regained through the training has inspired them to pursue other interests. Like Satish, who is now attending medical school. 

The massage – complete with heated stones – was absolutely amazing and a ‘must do’ for anyone passing through Namche either going to or coming back from an expedition or trek. I thoroughly enjoyed the hour of indulgence and it felt fantastic to be supporting such an excellent cause. I would highly recommend that anyone passing through Nepal visit one of the Himalayan Healers facilities..! 

Many thanks to Sushila and her team at: 
Namche Cyber Café (complete with Starbucks coffee)
Café Danphe Bar, Restaurant and Hotel 
Himalayan Healers

Apr 11, 2013

The long hot slog up to the Sherpa Capital of Namche Bazaar

Blue skies and a sunny morning greeted us as we awoke in Monjo and began our plod up Namche Hill to the town of Namche, the ‘Gateway to the Himalaya’ and the first major stepping stone on any trek into the Khumbu region of Nepal. We made good time up the hill and arrived at 10am which gave us the luxury of the day to acclimatise and allow our bodies to respond to the lack of oxygen at 3200m by producing more red blood cells. 

It’s great to be back in Namche - a ‘holding place’ that most climbers and trekkers pass through on their way into the Khumbu and on treks / climbs to the Everest region. During the day the city is alive with internet cafes blaring music, shops selling all kinds of mountaineering gear (from down jackets to technical climbing tools) interspersed with the occasional pharmacy. There are some real legends from the climbing community here at the moment and it’s fascinating to learn more about everyone’s plans. 

I'm looking forward to rolling out my sleeping bag and enjoying a solid nights sleep, taking in my fill of coffee and maximising the last of the reliable internet facilities for the coming weeks..!

We stay in Namche for 2 nights and then make our way up to the small mountain village of Deboche – one of my favourite sections of trail in the region.

Apr 10, 2013

An up-close & personal tour of every air pocket between Kathmandu & Lukla: Flying into the most dangerous airport in the world

 At 2860m Tenzing-Hillary Airport (better known as Lukla airport) bears the infamous title of being the ‘most dangerous airport in the world’. At the end of the short and abrupt runway (angled at a ‘gentle’ 30 degree upward slope) is a very large and very solid unforgiving mountain and the dangers in landing are often compounded by hazardous weather. The airport is ‘overlooked’ by the mountain village of Lukla which is the starting point of most treks and expeditions into the Khumbu region of Nepal. 

This morning at 5am I found myself fitting in a last minute packing job, strategically cramming in all the ‘non-essentials’ that I’d responsibly decided that I wouldn’t need (e.g. the electric blue nail polish, scented candles…). At 5.45 I found myself in the lobby ready for the days adventures to begin..!

The theme of the day seems to have been ‘hurry up and wait’ – a part of life that you learn to quickly accept here in Nepal. Today was no different…  At 6am we rushed from our hotels to get into line at Kathmandu’s domestic terminal and then proceeded to wait; weighed our bags on an old grain-scale… and then proceeded to wait; we rushed to get through ‘security’ and then proceeded to wait; rushed to the transit bus and then proceeded to wait for our slightly rusted twin prop plane… The flight was a slightly harrowing one and the pilot kindly gave us a ‘tour’ of every air-pocked between Kathmandu and Lukla. Had the flight been in a helicopter it would have been fairly ‘normal’ however I had to remind myself that twin-prop planes generally don’t really fare well in dealing with vertical movement and 20m ‘drops’...!! I closed my eyes and cranked my ipod up a little louder to drown out the sputtering of the engines and the gasps of my fellow passengers.

Seeing the small runway in Lukla reminded me however that I was now officially in ‘expedition mode’. My main focus for the coming weeks is to embrace the steady pace of expedition life where days and moments and memories are taken and enjoyed one step and one day at a time.  It was a brilliantly clear day with the sun peeking over the panorama of snow-capped mountains and the farmers making their way into the terraced fields.

