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Scott Mackenzie recaps reaching Everest summit
On the 16th May 2017, Scott Mackenzie reached the Mount Everest summit. Remarkably, he was back in the Truphone London office just six days later.
After fighting off the swarm of Truphone colleagues who had an abundance of questions for him, we managed to sit down with Scott and discuss his incredible six-week journey up the world's highest mountain.
This is the second time you've attempted to climb Mount Everest. What was the original inspiration, and the motivation for heading up a second time?
The original reason for getting into the whole climbing thing was as a kid I read so many books about mountaineering. Probably 100 books about climbing – especially the pre-war years. The history was amazing, with countries sending teams and there was a lot of national pride, trying to get their team to the top first. And for the Brits it was Everest. So for me, it was the history. That's why I wanted to go.
And in 2014 I had a chance. However there was an accident on the mountain that year and the whole mountain was shut down, so no one got to climb and we all came home. So there was a bit of unfinished business and I had this chance to return this year. And Truphone was really accommodating because they knew I wanted to go and that it was a big ambition of mine.
How much training did you do in preparation for the climb?
Only a month. I was at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and got a message from my friend, who's a guide, and he said 'I need some help, I've got too many clients, would you be interested in a free trip?' After some deliberation, I spoke to my wife and decided to go for it. So I put my beer down at Mobile World Congress and started the one month's training.
Usually, you'd take at least six months for training, if not a year. I was already reasonably fit, but I was fortunate that I'd put a bit of training in earlier on in the year.
How long did the entire trip take?
Six weeks and one day from the point of flying out to returning to the UK. Could have been around four and a half weeks if we'd been fortunate with the weather.
I've heard about how many calories people burn during the climb. What's the physical endurance like and how do you manage your food and drink intake?
Physical endurance is reasonably hard because you're at altitude, so your body is burning calories all the time just to stay warm. Just looking at my watch now, it claims that on the summit day I burned 9,830 calories. Your body is just burning a lot looking after itself. But the days aren't huge. It's often like five hours and then a night. But the higher you go, the harder those five hours become.
Food wise, we ate pretty well. There's good food at base camp and on the mountain, you're often eating boiled in the bag meals, like army rations. Sweets, gummy bears, anything to get the calories basically. And anything that you feel like eating because at altitude you don't feel like eating necessarily what you have at base camp. At base camp, you might really fancy chocolate, but once you're up in the mountain it's the last thing you wanna eat. The guy I went with Tim, is really into food. And up at 8,000 metres, we had a Wensleydale cheese with some crackers!
The key thing about climbing at altitude isn't the food, its water. You have to hydrate and drink as much as you can. Before the summit day climb, I drank about four litres of water and that's what helps you survive up that high. You also carry a couple of litres inside your down suit, so it doesn't freeze.
So what do you have to wear when that high up? How many layers?
Surprisingly, not as much as you'd think. I was just wearing a thermal base layer and my down suit. The down suit keeps you warm, so you really don't need much underneath. You think you need additional layers, but once you're in a down suit and up there, you're okay. And on the summit day, we had okay weather. It was about -30. It sounds cold but if you went to Scandinavia at winter, it would probably be between -25 and -30, so if you've got a big jacket on, you're fine.
When the wind picks up however, that's when it can get really dangerous. If you get a 30 or 40-kilometre wind, in -30, game over. It's just too windy. You must be really careful, as on the summit you are hours and hours away from the relative safety of Camp 4. What happens on Everest is that you get different weather windows, and with so many people trying to summit, they cram into one window, resulting in queues on the mountain and if the weather changes, it becomes very serious.
It's hard to imagine actual queues of people going up the mountain.
Yes, it's crazy. Sometimes up to 300 people. On summit day, we had 27 climbers in total. But I think there's a summit bid happening at the moment that'll have over 200 climbers. You don't want to be part of that.
What was it like to reach and stand on the summit of Everest?
I guess the main memory I have is when we were approaching the summit, we had been climbing for days, and when we were approaching the summit it was really cloudy. And when we were about 100 metres away from the top, the clouds cleared and suddenly the most amazing spectacular view opened. You could see Tibet on the right, Nepal on the left. It lifted the mind a bit, from being in the cloud and just kind of trudging uphill, to 'wow, I'm here, this is the top!' That was cool.
So there's a chance you could have got all the way to the top and not been able to see anything?
Yes, I thought we were going be in the cloud. I was resigned to the fact that we'd be in the cloud and there are no photos. And then it opened up. I'm super pleased that it cleared up.
What was the biggest challenge of the whole climb?
I think it was the mental challenge. Six weeks away, sitting on a glacier waiting for clear weather for quite a long time. You're away from your wife, away from work. And when I left it was really busy at Truphone, there was loads going on, so I think just the time away is the biggest challenge. Certainly for me at least, that was the main challenge. Wondering what's going on back home and that sort of thing.
From a physical perspective, I guess it's the altitude. It's just hard work going up and down the mountain. I went up eight times, acclimatising myself. And each time I went up through the icefall, which is always a little dangerous. So the whole package is quite hard work. But still, the mental challenge and being away from home for that time is definitely the hardest.
So how much contact could you have with people back home?
There's an internet connection and GSM signal at base camp, so I could phone up on my Truphone and have a chat with my wife fairly frequently.
And do they ever get the weather predictions wrong?
Yeah, for sure. I got back on May 17th and there was a summit attempt by a big group around the 20th and they all had to turn back because the wind was too high. That's what I was saying about the dangers on the wind. If there's no wind, it's all cool. If there's high wind, it's pretty gnarly!
This could be an obvious question, but what was the biggest highlight?
It's easy to say the summit and it could be that. But one of the big highlights was watching the team develop. It was me and my friend Tim working as guides, along with a team of about six people. From the start of the expedition to now, these guys have been on a huge journey, and it was cool to watch them develop as a group, working together, trusting each other, trusting their own skills. That was a nice part of it.
If you're on your own, you're just climbing basically. So it's nice to be with a group of people. It was actually a shame when I headed back to the UK, even though I was ready to head home, as some of the guys were still there. So it would have been nice to go back to camp with them and have some post summit beers!
Any advice for people considering making the climb for the first time, or just getting into climbing in general?
What I'd say is don't go to Mount Everest for your first climb! Seriously this does happen. I'd say instead, get into it for the sport. For instance, if you're going get into white water rafting, you don't go down a dangerous rapid on day one. Instead you build up to it, you go and do some rivers and get your skills up. So it's the same for climbing. Go and try climbing in the Alps, maybe in South America. Build your skills up beforehand.
But also, don't discount it either. It may be the biggest mountain in the world, but people can climb it. You have just got to prepare. It's a great experience to go there and a great personal challenge. It's not hugely technical, so you don't need a huge technical background, but you must build up your general mountaineering skills before you head there for sure.
And finally, will you be returning to Everest and where's next on your list?
I don't think I'll be going back to Everest. Not any time soon, at least. I've done a reasonable amount of Himalayan climbing before, and I think for me the long trips, like six weeks away, are probably coming to an end!
I love going for shorter ones, one or two weeks and plan to visit Alaska at some point.
But the main challenge now will be a family, which will be a much bigger challenge than Everest!
- This interview took place 23rd May, 2017.