Grenfell: One Year On

The night of the 13/14th June last year was muggy and hot and all our windows were open. I didn’t sleep well- I had been waking up coughing for a few hours, like something was irritating my throat. 

At that time, a mile down the road, firefighters were writing their names on their helmets for the first time in their careers. A mother of a 9 month old baby was one of them. They were heading into the 24 storey blazing inferno of Grenfell Tower to try and rescue hundreds of people. The lift of the building and some emergency water pipes had failed, there were no sprinklers, the single stairwell was just wide enough for a firefighter wearing all their equipment. They were told that if they went into the tower they were “ripping up the rule book”. Every one of them went in.

Around 6am I got up and went to the bathroom and noticed that the sink had tiny black charred bits on it. Some kind of thick dust had blown in through the window. I was completely non the wiser to what it was.

I went downstairs to put the kettle on. That’s when I checked my phone and saw the horrifying pictures of Grenfell Tower ablaze. I woke Aid up and put on the radio. We listened in disbelief. We had lived only two streets away when we had rented a room in Notting Hill. We heard witnesses saying how hundreds of people had died. That people had lost everything. These were people we had lived alongside. I knew I had to go and help in some way. We agreed we would offer our spare room to survivors and I would go and buy supplies to donate.

I went to Sainsbury’s on Ladbroke Grove and filled my trolley with nappies, baby grows, kids shoes, water, sanitary towels and food.... At the checkout I looked up and saw every check out was filled with people doing the exact same thing. It gave me a lump in my throat.

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It was absolute chaos at the foot of the tower. Local residents, people bringing donations, news crews. The tower was in full view, billowing acrid thick black smoke. People were just standing in shock, lost for words. It looked as though the outside of it had melted. How does that even happen?! We were asking. At that moment I think we all thought that hardly anyone could have survived. We were looking at a graveyard.

I went to the Maxilla Centre to drop off our donations and I’ll never forget that room- by 9am it was rammed full of donations. They could barely cope with any more.

I then stood in line to put our spare room down as a place for survivors to stay. Again, the queue was so long it went out the building. The volunteers just had a pen and scrap of paper to write our details down on.

I walked back out into the street and a lady was carrying a tray of homemade sandwiches and offered me one. I just couldn’t believe how so many people had come to show support in their own way. People had come from all over London, from a walks of life, offering whatever they could. It was like nothing I’d seen before.

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By the time I went on Facebook later that day friends from all over the country were publicly organising donations and sharing pages to raise money for survivors. Over £26m in public monetary donations made. 

I got home and cleaned up the charred bits of black on the floor of our bedroom and bathroom. What was this stuff?It was like burnt bits of plastic. It later turned out that many people had died from cyanide poisoning from the flammable cladding. Cyanide poisoning?! In the U.K. in 2017?!! 

A year on, the Tower is still there- a reminder of what cost cutting, corporate greed and a disgusting lack of respect for human life can cause. It makes me so ashamed. We see the charred tower from the train, the bus, walking in Notting Hill or driving along the westway. At night it sits on the skyline as a black shadow amongst buildings lit from top to bottom, all the light and life from Grenfell eternally extinguished. I can’t imagine how hard it is to look up at the tower today and know that it is the resting place of a family member. It’s the most horrific tragedy I hope I will ever see again in my life.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to not cry listening to survivors and response crews testimony of that night. It would never have happened were it not for pure corporate greed and it makes me so angry. But I also cry just as much when I read the Facebook posts of firefighters who went into the burning tower, or of the amazing volunteers who came together in the aftermath. It was the best and worst of Britain in one night.

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It shouldn’t be the fire services being investigated. The fatal mistakes were made long before the fire started- highly flammable cladding, highly flammable materials used around windows which caught alight and spread the fire into people's flats, failures of fire doors which should have protected people whilst they waited to be rescued, lack of regulation, and a woeful lack of interest in the tower residents when they raised concerns about the safety of their building and were ignored. Emergency crews were dealing with a matchbox and they made what they thought was the best decision under unimaginable circumstances. 