The walk up to the village of Monjo (our stop for the night) was relaxed and thoroughly enjoyable – bumping into both Ian Ridley from my Everest 2010 team and Jon Gupta, a friend from the UK enroute..!  It isn’t a surprise to see familiar faces as the well-trodden trail is bustling with trekkers and the air is filled with the sound of the steady clink of their poles on the stone steps. The sound of chimes and prayer wheels turning in the wind fill the air with a familiar ‘mountain melody’. The colourful spring blossoms add vibrance against the clear blue sky and cold grey mountains casting their shadows over the land.

I’m soooo happy to be back and excited to use these days to get to know our fantastic little team, all of our mutual acquaintances and exchange stories over bottomless cups of hot tea..!
Rene and Anthony enjoying the walk
Bumping into former team mate & friend, Ian Ridley on the trail

Apr 9, 2013

Kathmandu - 'Home away from Home' & Packing... again!

There’s something about the city of Kathmandu which heightens the senses. A city where chaos rules. Where life slows down a gear and ‘life’  - well, London - seems like a whole other world away.  It’s easy to ‘lose’ yourself in the chaos… It’s hard to believe that less than 48 hours ago I was still sat behind my desk at work..!

Dust clouds swirling around in the sticky heat, bumper-to-bumper traffic crawling at a snails pace accompanied by the persistent honking of horns at decibles which pierce the ears, generators grinding and humming loudly echoing in the alleys, cell-phones ringing, chimes tinkling as they sway in the warm breeze against the red-clay buildings framed by green windowpanes and trimming that has gone grey from the pollution. Flea-bitten dogs laying lazily in the middle of the broken sidewalk with concrete slabs jutting in all directions as barefoot pedestrians walk non-chalently past… children laughing and running through the streets, zig-zagging around the cars and kicking up swirls of dust as they go with red cheeks and huge smiles… the entire scene framed by bright pink-fuschia bourgainvillias which emit a sweet incense over the city… 

Heading into the ‘backpacker’ area of Thamel one is overwhelmed by huge photos of Himalayan panoramas juxtaposed against brightly coloured signs “Best Expedition Everest”; “Helicopter flight to Everest”; signs as big as the shops themselves selling every outdoor brand and combination of trek you could possibly imagine. The dust is omnipresent and the pollution and cacophony of sound is overpowering as hundreds of motorcycles fight for space on the narrow dirt roads, zig-zagging between cars, pedestrians, dogs and the sacred cows which roam the streets…  weathered-looking peddlers selling Tiger-balm out of small wooden boxes while women and children sit alongside the streets with their hands outstretched for money or food as the dust continues to swirl around them. The soothing sound of the ‘Om mani padme hum’ mantra gently keeping the calm through the chaos. 

Looking up at the darkening sky it’s clear that a storm is brewing as the sound of thunder can already be heard rumbling in the distance – no doubt about to be proceeded by a downpour of biblical proportions to clear the air and send people running indoors…. Tourists looking for cafes offering cheap internet, cinnamon buns and some of the best pizzas on this side of Italy....

Tomorrow it all changes. We fly into Lukla and officially 'start' our 'walk' into Everest Base Camp..! Tomorrow night we sleep in the small village of Monjo and then walk up to the Sherpa capital of Namche. I am psyched and really can't wait to get going..! Our start is 5am tomorrow so with that in mind, time to log off here and catch up online in about two days time.

Apr 5, 2013

"You're off to great places, Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, so... get on your way. Oh the places you'll go" (Dr. Seuss)

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 the count-down well and truly begins..! I've put my finely tuned project management skills into overdrive and my two bags are already parked at the front door waiting to whisked away on yet another this great adventure..! I have a number of different emotions and thoughts going around in my head - nerves, excitement, standing on the cusp of the known and the unknown... Soon this journey will 'formally' begin... and I can't wait..!!

Before leaving a few "Thank Yous"…

Thank you to my amazing friends - for your many emails, calls and words of wisdom. Thanks for your kindness and for making me laugh during those moments when I needed to most and for listening and for picking up so many thing for me while I am away. You guys are the best and I really really can't wait to have a drink with you all on a very sunny patio this summer.  A huge special thank you to my amazing flatmates and friends, DJ Lora  and Kirsten. You guys rock. Literally...!!

A huge thank you to the charity, Hope for Tomorrow through which I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and working with two amazing women, Christine Mills and Alex Trapnell.  I'm really excited to be working with you on yet another adventure..! 

