Arriving back in Australia, we barely had time to scratch ourselves, before jumping on a flight to Cairns to speak at a cancer fundraiser for Couch. This organisation are close to our hearts, as they have made phenomenal improvements to the facilities, services and the lives of patients and families in the Far North going through the cancer journey.
Back home in Brisbane, I have already started missing the mountains, and can’t wait to be back in 4 months, with two great trips scheduled. The next phase of Bobby’s training schedule for his 2015 Everest climb is coming up in September, followed in October by a group we will lead on a climb of Mera Peak, the highest trekking peak in Nepal.
Having had time to reflect and analyse the trip, I see it having been a hugely positive, yet personally challenging experience, certainly unlike any other trip myself or the team had previously been involved with in the Himalayas. We all had to be completely aware at all times, knowing that a loss of concentration could have dire consequences. As Bobby acknowledged, it would not have been possible for him to reach such an altitude without the support of his team. We were called upon at all times, and there was no warning when Bobby’s legs would give out or he would simply lose his balance and fall. I feel proud that we were able to prevent any injury and managed to feather or catch him each and every time he headed towards the ground or got too close to a dangerous cliff face.
Personally, this was an enriching and fulfilling experience, taking on a unique yet rewarding task. There were contrasting views, and some said the expedition was too risky, but I knew it was possible. Being a part of helping Bobby reach the first milestone in his journey has been a proud honour, and hopefully one day we can help him realise his dream to stand on top of the world and see the blue sky, a promise that he made to himself at 13 when first diagnosed with MS.
Our plans, logistics and approach for the next trip, returning to Nepal in September to take on back to back climbs of Island Peak and Lobuche East, are well underway. We have the same team in place, so Bobby’s safety, expectations and familiarity with the crew are taken care of. Bobby feels comfortable with the team, and we all know his strengths and weaknesses. Without doubt, keeping this cohesion and experienced team in place will be a crucial component in giving him the best chance of success in the future. From this point on, we just need to increase the intensity and diversity in his training, focusing on a specific program which will improve his stamina in the mountains.
So what did we learn? With neither the team nor I having ever taken on a climb like this (particularly with a unique and special adventurist like Bobby) we had to be flexible, dynamic, patient and fluid, able to respond and adapt to whatever challenge was faced on a daily basis. With Bobby’s level of MS, I was constantly monitoring his pain, fatigue, mood and willingness to continue moving up in altitude. Constant pain was a factor, resulting in pride sometimes taking over, in an attempt to mask any discomfort. Despite this, I was able to detect his pain and lethargy through his mood and subsequent performance. There was no point risking his health and ascending to a new destination, particularly if a day of rest was bound to significantly improve his progress, and get us to where we needed to be.
Bobby is tough, and feels he needs to give 110% every single day, because of the promise he made to raise money and show people living with disability that anything is possible. Although admirable, he is now wiser and understands that rest is just as important as advancing, and in the end this was the deciding factor in Bobby actually reaching his high point of Kala Patthar.
I could not be happier with the result, and feel confident of future success with our planned expeditions. Knowing that we have a great team, and the support of Sumit, Lakpa and the Himalayan Ascent crew makes all the difference. Together, Sumit and I discuss our plans and Sumit will co-ordinate and arrange on-ground logistics from Nepal. This relationship means that I can focus on Bobby and what needs to be done here, and ensure that he is in the best possible shape for the next climb.
We look forward to the next stage, and have high expectations of further success in the mountains. There is no guarantee however, and this is a harsh and difficult environment for anyone, let alone someone living with a significant disability. The formula remains the same, focus on Bobby, his safety and having all the available support services, logistics, experienced guides and contingency plans in place to give him the best possible opportunity. We can steer him in the right direction, support him, prevent him from falling, keep his motivation high, but at the end of the day, the rest is up to Bobby.