I hope upon hope that those responsible receive the full weight of the law and the families of the 72 who tragically died somehow find peace in (hopefully) new regulation which will make sure this never happens again.

And I hope our amazing fire services are recognised for the heroic work they did, one year ago tonight, whilst we slept in our beds. #grenfelltower#grenfell #foreverinourhearts

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0b6q36v/grenfell

Learning's from Richard Holloway's Biggest Regret

The fear of regret has motivated me to do many things- it is so final and so gut wrenching that we try to avoid it at all costs. 

 

For me, I would say the regret that I fear the most is the regret of not making the most of my precious time on planet Earth. It terrifies me to think that one day I might be lying on my death bed wishing I could have done more, seen more, been more. Over the years that’s manifested itself in me travelling the world, climbing mountains, jumping from one project to the next… the list goes on. There’s no time to waste, I’d always tell myself.

 

So when recently I read a passage about regret in the book Waiting for the Last Bus: Reflections on Life and Death by 84 year old Richard Holloway it struck me to my core. He wrote:

 

Looking back, what I regret the most about the rush is missing so much of my own life. I don’t mean missing it now. I mean missing it then, missing it whilst I was in the midst of it. I am sorry I did not pay more attention to the world while I raced through it… On the hills, which I started walking in as a young boy, it was the movement that was important to me, as well as the dreams I was conjuring in my imagination as I strode on… I wish more of my attention had been spent on the here… the gift that is actually close at hand.

 

I had to read the passage over and over, because the person he was describing was me

 

I have always found it incredibly difficult to ‘enjoy the moment’, especially when I’m in the hills. With a clear goal in mind and the fear that conditions might change at any moment, I’ve always kept my head down and focussed on the movement until hours later I would allow myself to ‘come up for air’. I would get frustrated with team mates who would stop suddenly to admire the view.

 

When I was studying Yoga in Costa Rica in January I would finish the days studies with a run in the jungle which went up the side of a series of waterfalls. In all the time I was there- over a month, I never once stopped to swim in one particular beautiful crystal clear pool, too busy I was trying to get to the top as fast as I could. As Holloway said:

 

Getting there was always the point for me- but where’s there?

 

He does have a point about movement- for me, connecting with my breath, my mind and my body in the hills, the jungle, wherever it is, is all consuming- I’ve always called it my meditation. And of course there have been moments when the natural world managed penetrate through the relentless focus- a spectacular sunset, the sight of a deer in Swinley Forest, ice crystals being whipped up in a gust of wind and falling back to earth like fairy dust.

 

But at the same time, the drive to get there can be so strong that even when our heart pulls at the sight of an amazing view or the chance to swim in an ancient waterfall, it pushes us on. It says ‘next time’.

 

With Holloway’s honest words ringing in my mind, I can now see that relentless voice for what it is- an amazing motivator for which I am thankful for, but left unchecked it will leave me winding up the end of my life realising that for all the rare and astonishing places I have been, I haven’t really seen them.

 

Thankfully, I have seen the flip side. I do know what it’s like to really see a place- to become one with it. For me it’s a conscious effort- like taking a puppy for a walk, I have to keep my restless mind on a tight leash. It doesn’t seem to want to give in at first- it keeps trying to make a dash for the distance. It can’t see the point in dallying along at such a slow pace.  Running is out of the question. I make myself walk, and walk slowly. 

 

In Costa Rica one evening I made myself walk my usual running route- oh, how my mind growled and barked at me to just dash off. But I forced myself to look at every branch and leaf. Every vine. Every stream. As the minutes ticked by and my senses grew more heightened I started to see and hear the jungle in ways I hadn’t done before. It started to come to life- not necessarily in reality, but in my mind. 

 

I realised that the key to seeing and connecting with nature is to go into it without any goal in mind- to just be with it. Nature, I believe, gives itself most fully when we are willing to stop and listen. This is something that can never be taught, but something that must be learned first hand.

