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A conversation with 'Everest Guru', Russell Brice, AGS Expedition Leader and Founder of HimEx... one of the leading Himalayan logistics companies

Russell Brice, Founder of world renowned guiding company ‘Himalayan Experience’, made the first ascent of the Three Pinnacles on Everest’s North East ridge in 1988. 

He has 14 ascents of 8000m peaks under his belt, and has arranged and overseen the summit of thousands more for his clients. 

Ahead of the AGS summit attempt, we caught Russell for a rare ‘spare hour’ when he was still at home in Canberra in March before leaving for Kathmandu ahead of the 2019 Everest season. 

 

Martin has returned to Everest to climb with you for his 2nd attempt after significant avalanche risk in 2012 thwarted the Walking With The Wounded attempt and all HimEx activity, and you cancelled all summit attempts due to safety. Martin has returned for his 2ndattempt. How do you think the mentality of a return climber differs to that of a first time client?
A return member has a better understanding about how the expedition works, and due to having been on the hill before, has a certain amount of local knowledge, so of course this is a big help in both confidence and positive attitude. 

In your experience, do you think that return climbers who have had previous unsuccessful attempts are at more risk of succumbing to ‘Summit fever’ than first time climbers, and if so, do you pay more attention to those climbers specifically with this potential added risk in mind? We know that ‘summit fever’ can cloud judgement and decision making when people get fixated on making the summit. 
During the course of an expedition we discuss these sorts of issues, and it is my job - along with my Sherpa staff - to help and advise members as they head for the summit. By being at BC we can monitor the rate of progress of all our members with a clear head, and to advise accordingly. That is the reason why I gave up climbing and guiding many years ago – I realised that my expertise was best used at Base Camp. I am constantly monitoring every single person and each movement as they ascend or make their way back. I monitor their progress, their speed, and of course all of the concurrent issues which we are assessing at the same time such as the weather, other climbers on the mountain, their rate of oxygen consumption etc. If any climbers don’t appear to be on track for the summit or my Sherpa staff report on unusual or uncharacteristic behaviour, then I turn them around. 

How has the mountain changed since 2012? 
We have a much better rope fixing infrastructure in place, although this coming year this will be overseen by a local operator, so we will need to assess the level of service as we go. In general, I feel that the safety of the rope fixing is about the same. I understand that the Icefall doctors are now using a better quality of rope, after years of us requesting this - so this is an improvement. It would appear that we require fewer ladders in the Icefall these days…but of course we will have to wait and see what condition the icefall is in this year. It is never the same. 

Our team, as well as the Icefall Doctors, started their work a week earlier than 2012 as we see that temperatures are increasing more quickly. 

At the start of the season I had been anticipating an earlier summit window than 2012, but of course this was dependent on the weather.  Due to the earlier cyclone a few weeks ago and the resulting strong winds, that has in fact shifted to much later.  The biggest change is that the Hillary Step is no longer there - it fell off during the earthquake in 2015. The result is that summit day is now considerably easier and shorter, without such likelihood of bottle jams – the photos of which were so often reported in the media. 

 

 Martin and Terry have undertaken significant training for their Everest bid – which should in fact be considered ‘standard’ for any climbers wishing to attempt an 8000m peak.  Wounded climbers are often criticized by those claiming that they have no place on the mountain due to putting others at risk. What is your response to this criticism? 
I personally see that injured climbers come much more prepared than many of the normal able-bodied climbers. Martin and Terry have done a fantastic amount of training and I have total confidence in their abilities. Furthermore, these guys have undergone considerable pain and a difficult rehabilitation program, so they are much more used to pain and suffering than most, but also know where their threshold is and when the going is getting tough. They also have well tested coping mechanisms which many don’t. I am really disappointed for Terry – it was a tough decision but he knew it was the only one. I hope he will have a chance to come back. 

Check back in next week when we will post the 2nd half of this interview, covering the increasing corruption on Everest.

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A tough call - today marks the end of Terry's Everest expedition.


It is with great sadness that we announce that today marks the last day of Terry’s Everest expedition – he has called off his summit bid, and will be flying back to Kathmandu tomorrow. 

Since descending from Pumori 10 days ago Terry has experienced increasing discomfort with his stump. Having thought he might have sprained it lightly while coming down the mountain, and that a few days rest at base Camp would remedy the situation, it has become increasingly swollen. His intake of medication has increased – to manage both the pain and the inflammation of his stump, as well as taking a course of antibiotics to manage possible infection. Terry is now unable to wear his prosthetic leg for any length of time and he and the HimEx medics fear that he might have broken his Tibia. 

This decision has not come lightly - Terry is devastated to be leaving and although he knows that his health and the condition of his stump is of paramount importance, it is still a bitter pill to swallow after 12 months of training and preparation. 

So – he departs tomorrow, leaving me to fly the AGS flag solo with my 2nd Everest attempt. 

Thank you to Terry for being the most incredible team member for me thus far – the best known skimpy pant wearing Northerner at Base Camp, and to our sponsors for their unwavering support with this decision. 

We will be working hard in the coming months to secure the required funding to get Terry back to Everest, and in the meantime, wish him safe travels back to the UK.

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Featured in The Times: We chat to former SAS solider and current IFMGA mountain guide Harry Taylor, who has guided the majority of the mountaineering trips for Martin and Terry

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Featured in The Times: We chat to former SAS solider and current IFMGA mountain guide Harry Taylor, who has guided the majority of the mountaineering trips for Martin and Terry

Harry began his career in the Royal Marines as an Arctic survival instructor and later served with the British 22 SAS. Harry subsequently became an IFMGA Mountain Guide and in 1988 completed the first traverse of the Three Pinnacles on Mount Everest’s NE Ridge with Russell Brice. Russell Brice, known as ‘the Everest guru’, went on to establish HimEx, the most experienced commercial guiding outfit on Everest and the expedition and logistics lynchpin for Martin and Terry this year. 

