Looking back on a wonderful year: Remembering to see and appreciate the whole picture

I started 2018 with a dream. I wanted to stand on the summit of Mera Peak, in the stunning Himalayas in Nepal, 6,500m in the sky, looking out upon our beautiful world. I wanted to undertake this challenge to raise money for the important charity, Cancer Research. To help me prepare for this challenge, I planned to complete two marathons (the inspirational London marathon and the world record race in Berlin) and my first ultra marathon. In late October, I achieved this dream and felt incredibly privileged to look out, through my tears, at the wonder that is our world. I have tried to share my experiences and lessons learnt in The long trek to the summit of Mera Peak: lessons from an inspirational three weeks.

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My wonderful sister, who loves inspirational messages as much as I do, gave me a beautiful picture for Christmas which summed up how I felt about the year and about life in general. 

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When we look at our lives, or the lives of others, all that we often see is the end result and what we or they have achieved. In a world where technology allows us to share what is going on in our lives much more freely than used to be the case, we don’t always appreciate what is going on below the surface of people’s lives. We can focus on the picture on the summit or at the finishing line or news of the latest promotion or the happy family photo. These are true images and memories of a special event but they don’t tell the full story. They aren’t the whole picture. They don’t show the hard work, the persistence, the doubts or the failures that have led to that moment. They also don’t show the support networks and coping mechanisms that we all employ to allow us to be at our best. 

As I’ve reflected on this year, that has been particularly true. Yes, I feel very blessed to have had some wonderful moments crossing finishing lines and standing on the top of an awe-inspiring mountain. But what has led to those moments? What has my whole picture looked like?

My whole picture involved a lot of doubts and hard work which I overcame because I have been lucky enough to be surrounded by support and love. 

I have had a lot of moments during the year when I have doubted myself. I have doubted whether my relentless pursuit of my dream was fair to those around me. I know that the time and energy I have committed to following my dreams is at the expense of spending more time with my friends and family. The guilt I feel about this doesn’t diminish when I achieve what I have set out to and is something that always stays with me.

I have also doubted whether I could achieve all that I set out to do. I still feel like the young girl who moaned when her parents took her walking and got her lowest school grade in PE! The challenges that I set myself this year would have seemed ludicrous to that young girl (and on some days seemed so to the grown up version!) and she is still part of me, causing me to often doubt myself. 

The year has also involved a lot of hard work. The training that I have put in this year – five days a week and over 1,400 miles of running and walking – has felt relentless at times. Arriving home late at night and going to run in a cold garage on a treadmill for an hour before going to bed is, perhaps understandably, not something that I enjoy doing for its own sake!

The hard training was, however, my way of coping with the doubt I have over my abilities. I wanted to arrive in Nepal knowing that I had done everything possible, in the time I had available to me, to be physically and mentally prepared. There are many things that I couldn’t control in Nepal, in particular the weather conditions or how my body would respond to altitude, but I could control my fitness levels. 

Knowing that I was doing the training and trek to raise money for a charity close to my heart helped me immensely with the long runs, the extreme weather conditions (including the hottest London marathon on record, following a 20 mile training run in the snow!) and the hours and mileage I put in across the year. Whilst it was hard, I have thoroughly enjoyed (almost!) all of the training. 

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Another hard element has been the need to balance appreciating the event I am privileged to be part of with keeping my focus on the end goal. Everything I did in training in 2018 was geared toward getting me to the summit of Mera Peak. This meant that I had to not push myself excessively in any of the events leading up to the trek. This has been hard when those events have been very challenging in their own right! Particularly so in the wonderful Berlin marathon where I knew I needed to come back injury free, given that I was leaving for Nepal three weeks later.

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I’ve tried hard to enjoy and embrace each step of this journey whilst making sure that I had enough physical and emotional energy to get me to the summit and, importantly, back down safely. 

I am very lucky to be surrounded by support and love, which helps me cope with the doubts and helps me to remember to appreciate and enjoy each moment of the journey and not just the finish line or summit. 

I experience this support and love most strongly when I feel part of a team. This team can be people undertaking a challenge together, as I felt on the trek itself with the wonderful group of people I was privileged to share the amazing three weeks with. This team can also, however, be a virtual team. I have rarely run alongside anyone in an event, as most of my running friends are much quicker than I am, but by sharing the challenges and delights of the training, celebrating together and supporting each other through the tough moments make us into a team and make it so much easier for me. This has been particularly true this year, but in a much wider sense. 

