Our co-founder Tim Macartney-Snape has been kind enough to share with us an account of his Sea to Summit expedition. At this time 25 years ago, Tim was enroute to the summit of Mt. Everest on foot from the Bay of Bengal! Enjoy part one of his narrative on this fabled expedition and be sure to Follow the Adventure on our Facebook page for opportunities to win some great gear packages.
After I climbed a new route on Everest’s north face in 1984 cinematographer Michael Dillon suggested to me that to climb Everest properly, one should start at sea level. However returning to Everest was the last thing on my mind. Instead I turned my attention to the Karakoram, and with Greg Child and Tom Hargis made the coveted 2nd ascent of Gasherbrum IV by a new route. The following year I returned to the Karakoram with Greg, Steve Swenson Doug and Mike Scott and Phil Erschler to attempt of a new route on K2 but continual bad weather thwarted every attempt. Greg, Steve and Phil planned on returning three years later, in 1990, but by then the idea of an ascent from sea level of Everest had overtaken my imagination.
The main goal of any mountaineering expedition is obviously to get to the summit of one’s chosen peak, but in the game of climbing, the means by which you do that is enormously important to the value of the whole experience. Clearly being dropped just below the summit by helicopter will be less memorable than forging a way up from the foothills, glaciers and lower ramparts of the mountain, which are often the steepest.
To me a most exciting aspect of Himalayan climbing is the approach through the foothills along ancient trails connecting little hamlets, many of them still showing medieval aspects of the life there, then up into the high valleys and eventually to the base of the mountain. Increasingly improved infrastructure has reduced the approach and for some mountains this is so much so that there is hardly any walk in at all. Climbing a mountain from sea level on the nearest ocean does have a logical and romantic appeal about it – after all the height of mountains is measured from that global benchmark and starting an approach there flies in the face of the trend of the ever decreasing shortening of the approach.
Initially I engaged idly in the concept of starting a climb of Everest from the Bay of Bengal, the nearest sea, and began to imagine walking through the teeming, tropical lowlands of West Bengal, all the colour, clamour and chaos of the Indian countryside going past at walking pace, then finally up into the lower foothills of Nepal, on up onto the high and rugged rhododendron clad ridges with visions of the shimmering white giants of the eastern Himalaya – Kanchenjunga, Jannu, Makalu, Lhotse, Everest, Gyachung Kang, Cho Oyu, Gaurishankar growing larger day by day until all sight of them was blocked by a narrow, deep, densely forested gorge that would ultimately lead to the snout of the glacier that drained the south side of Everest. And I dreamed on, of then climbing light and nimble, as before unencumbered by oxygen tanks but this time unhindered by companions that might be tardy, away from the crowds, fixed lines and detritus of the normal route, up the western ridge, a route I had always fancied, to summit and back down the normal route to make the first proper traverse of the mountain.
The more I though about it, the more it appealed because in addition I had begun to wonder what it would be like being on a big mountain alone. So I made the decision to go ahead with climbing Everest from sea level – the north ridge of K2 had been done but this promised in many but not all ways, to be a unique experience, the ultimate way to climb a mountain! Approaching from the south would have its interests but I knew I wouldn’t be alone at base camp and perhaps even on the west ridge, despite going solo.
Anyone wishing to climb in the Himalaya has to have a permit and back then permits for Everest were more difficult to procure but I managed to do a deal and form a partnership with an unlikely ally – the Royal Nepalese Army. In return for helping me with a permit and them taking my climbing gear and food to Base Camp, I would help get them sponsored for some of their gear.
To pay for the whole exercise I got sponsorship on the basis of making a documentary about the trip and it was natural that Michael Dillon does the filming up to basecamp where I would take over on my own. Because of the filming, a small support crew came with me from the sea to Base Camp and most of the way we camped. Memorable moments of that journey was the 3km swim across the Ganges, encountering a closed border post and having to run 60 to 65 km a day for five days in order to keep to a schedule.
Stay tuned for part two…