In 1993 Harry became the second Briton to have summited Mount Everest without supplementary oxygen.  Harry was the Adaptive Grand Slam team guide on both Mount McKinley and Elbrus.

Harry offers us some fascinating and uncensored insight into the Everest climbing scene and how things are on the change…

What / when was your first trip to Everest and how many times have you climbed/ been involved with Everest expeditions since? 

I have been to Everest to attempt the summit 7 times but have been on the mountain 9 times in total, 2 of those with filming expeditions. 

My 7th time was in 2012 with the Walking With The Wounded team which included Martin - they were also climbing with Russell and HimEx. Russell made the decision to cancel the entire expedition and all summit bids due to safety issues - more specifically the notoriously dangerous route through the Khumbu ice fall which was even more unstable than usual, with heightened avalanche risk due to warmer than average temperatures. 

How has Everest and Base Camp changed since you first lead expeditions there with Russell? Is it still a place you want to be? 

It has got an awful lot busier, and not in a way that makes me want to be there now. The number of people at BC each year, and most concerningly the number of climbers who aren’t competent or well prepared, increases dramatically every season.

 There are now so many operators and service providers which are badly run and which cut corners in every possible way. It isn’t a place or an industry where short cuts can be taken, and the potential results are catastrophic. The local government struggles with significant corruption issues – they say they are trying to clean themselves up and that they are improving each year but the truth is that don’t care and nothing is changing. Everest is a cash cow for them and I don’t see it improving – they have no need to change as long as tourists continue to want to climb Everest and trek in the local region. The Nepali government will try to push operators out who have the highest safety standards – the western operators such as Russell - as those are the operators who are pointing fingers at the government issues and behaviour.

The western operators have spent the last 4 decades striving to improve safety standards for their climbing clients as well as for their staff – notably operating methods, the provision of rope fixing practices and access to the best kit, equipment, sanitation and food.  


”I fear that with the explosion of clients on Everest - many of whom want the cheapest ticket possible for a quick summit win and don’t undertake adequate research into the varying providers, or have sufficient experience to enable them to make decisions regarding the provision of logistics operators– that safety standards and the integrity of operators will actually decline”.

Many operators are working hard to collaborate with others to continually augment the safety and standards on the mountain, but some local operators are so cheap that this will ultimately put huge pressure on the western outfits to cut their costs just to remain in the market - it’s just not viable any more.  
People want the kudos of ‘bagging the summit’ and demand the safety net which goes with the higher priced and most experienced operators. They want the base camp wifi, the most experienced guides, the most varied food, hot showers and the highest standards in Sherpa assistance, but they don’t want to pay the price which goes with it. The local/ inexperienced outfits claim that they offer the same as the most advanced on the mountain – and clients fall for it - they don’t know where to look or how to ‘read the small print’.

“People will always want to climb Everest and that won’t change, but I fear a cataclysmic disaster if the western operators have to shut up shop due to being pushed out”.

Why does Russell and HimEx stand out from other Everest operators? 

I have known Russell since we climbed together in 1988. He was already operating in the Himalayas then - doing climbing trips on his own and marketing smaller trekking expeditions. Since then he has developed the whole model for Everest expeditions, as well as other mountains, and many have copied his business model. 

Russell is a perfectionist.  He is a mountain guru who changed the levels of expertise which were required to even operate in these areas, and he continues to challenge the client who feels they can do anything but without the desire to undertake adequate training to justify their place on these mountains. The 8000 metre peak playground is a serious one, with life and death consequences.  

Russell has always strived to bring safety to the highest possible level and it is what he is known for. Other operators are constantly following in his wake.  Russell collaborates with other operators, but everyone still looks to him for the final say - he is the outstanding guy in the Everest story. 

There are lots of other fantastic logistics providers – such as Eric Simonson and IMG (International Mountain Guides), Guy Cotter and The Adventure Consultants, but all of the well run operators collaborate and play nicely together - they realise that the sum of all parts is greater than the individual operator. Everyone has different styles but Russell is uncompromising and he stands out.  

“Russell is known as the ‘Everest guru’ and all of the other major operators look to him to make the final say given his unrivalled experience and unwavering integrity.  He isn’t even doing it for the money, he doesn’t make any!”

What will happen when Russell stops? Is there any plan for succession? 

I hope that the Adventure Consultants and IMG might stay in the business and try to fly the flag for sanity and safety. If they drop out, it will descend into the lowest order and we will see many cataclysmic disasters to come. 

What are your thoughts on the criticism of those with injury and disability taking part in extreme expeditions? 

I don’t agree with any of it. If someone wants to attempt something and they are well prepared, expertly trained, and seeking advice and help at every stage - whether they are sailing, mountaineering or cycling, I think they have a clear right to do that in a sensible way.  As long as they have managed their injury and are as well prepared as they can, that’s amazing. Many able bodied climbers are far less prepared!  

Mark Inglis was the first double amputee to summit Everest and he set the standard for others to follow suit, and has inspired many others. He was a hugely experienced climber who was stuck on Mt Cook (New Zealand) in bad weather and sustained amputations as a result of monstrous frost bite. He strove to continue to climb as part of his therapy and rehabilitation and he is an incredible example to many. 

What do you think has been the most valuable training / experience which Martin and Terry have undertaken with you and why? 

There is so much that we have done ! I climbed Denali (6190m) in Alaska with Martin and Terry but on different trips. I summited with Martin, but with Terry we experienced terrible weather which thwarted our summit bid. That mountain and the climbing experience was the most valuable for both of them in terms of preparation for the Everest environment. The Denali climb involves fixed roping - it’s tough, you’re working hard and with no Sherpa support. Rappelling work for people like Martin - who has the use of only one arm - is a massive challenge and this is the nearest thing to the Lhotse face on Everest for him. For Terry too – it was a monumental challenge and achievement – for Martin to reach the summit and for Terry to get as far as he did.

What is your best bit of advice for Martin and Terry as they prepare to climb the ‘big hill’ this year? 