The team that I have felt part of this year has been made up of so many kind and generous people. I have been overwhelmed by the support and love shown to me by so many throughout the training, the events and the trek itself – people being interested in what I am doing and asking about it, sharing their stories with me and sending me inspiring messages whilst I was in such a remote part of our stunning world. I truly can’t put in to words how much I have appreciated this but it certainly helped me to reach the summit and I know I couldn’t have achieved all that I did without it. I have felt incredibly blessed.

So, I finish 2018 with wonderful memories of overcoming the hard work and doubts to achieve what I had dreamt of. I have only been able to do this with the support and love of my family and friends, for which I am immensely grateful. Whilst I have achieved things that I am very proud of, I have, more importantly, had some wonderful moments with my husband, family and friends, simply enjoying special time together.  

As I look ahead to 2019, I have been keen to decide on my next challenge as I find that all parts of my life are happiest when I have a challenge to focus on, alongside my wonderful family and a career that I love. Many people tell me I should relax for a while (!) but I know that preparing for my next challenge helps me to be at my best.

I hope that 2019 will take me closer to one of my other aims – to receive the Abbotts world marathon majors ‘six star medal’, for those runners who have run each of the six major marathons of the world. Together with my wonderful husband and friends, I have been lucky enough to run four of the six so far and have been privileged to be given a charity place in to the Boston marathon for April. If I am able to complete this iconic marathon, I will have only one more of the six majors to enjoy. I’m hoping that will be in Tokyo in their Olympic year of 2020!

I have also entered my second ultra marathon in the summer – a daunting 100km run along the North Downs Way. 

And I am planning my next high altitude trek, likely to be in 2020. To help me prepare, I have two weekends booked in the winter in the stunning scenery of Scotland to have some basic ice climbing lessons. This will help me to know if I can go to higher altitudes in Nepal, which will require some more technical skills than I have needed so far. Whilst I would love to achieve this, my fears of drops and exposure may not allow me to. I’ll see what the winter holds!

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In the meantime, I look back on 2018 and appreciate the whole of the picture – the moments of achievement and the doubts, immense hard work, support and love that lies underneath and without which the achievement wouldn’t have been possible. 

As we all move into 2019, I will try and remember that everyone has a whole picture and I am only seeing part of it. The challenges people are dealing with are not always visible to others and we need to be kind, understanding  and supportive to help every one of us to be the best that we can be.

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The long trek to the summit of Mera Peak: lessons from an inspirational three weeks

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“Life is not measured by the breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away”

In late October, I was incredibly privileged to stand on the 6,476m summit of Mera Peak, a beautiful mountain in the stunning and special Himalayas in Nepal. I spent three weeks trekking upwards to reach four miles into the sky, coping with intense cold, challenging terrain, incredibly basic living conditions, the effects of altitude and loneliness. It was the toughest thing I have ever done, much harder than the marathons and ultra marathon I have been lucky enough to complete and much harder than the previous treks I have enjoyed.

Standing on the summit, looking out over our beautiful world, I cried with a mixture of happiness and relief. Happiness at having achieved what I had dreamed of and what I had been working towards for over a year. Relief at having made it to the summit safely and not letting anyone down who had been so generous in their support. The trek as a whole, and the summit climb in particular, was brutal, exhausting, rewarding and inspiring. Despite all of the challenges, I absolutely loved every minute of the three weeks and wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

Since returning, many people have been kind enough to ask me about the experience. It has been very hard to describe beyond saying it was an amazing three weeks. I have tried to explain about the beauty of the mountains, the kindness and generosity of the local people who share their world with us, the inspiring challenge of the trek itself and the wonderful group of people I was privileged to be with but it still doesn’t capture all that I took away from the experience. I have therefore tried to write down the lessons that I learnt and thought I would share them with you. 

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As background, I know I am very lucky to lead the life that I do and I therefore want to be able to help those who aren’t as fortunate as I am. My way of doing that is to take on a new challenge each year and fundraise whilst I am doing so. This started 12 years ago with a 10km run, which at that point was a huge challenge for me. To feel able to ask my generous family, friends and colleagues for their support each year, I want to challenge myself more every time. I also hope that I become a better person by pushing myself to the limits of, and sometimes well beyond, my comfort zone.