 

I wont go into the details of what happened on the rest of that walk, but it was of the most profound experiences of my life. I walked in the way my ancestors would have walked- knowing that the jungle was alive, and it spoke to me. For a while I had been struggling and pushing back from something in my life, and it had led to arguments with those I love most and a form of anxiety for many months, but on that solitary walk I found meaning and answers in the jungle that I had failed to find anywhere else. 

 

When we are willing to let space into our lives- by slowing down, by being silent and by doing all without any intention or goal in mind, new depth and meaning appears.

 

After finishing Richard Holloway’s book I began reading The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd.

 

Nan wrote in 1945 what Richard and I have most failed to understand throughout our lives so far:

 

So I looked slowly across the Coire Loch, and began to understand that haste can do nothing with these hills. I knew when I had looked for a long time that I had hardly begun to see.

 

In this modern world we need nature more than ever. But not to just move through it- but to be with it, connected to it, so that it fills us with wonder. That requires stillness and silence. It needs us to leave behind clock time and become immersed in deep time.

 

So perhaps our modern tool kit for life should be less about determination and relentlessness and more about stillness. Less of lusting for summits and goals and ticks off a bucket list. More silence. More of letting nature do the talking. 

 

Where does it lead us? Perhaps not directly to greater profits or a promotion, but perhaps- inadvertently so. I find that the balance and the perspective that nature gives me when I force myself to not rush through it is the one thing that keeps me sane, which in turn affects every aspect of my life. It energises and invigorates like nothing else.

 

I thank Richard Holloway for his honesty, and for alerting me to my own self, blasting along to the finish line of life, barely taking a moment to drink in the view. 

 

I know the moments I am most grateful for are the ones when nature speaks.

 

And I hope with the time I have still to go, rushing through life won’t be a regret I end up with. And that for Holloway it isn’t too late either, that his own regret has inspired him to go and be with the hills he walked on a boy. And perhaps for the first time- to see them in the unique way that only we humans can.

The New 'Apple a Day'

I once sat next to someone at dinner who recommended that I buy an anthology and read one poem every night before bed. Some you like, some you don’t, he said. But like an apple a day, it's good for your health.

 

Poetry good for your health?! I never followed the advice. 

 

To me poetry was wishy-washy and obscure. I couldn't understand what all the fuss was about.

 

Recently again I was encouraged to start reading it by the psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist. His constant quoting and love of it was infectious and I couldn’t help but think I might be missing out by listening to my pre-conceptions. 

 

I thought about the man at dinner those years before who recommended a poem a day and decided to finally try it out. Though like many promises to myself, this one fell by the way side for some months.

 

Then, my great uncle George died on the 14th March. He was 86. We all went to his funeral in Romford- to the little church where he was a member.

 

George was a widower for the last 15 years of his life. My great aunt Shirley died tragically after a short illness in her sixties. They didn’t have any children. Naturally, it would be unimaginable to think that George would ever ‘get over’ Shirley’s untimely death.

 

Despite his loss he made a life for himself after Shirley. The service was full of laughter from tales shared. He loved a tipple, dancing the night away, flirting with the ladies, table tennis and a flutter on the horses. In that sense it was a bittersweet occasion, we were thankful that George had lived a ‘good life’, as he told my uncle Tom on his death bed. There was no need for tears, just gratitude.

 

The last hymn in the service was introduced by the Father as George’s favourite. He didn’t say why. 

 

We stood and mumbled our way through the first verses and chorus… I watch the sunrise, lighting the sky, casting it’s shadows near… But you are always, close to me, following all my ways

 

My eyes cast over to Uncle George’s favourite seat, in which my auntie Gina had placed a pot of daffodils. As the melody familiarised we sang louder.

 

I watch the sunset

fading away,

lighting the clouds with sleep.

And as the evening

closes its eyes

I feel your presence near me.

 

I watch the moonlight 

guarding the night,

waiting till morning comes.

The air is silent,

earth is at rest -

only your peace is near me.

 

It became all too clear as the words left our mouths. This must have been Shirley’s Hymn. 

 

One by one I heard my cousins, parents, auntie and uncle’s voices crack and waver. Mine too. We tried to sing on quietly.

 

Perhaps for the first time since Shirley died did we truly understand George’s love and pain endured for the soul mate he had lost. It was like being winded.

