Sometime in April 2010, I remember reaching Everest Base Camp and woozily struggling to comprehend that its peak was over 3km vertically higher than where I currently stood (there was also some lying around, as the photo indicates). It was effort enough to reach the 5,400m prayer-flag adorned camp, but at a towering 8,848m, the summit loomed improbably higher still. The world’s tallest mountain: Everest.
Last week, I decided to climb Everest in 2 weeks. Due to that thing that everyone is sick and tired of hearing about, very few mountaineers have summited the great mountain in 2020. How, then, can an amateur like myself become one of them?
OK, OK, so I’m sure that by now, you have suspected that there is a healthy dose of poetic license going on here. In an inversion of the well known quote, if Mohammed cannot go to the mountain (or anywhere else, for that matter), then the mountain must come to Mohammed. More precisely, to the staircase of the 3-floor apartment block in which I live. To climb Everest in 14 days, I calculated that each day I must average the equivalent of the world’s second tallest building, the 632m high Shanghai Tower. In my apartment block, that equates to scaling 210 flights of stairs every day – and walking back down again.
So, erm, yes. When I say that I’m “climbing” Everest, I’m doing so from the comfort of my own home, avoiding such trifles as spending weeks camping at sub-zero temperatures with limited oxygen availability and “death zone” altitude to contend with. However, most Everest summiteers begin their expeditions at 2,860m, from the small Himalayan airport town of Lukla – which in my mind is cheating a little bit. If I were to climb Everest, I was going to do the whole thing. By my calculations, I wouldn’t even reach Lukla until day 5 – so whilst admittedly avoiding some of the hardships the actual Everest mountaineers face, by starting at sea level and doing the full vertical height, I feel as though I’ve at least done it properly.
What on earth would possess someone to undertake hours of mindless tramping up and down a grotty staircase? Well, firstly I don’t have the eye-watering $45,000 USD required to climb the real thing, nor the inclination to face such personal peril. Secondly, after travelling back from the UK to Canada I was under a mandatory 14-day quarantine, so how else was I to while away the hours and maintain my leg function when I’m unable to leave the building? Plus, it seems that obsessive, caged animal behaviour is often not considered as such if couched as a “challenge.” A woman is stomping up and down the apartment stairs at all hours of the day and night? Maniac. A woman is pushing through physical and mental adversity to achieve a personal challenge? Altogether more acceptable.
And she’s off!
Day 1 was marked with an over-exuberance I came to regret. I was fairly out of condition anyway, but I merrily selected an upbeat playlist and cranked out around 650m of elevation, then did a 30-minute ski leg fitness workout in preparation for the upcoming season, throwing in an abs and arms workout later in the day for good measure. Needless to say, days 2 and 3 were agony, with the pain somewhat abating by day 4. By day 5, the physical challenge was won – but the mental kicked in.
Have you any idea how mindlessly boring it is having to get up every morning and walk up and down and up and down and up and down, ad nauseum? Well of course you don’t, because you’re a rational human and therefore you’ve never done this.
The boredom was the real killer – this wasn’t a very photogenic journey. In the absence of much visual stimulation, I turned to audiobooks to whittle away at the metres. There were some notable (although barely so) moments. In the early days when my body clock was still on GMT, I memorably startled a neighbour at 6am while I was putting in an early shift. On day 5, great excitement! A sanitisation station suddenly appeared for the first time in the hallway of the building; timely, a mere 8 months into the pandemic. Then there was the day I decided that I was woefully uncultured and needed to do something about it – so listened to the Berliner Philharmoniker play The Planets, in its full 52-minute glory. Well, it turns out that you can take the girl out of Essex…but embarrassingly, she still finds a UK Garage playlist more motivational than Gustav Holst’s entire solar system.
I had also hoped to have some nuggets of wisdom to share; the type that people always seem to have after returning from a dangerous expedition – interesting insights into the human condition, epiphanies, that sort of thing. But no such luck.
That said, in the current “work from home” culture that many of us find ourselves in, I will say that there is something incredibly energising about making the effort to stand up between video calls, cranking some dance music and doing something mindless and physical for 10 minutes to break up the workday. From exhaustive personal experience, I’d recommend “Not over yet” by Grace or “Groove is in the Heart” by Deee-Lite to really put a spring in your step(s).
Onwards and upwards!