A superhuman challenge for a cause that affects so many. You’re a hero to me and many. Never give up!”
Richard’s climbing story
In 2011 my Dad Malcolm and I joined the Iceland Everest Expedition, dedicated to raising money for research into Alzheimer’s disease: my Mum Rhianydd had been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease the previous year. We raised more than £1 million for Alzheimer’s Research UK and other members of the Expedition duly carried the Iceland flag to the summit, but my Dad and I turned back – as planned – after reaching the North Col at 23,031ft (7,020m).
My Dad, who was 65 at the time, had reached his physical limit and I felt it was right to accompany him and go home. But the summit looks tantalisingly close from the North Col – and before we headed down I could not resist climbing higher, halfway to Camp Two, just to see what it felt like. The Sherpas and our Expedition leader David Hempleman Adams all assured me that I was definitely fit enough to
reach the summit – as Sir David was kind enough to acknowledge in his autobiography, No Such Thing as Failure:
“The Walkers did incredibly well for people with so little experience, and once they had achieved this goal [of reaching the North Col at 23,000 feet] decided that it was right to stick with their initial decision to turn back and head for home. I actually think Richard was the fittest person in our entire party and I’m certain he would have made it all the way to the top. I even sat down with him and made a serious attempt at convincing him to stick around and have a go.”
From the moment we headed back down to Advanced Base Camp that day, I knew I’d have to return one day to finish the job.
But things have moved on since then in two important ways. First, I have to acknowledge that I was a very amateur mountain-climber in 2011. To be honest, I had no right to be on Everest. My Dad and I had started our training for Everest by climbing Snowdon and we’d only done one trial high-altitude climb, of Kilimanjaro, before we headed to Nepal and started acclimatising ourselves for Everest by trekking in the Himalayas.
Everest changed my life by giving me a real bug for serious mountaineering. Since 2011 I have undertaken many challenging climbs including the Matterhorn and The Old Man of Hoy, and in 2017 I joined an expedition tackling a previously unclimbed peak in Kyrgyzstan, which I was delighted to be able to name Peak Rhianydd in honour of my Mum. Read More Here
Secondly and even more importantly, Alzheimer’s sadly got the better of my Mum in 2021. She passed away in January that year, surrounded by her family, a day short of her 74th birthday. I now feel that the time is right to honour her memory by completing the climb I started to raise funds for research into her condition 11 years ago.
I also feel technically ready and able to tackle the supreme challenge of summiting Everest – particularly in the inspiring and hugely experienced company of Kenton Cool, who has already reached the top of the world an amazing 16 times – more often than anyone apart from the awe-inspiring local Sherpas.
However, I’m certainly not underestimating the scale of the challenge! I know just how physically exhausted I was by the time I reached the North Col in 2011, not to mention the mental toll such an expedition takes. But I also think
that there is a huge personal benefit for someone like me – a privileged business leader – in taking myself completely of my comfort zone and physically and mentally testing myself to the absolute limit.
Although the ascent from the North Col to the summit looks short and comparatively easy, I know just how many people have perished trying to overcome that infamous Death Zone.
In fact, the deaths of at least 310 people attempting to climb the mountain have been documented since 1922. The only recent year in which it has claimed no fatalities is 2020, when no climbing permits were issued because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Chillingly, some 150 bodies have never been recovered, and many of them remain exposed alongside the main climbing routes.
In the Death Zone above 8,000m or 26,000ft, Kenton and I will face conditions that represent the very limit of what it is humanly possible to endure. Temperatures on the summit average minus 30°C even in the climbing season, or below minus 50°C when the typical seasonal wind chill is taken into account (and can reach minus 73°C when the wind really gets up). Although I have had plenty of experience of industrial freezers running at minus 20°C, they do not come anywhere close to this!
At Death Zone temperatures, any exposed skin freezes instantly, carrying a high risk of losing fingers and toes (or worse) to frostbite. Atmospheric pressure is only a third of what it is at sea level, meaning that the air contains only around 30 per cent of the oxygen to which we are accustomed. As a result, the human body uses up its store of oxygen faster than breathing can replenish it, so
that without supplementary oxygen the experience has been likened to being slowly choked, while at the same time trying to complete one of the hardest physical tasks imaginable. No wonder that many climbers experience hallucinations, and that so many succumb to “summit fever” – an absolute determination to reach the top when the only sane course is to turn back.
And those who do reach the summit of Everest face the daunting fact that 80 per cent of mountaineering accidents occur during the descent, when climbers are tired after the supreme effort of reaching their goal.