This year, I set myself the challenge of summiting Mera Peak, and overcoming my fears of heights, drops and exposure in doing so. To help me prepare, I have run two marathons and an ultra marathon in 2018 – an amazing but challenging London marathon, the the inspirational Race to the King ultra marathon and the world record race (obviously not by me!) at the Berlin marathon. It’s been a fantastic year, albeit exhausting, and one that I’m very proud of.

So what have I learnt from the trek? And what lessons am I trying to take into my day to day life?

“If you can dream it, you can achieve it”

When I was a small girl, I was fascinated by Everest and the mountains but didn’t ever believe that I would be able to visit the Himalayas. For a girl happily growing up on a council estate in a town in the UK, the Himalayas seemed an exotic and magical place but not one that I would ever be able to visit. Even a year ago, whilst I had been lucky enough to trek previously to Everest Base Camp, I wasn’t convinced I would be able to reach this summit. But I had a dream and so I pushed myself every day through the training and through the mental and physical challenges on the trek itself. It has taught me that when I have a purpose, when I am passionate about something, I can achieve a lot more than I think I am capable of.

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“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”

We all have dreams. We all have things we want to achieve. We are also all busy and all have pressures and challenges every day. It is therefore easy, understandable and sometimes necessary, to put things off. Fundraising for the wonderful charity, Cancer Research, meant that a lot of people shared their personal experiences of this awful disease, which was often humbling. The number of people who have themselves suffered, or have close friends and family who have, continues to shock and upset me. These stories were a constant reminder that life is short. I truly believe, therefore, that we should grasp, and make the most of, every opportunity that we have.

“And I think to myself, what a wonderful world”

It is hard to describe how beautiful the Himalayas are or how stunning the view from the summit of Mera Peak was, even through my tears! The pictures really don’t do it justice. The sheer scale of the peaks, the vividness of the blue sky against the white snow and the fact that this beauty continues for as far as you can see is simply breathtaking. For those few moments on the summit, it felt as though time had stood still. We are truly lucky to live in such an awe-inspiring place. At a time in our history where we seem to be becoming increasingly divided, this beautiful world is surely something that is worth sharing and fighting for, together.

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“We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude”

Living the life that I am lucky enough to do, there are many things I take for granted. Privacy, flushing toilets, hot water, choice of food, electricity and heat are all things that quickly became a luxury for all of us on the trek. It was amazing what the local people achieved, and how incredibly generous they were, with the little they have. It was a lesson for me to recognise how lucky I am and not to take things for granted. It was also a reminder of how important it is that I help those who are less fortunate than I am, whether that be through supporting charities or simply by showing kindness to others every day.

“I’ve always loved the idea of not being what people expect me to be”

It is always important to me to feel ‘like me’, to be authentic and true to myself. On the one hand, being in the mountains in a remote part of our beautiful world and in very basic conditions, you find out the most about yourself and are ‘you’ at your most raw. On the other hand, you can feel very different to your normal self. I am very proud to be female and to be feminine in a working world that is still, unfortunately, too male dominated. On the trek, where I was cold and dirty much of the time, being feminine, or feeling feminine, was challenging! I therefore chose to wear things that helped me feel that way. My pink outfits and my giant bobble hat may not have been what people expected but I realised that they helped me feel like ‘me’ and that was an incredibly important part of my coping mechanism.

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“There are no strangers here, only friends you haven’t yet met”

I am a private and shy person. I like to spend most of my time with people who know me well, whether that be with my amazing family and friends or with my wonderful work colleagues. I normally take a long time to get to know people because of my private nature. I find it hard to share personal things. I find it hard to share my emotions and how I am feeling in a particular moment. Joining a group where I didn’t know anyone and was the only female on her own was therefore a difficult aspect of the trek. I forced myself to talk more and open up more and found that others did the same. This helped me build relationships more quickly than I would normally do and helped provide me with support at times when I desperately needed it. It taught me that being more open and trusting can help me build stronger relationships.

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“Good friends are like stars. You can’t always see them but you know they are there”

It wasn’t just the wonderful people that I was with in Nepal who provided me with support. I was truly humbled by the number of messages I received each day on the trek in response to my daily blog. The miracle that is modern technology meant that despite rarely having heat or electricity, I could get Wi-fi at times! Whenever I did, I was inundated with emails, texts, videos and social media messages. Some made me smile, some made me laugh and some made me cry (in a good way!). They lifted me up when I needed it and made me feel that I had a huge team of people willing me on (or at some points, pushing me up the mountain). At the low points, it was knowing that fact that kept me going. I can’t put into words how grateful I was. It showed me, once again, the power of friendship, of personal support and of love. It reminded me how important it is to look after each other.

