As we wait for more news from Martin - who will be resting at C3 before descending the Lhotse face and returning through the Khumbu icefall to BC - we thought it was timely to post an interview which we did a few months back. We have been waiting for the perfect time to post!
Jake Meyer, who by the age of 21 became the youngest Briton to climb Everest and the youngest man in the world to complete the 7 Summits (Bass variant), chatted to the AGS team about Martin and Terry’s Everest summit attempt, and passed on a few wise words of wisdom about making sure that coming home remains front and centre.
We hope you will enjoy it and huge thanks to Jake for taking so much time to speak to us.
Jake started climbing at the age of 12 and at 14 set his sights on becoming the youngest person to climb the '7 Summits', the highest mountain on each continent. Starting by watching the Millennium dawn from the summit of Kilimanjaro when he was 15, Jake completed the challenge on the 4th June 2005, when aged 21 and 134 days he became the youngest Briton to climb Everest, and the youngest man in the world to complete the 7 Summits (Bass variant).
In 2009 Jake attempted K2 - reaching 7700m before turning back due to poor snow conditions. The account of this expedition was made into the award winning documentary - K2: Siren of the Himalayas.
In 2016 Jake returned to K2 for his 2ndattempt but on arrival at C3 (7300m), discovered that it had been wiped clean by an avalanche, destroying all of the kit and equipment which had been previously cached. Fortunately no one was hurt in the avalanche, but it did put a stop to any summits that season.
In 2018 Jake returned for his 3rdattempt. After acclimatising on Broad Peak (the 12th highest mountain in the world) Jake and his team mate Tomas, along with 3 Sherpas, reached the summit of K2 at 0800 on 21st July 2018. This was an incredible end to a 13 year dream and 10 years of trying, and proved that determination and perseverance can pay off in the end.
With that theme of perseverance in mind, we thought it apt to speak to Jake regarding the AGS Everest attempt.
You must still be on cloud 9 after your 3rd attempt and successful summit of K2 last summer. How does it feel now? Can you put into words how you felt at the time when you reached the summit, and what the lasting effects are of finally attaining that goal which you had worked towards for 13 years?
Reaching the summit of any mountain is an incredible feeling, but for something like Everest, or K2 specifically, that sense of achievement is amplified by the effort that you put into it. I have no doubt that the feeling that I had on the summit of K2, having tried it twice before, was significantly greater than if I had made it on my first attempt. It is a real case of ‘nothing worth achieving was ever easy’. It is an incredible myriad of emotions – elation, relief, exhaustion. And if that wasn’t enough, you have to remember that by getting to the top, that you’re still only halfway there – keeping your focus for the descent in key, when you’re exhausted and it’s easy to make silly mistakes and switch off.
Remember – Kennedy’s dream was that the US "should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth."
The important part here is the ‘return him safely’. That is as important on any mountain or adventure, as it was during the space race.
Martin and Terry are both wounded serviceman, having suffered life changing injuries in Afghanistan whilst serving with the Parachute Regiment. Martin has a wholly paralysed right arm, and Terry lost his right leg below the knee as well as sustaining lasting damage to his right hand, including the amputation of his little finger.
They have both summited Kilimanjaro and Elbrus and have had thwarted attempts on Aconcagua together due to unfavourable weather. Martin has summited Manaslu, the 8thhighest mountain in the world. Terry already has world records under his belt having broken the world record twice in a day while competing with the Great British paralympic cycling team in 2011- so they are both well used to hard work and training.
There is much conjecture in the adventure media regarding barriers to climbing the world’s highest peaks being reduced, and lives of often highly experienced climbers being risked by an influx of inadequately prepared clients who haven’t completed sufficiently advanced training.
Given what Martin and Terry have both achieved so diligently during their training, what would you say to possible nay-sayers who think that they don’t have a place on a mountain such as Everest?
Teddy Roosevelt put it best. “it is not the critic that counts… The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Martin and Terry are entering this arena, knowing the challenge that they face. They do not so lightly, nor without preparation or desire. A mountain does not discriminate, and whilst their challenge may be greater than many others attempting the same thing, it will come down to strength of mind, teamwork and luck with conditions and weather – something that no person is immune to.
Can you even imagine climbing without all of your functioning limbs - what would you do differently if you were preparing for Everest with their additional challenges?
You cannot fight the mountain – you will never win. You have to make the mountain work best for you. That means that they need to think carefully about their training and their equipment, ensuring that it works in all conditions. Personal admin in incredibly important up there – looking after yourself and your body to ensure that you are in the best possible health and position to overcome the challenges that the mountain will throw at you. Martin and Terry will have additional challenges to most other climbers – but this is an everyday necessity for them, so I have no doubt will be front and centre of their mind anyway.
You also have a military background – what added insight does this bring to the party?
The British Army is an intently values based organisation. From the very start of your phase one training, you focus on self-less commitment, courage, and discipline… to name just 3 of the 6 Army values. Yes, the mountain will be an intense physical endeavour – but most service men and women are used to this. It is your attitude, your teamwork and how you make decisions in a hostile environment that will be key to these guys – fortunately those are things that are inbuilt for military personnel, whereas most civilians spend years struggling to reach the same levels of competence.
Martin is heading back to Everest for his 2ndattempt after Russell cancelled all HimEx summit bids in 2012 due to avalanche risk. You are well accustomed to returning to mountains with the aim of settling unfinished business and have first hand experience of pairing hard but safe decisions with the will to ‘try again’ - this ultimately led to success in the end. With this in mind, what would your advice to Martin be?