Thank you to my family - for your patience and for the spirit of adventure that I am certain that I inherited from you.... although there is some argument which side of the family it actually came from..! I know how much you worry about me but, in the same breath, how much you totally stand behind and support everything that I do. 

Thank you to Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) and to my colleagues for your support, encouragement and strength. Thanks also to the fantastic project team still plugging away while I go - will think of you heaps and will send text message reminders for status reports!

Thank you to the organisations and individuals who have supported me – Sherpa Adventure Gear, Danielle Sweeney Design, Striders Edge, CHUCS

A final humungous thank you to everyone who has kindly contributed to Hope for Tomorrow. On behalf of the charity, I very much appreciate all of the support that you have shown to this tremendously worthwhile cause. Your donations will certainly help to make the lives of those people living with cancer and requiring chemotherapy much more comfortable, allowing them to have their cancer treatment close to home. 

If you haven't donated but wish to support this fantastic cause you can do so via this link: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/HopeforTomorrowClimb

Next stop - KATHMANDU!!

“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!

An Unconventional Blog about my Unconventional Bedroom - Altitude Training

One of the most rewarding 'side effects' of my high altitude experiences has been the opportunities it's presented to better understand my own physiology and the changes that are taking place within my body as I 'go to altitude'. The body's response to altitude proves, once again, what an incredible and resilient machine the human body is.
One of the key 'tools' which I've been using in preparation for expeditions to 8000m peaks including both Everest and Makalu has been an altitude tent which I rent from The Altitude Centre in London.  

Before I go into detail about what this crazy contraption is, I'll take a few seconds to outline some of the science behind it...

The Science

The lungs contain approximately 300 million tiny air sacs, called alveoli. Each of these tiny air sacs has a thin membrane, through which oxygen in the air is absorbed into the bloodstream through diffusion.  Carbon dioxide is expired from the blood to the air in the lungs, before being exhaled. Simply put, the less air pressure there is, the less oxygen there will be in each breath, and the less will pass through the membranes into the blood.

The body responds to the decreased amount of oxygen by increasing the efficiency of oxygen intake from the lungs and transport in the blood. An important part of the acclimatisation process is the production of more red blood cells, which takes place mainly during rest.  

A 'Head Start' - the Altitude Tent

To give myself a 'head start' and 'grow some additional red blood cells' before I leave, I have been spending the past month sleeping in an altitude tent. Sleeping in a 'simulated altitude environment' allows my body to achieve some of the positive adaptations to altitude while still allowing me to continue to go to 'carry on my normal life' at an oxygen-rich lower altitude where muscles can perform at their normal work level. 

Rather than simulating altitude with actual low air pressure (which would require substantial engineering!), the altitude tent remains at normal air pressure, substituting low concentration of oxygen for low pressure. While normal air contains 20.9% oxygen independent of altitude, the air in an altitude tent contains as little as 12% oxygen (the remainder being nitrogen). The partial pressure of oxygen inside the tent is the same as it is at the natural elevation that the tent is simulating.

I can’t claim that the altitude tent has done wonders for my sleep pattern and do wonder every night as I zip up the flap to ‘seal’ the tent and provide the controlled environment into which the air is pumped whether it's working! 

What's involved
A small beer-fridge size machine (the 'hypoxic air generator') which sounds like a low-decibel lawnmower is connected to the ‘tent’ by an 8 foot long clear plastic hose which pumps the low oxygen controlled air into the tent. This displaces the more oxygen-rich air inside the tent and with it the excess carbon dioxide which I exhale. The body’s response to the lack of oxygen is to stimulate the production of red blood cells, giving the blood better oxygen-carrying capacity and lowering the heart rate.  

It takes the body more than two weeks to produce new red-blood cells – hence why I’ve been sleeping in this plastic bubble for nearly 8 weeks now..!!

I must admit, I’d prefer pre-acclimatising high in the Swiss Alps in a gorgeous chalet with a fantastic mountain view while eating cheese fondue with a dreamboat ski instructor named Otto, but I’ve learned that in life (in this crazy world of high altitude mountaineering) you have to learn to make compromises….