“A comfort zone is a beautiful place but nothing ever grows there”

Throughout the trek, I was often operating outside my comfort zone. One example was in relation to organisation. In my family and friendship groups, I tend to be the one who often organises the various get togethers. I have a busy life and so I like to be organised, which allows me to spend time with those that I care for and to achieve all that I want to. On the trek, I had to hand this task over to our wonderful guides, who had a much more relaxed attitude to organisation than I do! We rarely knew the route we were taking, the time we were leaving or the time we were due to arrive. I had to trust that they knew what they were doing and would help me to achieve my dream of getting to the summit. I had to embrace a different way of being. Whilst I found it challenging at times, I also found it refreshing. It was a lesson for me to embrace new ways of behaving and to try even harder to understand things from a different perspective.

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“There is no passion to be found in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living”

In conclusion, I look back on the three weeks in Nepal as very special ones. I missed my wonderful family and friends immensely and the challenges of the terrain, altitude, living conditions and cold were as tough as anything I had experienced previously. Despite this, I felt so lucky to be there and to be able to achieve my dream. Standing on the summit is a moment I will never forget. Importantly, the lessons I have learnt, or have been reminded of, are ones that I hope will stay with me in my day to day life, helping me to be a better person and helping me to inspire and support others.

I love the quote above from Nelson Mandela. I believe that every person is capable of so much. Our aspirations will each be different, as will the challenges we face in achieving them. Some days it may be a challenge to simply get up and make it through the day. Other days we will feel like we can climb mountains, literally or metaphorically. We should embrace each day and make it the best one we can. We should never forget what we aspire to and we should never let our dreams be just dreams.

On that note, onto the next adventure!

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Signing off after an inspirational three weeks in the Himalayas – thank you all so much

26 October 2018

Hello everyone from Kathmandu where I am preparing to fly home.

As for the whole of this trip, the ending was unpredictable! We had been due to fly out of Lukla airport on Thursday but the weather has been a factor throughout our time here and so it remained. Lukla airport (also wonderfully known as Tensing Hillary airport) is best described as chaotic! It is a tiny airport on the mountain where the runway needs to be very steep to avoid planes driving straight into the mountain at the end! Due to this runway and it’s position perched on the edge of the Himalayas, it is the most dangerous airport in the world and flights are often grounded due to poor weather in either Lukla or Kathmandu. We arrived at the airport after some delay and went through the process of getting our luggage weighed – whilst there are strict weight limits due to the tiny planes, some money always seems to help pass the test of the scales, as does wearing lots of your clothing and boots as they don’t weigh the people! 

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We sat in the waiting area, together with trekkers from all nationalities – it is a fantastic multicultural experience with everyone looking tired, dirty, cold but usually blessed from an amazing time in the Himalayas. That is certainly how I felt. 

There are no announcements or departure boards and so you have to be very patient – something that western travellers tend to find challenging! For the first time in three weeks it started raining and the flights were cancelled for the day. This meant that we had to go back to our Tea House for another night, delaying our hot showers still further! There was no guarantee of getting a flight out on Friday and so we agreed to go via helicopter instead, which can fly in worse conditions. We were told that we would fly at 7am so we were all up early but on the morning there needed to be some rescue flights from Everest Base Camp, delaying our helicopter. This was another reminder of how fragile life is here – without the helicopter rescue, people would be stranded in difficulties.

The helicopter pad was an even stranger place than the airport. The ‘waiting area’ included parts of broken or crashed helicopters, washing drying and herbs growing! 

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We finally got on a flight at midday and had the most amazing views into Kathmandu. To see the mountains in all their glory, together with the terraced farming of the foothills and the multi coloured buildings of a sprawling Kathmandu was a very special end to a very special three weeks.

The long awaited hot shower was incredible – my hat finally came off! We had a wonderful traditional celebratory dinner last night with the whole team, including the man who had been airlifted out of the mountains and was recovering. It was lovely to see him getting better.

And so, I am heading home. It has been an inspirational three weeks for me. I feel incredibly privileged to have had the opportunity to be in Nepal and the Himalayas again. It is a beautiful and generous country, despite having very little in resources. The people are friendly and welcoming and there is something magical about the mountains which is hard to describe.

I know I am very lucky to have been able to fulfil my dream of getting to the summit of Mera Peak. Many of the teams that we have seen during the course of our trek had a much lower success rate than ours. 