 

We had all been hit, as Iain had said to me “in the solar plexus”.

 

We left the service in tears because of those twelve lines. I finally understood what this art form was all about. It is the ability to place us there. To allow us to see for the first time something we had looked at countless times before. It expresses something we feel but could never find the words to describe.

 

After George’s funeral I finally bought my first anthology. I try to read a poem a day. Yesterday I read one written by a widow whose husband died from a sudden, painful illness. Here are the last lines:

 

We learned to be thankful for being shielded for

so long from the knowledge that it could be like 

this at the end.

 

And sometimes our hearts shone as they bled,

and we were thankful for that too

 

Again, I felt George in those words. Our hearts shone as they bled. Never could a feeling be expressed more truthfully. 

 

'Discovering' poetry has been like unearthing new world of meaning. Sometimes I’m sure I can feel my heart or mind bursting as words on a page come to life. When the poem ends the emotions, questions and new perspectives seem burned in my mind for hours after. 

And it is that lasting feeling that is perhaps most applicable for our modern, hectic lives. Poetry has helped me cultivate compassion by allowing me to better place myself in others shoes. It has been the best way to wind down or take a few moments out of the day- in a much more powerful way than meditation does for me. When you're lost in a poem, nothing else seems to exist.

We talk about the current trend of 'self care' being a way to look after ourselves when juggling daily demands, but I can't think how a turmeric latte or an expensive candle can compete with the wonders that poetry does in creating that gap- that space in the day when all that is weighing you down is released, and your mood transformed.

Whether it's purely for enjoyment, to cultivate more compassion and wonder, or to give yourself a moment in the day of escapism, I can’t recommend the ‘poem a day’ advice enough.

International Women's Day - Celebrating Uniqueness

With international women’s day this week I’ve been considering what I'm going to share as a keynote speaker at the various events I am booked for. 

 

Often I find it difficult to give a ‘female perspective’ on my time in the mountains as quite simply there wasn’t any particular moment when I experienced sexism or felt that my gender was holding me back, and I think that is testament to the wonderful people I encountered as much as it is because of the type of qualities that mountaineering demands. 

 

The mountains are great levellers when it comes to mental, emotional and physical strength as well as planning and decision making, and often the higher I climbed the more I saw women begin to excel. 

 

Mountaineering at its heart is an endurance sport, where meticulous attention to detail, great team-ship and the ability to stay calm under pressure is as important as the brute strength it takes to haul yourself and your heavy pack up steep and unrelenting walls of ice. In that regard, there is no reason why either gender should be expected to be better than the other- it really comes down to the individual and their strengths and weaknesses.

 

That got me thinking about the importance of uniqueness and our perceptions of ourselves.

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In my presentations I speak about the importance of being open minded about who we think we are, and how having a set identity could lead to narrow minded decision making. The more we believe we’ve got our identity and our likes and dislikes all buttoned up, the less likely we are to take on a new challenge or have the desire to step outside our comfort zones and into the unknown.

 

Conversely (there’s always a paradox when it comes to the human experience!) when it comes to identity and our sense of self, as important as it is to remind ourselves that we are not fixed as a person, it’s also perhaps more important to celebrate what makes us as individuals unique and different from those around us.

 

Earlier last week I was lucky enough to attend a lecture given by Iain McGilchrist. Iain was speaking about how ‘superfluous, arguably pointless and definitely unnecessary’ we are as living things- not just human beings but all living things. ‘We didn’t need to be at all’ he said ‘and yet we are’.

If your best friend didn’t exist, could you have imagined them?
— Iain McGilchrist, Psychiatrist
 

One could take this as rather depressing, but Iain saw it as cause for celebration of our uniqueness. He asked us to imagine our best friend and I instantly thought of my friend Jo. He went on, ‘...if your best friend didn’t exist, could you imagine them? Their idiosyncrasies, their smile, their passions and what made them laugh?’

