Nov 23, 2013

The People You Meet: Rotary Club of Road Town, British Virgin Islands

Bikinis, sarongs, SPF 20, 30 and 40, shorts, t-shirts, sundresses… a down jacket, spikey sharp crampons and my 8000m boots. Not quite the typical packing-list for a trip to the British Virgin Islands..! As random as the packing was, it did leave me smiling and looking forward to a week of adventures in the sunshine and alongside the crystal clear Caribbean waters. As well as a week of relaxing, there was some work to be done - my brother Ryan had invited me to present at the Road Town Rotary Club, Tortola, BVI where he is an active Rotarian.

I must confess, I was slightly apprehensive about the presentation… My mind boggled with the challenges presented by the contrast between the icy-cold slopes of the highest peaks of the Himalayas and the warm sandy beaches of the British Virgin Islands. I knew it was going to be a ‘tough sell’ to my esteemed Caribbean audience and that I’d really have to present a compelling story to ensure that my audience of Rotarians could (1) relate and (2) enjoy the presentation without thinking that I was completely crazy..! A common thread was desperately required to make this relevant...

About Rotary:
I’ve had the opportunity to work with and present to a number of Rotary clubs in Rotary’s international network and have personally benefited from Rotary’s work in the community – I attended my first ever conference through sponsorship from the Ridgetown Rotary club when I was about 11 years old. Since then I’ve met with and presented to Rotarians in Ridgetown, Malaysia, Kathmandu, Chatham, the UK and now the BVI..!

What struck me about the Road Town Rotary club, as with all other Rotary Clubs that I’ve had the pleasure of visiting, is that the Rotary is very much at the heart of the community - members are passionate about the communities in which they live and work. Members of Rotary bring about positive change in their communities locally and overseas; they support those who need help; they strive to improve lives; they stand up against injustice and wrongs within society. A perfect example of this was at the Road Town meeting where a number of initiatives were organised to help those in the Philippines affected by the typhoon which more than 5,200 people lost their lives and displacing 4.4 million people. The club committed to support a Rotary Telethon on the BVI in partnership with other Rotary clubs and looked to leverage the Rotary network to the Philippines clubs to see what other support / help they could provide.. as well as connecting to the Filipino community in the BVI itself.

The other thing that struck me about the Road Town Rotary Club is that they like to have fun. From fines to happy dollars to good food to fellowship among friends it was great to meet such a positive group of people..!

Presenting to the Rotary Club of Road Town, Tortola...

Drawing from my professional background as a management consultant, I focused on management ‘lessons learned’, drawn from my experiences in the mountains – specifically around teamwork, leadership, decision making and risk management. Through mountaineering case studies, I brought to life some of the challenges that are faced on expeditions and not dissimilar to those challenges faced by organisations around the world. For example, managing a diverse team from different backgrounds, with different levels of experience and differing goals. For some people, the primary objective is to reach ‘the top’, whilst for others, it’s to make the decision to come back in one piece with 10 fingers and 10 toes in tact, to live another day.  As a leader, how do you manage these divergent goals and work as one team, functioning effectively to minimise risk and bring out the strengths of all individuals in the team to make the team as strong as it possibly can be? What are the leadership qualities that bring out the best in individuals? Surprisingly, in spite of the contrast between the two environments, the qualities that make a good leader good and a great leader great are not dissimilar… a great leader brings out the very best in individuals, the very best in the team, and achieves the goal.