There are so many ‘last tips’, but ultimately, the most important thing is that they look after each other and remember that there is a lot more to come home for than just a successful summit. 

Martin, Terry and the AGS team are hugely grateful to all of their supporters - most notably Olympian Homes which is providing the sponsorship to enable the summit team to climb with the best and safest operator on the mountain. We can’t thank you enough.

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Russell Brice, Founder of Himalayan Experience (HimEx) - the most experienced logistics operator on the mountain.

Russell Brice, Founder of Himalayan Experience (HimEx) - the most experienced logistics operator on the mountain.

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Stephan and his beard..

Stephan Keck, born in Schwaz in Tyrol in 1973, is an extreme mountaineer, expedition manager, mountain guide and photographer, as well as being a committed father of three. Ever since he was a child he has felt comfortable in extreme environments, whether on eight-thousanders in the Himalayas, balloon-skiing in his local Alps or undertaking a six month road trip in Africa with his family in a converted truck. 

As one of Russell Brice’s trusty mountain guides on Everest and leading Martin and Terry on their Everest attempt this May, Stephan has climbed 9 x eight thousand meter peaks, 42 x six thousanders and over 50 5 thousanders. 

We caught up with Stephan to find out a little more about that smile behind the beard….. 

 How did you first get to work with Russell / get to hear of him etc? 
This year is the first time that I am working officially with Russell, but we have known each other from several expeditions and have built up a solid friendship since then. We collaborated on a fantastic project in the aftermath of the Manaslu avalanche and that crystalized our relationship. I am really honoured to be guiding for him and one of the most renowned guiding companies in the world – HimEx. 

How many times have you been to / guided on Everest, or other Himalayan peaks / 8000’ers? (As much as you can here would be great). 
My first private expedition was in 2008, and since then I have been lucky enough to guide and climb on every continent on our planet, and have climbed 9 x eight thousand metre peaks, 42 x six thousanders and over 50 x five thousanders. 

How did you become a guide  - and which came first. Mountains or photography or were they simultaneous?
I grew up in the Austrian Alps and started skiing and enjoying mountain sports at the age of 3 ! I started traveling around the world for mountaineering at 17 years old,  spending more than 4 years in South America on a climbing expedition. At the age of 27 I qualified as a UIAGM mountain ski and canyoning guide - before this I was a ski instructor and was part of the Austrian mountain rescue team for 16 years. I started as a professional journalistic photographer when I was 34 years old, but have had my lifelong passion for expeditions and travel photography for ever. 

Being able to guide on 8000’s but also being able to capture them on camera is an incredible skill. Is it ever a struggle to focus on mountaineering when you have seen an incredible vista which you’d like to capture, but you can’t reach for it at that specific moment!? 
It depends always what I’m booked for. There are some projects where I’m booked as guide – that is my job and focus and photos are a fleeting hobby. Of course I always try in any situation to achieve the best outcome photographically. If I am working as a guide then the safety of my clients is front and center, but there are also bookings where I can follow expeditions just as the photographer. This is a treat, as I am not responsible for any expedition member, just for the photography ! 

The camera belonging to George Mallory has never been found. If you were to find it – what would be the first thing you’d do (if there were no vast pressures to own up and hand it in!). 
It would be interesting to finally know what the last photo was which was taken, and as a photographer it would of course be nice to have his camera in my collection! 

 

If you had to choose one favorite mountain photo from your collection – what would it be and why? Why is it so important to you? Is it the photos, or the memories which go with it?  As a mountain guide and photographer there is no one special photograph for me. There are too many memories of different trips to pick one out. The most emotional photos are always the ones which combine nature, culture and a human element. They evoke powerful emotions in me and often in the viewers of my photographs. 

Who is the most experienced mountaineer / climber you have had the privilege of working with / climbing with and why ? 
On skis it was Franz Llame, and in mountaineering it was Hans Kammerlander - the South Tyrolean whois one of the most successful extreme mountaineers of our time.I grew up with the stories and adventures of these men, and it was a great inspiration try to follow their footsteps. It was absolutely stunning to complete the movie Manasluwith Hans Kammerlander. Firstly it was an absolute pleasure for me to be the climbing partner of Hans, and it was a challenge to be the expedition leader and manager of the complete project at the same time as climbing myself.  With Franz Klammer I have built a deep friendship over the last 15 years, we worked a lot together with professional jobs but have also undertaken some fantastic private trips.

 I think everybody could imagine what it would mean for an indivudyal who had observed and followed a National Olympic ski hero as a little boy on TV, and then persevered to follow in his footsteps,  some years later mountaineering with him and skiing as friends. What an incredible honour. 

Do you have a partner / kids ? How do you ensure that you always focus on getting home to them? How has your attitude changed to mountaineering / guiding since having kids?  
I have 2 wonderful children with my ex-wife Anita - Sina who is 17 years and Silas who is 13. I also have an 8 month old daughter Tara with my girlfriend of two years, Sabine.  The children all know each other and I feel incredibly lucky to have two families. 

 At the beginning of my guiding life it was very important and helpful for me having a family to keep me focused on staying alive. I felt a huge sense of responsibility for my family and kids and it is much easier to make safe decisions if you feel that you want to come home to them. 

 If your profession is guiding then you are always responsible for other people and their lives. It is easier to make some more compromising decisions on private trips, but I take a much more calculated risk to reach my goals. 

 

What mountains / mountain ranges are in your sights for future expeditions – and why? 
In the future I would like to combine ocean and mountain expeditions -  for example sailing from Patagonia to the Sandwich Islands, crossing the mountain range on the island and then returning by yacht.  No people live there in the winter due to the extremely hostile conditions, and this would be one of the most extreme advetures to undertake.  There is no ‘back office support’ which you can ring if you get into trouble – it is just 3 months alone with nature. 

 

You can read more about Stephan and his incredible work (and beard) here: 

http://stephan-keck.at

http://www.manaslu-film.com/en/movie/

For me, the definition of adventure is undertaking a challenge which usually involves danger, unknown risks with most often with an unknown outcome. 
— Stephan Keck
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A refresher on the AGS...