I need time to fully reflect on what I have learnt and will share this in due course. What I do know is that we all have dreams, we all have things we want to achieve and we sometimes find reasons to not follow or to delay following these dreams. These reasons can be understandable but life is very short and I think we should grasp every opportunity that we can.

I also know that I couldn’t have followed my dream without a huge amount of support. I genuinely felt that I had a whole team with me helping me through the tough times. My wonderful and supportive husband encourages me to follow my own path and dreams, even if he would prefer for me to be safely at home. My inspirational family and friends relentlessly support me in all of my challenges. My generous and kind colleagues have been part of this journey with me. And the wonderful team I have been part of here have supported me on tough days and kept me smiling when I needed a boost. 

I feel very blessed – thank you all so very much. I can’t put into words properly how much all of your support has meant to me. 

I have raised over £7,500 for Cancer Research. Thank you so much to everyone who has sponsored me.

As many of you know, I love quotes and so to finish:

‘If you can dream it, you can achieve it’ 

‘If it is both terrifying and amazing, you should definitely pursue it’ 

‘There is no passion to be found in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living’ Nelson Mandela

And on that note, onto the next adventure! 

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Life experiences I didn’t expect to have in the Himalayas!

24 October 2018

Hello everyone from Lukla, at 2,800m in the Himalayas and home to the most dangerous airport in the world! 

I have made it back to Lukla and completed the trek. All that remains is surviving the flight out tomorrow, although we are not yet sure when that will be and whether it will be to Kathmandu or another regional airport, due to weather conditions! 

The day started in quite a surreal fashion. If you had asked me to write a list of life experiences I didn’t expect to have, sleeping on the floor of a hut with eight men and one other woman, trying to keep warm in below freezing temperatures would have made that list! But that is what we did last night as the Tea House rooms were all full. We survived the night and actually were warmer than we probably would have been in the rooms! It was another great bonding experience for our team, with everyone supporting each other. 

I then woke up and couldn’t find my glasses. I told our guide who responded very matter of factly to say that they were on our cook’s head…! I have no idea why but at least I didn’t need to navigate down the steep slopes without them!

We set off early as we had a long day ahead of us. We hiked up for two hours to reach 4,500m which was tough but the scenery was absolutely stunning and very special to see on our last trekking day. We then needed to trek down to 2,800m which meant steep rock scrambles, wobbly bridges across rivers, scree slopes and a few slips from me and others in the group. It was good fun and I tried to take everything in before heading to Kathmandu.

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When we arrived in Lukla, I, and others, were quite emotional. We had done it! There were times over the last three weeks that this had seemed so far away. It is exciting to be thinking about coming home to be with my amazing family, friends and colleagues. 

Unfortunately, the hot shower that had been promised didn’t materialise. Both taps were freezing cold and I could hear screams from the other rooms where people had tried the shower! I decided to wait until tomorrow in Kathmandu. My hat therefore remains firmly in place! 

I feel delighted to have finished the trek, as it means I am coming home, but also sad. I have once again loved this amazing country and the experience it has given me. I will miss it when I leave. 

Once again, thank you to everyone for the kind messages. It has made an immense difference to know people are thinking of me and wishing me well. I feel incredibly grateful for this and it has made being away so much easier. Thank you all so much 

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Going up to come down – a beautiful day in the Himalayas

23 October 2018

Hello everyone from Tuli Kharka, at 4,200m in the Himalayas. 

We are on our way back to Lukla and are going the scenic route so that we see more of this wonderful country. This means we have two long days – today and tomorrow – which involve significant climbs.

Our day started with one of our group being airlifted to Kathmandu as he still hasn’t recovered from altitude sickness. It was worrying to see him go but we have heard that he is recovering now having been seen by a doctor. 

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Our trek today was hard. We climbed from 3,600m to 4,200m but that was only half the story. We were told we would be walking along the river for the morning and then climbing in the afternoon. What this actually meant was a hard morning up and down – very steep downhill which is challenging for me and then incredibly steep uphill, on rocky slopes steeper than black runs! I felt I was being given a lesson in rock climbing and scrambling! By lunchtime, we were still at 3,600 but it felt that we had walked up several mountains! 

After lunch, it was even harder! We walked  uphill for three hours until we reached a pass with prayer flags and moved onto ‘Nepalese flat’. This actually means very steep up and downhill! We were exhausted but the scenery was beautiful and I felt very lucky to be here.

