(Tina Sjogren/edit May 5) He is the real life Bear Grylls: Former British Army officer Adrian Hayes (really) skied to both the Earth's poles, (really) crossed the Empty Quarter by camel and foot, and (really) climbed K2. Adrian didn't fly over Everest though, but then again, neither did Bear.
Still, chances are bigger that you own a Bear Grylls outdoor tool than have heard of Adrian Hayes, so we caught up with him on his way to Himalaya for a take on actual survival in the wild.
A master adapter to changing environments Adrian says of montaineering, "of course it’s not what it used to be, but then very little in the world is." To detractors of the 8000ers: "Come and try them."
The interview was scheduled two weeks ago, and then everything changed. Originally on Makalu with an international group, Adrian decided last week to do a "Mother Theresa" - simply hike out and lend a helping hand.
Big Aid busy in Kathmandu and Langtang, stuck in customs or passing some villages by, Adrian plans to trek to the remote and high altitude settlements of Central/Eastern Nepal that are without any road access - much like other climbers did 2005 in Pakistan..
Traveling light – with one backpack and one porter with a holdall, a tent and sleeping bag, one change of clothes, and a lot of expedition food - Adrian will be using his special skills and gear (efficient satellite communication systems and a comprehensive medical kit) to help where relief agencies can't.
Adrian will report on the state of events as he sees them. Meanwhile, here goes the original interview, unedited, offering a closer look at the Nepalese-speaking former Gurkha officer.
From that viewpoint Adrian offers an interesting strategy for the Sherpa attacks that took place on Everest two years back. As a Dubai-resident and big aircraft executive, Adrian transfers corporate lessons to the HAP situation in Pakistan, and has outspoken opinions on how to deal with heads of terrorism. Here goes.
Explorersweb: You are off to Makalu and Lhotse, are you going for them all?
Adrian: Last question first – I haven’t yet! Unlike most people who work their way up, I’m working my way down and my goal is only to summit the top five. It’s a huge time commitment to attempt the 14 and, for me, climbing is only one part of my adventure life – and, in turn, adventure only one part of the rest of my life!
However… I’m a goal-driven guy who thrives on challenges, but one step at a time – we’ll (hopefully) succeed on the top five first and then take a rain check on whether to carry on down the list or stop there and go back to other things I want to do.
What I am clear on, however, is that I’ll either stop at five, attempt ten or the whole 14. There won’t be any in-betweens!
Explorersweb: How did you get started? What were the triggers?
Adrian: As a child I was always fascinated by the heroics of the iconic mountaineers and polar explorers of the last century and after climbing my first mountain (Mt Teide in Tenerife) aged 10 was hooked. I started climbing proper aged 17 and have continued on and off with all the other stuff ever since.
Explorersweb: You did K2 last year. Now you are headed for Makalu and Lhotse. 2016 Kang. How do you feel about your upcoming climb? Any fears?
Adrian: There’s always a danger that, after K2, one treats the lower 12 with a less than serious mind-set and I’ve been conscious to the extreme of trying not to be complacent in any way. The recent tragedy on Annapurna was a wake-up call to anyone who think that any of the 8000’ers can whenever be conquered.
The feelings before each major project have many similarities and yet there are also differences, which I always try and tap into to explore more.
Explorersweb: What was K2 like?
Adrian: I guess K2 2014 has to take the plaudits. Where in 2013 everything that could go wrong went wrong – with tragic results – in 2014 everything that could go right went right. Unprecedented great weather, great snow conditions, a trusted team mate (Al Hancock), a strong wider team, and... luck.
Aside from K2, the Ice Window route up Mt Kenya many years ago also stands out – a classic then mixed rock and ice route, sadly now virtually rock only due to retreated glaciers. The route was steep, technical and with a unique detour through a cave to enable access onto the gate of mists glacier. Myself and my climbing buddy, Matt Dower, spent Christmas Day night on top of Nelion after summiting - one of the coldest night of my life!
Explorersweb: Alan Arnette told us that Himalaya had profound impact on his life; Tunc Findik said he'll never stop climbing: Has mountaineering changed you?
Adrian: I guess all my adventures have made me look at the world in a different light, and that’s a positive thing. When you push yourself beyond anything anyone can imagine on what is a fine line between life and death, the day to day problems most of us worry, fear or fight over – from couples to nations – lose all their meaning and relevance.
I’d love to take some IS, Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders above 8000 m and, whilst they experience the power of nature and suffer the effects of altitude, cold and fatigue, tell them one or two home truths about the universe above and the world below which, in their warped ideology, they claim they are fighting for.
Explorersweb: How do you feel mountaineering has changed during your time?
Adrian: Of course it’s changed hugely – weather forecasting, equipment, support, resources and numbers. The opportunities are now much greater than they were in the past which is one reason why more and more people are attempting these things.
Many may bemoan the so called ‘commercialisation’ of some or many mountains but if you dissect the word it is a derivative of commerce. And commerce is a result of supply and demand. Suppliers, i.e. logistics providers, are simply providing a service due to the hugely increasing demand. Why that demand has increased is something I will write about another time.
Explorersweb: What would you tell people who say that 8000ers are easy and Everest is just a pile of garbage and dead bodies?
Adrian: Come and try them – there’s nothing easy about any 8000 m peak and the days you are climbing are one of the most intense physical activities anyone will experience. As for Everest, well as the biggest it will always attract attention, criticism and controversy. It goes with the territory. Of course it’s not what it used to be, but then very little in the world is. And whilst, in many cases it is sad, that is a reality of the world we live in.
Explorersweb: What about those stating that going the normal route, with Sherpas and using oxygen is not “real” climbing?
Adrian: Full and total respect to those who do attempt new routes, without Os, solo or without Sherpas.