 

I thought about Jo and immediately came to the conclusion that no, I could never have imagined her if she didn’t already exist. And therein Iain’s point lies- if your best friend is so utterly unique, not from other people but from all living beings, then how beautiful and incredible is that? We are all equally unique in our own way and therefore- why on earth would we choose to try and be anything other than ourselves?

 

So, for International women’s day this year my message to all is to celebrate your uniqueness and the uniqueness of others. 

 

When we distil that rather right hemisphere message into everyday (arguably left hemisphere) life we can look at how we fit into our communities- friends, family and work by asking these questions:

 

  • What do others value in us?
  • What do we bring to our communities that nobody else can bring?
  • What can we celebrate about those around us? 
  • How we can we use our uniqueness to make sure everyone in a team does their part to their best ability? 

 

Lastly, we must remind ourselves that just because we are good at some things and bad at others, it doesn’t make us better or worse than the person standing next to us- it makes us unique and different from them.

 

So let’s put an end to comparison, stop trying to put ourselves into boxes as this or that and celebrate ourselves and others as contradictions, beautifully flawed and utterly unique.

 

As Iain said,

‘...you are completely pointless, utterly superfluous and totally unnecessary. You are here as a celebration of life. You are a mind bogglingly beautiful and complex organism which arose out of the big bang and took billions of years to form into who you are today.’
— Iain McGilchrist, Psychiatrist

 

Wise words from a wise person. Regardless of gender- let’s celebrate uniqueness this international women’s day.

 

The Problem With Similes

Yesterday I was talking to a friend about the new job they are about to start. They were understandably nervous and also quite concerned by the fact they were moving into a new industry which they knew very little about. In their own words they had “blagged” their way into the role...

“Someone else said to me ‘it’s like you’ve promised someone you’re a championship high diver and now they asked you to jump off the Olympic platform!”

We laughed at this image of him crashing through the air attempting to do a triple somersault to the shock horror of his expectant audience. Yeah OK, when he said it like that I thought- you’re screwed!

A few minutes later we said goodbye- I could still see the worry in my friend’s eyes as he imagined himself poised over that drop, about to take a massive leap into the unknown and be immediately un-masked as the fraud he believed himself to be.

I’m pretty sensitive to similes and generally wince at their use in every life. This was one of those occasions.

This simile had a powerful effect on my friend. It gave meaning and justification to his anxiety. It had blurred the lines between rational first day nerves and a hypothetical terrifying experience.

We use similes all the time, often without even realising. They are incredibly useful- giving meaning and depth to the thoughts and beliefs we are trying to convey. In poetry they can create meaning so profound it hits us in the solar plexus. They can be harmless and fun. But, because they are often an easy way of explaining something in every day language, they can engulf the subject they are supposed to be similar to. They become a singular distraction that is fixated upon rather than offer up depth and possibility.

As a result, we can become trapped with that image to the point of where we base our opinion and form our actions upon the simile, rather than what originally it was meant to represent.

An awful and extreme example I found myself wincing to was in a documentary called India’s Daughter.

In this powerful film, a lawyer for the defendants in a case of a brutal rape and murder argued that yes his client had committed the crime, but they should not be held responsible for it:

“A female is just like a flower. That flower always needs protection. If you put that flower in a gutter, it is spoilt. If you put that flower in a temple, it will be worshipped.”

This use of simile here is absurd, extreme and instinctively makes us uneasy. A powerful man creating powerful imagery for which he believes will sway mass opinion. Simile here was used as trickery, and unfortunately I think this kind of trickery happens too often.

That was an extreme example. Most simile is used quite innocently in everyday life. It can be a beautiful and meaningful way to communicate but it can also be used as a form of manipulation that I believe permeates our every day interactions more than we realise.

We need to be curious about the meaning behind the similes (and metaphors) given to us.  Are they enriching or are they a distraction from something else? Are they narrowing someone's point of view or offering up possibility?

The next time you hear someone using a simile (and you will all the time now) just take a moment to ask yourself “is this an attempt to give meaning or an attempt to manipulate?"

If it’s important, kindly challenge the person creating the simile- remind them that they have created an image that is distracting you from the topic at hand.

The fact is, whenever you hear someone say something is like something else, quite often it isn’t.