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I thought I would share what my room in the Tea Houses has been like – it looks a bit like a prison cell! A very cold prison cell! I am still wearing four layers, including two thermals, in a heavy duty sleeping bag. My hat also hasn’t left my head for over a week – due to the cold but also to disguise the dreadful state of my hair! I can’t wait for the first hot shower in 15 days which has been promised tomorrow! The simple things make such a difference here. 

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Tonight we arrived at the Tea House and there are a lot of people here and so we are sleeping in the dining room. It will be warm is the best I can say about it! There is a policy here not to turn anyone away given the harsh conditions and I was very grateful for the warmth.

I am getting very excited about returning to my family and friends as I miss everyone hugely. I will, however, be sad to leave this beautiful country. Our last trekking day is tomorrow which involves us going further uphill! I’ll keep you all updated.

Thanks so much for all your kind messages following my summiting – I have been overwhelmed and felt incredibly blessed by all of the support. 

Navigating the descent from Mera Peak – a few slips and crampon lessons!

22 October 2018

Hello everyone from Kote, where we have returned to a Tea House that we stayed in a few days ago.

Over the last two days we have descended from 6,500m to 3,600m and so breathing is much easier.

After the amazing euphoria of summiting yesterday, we needed to trek down to Khare, passing both High Camp and the Mera La base camp. It was a very long day as we set off for our summit attempt at 3am and arrived in Khare at 5pm. 

I was very conscious that I struggle with the downhill sections and some of the way up had been incredibly steep. I also was conscious that many accidents happen on the way down from summits. I asked to be put next to our guide so that he could help me if needed. The first part was incredibly steep snow steps down from the summit and our guide gave me an impromptu lesson in crampon usage! I came down safely and enjoyed the trek to High Camp. When we arrived, we met two of our team who had stayed at High Camp, both of whom were still suffering and had been on oxygen. The third man had gone straight down to Khare as he was very ill. 

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We collapsed into our tents and could barely move, the exertion of the day (so far) hitting us all! We tried to eat, packed our bags and an hour later headed off further down the mountain. I had been nervous about the final stretch of the glacier as it had been so steep and thankfully our guides took us a slightly different route back. This meant we got on to the steep part much lower down and again our guide told me to simply walk down and not worry about the gradient and ice! I was nervous but eventually got down. By which point, I was exhausted and we still had the rocky patch to come! I fell over once but didn’t cause myself any damage.

When we arrived back at Khare, we met the final member of our team who was still quite unwell. We were worried about him and knew he needed to come down the mountain further quickly which was the plan for today.

I slept very well, unsurprisingly! Today, we have retraced our steps to Kote and all was going very well, despite the steep descents, until it got dark and we needed to complete the last hour in the dark with head torches! This added extra complexity and challenge for me! I slipped a lot but didn’t fall over so was very pleased! 

It has been an amazing two days and I feel incredibly grateful and privileged to have been able to achieve this dream. I feel very lucky to be supported by so many generous people whose support has allowed me to do this. Thank you all so much.

Tomorrow, oddly, we head back uphill so that we go another route back to Lukla and see more of this wonderful country. I’ll keep you updated on our progress tomorrow. 

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Brutal, rewarding, inspiring and exhausting – feeling privileged to see our wonderful world from 6,500m

21 October 2018

Hello everyone from Khare, at 5,000m. Today I was privileged to stand on top of Mera Peak, at just under 6,500m – four miles into the air. The views were spectacular, including five of the tallest ten mountains in the world. The day was brutal, rewarding, inspiring and exhausting. It was the toughest thing I have ever done and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

We went to bed last night and it was hard to sleep. Breathing is difficult at 5,800m and so sleep was very challenging. We were woken up at 2am and given a full breakfast which I couldn’t eat at all – similar to all of the team. Two of our team were very unwell from altitude sickness and so only six of us set off for the day at 3am. 

When we reached the edge of High Camp,  our wonderful guides helped us on with our crampons – my brain wasn’t capable of very much at that point! One of our team literally collapsed in front of us and needed oxygen immediately. It was very scary and he left us to be taken back down the mountain, so five of us set off for the summit. It again reminded me that I needed to keep myself safe. I had promised so many people that I would come back safely and I was determined to do that. 

The trek was extremely tough. It was bitterly cold and windy, but in comparison with some of the weather of the last few days, we were very lucky. It was well below freezing and at points I had to lean on my poles to stop myself falling over but my unattractive padded trousers, my down jacket and my ‘Everest oven gloves’ all did their job and I coped with the cold. 

