An amazing story capturing the essence of life’s moments climbing on Everest.
I was fortunate to share some of those moments, from my own ascent of Everest when we were in Base Camp together, to days in Lhasa waiting for flights after Robert led the ascent of the Kangshung Face.
A remarkable read spread across nine expeditions and eighteen years of Everest life.
Sir Chris Bonington
I remember well a long walk from a warehouse that was Lhasa airport, out to our airplane down a long, hot roadway. In front of Ed Webster and I, who were struggling along slowly with our badly black and frostbitten fingers, was Chris Bonington with our overweight duffel bags, one in each hand. He’d picked them up without a word and carried them off to the plane, saving us the pain and trouble of dragging them along behind us.
I’d met Chris three years previously, when we had shared Base Camp in Nepal and he had made his own ascent of Everest, climbing with the Norwegian team. He had shared his spreadsheets with me on gear, team and Sherpa movements up the mountain.
I had the sudden realization that this was the way to really manage an Everest expedition. When you get to the mountain you need real climbers, but up until then an expedition is a business – with all the requirements of forward planning, funding, logistics and choosing a team.
Looking over Chris’s shoulder and seeing what he was doing, how he approached the mountain, to put the team in position to be successful was the real prelude to putting together our Kangshung Face team.
Fast forward a few decades and Chris was in New York for our American Alpine Club annual dinner, where we had the opportunity to spend the weekend together, catching up over dinners, breakfasts and long walks through the streets, when Chris eschewed the available car service with a wave and a “how far is it, I’m sure we can just walk then.”
Good to know the years and the city didn’t preclude a good walk in the outdoor air, even if it was through the streets of New York. On Chris’s return he sent me an email with a view out of his window in The Lakes at dusk and dawn – “The Lakes are as lovely as ever.” It is always good to return home it seems, especially from an urban adventure.
‘It has never struck me before what fierce strength is required to go back and face again something that you know to be so vast, so menacing, so bated against you. You have pushed the envelope beyond mortality but the message it held has been worth it.
I am struck by three things: the courage to go; the courage to stop; and the courage to go on again.
You are ‘bloody lucky to be alive,’ as I was oft quoted in the press. There are hundreds of climbers all over the world who are equally bloody lucky that you lived with them through your nine lives.’
Daryl Hughes, CEO, Anderson Hughes & Partners
What Chris Bonington had taught me about organizing a successful expedition, I was in the midst of putting into practice with Daryl Hughes when we started a new advertising agency in Auckland, New Zealand.
Fortunately Daryl had far more business experience, having ascended the ranks of Ogilvy Advertising, one of the worlds true powerhouses and where we had first met.
The challenges of winning clients, hiring a team of people as we rapidly expanded and then actually doing some very good advertising was balanced with my flights off to New York to organize sponsorship and then the two months away on the Kangshung Face expedition.
My return from Everest, with blackened fingers and toes, and with New Zealand’s natural interest in all things Everest, found me hobbling from interview to interview, while Daryl single-handedly held down our burgeoning business. Whenever the press called him for input he summed it up with “I think he is bloody lucky to be alive.” Which was a very quotable quote it seems and saw more air time than anything I may have muttered.
While his quote on my virtual book tour may feature, his: “I am struck by three things: the courage to go; the courage to stop; and the courage to go on again,” when it comes to quotes, I would find it more likely it could be shortened to –“he was just so blooded-minded to get to the top.”
“I could not have climbed with any better team while being led by the best. Thank-you for sharing your Ninth Life with me on the slopes and the summit of Mount Everest.“
Sibusisu Vilane, First Black African to Summit Everest
Sibu is one of those very rare individuals who could actually go from having little climbing experience, to understanding and having the aptitude for high altitude climbing in a few short weeks. Perhaps walking the African bush, working as a guide in a game reserve and understanding how to face up to a Lion was natural training?
Our first time in the Khumbu icefall we went through slowly, we worked on crampon technique, of having that second sense of just where every crampon point is underfoot, of tip-toeing over ladders, of clipping and unclipping endless ropes with one hand and in an instant – all the basics of Everest climbing.
At the football field, a larger and marginally safer open area we paused for a cup of tea. “How’s it going,” I asked, knowing that with altitude and the ever-present tension of the icefall, I could well have been less than patient.
“Good,” replied Sibu. “You see that ice over there, it reminds me of a lion in the park, the same shape.”
The singular ability to be surrounded by danger, to be in an environment as far removed from the African bush as could be imagined, and seeing Lions in the ice, I took as a very good sign. Sibu could climb, and he could relate to the mountain and the dangers, even if he did still see them as crouching lions.
Two weeks later, Sibu and I, along with David Hamilton would climb to the top of the world together, a brilliant day of clear sky and low wind. It made sharing my ninth life with Sibu on Everest one of the most memorable days of my life.
“Like Robert Anderson, a cat has nine lives, but doesn’t write nearly as well. Robert’s gripping book is required reading for both the serious climber – and for the armchair mountaineer.
On a personal note, I’ve known and climbed with Robert for two decades. He is the real deal.”
James M. Clash, Forbes Adventure Journalist
Jim has the ability to encapsulate the heart of an adventure in a few words.
As much as he is an exceptional writer, he immerses himself in extreme global adventures that span the air (Mach 2.3 in a MIG), the earth (253 mph in a Bugatti) and, on a rather different take, music. He has one of those wide ranging intellects that has seen him forge personal relationships with everyone from Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to Art Garfunkel and Roger Daltrey.
We met as climbers and have shared adventures, from first ascents of Greenland Peaks, to circling Indy tracks to private backstage interviews with Art Garfunkel. I was enrolled as photographer and driver, having a rather fast car at the time that Jim enjoyed as much as I did, that got us to our adventures in rapid style.
We traveled together to Italy to interview Reinhold Messner, fitting in a rather airy via Ferrata above Trento, Italy just to make sure we made the most of the journey.
In sharing adventures and then reading how Jim had written them up, honing to fit today’s ever shorter mediums, the ability to take a big adventure and encapsulate the heart of it in a small amounts of words was the real art. Like all good art it looks easy.
Nine Lives – Expeditions to Everest is now available from Vertebrate Publishing.