If you're interested in altitude training or have questions about how altitude training can boost your performance at altitude or for long-distance events (eg. marathons, cycling, etc.) give The Altitude Centre a call - or better yet, pay them a visit at one of their fantasic gyms. They are a fantastic resource and I'd highly recommend giving them a call or checking out one of their high-tech gyms.


Apr 2, 2013

The People You Meet: Danielle Sweeney - friendships & jewellery design reaching new heights...

University seems like ages ago. Having said that, over the course of those years-gone-by – through moves from country to country, through travel adventures, job changes, fashion changes, boyfriend changes, and all of the ups and downs that life has to offer, one thing has remained constant – and that is the friendships forged on the snow-covered campus of McGill University, Montreal. I’m so excited to share a little story about how I’ll be taking the spirit of one of these friendships with me up the slopes of the spectacular Himalayan panorama in the form of a unique and very specially designed piece of jewellery.

I was recently contacted by one of those friends from my ‘formative’ years at McGill (where I studied geography, honed grappa-drinking skills, and fed a hunger and a passion for poutine and skiing). My partner in crime and dear friend for many of these adventures was the tremendously talented Danielle Sweeney.  Several months ago Danielle, who has gone on to become a tremendously talented jewellery designer and setting up her own fabulous jewellery design business, Danielle Sweeney Design, got in touch with the offer of custom designing a ring which captured the majesty of the peaks and the lines which join the mountains making up the Himalayan panorama – a panorama stitched together by peaks which include Everest, Makalu, Lhotse, Nuptse, Pumori…

Danielle Sweeney Design

When we parted ways at graduation from McGill University, Danielle went on to complete the Jewellery Arts Program at George Brown College in Toronto. In 2004 Danielle established her own business, Danielle Sweeney Designs, and was awarded the Made You Look Entrepreneur Award, given to the graduating student who demonstrates exceptional skill and entrepreneurial drive. After three years as a resident designer at Toronto's Made You Look Jewellery Studio & Gallery, Danielle and her husband moved to Sydney, Australia where she is based today and continues to run her custom designed jewellery business. Danielle completed the Gemmological Association of Australia's Practical Diamond Grading Course in 2010.

Her gorgeous designs made in precious metals and gemstones range from custom-made engagement and wedding rings to ready to wear earrings, cuff links, pendants and necklaces. Each design is made in limited number and is entirely created and finished by hand. Danielle is inspired by both urban and natural landscapes, translating inspiration into wearable, sophisticated works of jewellery highlighting the intrinsic beauty of metal, natural gemstones and pearls.

Danielle's work has been featured in Flare Magazine, The Globe & Mail, Fashion Magazine online, Rouge Magazine, Dolce Vita Magazine and in Toronto Fashion Week.

Beyond the ‘mountain ring project’, Danielle has also created collections focusing on coastlines with each bespoke piece engraved with your choice of coastline, from the sunny beaches of Sydney, to the icy shores of the Canadian Arctic. 

I’m incredibly honoured to wear this beautifully designed piece of jewellery on my journey to the roof of the world..!

Danielle Sweeney Design
+61 434 893 716

Apr 1, 2013

"After this my first mountain ascent..." (Re)introducing mountaineering pioneer, explorer, adventurer George Ingle Finch

I love this quote by the legendary George Ingle Finch... It captures the passion and ingenuity behind the tremendous achievements of early Everest pioneers. My personal all-time favourite character is George Ingle Finch of the 1922 Everest expedition under General Charles Granville Bruce to Mount Everest.  I'm reminded of Finchs' antics, achievements, creativity and the history of mountaineering on a regular basis thanks to the inside label of my cosy CHUCS down vest... Finch invented the down jacket and was one of the first to use supplemental oxygen on Everest...!  Little did he know what a trend-setter he (like his father, Peter Finch and grandson, Charles Finch) would turn out to be..!

On 23 May 1922 Finch and Captain C. Geoffrey Bruce reached an altitude of 27,300 feet (8,321 m) on the north ridge of Mount Everest. 

George Ingle Finch at Everest Base Camp (1922)
Actor Peter Finch, son of George Ingle Finch

Inside the CHUCS in London on Dover Street
Combining Hollywood glamour with adventure!