It was also relentlessly uphill. This might sound an odd thing to say when I’m climbing a mountain but the steepness was extremely hard at that altitude. As we got higher and higher, we could barely manage 20 steps before needing to stop to take in some air and so progress was slow, as expected. Our guide told us to only focus on each step and not worry about the summit – easy to say but difficult to do!

The sunrise was stunning and that lifted spirits. They were dampened again when we had reached the top of a slope that we seemed to have been climbing for a long time and sat to have a break. We made the mistake of asking our guide how much further. When he said 2 and a half hours, it was very hard to be positive. But we all continued slowly upwards. Finally we could see the summit but the final section is incredibly steep, which we had been warned about. As we stood contemplating it, one of the other team said exactly what I was feeling ‘I’m not sure my body will get me up that’ and I replied ‘I agree but we’re not giving up now’! So on we went. Halfway up the steepest part, where there were narrow and steep snow steps to navigate, I knew I was going to make it and burst into tears. The summit was stunning and we all tried to take photos but it was so cold and windy that our guide said we couldn’t stay there for more than ten mins. 

It was an incredible privilege to be there, to see the wonder that is our world. At points today, I swore with frustration, I cried with pain and I questioned my sanity. But it was worth every painful and emotional step to raise money for such an important charity. 

I didn’t even have the energy to count steps today and so the things that kept me going were all the well wishes and messages from you all. I genuinely felt I had a whole team behind me and I couldn’t have done this without you. Thank you so much

The return trip was equally challenging and I’ll feedback on that tomorrow. I hope you’ve all also had a wonderful weekend. 

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Living at 5,800m in stunning scenery in the Himalayas

20 October 2018

Hello everyone from High Camp for Mera Peak which is a tiny rocky outpost perched 700 vertical metres below Mera Peak at 5,800m. The scenery is stunning but the place itself is bleak. The wind is whipping through and it is so cold that we have to stay in our tents in all of our layers to keep warm. 

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Last night was a new experience for me – camping at such a high altitude. The food that our team managed to cook on tiny stoves was incredible – probably the best we have had all trek. We went to bed about 7.30pm as it was bitterly cold and we needed to be in our sleeping bags. I didn’t sleep well due to problems breathing at that altitude and the rocks under our thin mattresses! We woke to stunning scenery and the sun shining, although still well below freezing temperatures. 

For those of you who have done similar treks, you will understand that toilet facilities leave a lot to be desired and it has been one of my worries throughout the trek! Last night was the worst of them all so far – when I headed to the toilet tent, it was being blown so much that it was at a 45 degrees angle! 

We were tested last night for our oxygen levels and that led to one of our party being taken down this morning and so we are now a group of eight. It was concerning to see someone being given oxygen and sad that they couldn’t achieve their aim. 

We had a good breakfast and set off onto the glacier. We walked up 500 vertical metres and it was harder than any marathon I have done. There were parts that were incredibly steep and each step literally felt like a mile. The wind was horrendous in parts and I had to make sure I steadied myself to avoid being blown over! It is hard to describe the effort needed to do anything here but simply taking a ruck sack off requires you to sit down and rest for five minutes afterwards. It is hard to eat as to close your mouth makes the breathing afterwards even more laboured. 

We all made it to High Camp and are now wrapped up in our tents. I have on four lower layers, including two thermal layers and the delightful padded trousers that I bought. I also have on six upper layers, including three thermal layers, a fleece and a down jacket. All in my heavy duty sleeping bag! I am very worried about how cold it will be tomorrow at 3am but I hope I have enough to keep me warm enough until the sun comes up at 6am when it should warm a little bit. 

I am very apprehensive but excited too. I’m delighted to have made it this far and tomorrow will be amazing if I can make it to the summit. I’ll be thinking of all your well wishes as I count my steps and avoid focusing on the pain, cold and wind. 

A tough day navigating boulders, glaciers and altitude in the Himalayas

19 October 2018

Hello everyone from Mera La, at 5,300m in the Himalayas. We are camping here on a tiny rocky patch just below the glacier that we are climbing to the summit of Mera Peak. 

It has been an incredibly tough day for me. It started with nerves and anticipation. I struggled to eat much breakfast and was keen to get started. Putting our harnesses and mountaineering boots on felt that we were setting off on a proper expedition. We were all in high spirits and the whole team were feeling well.