Whilst in the BVI, preparing for my presentation in the comfort of the lovely Grape Tree villas overlooking the stunning Long Bay, I was able to appreciate other similarities between the Himalayas and the BVI. The views.  The power of nature.  How they made me feel – truly alive. I’m once again reminded that there are few things in the world that are as mesmerising and hypnotic as the sheer power and beauty of nature and our natural environment – the sound of the wind whistling down an icy slope or the crashing of waves over a deserted sandy beach… there are few things that put us, as human beings, so fundamentally in our place.  I’ve sat overlooking the Western Cwm from high up the Lhotse face as the sun bounced off the ice with the shadow of Mt. Everest looming above me… and I’ve sat on the sandy white beaches of the BVI, in the shadow of palm-trees,  watching the clear-blue waves break and crash rhythmically on the shore… never missing a beat. The feeling I have in these two contrasting environments – whether wrapped up in my down suit and 8000m boots or in my bikini and sarong - are the same… so perhaps it won’t be as difficult to convince the Road Town Rotary Club of why I love this ‘vertical world’ as much as I do..! Perhaps I only need to share with them my love of life? 

Many thanks to the Road Town Rotary club of the British Virgin Islands for their hospitality, their interest and fellowship. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening and I feel so privileged to have had the opportunity to share my experiences with you!

Nov 3, 2013

Sherpa Adventure Gear Lecture Tour: Everest Uncovered - closing thoughts...

When I first started this blog, "The People You Meet Along the Way..." I thought that it would be a good way to document my mountaineering ‘journey’; a way to think through and remind myself of the many lessons that I have learned and the many inspirational people that I have met along the way. By blogging, I’d have the opportunity to share my stories, thoughts, reflections via this online forum as a vehicle to prompt others to reflect on their journeys, their passions, the people that they’ve met and drawn inspiration from… and who, in turn, draws inspiration from them. 
One thing that I’d never (in a million years) expected when I started writing out my thoughts was that I would be taking my humble journey to a whole new level and speaking about it…. In public. To lots of different people. Across the UK. Alongside some of Everests’ most accomplished mountaineers. And representing a brand that I am truly proud to be part of. 

The Sherpa Adventure Gear ‘Everest Uncovered’ lecture tour, held its grand finale to a full house at the Royal Geographical Society, London on Friday, 25 October. This followed two previous lectures in Edinburgh and Manchester and concluded a tremendously successful, fun and action packed whirlwind week which has proven to be one of the highlights of my mountaineering ‘journey’ – to use the clichĂ©, it was ‘my Everest’.  

A journey which led me to share a stage with Kenton Cool and Lakpa Rita Sherpa, and Ian Parnell.  Kenton, Lakpa Rita and Ian are internationally renowned legends in the world of mountaineering – both on and off the mountain. Between them, these men share a total of 29 Everest summits and a unique outlook on the history and future of the world’s highest peak. If, 5 years ago, someone would have said that I’d be speaking alongside these athletes in places as esteemed as the Royal Geographical Society, I’d never have believed them..!

Reflecting on the week that was, ‘Everest Uncovered’ I can’t help but jot-down some of the highlights…

- Spending time with the inspirational and truly humble Lakpa Rita Sherpa and his lovely wife Phurba. As the ‘face’ of the Sherpa Adventure Gear brand, I felt like Lakpa was a long-lost friend - our paths had crossed briefly on a particularly cold morning in the Western Cwm of Everest this past spring but it was hardly the time and place to chat…! So it was truly an honor to be part of Lakpa’s and Phurba’s first visit to the (rather rainy!) UK and share in some of the UK’s culinary delights – which included the biggest naan bread we’d ever seen (at an Indian restaurant in Manchester) and an evening of clubbing in London at the exclusive alpine-themed club, Bodos Schloss (where we drank from a ski boot!).

- Gleaning words of wisdom and engaging in healthy debate and laughter with Kenton Cool. About 5 years ago I attended a lecture at the RGS in which Kenton was on a panel of speakers which included Doug Scott and George Band addressing, the commercialisation of Everest. Kenton’s passion for the mountain and its people, his understanding of the history of the Everest region and his as experience as both a guide and an athlete shone through in spades. I could relate to many aspects of Kenton’s point of view as I rely on people like him to ‘make my dreams come true’. Having said that, as someone with an interest in the ‘geographical tradition’ I could certainly empathise with Doug Scott and George Band who had come to know Everest and the Himalayas in a different time and experienced the mountain in a different, very personal way. Fast forward 5 years and Kenton has, in so many ways, played an instrumental part in my ‘journey’ – even before we became friends and peers through the Sherpa Adventure Gear brand. With our paths crossing in the Himalayas, the Alps and now in the Lakes, I feel truly privileged to continue to draw from his experience and insights and look forward to future adventures both on and off of the mountain. 