A few of our new followers have been asking about the background of the Everest team, and how the Adaptive Grandslam came about…. 
So for those of you who are new supporters – thank you very much for the interest, and we hope this helps! 

 Two injured war veterans - Martin Hewitt and Terry Byrne - are attempting Mount Everest this May, as part of the Adaptive Grand Slam (AGS) initiative, which was created by entrepreneur Martin to allow people with life-changing injuries and disabilities to take on some of the world’s toughest extreme challenges. To date, over 25 AGS team members have undertaken expeditions.

 If successful on the world’s highest peak, former Parachute Regiment soldiers Martin and Terry will be close to becoming the first disabled adventurers to complete the Explorers Grand Slam, a global challenge to trek to the North and South Poles and reach the highest peaks on each of the seven continents. Both men sustained life-changing injuries during tours of Afghanistan but have since become world class athletes. Martin lost the use of this right arm when he was shot in the chest, and Terry lost his right leg below the knee what he was blown up by an IED.

Only 66 people on the planet have completed all nine stages of the Explorers Grand Slam. If successful on Everest, Martin will only have two more mountains left to climb and the South Pole to reach to become the first disabled person to complete the full challenge. Terry is two stages behind and needs to reach the North Pole and summit Mount McKinley to catch up with his colleague.  

Martin was shot in the chest while on patrol in Afghanistan in 2007, leaving his right arm paralysed. After rehab he joined the Armed Forces Para Snowsport Team and represented the UK as part of the GB Paralympic ski team. He reached the North Pole in 2011 with the Walking With The Wounded team and in 2012 attempted Everest - also with WWTW - but the team was forced to abandon their summit attempt due to avalanche risk. The team was climbing with Russell Brice and HimEx, which is why Martin chose to be a part of their team for this attempt in 2019. 

Terry lost his right leg and a little finger in Afghanistan in 2008. He turned to cycling and was selected for Great Britain’s Paralympic cycling team just four months after his amputation. In 2011 he won the World Championships.

 Martin, 38, from Wilmslow, explained: “Footwork is key for me, as is balance. I have a dead weight on my right side, pulling me down, so I am naturally off balance on ladder crossings. Having attempted Everest before helps, but it’s a doubled-edged sword. I know what to expect, but at the same what I am expecting isn’t going to be pleasant.”

Father-of-two Terry, 34, from Colchester, walks using a prosthetic limb. He said: “I’m fit and confident, but even then, we still need a bit of luck with the weather. Being a father means that psychologically its very much about coming back safely.  If we are successful it will be an amazing experience.”

 The Adaptive GrandSlam team is supported by the AGS Foundation, which is a charitable grant-making body that raises money to fund the expeditions. Anyone with a disability can apply to join the AGS programme, which runs varied expeditions around the world for different levels of disability. One team recently completed an unsupported rafting mission down the Moa river in Sierra Leone.  Paying clients also go on training trips with the team, ensuing that the initiative is sustainable. The team also relies on sponsorship.  

Olympian Homes is the lead sponsor for the Everest expedition and we are delighted to have the support of Shackleton London too.

The AGS is a way for people who have life-changing injuries or who have disabilities to engage in a genuine challenge which is going to push them and give them a focus. In time the aim is to employ disabled people too or help them back into work, as giving people a challenge gets them to think independently and develops their physical and mental health.

 For more information please see  http://www.adaptivegrandslam.com

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Home from Pumori

The boys are safely back to a stormy Everest Basecamp after 5 days of staggering views and tough climbing on Pumori. 

Martin commented that it was the most technical and exhausting climb he’d ever experienced. 

Terry wisely decided to call a halt at Camp 2 due to the potential damage which would be caused to his residual stump by an extended period of ascent to camp 3 which required the team to kick their footholds into snow and ice. This repeated motion was starting to impact the comfort of his prosthetic and the health of his stump. Had he continued, his Everest attempt could have been jeopardised. 

Deciding to ensure that his physical health and the condition of his leg remained his primary concern, Terry waited at Camp 2 to benefit from as much time spent at altitude as possible. He then descended with Martin, who successfully summited Pumori with HimEx guides Woody and Stephan. 

Except for a touch of the notorious ‘Khumbu cough’ - a persistent dry cough experienced by high altitude climbers as a result of the dryer than normal air - and the need for lots of well earned rest, the boys are in fine fettle. 

Plenty more jaw dropping imagery to come over the next few days. 

Thank you all for the support thus far, and to Olympian Homes for enabling this expedition for The Adaptive Grandslam team.

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Why Pumori ?

Why Pumori ? 

The Khumbu icefall, located on the Southern side of Everest, is one of the most notoriously dangerous and nerve-wracking sections of the Everest ascent. Although located just above Base Camp at 5,486m) on the Nepali side of the slopes of Everest, this icefall at the head of the Khumbu Glacier is a giant shifting ice field of plummeting crevasses and towering seracs - huge blocks of ice precariously placed and easily unbalanced with fluctuating temperatures and avalanches. 

It was the unseasonably warm temperatures in 2012 which resulted in an even more unstable icefall than usual, and as avalanches carved apartment block sized towers of ice across the path of climbers, Russell called a halt to any further summit bids and Martin returned to the UK. 

The ‘Everest Icefall doctors’ – a team of Sherpas responsible for finding and maintaining the route through the Khumbu Icefall each year, installing and constantly adjusting the precarious ladders which cross the cavernous crevasses - also repair the ladder crossings when seracs collapse onto the route and are based at Base Camp for the duration of the Everest season. This tireless work entails installing a series of ropes and ladders which are placed over crevasses, allowing climbers to move freely up and down, but also walk on them horizontally too. 

For Martin, with one paralysed arm which acts as a dead weight and unbalances him when crossing crevasses, and for Terry - with one prosthetic leg, leading to decreased stability, especially when wearing crampons - the icefall presents a significant and unnerving challenge but one which is integral to their summit approach and safe return to Base Camp. 