For me, I’ve never had or have any claims or pretences on being the greatest of mountaineers or alpinists – there’s hundreds or thousands better than me; I’m just an all- rounder who does everything, be it mountains, polar, deserts, jungle, ironman , adventure racing and a ton more. And, as such, my brain cells – and indeed my life – are more important than any peak.
Explorersweb: Would you consider a new route, without “the fixings”, but less chance of summit on an 8000er in the future?
Adrian: Yes of course, if it is of a short duration. If it’s a long trip the problem is of time – I lead an intensely busy life both in and out of the adventure world and simply fitting something beyond a couple of weeks it would mean having to sacrifice a major project.
Explorersweb: How do you finance your lifestyle?
Adrian: Generally I rely on sponsorships, but for Makalu and Lhotse few people know them, there’s none of the normal corporate benefits such as PR and branding in them, so I’m doing these for (and paying them) myself.
Explorersweb: Why not just the Seven Summits, wouldn’t that be cheaper and easier) most ppl think they are the highest anyway :) What is it the 8000ers give you that other peaks can't?
Adrian: With respect to anyone who completes them I’m personally not a great fan of the Seven Summits.
The disagreement between Kosciusko and Carstens, the resultant ‘eight summits’, the convenient exclusion of the technical Mt Cook for Australasia, the ever increasing and seemingly desperate attempts for records - including the unedifying ‘youngest’ – and the overdose of publicity that they tend to get does lead to a bit of ‘seven summits fatigue’.
There are numerous amazing mountains that are virtually untouched in each of their neighbourhoods and thus unless there is a good reason to try the SS, I’d personally prefer to be on one of these. But I fully understand why many people want to do the seven, so wish everyone trying them the very best.
The 8000’ers, on the other hand, are the somewhat unsung heroes – all magnificent mountains that, as mentioned above, require a huge time, effort and luck - even with oxygen and on normal routes. It’s a massive undertaking with high risks and the fact that less than 40 climbers have ever completed them testimony to the difficulty. Whether I ever attempt them all or not, my utmost respect goes to those that have – or indeed are on the way – to achieving the 14.
Explorersweb: What is the situation with the Sherpas in Nepal?
Adrian: I think it’s a bit unwise to attempt to be a spokesman on such matters, even if I speak the language and know Nepal extremely well courtesy of my time as a Gurkha officer and climbing there. I do think, however, that respect is something that everyone needs to remember up on the big mountains, particularly Everest.
In extreme conditions., when people are tired and cold, any incident, natural or man-made, can be a flashpoint. Thus ‘flashpoint minimisation’ should be on everyone’s agreements.
Explorersweb: What about in Pakistan? HAPs there say Sherpa steal their business, on the other hand the locals know they (most of them) are not yet skilled enough. Should there be a tax on Sherpa profits in Pakistan going towards local mountaineering schools?
Adrian: This is more of a problem but ‘jobs for locals’ will always be an issue in many parts of the world where foreigners are employed, not just in Pakistan.
The vocal minority in Pakistan pushing for HAPs only in the Karakorum should, however, heed the lessons of some of the biggest companies in the Gulf. That is that whilst localisation should be encouraged, if you do it too fast businesses fall apart.
In the case of the Karakorum, there are many excellent, skilled and strong HAP’s but simply not the experience in numbers to fill the work Sherpas do. The letter from the Pakistan authorities has now come out but faced with the prospect of most climbers cancelling I expect some pragmatism to rule the day – likely a 50-50 Sherpa/HAP arrangement, which I would have no major problem with. If a tax has to be paid for local climbing schools then so be it.
Explorersweb: Traditionally most mountaineers retired in their 50s but now a number of +40-50 years old climbers head for all the biggest tops in Himalaya. The oldest Everest climbers are in their 80s. What do you think has prompted the expanded age range?
Adrian: No difference to why vastly greater numbers in these age groups are running marathons, Ironman triathlons and other extreme pursuits, Some may call it a mid-life crisis; others a re-reflection on priorities in life, together with more time and money. The fact that endurance abilities only declines slowly with age is also a big factor.
Explorersweb: When do you think is a proper age of retirement?
Adrian: You don’t stop when you get old; you get old when you stop’. Says it all.
Explorersweb: I work towards going to Mars. Would you go to Space if you could?
Adrian: I’ve always been interested in astronomy and if the chance came up I’d probably jump at it, though my children are a restraining factor to my own selfish dreams. And until we find a way of travelling without ageing (as in the film Interstellar) I’ll leave the longer trips to you!
An Arabic and Nepalese speaking Airbus Sales Director, Adrian Hayes reached the Earth’s ‘three poles’ in the then shortest period of time in history, between 25 April 2006 and 28 December 2007. Along with Canadian’s Devon McDiarmid and Derek Crowe, in 2009 he achieved the longest unassisted snow-kiting journey in the Arctic to date, the 67 day 3120 km vertical crossing of the Greenland ice cap, the documentary for which was broadcast on Nat Geo channel.
In 2011 he completed a crossing of the Empty Quarter by camel and foot, along with Bedouin team mates, in the trail of fellow Brit Wilfred Thesiger. His book ‘Footsteps of Thesiger’ was published in 2013 and the documentary of the same name broadcast on Discovery Channel the same year.
In 2013 he attempted K2 along with Canadian team mate Al Hancock, but the expedition was aborted when an avalanche wiped out Camp 3, killing New Zealand father and son Marty and Denali Schmidt.
On July 26, 2014, 15:20 local time Adrian Hayes stood on the top of K2, at 8611 m the second highest mountain in the world and also called the Mountaineers’ Mountain.
(Story edited May 5, 2015: second picture exchanged).
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