The Importance of 'Flow'

Psycological Time

In his book The Power of Now, Ekhart Tolle explains his concept of ‘psychological time’. 

He says that we live un-necessarily shackled to physiological time, which he describes being locked in a cycle of obsessing over past events and worrying constantly about the future:

“psychological time,” which is identification with the past and continuous compulsive projection into the future.”

- Ekhart Tolle, Power of Now

I know that I am definitely guilty of this- wishing I could have done or said something differently and going over conversations in my head that didn’t go as planned. I also can’t help feeling anxious about upcoming events or things I always tend to worry about- like finances or worrying about the pressure of work projects. We all do this often without even realising.

But by constantly obsessing over the past and future Tolle argues that we remove ourselves from the present moment. The only time that actually exists.

Again- the past and future do not exist- only the moment in front of us does. 

And yet how many of us spend a significant chunk of our time idly or perhaps obsessively thinking about the past or future?

Tolle goes as far as to argue that our minds actually dislike the present moment. He says that living in psychological time instead of embracing the present moment is what our minds naturally prefer to do.

When I consider this, I think about how many mental health issues find their root cause in being stuck in psychological time... Anxiety, guilt, crippling worry and fear all stem from an un-checked mind allowed to obsess over things beyond its control.

So is the mind really this terribly complex and restless monster that unwittingly leads its host towards mental health problems?

Or is psychological time actually a symptom belying a deeper root cause?

From my interest in paleo-anthropology I believe the psychological time that many of us find ourselves living in today is actually a symptom of the fact that our minds are not being stimulated by their natural environment.

The natural environment for the human brain is in the wild, just like every other living thing on Earth. In the case of humans, this also extends to our natural habitat of living in a tribe. Not as a 2.4 family behind 4 walls, but a tribe of people that was fundamental to individual survival.

When we roamed jungle and savannah between 1 and 3 million years ago, I wonder whether the human brain was in fact completely present in the moment, hunting for food, on the look out for threats, completely immersed in the rhythm of nature as a way of survival?

This trailer for the new film TAWAI perfectly encapsulates that romantic idea. In one scene, we watch as hoards of people fight to board a train and hear a voice telling us:

“It is very difficult to capture the mind. It always wants to chase these worldly things...” 

We then cut to a member of a hunter gatherer tribe in the Papa New Guinean jungle- his senses electrified as he focusses all his attention on hunting for birds. Completely and utterly present. The kind of ‘time’ that we have come to know as ‘flow’. Where 'clock' time almost ceases to exist.

Does the mind choose to live in psychological time as a natural state, or does it choose to deny the present moment because the present is so far removed from the world that for millions of years it evolved into?

Is the mind the root cause, or is the mind simply crying out for something we are choosing to ignore?

Elkhart Tolle argues that our mind is the root cause. I disagree.

I believe that the root cause is our modern environment.

Clock Time

Another telling moment in the trailer is the voice of a hunter gatherer telling us,

“I do not know what the day, month, week or year it is. I just roam.”

Let this sink in for a moment. For millions of years we lived without ‘clock’ time- our brains had no concept of seconds, weeks or years. Our time was based around the sun and the seasons. Clock time was invented by modern man and runs almost every moment of our waking lives.

Flow

Our truest state when it comes to the concept of time was living in the present as a means of survival- of being in flow, free of the shackles of clock time and instead focussed on the most basic and important drivers in life: safety, security, connection to our tribe and food to eat.

To conclude, psychological and clock time are modern phenomena that are a result of our new concrete jungles. Being absorbed in the  present moment or ‘flow’ as we call it, is what our Hominoid brains truly crave.

I know that climbing and being in nature for me is what leads me to my 'flow' state- when I am so focussed on the moment in front of me that my mind cannot be distracted for even a second. After hours of climbing I often emerge from the 'flow' state competely flabbergasted at how much time has passed without me realising. For those hours of intense focus, clock time became irrelevant.

This weekend, why not seek more flow time?