In previous years Russell’s Himex team have made the frequent and treacherous journeys through the icefall during their acclimatisation training for Everest – passing through numerous times as they ascend the mountain to gain in altitude, descending again to return to Base Camp, as many other climbing teams will be doing currently as they prepare for the Everest summit window. 

Due to Russell’s experience with mitigating as many risks as possible for his climbing clients as well as his trusty Sherpas, he has shifted his training to other suitable peaks nearby which present less continuous risk. Avoiding numerous trips up and down the icefall ensures that his clients are in less danger before even attempting the summit, and also crucially ensures that his Sherpa aren’t exposed to this perilous journey on numerous occasions. 

Whilst ensuring that his clients have adequate training in the icefall to ensure their proficiency before the climbing season gets underway (another reason why Russell and his Himex team are the first to Base Camp), Russell chooses instead to allow his clients to acclimatise fully on other surrounding mountains which present similar challenges to Everest. As usual – Russell’s clients are always kept as safe as possible whilst undertaking more than adequate training to put them in the best position for Everest summit success. This year – Pumori has presented itself as the perfect training and acclimatisation peak with favourable conditions. 

Pumori, standing at 7,161m, will be the biggest challenge faced yet since Martin and Terry arrived in the Himalayas ahead of their Everest summit attempt this Spring. Martin and Terry have already had 3 trips up to Camp 2 on Pumori to acclimatise – stashing kit there for their return trip which will hopefully allow them to summit, weather dependent. 

The last news we received was from Martin on Monday who let us know that they were approaching Camp 3. 

We hope to be able to share news of their climb as well as more photos in the next 48 hours or so…

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Ponderings from the UK

AGS Base Camp trekking member Sam Baynes has returned to the UK following her trip out to Nepal and Everest Base Camp with Martin and Terry.

We caught up with Sam to find out how her trip went, and just how Nepal compared to her expectations.

How did the trek / trip compare to what you expected? 
It was so different to what I expected. I was told by so many people that I didn’t don’t need to train as it’s a boring, dirty hike but they are so wrong!  If you don’t train for it you will suffer - it was so much harder than expected. In many parts it was very steep and the terrain was undulating and therefore unstable under foot. Regarding the altitude, I felt fine all the time apart from 1 day where I was nearly sent down with High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) -  a potentially life-threatening form of non-cardiogenic pulmonary edema (fluid accumulation in the lungs) that occurs at altitudes typically above 2,500 meters. 


How did the scenery compare to what you were expecting?
It was incredible!! I couldn’t stop taking pictures. No pictures or words can explain what those mountain vistas are like. 


Did your physical training prepare you in any way for the altitude? Did it take you by surprise? 
I knew that you can’t train for altitude from the research that I had done but I was just training to be as fit as I can be so my body can handle the effects and recover quickly. I wasn’t surprised because of my research. The best thing you can do is to learn and to be prepared. 

 

Now that you have been to BC, how do your thoughts of what Martin and Terry have ahead of them compare to your previous understanding / expectations? 
I am so sure that they are as well prepared as they can possibly be. They both know how they respond to altitude and have done the necessary training to be able to deal with the effects. Their mindset is so strong and I am sure that they can handle anything. 

 

What insight did you get into Russell, his team, and how he operates? 
I felt extremely lucky to be involved with his team. His operations are outstanding and he has everyone’s best interest at heart including the Sherpas. 

 

What were your lasting memories / impressions of the trip as a whole? 
How utterly amazing, spiritual and beautiful the Himalayas are! How crazy and what a miraculously functioning carnage Nepal is, especially Kathmandu. The people are all so friendly and would do anything for you and I hope to be doing many more mountain trips in the Himalayas in the future. 

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Because it's there...

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Because it's there...

Mount Everest, known in Nepali as Sagarmatha and Chomolungma in Tibetan, is Earth’s highest  mountain above sea level,  located in the Mahalangur Himal sub-range of the Himalayas. The international border between Nepal and China runs directly across its summit point. 

The current official elevation of 8,848 m (29,029 ft), recognized by China and Nepal, was established by a 1955 Indian survey and subsequently confirmed by a Chinese survey in 1975. In 2005, China remeasured the rock height of the mountain, with a result of 8844.43 m (29,017 ft). There followed an argument between China and Nepal as to whether the official height should be the rock height (8,844 m, China) or the snow height (8,848 m, Nepal). In 2010, an agreement was reached by both sides that the height of Everest is 8,848 m, and Nepal recognizes China's claim that the rock height of Everest is 8,844 m.  

In 1865, Everest was given its official English name by the Royal Geographical Society, upon a recommendation by Andrew Waugh, the British Surveyor General of India. As there appeared to be several different local names, Waugh chose to name the mountain after his predecessor in the post, Sir George Everest - a British surveyor and geographer who served as Surveyor General of India from 1830 to 1843. 

The first recorded efforts to reach Everest's summit were made by British mountaineers. As Nepal did not allow foreigners into the country at the time, the British made several attempts on the north ridge route from the Tibetan side. After the first reconnaissance expedition by the British in 1921 reached 7,000 m (22,970 ft) on the North Col, the 1922 expedition pushed the north ridge route up to 8,320 m (27,300 ft), marking the first time a human had climbed above 8,000 m (26,247 ft). Seven porters were killed in an avalanche on the descent from the North Col. 

When on a speaking tour of the United States and Canada in advance of their summit attempt, George Mallory was pressed by reporters to give an answer as to why he wanted to climb to the top of the highest peak on earth. Having been to the Himalaya in both 1921 and 1922, Mallory was anxious to stake a claim on the mountain both he and his climbing partner, Sandy Irvine, wanted to summit first.

The 1924 expedition resulted in one of the greatest mysteries on Everest to this day: George Mallory and Andrew Irvine made a final summit attempt on 8 June but never returned, sparking debate as to whether or not they were the first to reach the top. They had been spotted high on the mountain that day but disappeared in the clouds, never to be seen again, until Mallory's body was found in 1999 at 8,155 m (26,755 ft) on the north face.  Whether Hillary and Tenzing were the first to actually climb Everest's 29 035 ft. height, George Mallory and Andrew Irvine were the catalysts who drove the spirit of climbing throughout the Twentieth Century.