The first three hours were spent clambering over boulders with incredibly steep and long drops to our side. It is fair to say I was quite nervous. It was terrain that even a couple of years ago would have terrified me, which shows how much we can conquer our fears if we push ourselves. I managed all of it with a few hand holds or suggestions for where to put my feet to avoid slipping down the steep slope! It took a lot of physical and mental energy though.

When we arrived at the glacier itself, I was delighted – a chance to get off the rocks! My delight was very much mistaken! We put our crampons on and got our ice axes out and I felt like a proper mountaineer! We were roped together in two groups, as there are crevasses that we could fall into and being roped together means we can pull the other way if someone falls into one. It works well apparently but I hope never to find out! 

We set off onto the glacier and the first 500m was incredibly steep – much steeper than a skiing black run – and I was very scared. It was a struggle to get my feet into positions where I felt safe and I swore for the first (but not the last time) of the day! To our right was a man being brought down by his team who was clearly very unwell and that added to my nerves. It reminded me that this was dangerous. Once I’d got to the top of that section, I was physically and emotionally exhausted and we needed to walk uphill for another 90 minutes. It was incredibly hard and I needed to stop a few times to compose myself. The people I was roped up with were so supportive and kept me going. I was so grateful for that. 

We finally saw our camp site after 6 hours of trekking and were treated to home made soup and hot lemon. Both tasted divine!

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I was advised not to sleep in the tent on my own as it will be so cold and windy tonight. There are an odd number of people on our trek and I am the only female on her own. It isn’t culturally acceptable here for one of our wonderful guides to share a tent with me and so one of the married couples very kindly volunteered to split up so that I could share a tent with the woman. This left a ‘spare’ man who has kindly offered to sleep in the dining tent with all the guides. The kindness was incredibly overwhelming at the end of a tough and emotional day for me. 

The scenery is stunning and I hope tomorrow to enjoy it more by being more prepared for the cold and the terrain. Thanks for all your support. Before I left this morning, I received a huge number of messages wishing me well and I focused on those during the tough patches today. 

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Our final acclimation day before our summit attempt – thanks so much for your support and see you on the other side

18 October 2018

Hello everyone from Khare, on our acclimatisation day. 

We started today with our kit check. Our guides checked our mountaineering boots, crampons, ice axes, harnesses and clothes. I haven’t had to do this before on any previous trek and it brought it home that this was a serious undertaking. 

Due to the cold and wind at the moment (current forecasts range from 40 – 60mph winds and -30 and -32 temperatures), I was advised to buy some padded warm trousers. This will be on top of two thermal bottom layers and my thick trekking trousers! I didn’t argue and, as many of you know, I love shopping but these are the least attractive item of clothing I think I have ever bought! If they keep me warm, though, I’ll be very grateful. 

We then trekked up to 5,200m in our mountaineering boots which was incredibly hard work. It turns out that walking around my garden in them doesn’t really replicate wearing them at over 5,000m in the Himalayas up steep mountains! We walked on a very steep and narrow path that I would find hard at sea level but I managed it with only a couple of hands to help at points. The views from the top were more than worth the pain in getting there. One of our team gave me an impromptu lesson in coming down steep hills – walking like John Wayne apparently! It worked a treat and I came down safely.

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We then visited the German Bakery! It was amazing again! We then spent time packing and getting organised for tomorrow.

Tomorrow morning we head up onto the glacier to Mera La, the lower base camp at 5,400m where we will camp for the night. On Saturday, we will trek up to Mera Peak High Camp at 5,900m where we will camp for a few hours before setting out for our summit attempt at about 3am on Sunday morning. We have seen the summit clearly now and it looks a long way away still – just under a vertical mile above us! 

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I am excited as I have planned this for over a year. I am, however, incredibly nervous. The cold, the altitude and the terrain will need me to be at my best, both mentally and physically. I can only control certain elements – I can’t control the weather or how my body reacts to that altitude. I am trying to take each stage at a time and not worry about the future stages. 

Knowing I am doing this for charity makes a huge difference. More than anything though, your support has, once again been so wonderful. Everyday I wake up to messages – videos, voice messages, what’s apps, emails, tweets and LinkedIn messages. I can’t tell you how much it means when I am sat at over 5,000m in a beautiful but incredibly remote part of our stunning world. I’ll be thinking of you all as I put one foot in front of the other and attempt to reach the summit. I’ll update you on the other side! Thanks so much everyone.