- Meeting Ian Parnell. I'd heard amazing things about Ian both as a person and as an alpinist prior to the Everest Uncovered lecture tour and he certainly lived up to his brilliant reputation. Ian, is one of Britain’s leading alpinists and nominated four times for the Piolet D’Or (equivalent of the Oscars for mountaineers), and has made significant ascents in the Himalayas, Alaska, Kyrygyzstan, Greenland and Patagonia. He name is synonymous with 'first ascents', 'epics' and climbing grades that I could only dream of. It was humbling (to put it mildly) to be interviewed on a stage in front of hundreds of people about my experiences by someone quite considerably more accomplished than myself... Meeting Ian was certainly one of the key highlights of the lecture tour and his personal and professional insights, thoughts and feedback certainly has led me to rethink and reflect on many different aspects of my mountaineering journey and ambitions.

- Spending time with the Sherpa Adventure Gear team– the people who, through their passion and belief in the brand, work tirelessly to bring Sherpa Adventure gear to the European market and, in turn, support the Paldorje Education Foundation. Through their efforts and our clients around the world, scholarships and much-needed programs to benefit Sherpa children are awarded through the Foundation. Huge thanks goes out to Julie, Mark and the rest of the team at Bradshaw Taylor for your support, your patience, for bringing everyone together and bringing a vision to a reality..! We most certainly could not have done it without your stellar organisational skills and professionalism..!

- Seeing the look of utter disbelief and sheer joy on the face of a waiter at a great Nepali restaurant, The Gurhka cafĂ©, in Edinburgh… As soon as Lakpa walked through the door a massive smile of recognition broke out over the waiters face -  he was originally from Namche Bazaar in Nepal and immediately recognised Lakpa and even followed him on Facebook! The food was absolutely fantastic as was the atmosphere and hospitality.

- A fantastic day out in the Lake District with competition prize winners courtesy of the BMC. Whilst it was lashing with rain for most of the day it didn’t stop us from having a super fun afternoon, sharing stories and experiences whilst scrambling over rapidly flowing streams, clamouring over wet, steep and slippery rock and enjoying spectacular views characteristic of the Lakes… inadvertently testing the kit..! I can personally attest that it was waterproof and all but my feet remained dry! It was my first trip to the area and it certainly didn’t disappoint. A great experience with friends, old and new with the day ending in a delicious and well deserved pub lunch.

- Raising over £7350.00 through the Everest Uncovered lecture series through the silent auctions of the fantastic signed prints donated from Doug Scott. The proceeds were split between the two tremendously worthwhile causes, the Paldorje Education Fund and Cannepal.

- Brainstorming, dreaming, pondering and reflecting with fellow mountaineering affectionados all of the adventures of the past and the many adventures ahead.... 

- And of course, last but certainly not least, meeting everyone who came to the lecture tour in Edinburgh, Manchester and London..!  Thank you for your interest, your fantastic questions, your shared passion for the mountains, your inspiration, your support for the Sherpa Adventure Gear brand. I hope that our different points of view were able to dispel some of the misconceptions about Everest, shared our personal and professional experiences as guide, Sherpa and commercial client, and brought to life some of the challenges and opportunities which unfold in one of the planet’s most extreme environments. 
Big crowd in Manchester!
Fantastic audience in Edinburgh
Great day out in the Lakes thanks to the BMC. Congrats to the competition winners!
Zoe, Lakpa and Phurba
The Lakpa Rita Jacket kept me dry... if only I could say the same for my shoes