A full 29 years later, Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary made the first official ascent of Everest in May 1953, using the southeast ridge route rather than the North side of Everest as attempted by Mallory and Irvine.

Had Mallory and Irvine reached the top, 29 years earlier? We will probably never know the answer. Even the discovery of Mallory’s frozen remains in 1999 did not provide any clarity but instead, added more questions to the mystery. His watch and altimeter were broken in the removal of the artefacts from his body so there is no record of how high they climbed or at what time Mallory fell. He was wearing a light weight walking rope around his waist, which means he was most likely roped to Irvine. The rope was broken by the fall - probably split on a rock. Sandy Irvine’s body has never been found. if it was to be discovered, and his camera recovered - might it carry a photograph of the summit?

Mallory’s famous response to the question ‘why do you want to climb Everest’ has become synonymous with Everest history – ‘because it’s there’.  

Knowing how much training and preparation our AGS team has undertaken, giving them the best chance possible at a safe and successful summit – why not ?  

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Hillary and Norgay, Everest, 1953

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Mallory and Irvine and Base Camp, 1924

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We chat to former SAS solider and current IFMGA mountain guide Harry Taylor, who has guided the majority of the mountaineering trips for Martin and Terry

Comment

We chat to former SAS solider and current IFMGA mountain guide Harry Taylor, who has guided the majority of the mountaineering trips for Martin and Terry

Harry began his career in the Royal Marines as an Arctic survival instructor and later served with the British 22 SAS. Harry subsequently became an IFMGA Mountain Guide and in 1988 completed the first traverse of the Three Pinnacles on Mount Everest’s NE Ridge with Russell Brice. Russell Brice, known as ‘the Everest guru’, went on to establish HimEx, the most experienced commercial guiding outfit on Everest and the expedition and logistics lynchpin for Martin and Terry this year. 

In 1993 Harry became the second Briton to have summited Mount Everest without supplementary oxygen.  Harry was the Adaptive Grand Slam team guide on both Mount McKinley and Elbrus.

Harry offers us some fascinating and uncensored insight into the Everest climbing scene and how things are on the change…

What / when was your first trip to Everest and how many times have you climbed/ been involved with Everest expeditions since? 

I have been to Everest to attempt the summit 7 times but have been on the mountain 9 times in total, 2 of those with filming expeditions. 

My 7th time was in 2012 with the Walking With The Wounded team which included Martin - they were also climbing with Russell and HimEx. Russell made the decision to cancel the entire expedition and all summit bids due to safety issues - more specifically the notoriously dangerous route through the Khumbu ice fall which was even more unstable than usual, with heightened avalanche risk due to warmer than average temperatures. 

How has Everest and Base Camp changed since you first lead expeditions there with Russell? Is it still a place you want to be? 

It has got an awful lot busier, and not in a way that makes me want to be there now. The number of people at BC each year, and most concerningly the number of climbers who aren’t competent or well prepared, increases dramatically every season.

 There are now so many operators and service providers which are badly run and which cut corners in every possible way. It isn’t a place or an industry where short cuts can be taken, and the potential results are catastrophic. The local government struggles with significant corruption issues – they say they are trying to clean themselves up and that they are improving each year but the truth is that don’t care and nothing is changing. Everest is a cash cow for them and I don’t see it improving – they have no need to change as long as tourists continue to want to climb Everest and trek in the local region. The Nepali government will try to push operators out who have the highest safety standards – the western operators such as Russell - as those are the operators who are pointing fingers at the government issues and behaviour.

The western operators have spent the last 4 decades striving to improve safety standards for their climbing clients as well as for their staff – notably operating methods, the provision of rope fixing practices and access to the best kit, equipment, sanitation and food.  


”I fear that with the explosion of clients on Everest - many of whom want the cheapest ticket possible for a quick summit win and don’t undertake adequate research into the varying providers, or have sufficient experience to enable them to make decisions regarding the provision of logistics operators– that safety standards and the integrity of operators will actually decline”.

Many operators are working hard to collaborate with others to continually augment the safety and standards on the mountain, but some local operators are so cheap that this will ultimately put huge pressure on the western outfits to cut their costs just to remain in the market - it’s just not viable any more.  
People want the kudos of ‘bagging the summit’ and demand the safety net which goes with the higher priced and most experienced operators. They want the base camp wifi, the most experienced guides, the most varied food, hot showers and the highest standards in Sherpa assistance, but they don’t want to pay the price which goes with it. The local/ inexperienced outfits claim that they offer the same as the most advanced on the mountain – and clients fall for it - they don’t know where to look or how to ‘read the small print’.

“People will always want to climb Everest and that won’t change, but I fear a cataclysmic disaster if the western operators have to shut up shop due to being pushed out”.

Why does Russell and HimEx stand out from other Everest operators? 

I have known Russell since we climbed together in 1988. He was already operating in the Himalayas then - doing climbing trips on his own and marketing smaller trekking expeditions. Since then he has developed the whole model for Everest expeditions, as well as other mountains, and many have copied his business model. 

Russell is a perfectionist.  He is a mountain guru who changed the levels of expertise which were required to even operate in these areas, and he continues to challenge the client who feels they can do anything but without the desire to undertake adequate training to justify their place on these mountains. The 8000 metre peak playground is a serious one, with life and death consequences.  

Russell has always strived to bring safety to the highest possible level and it is what he is known for. Other operators are constantly following in his wake.  Russell collaborates with other operators, but everyone still looks to him for the final say - he is the outstanding guy in the Everest story. 

There are lots of other fantastic logistics providers – such as Eric Simonson and IMG (International Mountain Guides), Guy Cotter and The Adventure Consultants, but all of the well run operators collaborate and play nicely together - they realise that the sum of all parts is greater than the individual operator. Everyone has different styles but Russell is uncompromising and he stands out.  