Mountains don’t keep a tally, and neither should you. Summiting (and returning safely) is a privilege, not a right. I’ve seen some of the best climbers in the world who’ve made 5 attempts on K2, and not reached the summit, and I’ve seen some pretty mediocre climbers succeed on their first attempt. Ignore the statistics and the numbers. Ignore the name and the history of the mountain. One of the best lessons I was ever taught, was by a climbing partner who said “I don’t wake up thinking “oh my god, I’m on K2”, I treat every day like any other day on the hills.”
Focus on the challenges and dangers right in front of you – it doesn’t matter whether it’s Everest or Snowdon – it’s still just a day in the hills.
And how do you deal with the disappointment of not achieving what you set out to do?
I am always reminded of the Stockdale Paradox. “Retain faith that you will prevail, regardless of the difficulties, and at the same time, confront the brutal facts of your reality, whatever they may be”. This means everyday setting out with the same desire that you are still heading to the summit, but at any moment accepting that things can happen which may fundamentally change your focus (from the summit, to safe return). Once again, to paraphrase Kennedy – ‘we choose not to climb (mountains) because they are easy, but because they are hard’. In acceptance of this, we also accept that success (of summit) is never guaranteed – if it was, then it wouldn’t be nearly the challenge that we seek.
Can you highlight the single most challenging moment you have experienced during all of your 7 summits and K2 climbs, and what did you learn from that?
Of course, any big expedition carries with it the physical challenges of the climbing, exhaustion and effects of the altitude, but I always think that the greater challenge is that of the boredom on basecamp. One of the greatest attributes of any climber is that of patience. Being stuck in BC due to a storm for 5 days can lead to tattered nerves, fractured relationships and poor decision-making if you allow it. Always view any time where you cannot move as vital R&R, and as such, an important enabler to helping you climb the mountain.
When you completed the 7 summits at the age of 21, you were single. We know you now have a wonderful wife and 2 very young daughters. How does your wife cope with your expeditions which carry such a lot of risk – and how do you prepare for them together?
Good question – you’d probably need to ask her! I guess that the key thing is that she understands why I do what I do, and that it’s part of who I am. Ensuring that your family can accept what you do is key to creating the support network around you. We have to recognise that mountaineering (as opposed perhaps to an Operational Tour) is entirely voluntary. We do not have to do it, and therefore we need to ensure that our own house is in order before we embark on these challenges. Ultimately, and regardless of doing these things for charity, or other altruistic reasons, they are selfish desires. We do them because we want to do them. There is no other reason. As such, ensuring that our family accept this has to be front and centre of our decision to committing.
How has your attitude to risk changed over the course of your expeditions given that you now have your own family? How do you decide when to draw the line?
As I’ve said many times before, having a family hasn’t diminished my desire to want to undertake challenges (which may carry inherent risk), however I now have three times the reason to come home. Has it changed my appetite for risk – no. The line between boldness and recklessness is a very narrow one. It is an apex of psychological arousal which requires experience and teamwork to make the right decisions. If you’re not bold, then you won’t get to the top. If you’re too reckless, then you may not come home. Skate that thin line carefully!
There is also so much speculation about climbers assuming such high levels of risk when they have families at home. What would you say to those who tell you that you shouldn’t be doing what you do because it is irresponsible?
Everyone has their own opinion. Life is full of choices. I would prefer that my children were proud to say that their father was an inspiration and lived life to the max, rather than that he was boring. It’s a sweeping statement I know, and many may not agree, and I also appreciate that it’s not black and white, but there are many degrees in between. That’s also the reason why these days I probably only do one trip a year, and don’t spend every day free solo-ing El Cap!
So much focus is placed on the physical preparation undertaken for extreme expeditions – what do you do to prepare mentally and where does your mind go during a high altitude trip with significant risk?
The only way to prepare mentally is to have the experience of doing similar things. I don’t think you can train your mind to prepare for the unknown, but I do think that you can learn from your experiences and keep the focus for the trip. Ultimately you may not be able to choose the conditions that you climb in, but you can choose you attitude – every minute, every hour, every day.
Having summited the 7 highest peaks on the 7 continents of the world, and having summited K2 - the notorious ‘savage mountain’ and one of the most dangerous mountains in the world… what are you planning next?
I’ve spent enough time over the past decade focusing on one hill, for my next challenge I want to widen my focus to include a few different hills… The next adventure is to try and beat the record for the fastest ascent of the highest mountain in all 50 countries in Europe. My aim for this is 50 days.
How do you use your experiences to make the world a better place?
I am fortunate enough to be able to undertake some pretty incredible adventures, and whilst it sounds cheesy, I love telling others about these challenges and adventures, as I recognise that some people will find these stories inspirational. My key message is that ultimately, I’m not a particularly good climber (technically), and that I’m an incredibly ‘ordinary’ person who happens to be doing some ‘extraordinary’ things. Succeeding in life is not about climbing Everest, but it’s about finding your own personal challenges and passions and doing whatever it takes to bring those to fruition.
If Martin and Terry could carry a quote with them on their expedition - what would it be and why?
Everything in life is voluntary, but winners turn up. Jake Meyer
Having climbed the 7 summits and K2 to boot - what on earth can be next?!
Well ! There is always another plan! I am really excited. In 2019 I am going to aim to ‘climb’ the highest peak in the 50 European countries, in 50 days! It will be an epic challenge - both in terms of the physical feat but also in terms of the logistical requirements. The high points are as unique as they are varied; from the subdued Squares of the Vatican City to the lofty heights of the Caucasus, the perfectly conical volcano of Tenerife to the plains of Belarus !
It will involve mountains totalling over 110,000m, over 40,000m of vertical climbing, over 650km of hiking, and over 12,000km’s of driving.
For more information please visit https://www.jakemeyer.co.uk