“Russell is known as the ‘Everest guru’ and all of the other major operators look to him to make the final say given his unrivalled experience and unwavering integrity.  He isn’t even doing it for the money, he doesn’t make any!”

What will happen when Russell stops? Is there any plan for succession? 

I hope that the Adventure Consultants and IMG might stay in the business and try to fly the flag for sanity and safety. If they drop out, it will descend into the lowest order and we will see many cataclysmic disasters to come. 

What are your thoughts on the criticism of those with injury and disability taking part in extreme expeditions? 

I don’t agree with any of it. If someone wants to attempt something and they are well prepared, expertly trained, and seeking advice and help at every stage - whether they are sailing, mountaineering or cycling, I think they have a clear right to do that in a sensible way.  As long as they have managed their injury and are as well prepared as they can, that’s amazing. Many able bodied climbers are far less prepared!  

Mark Inglis was the first double amputee to summit Everest and he set the standard for others to follow suit, and has inspired many others. He was a hugely experienced climber who was stuck on Mt Cook (New Zealand) in bad weather and sustained amputations as a result of monstrous frost bite. He strove to continue to climb as part of his therapy and rehabilitation and he is an incredible example to many. 

What do you think has been the most valuable training / experience which Martin and Terry have undertaken with you and why? 

There is so much that we have done ! I climbed Denali (6190m) in Alaska with Martin and Terry but on different trips. I summited with Martin, but with Terry we experienced terrible weather which thwarted our summit bid. That mountain and the climbing experience was the most valuable for both of them in terms of preparation for the Everest environment. The Denali climb involves fixed roping - it’s tough, you’re working hard and with no Sherpa support. Rappelling work for people like Martin - who has the use of only one arm - is a massive challenge and this is the nearest thing to the Lhotse face on Everest for him. For Terry too – it was a monumental challenge and achievement – for Martin to reach the summit and for Terry to get as far as he did.

What is your best bit of advice for Martin and Terry as they prepare to climb the ‘big hill’ this year? 

There are so many ‘last tips’, but ultimately, the most important thing is that they look after each other and remember that there is a lot more to come home for than just a successful summit. 

Martin, Terry and the AGS team are hugely grateful to all of their supporters - most notably Olympian Homes which is providing the sponsorship to enable the summit team to climb with the best and safest operator on the mountain. We can’t thank you enough.

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Russell Brice, Founder of Himalayan Experience (HimEx) - the most experienced logistics operator on the mountain.

Russell Brice, Founder of Himalayan Experience (HimEx) - the most experienced logistics operator on the mountain.

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A taste of what's to come as the going gets tougher...

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A taste of what's to come as the going gets tougher...

Martin and Terry nipped up to Pumori Camp 1 (5,700m) today for some further altitude training given a brief weather window which presented itself. They are now stuck back at BC again with more bad weather, where they are likely to remain until Monday at least. 

Himex now often chooses Pumori for acclimatisation trips ahead of an Everest summit due to climbing teams being able to easily access the comfort of Everest BC, and for the spectacular views which the climb affords of Tibet, Nepal and Everest herself. The traditional Everest basecamp is a crowded place and sits on active ice which moves and melts around the tents during the course of the expedition. Himex sets up camp slightly further down the valley and closer to Pumori where there is more sun and the ice does not shift – making for a much more comfortable experience and a place to call home. 

When the AGS team is able to have another crack at getting higher on Pumori (we hope early next week) - the going will get tough. 

From Camp 1 to Camp 2 (6,200m) the climbing gets increasingly technical with steep and exposed ridges as well as some ice walls with fixed ropes.  
From Camp 2 the climb involves steep ice climbing until Camp 3 is reached at 6,850m. 

Prior to the massive earthquake in 2015 which ravaged the Everest Base Camp region, this route was made dangerous by massive overhanging seracs towering above the shoulder between Camps 2 and 3, resulting in this being an unsafe acclimatisation peak. Those seracs have now collapsed, resulting in a much safer route. 

From Camp 3 the team will attempt to reach the summit - again using the fixed ropes to navigate the many crevasses and ice walls en route - before summiting and returning to Camp 3 for the night. From there they descend to Everest Base Camp the following morning.

Photo credits - Himalayan Experience and Stephan Keck
Also thanks to Alanarnette.com for the photo map which shows the view from the summit of Pumori.

Descending Pumori.  Photo Stephan Keck.

Descending Pumori.
Photo Stephan Keck.

A yak in front of Pumori.  Photo credit Himex.

A yak in front of Pumori.
Photo credit Himex.

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The view from Pumori.

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We chat to former SAS solider and current IFMGA mountain guide Harry Taylor, who has guided the majority of the mountaineering trips for Martin and Terry

Comment

We chat to former SAS solider and current IFMGA mountain guide Harry Taylor, who has guided the majority of the mountaineering trips for Martin and Terry

Harry began his career in the Royal Marines as an Arctic survival instructor and later served with the British 22 SAS. Harry subsequently became an IFMGA Mountain Guide and in 1988 completed the first traverse of the Three Pinnacles on Mount Everest’s NE Ridge with Russell Brice. Russell Brice, known as ‘the Everest guru’, went on to establish HimEx, the most experienced commercial guiding outfit on Everest and the expedition and logistics lynchpin for Martin and Terry this year. 

In 1993 Harry became the second Briton to have summited Mount Everest without supplementary oxygen.  Harry was the Adaptive Grand Slam team guide on both Mount McKinley and Elbrus.

Harry offers us some fascinating and uncensored insight into the Everest climbing scene and how things are on the change…

What / when was your first trip to Everest and how many times have you climbed/ been involved with Everest expeditions since? 

I have been to Everest to attempt the summit 7 times but have been on the mountain 9 times in total, 2 of those with filming expeditions. 

My 7th time was in 2012 with the Walking With The Wounded team which included Martin - they were also climbing with Russell and HimEx. Russell made the decision to cancel the entire expedition and all summit bids due to safety issues - more specifically the notoriously dangerous route through the Khumbu ice fall which was even more unstable than usual, with heightened avalanche risk due to warmer than average temperatures. 

How has Everest and Base Camp changed since you first lead expeditions there with Russell? Is it still a place you want to be? 

It has got an awful lot busier, and not in a way that makes me want to be there now. The number of people at BC each year, and most concerningly the number of climbers who aren’t competent or well prepared, increases dramatically every season.

 There are now so many operators and service providers which are badly run and which cut corners in every possible way. It isn’t a place or an industry where short cuts can be taken, and the potential results are catastrophic. The local government struggles with significant corruption issues – they say they are trying to clean themselves up and that they are improving each year but the truth is that don’t care and nothing is changing. Everest is a cash cow for them and I don’t see it improving – they have no need to change as long as tourists continue to want to climb Everest and trek in the local region. The Nepali government will try to push operators out who have the highest safety standards – the western operators such as Russell - as those are the operators who are pointing fingers at the government issues and behaviour.

The western operators have spent the last 4 decades striving to improve safety standards for their climbing clients as well as for their staff – notably operating methods, the provision of rope fixing practices and access to the best kit, equipment, sanitation and food.  


”I fear that with the explosion of clients on Everest - many of whom want the cheapest ticket possible for a quick summit win and don’t undertake adequate research into the varying providers, or have sufficient experience to enable them to make decisions regarding the provision of logistics operators– that safety standards and the integrity of operators will actually decline”.

Many operators are working hard to collaborate with others to continually augment the safety and standards on the mountain, but some local operators are so cheap that this will ultimately put huge pressure on the western outfits to cut their costs just to remain in the market - it’s just not viable any more.  
People want the kudos of ‘bagging the summit’ and demand the safety net which goes with the higher priced and most experienced operators. They want the base camp wifi, the most experienced guides, the most varied food, hot showers and the highest standards in Sherpa assistance, but they don’t want to pay the price which goes with it. The local/ inexperienced outfits claim that they offer the same as the most advanced on the mountain – and clients fall for it - they don’t know where to look or how to ‘read the small print’.

“People will always want to climb Everest and that won’t change, but I fear a cataclysmic disaster if the western operators have to shut up shop due to being pushed out”.

Why does Russell and HimEx stand out from other Everest operators? 

I have known Russell since we climbed together in 1988. He was already operating in the Himalayas then - doing climbing trips on his own and marketing smaller trekking expeditions. Since then he has developed the whole model for Everest expeditions, as well as other mountains, and many have copied his business model. 

Russell is a perfectionist.  He is a mountain guru who changed the levels of expertise which were required to even operate in these areas, and he continues to challenge the client who feels they can do anything but without the desire to undertake adequate training to justify their place on these mountains. The 8000 metre peak playground is a serious one, with life and death consequences.  

Russell has always strived to bring safety to the highest possible level and it is what he is known for. Other operators are constantly following in his wake.  Russell collaborates with other operators, but everyone still looks to him for the final say - he is the outstanding guy in the Everest story. 

There are lots of other fantastic logistics providers – such as Eric Simonson and IMG (International Mountain Guides), Guy Cotter and The Adventure Consultants, but all of the well run operators collaborate and play nicely together - they realise that the sum of all parts is greater than the individual operator. Everyone has different styles but Russell is uncompromising and he stands out.  

“Russell is known as the ‘Everest guru’ and all of the other major operators look to him to make the final say given his unrivalled experience and unwavering integrity.  He isn’t even doing it for the money, he doesn’t make any!”

What will happen when Russell stops? Is there any plan for succession? 

I hope that the Adventure Consultants and IMG might stay in the business and try to fly the flag for sanity and safety. If they drop out, it will descend into the lowest order and we will see many cataclysmic disasters to come. 

What are your thoughts on the criticism of those with injury and disability taking part in extreme expeditions? 

I don’t agree with any of it. If someone wants to attempt something and they are well prepared, expertly trained, and seeking advice and help at every stage - whether they are sailing, mountaineering or cycling, I think they have a clear right to do that in a sensible way.  As long as they have managed their injury and are as well prepared as they can, that’s amazing. Many able bodied climbers are far less prepared!  

Mark Inglis was the first double amputee to summit Everest and he set the standard for others to follow suit, and has inspired many others. He was a hugely experienced climber who was stuck on Mt Cook (New Zealand) in bad weather and sustained amputations as a result of monstrous frost bite. He strove to continue to climb as part of his therapy and rehabilitation and he is an incredible example to many. 

What do you think has been the most valuable training / experience which Martin and Terry have undertaken with you and why? 

There is so much that we have done ! I climbed Denali (6190m) in Alaska with Martin and Terry but on different trips. I summited with Martin, but with Terry we experienced terrible weather which thwarted our summit bid. That mountain and the climbing experience was the most valuable for both of them in terms of preparation for the Everest environment. The Denali climb involves fixed roping - it’s tough, you’re working hard and with no Sherpa support. Rappelling work for people like Martin - who has the use of only one arm - is a massive challenge and this is the nearest thing to the Lhotse face on Everest for him. For Terry too – it was a monumental challenge and achievement – for Martin to reach the summit and for Terry to get as far as he did.

What is your best bit of advice for Martin and Terry as they prepare to climb the ‘big hill’ this year? 

There are so many ‘last tips’, but ultimately, the most important thing is that they look after each other and remember that there is a lot more to come home for than just a successful summit. 

Martin, Terry and the AGS team are hugely grateful to all of their supporters - most notably Olympian Homes which is providing the sponsorship to enable the summit team to climb with the best and safest operator on the mountain. We can’t thank you enough.

Olympian homes flag.JPG
Russell Brice, Founder of Himalayan Experience (HimEx) - the most experienced logistics operator on the mountain.

Russell Brice, Founder of Himalayan Experience (HimEx) - the most experienced logistics operator on the mountain.

Comment