Playing with your kids to the point of forgetting how much time has passed… getting immersed in something creative, learning a new skill, moving through nature and becoming aware of every tree branch cracking and the breeze on your skin, having an honest and vulnerable interaction with someone you love… all the things our hunter gatherer ancestors would have taken for granted every waking moment of their lives- because that was all there was: nature, the tribe, and the self.

Let’s all cultivate more ‘flow’ time in our lives. It may just be the thing we are crying out for.

I'd love to hear your comments. Please leave them below.

What have we lost?

We all live with varying degrees of grief and frustration that we often can't put our finger on- we ask ourselves "but I have a home, a job, friends and family- why am I still not happy?"

It's a question that afflicts the modern world perhaps more than any other.

Why am I still not happy?

Take a look at this 5 second clip filmed in the Amazon...

https://www.instagram.com/p/BZBF13eBSxN/?taken-by=bruceparry.tawai

Could the answer be because modern life is far removed from the environment we evolved into?

What if that thing you were searching for was connection?

Connection to the things we've lost over time...

Connection to nature, tribe and the present moment.

Maybe it's time to start seeing ourselves as the hunter gatherers that we are... maybe then that question would become a lot easier to answer.

New Beginnings...

Hi everyone, long time no speak...

I'm hoping to start updating this page more regularly, but not with the kind of content you might think...

My career as a motivational speaker and author has led me to become deeply fascinated by human psychology and sociology. I realised that If I didn't understand our inner most motivations and drivers- whether that be fear, adventure, belonging- then how could I possibly affect change in others?

This has led me on a path of discovery over the last year or so, and sub-consciously even longer.

I recently completed a 200hour YTT under the incredible Paul Tursi and finally feel ready to start sharing some of the ideas and thinking I've come across.

My biggest fascination is our paleo-ancestry- where we came from and what our past can tell us about why we act and think the way we do today.

I truly believe that looking at our past will give us the answers we need to deal with the stresses we are under today. I hope you find what I'll be sharing interesting and thought provoking, and I'd love your feedback.

Bonita

Camp 2 and the End of my K2 Journey

This is definitely not the blog I wanted to write… but ultimately, I feel lucky to be writing it, because it means that I am alive, that I have all my fingers (and toes!) and thankfully managed to survive a close call on K2, the world’s second highest mountain.

On an acclimatisation rotation to camp2 at 6600m on K2, I came down with AMS (acute mountain sickness) and early symptoms of Cerebral Oedema (swelling of the brain).

We arrived in Camp 2 at 6600m after a six hour climb from C1.

We got into our tents around lunch time, and within an hour or two, I started to come down with a head ache. “damn de-hydration” I thought, and got boiling more water. Noel could tell something wasn’t right too and took over the lions share of the tent admin. I’d been slowly shutting down all day. But, I was convinced I was fine, just tired probably, and dehydrated. I never get headaches. It must just be dehydration.

The more I drank though, the worse my headache seemed to get. By night fall, I couldn’t eat any anything, I felt sick and my pounding head was the only thing I could think about.

That night, I slept fitfully, waking up it felt like every 5 minutes, my temples searing hot, feeling like my skull was going to split in half. I was so exhausted, but my head just wouldn’t let me sleep. I was sure though, that my headache would be gone by morning. My body just needed to digest the fluids I’d taken on, and get some rest. I’m just a bit run down, I kept telling myself.

By morning, I woke up with the yellow hue of the tent burning through my eye lids. I felt exhausted, like my arms and legs were weighted down. I couldn’t even muster the energy to open my eyes. And that’s when I first saw the blood vessels in my eyes pounding with my pulse. Noel was awake. I could hear him rustling about. “Noel, I can see blood vessels pounding in my eyes, is that normal?” I said, my eyes still closed. “No” he said. Even then, I thought “damn head ache!”

Noel pottered around, getting a boil on, and making some tea for breakfast. I kept telling myself that it was time to sit up, help out, not be so lazy- I honestly felt like a lazy teenager or something! But, I just couldn’t seem to muster the energy to move, the headache was so blindingly painful, it took all my energy just to process the pain. I could feel my head pounding with every heart beat.

“Why have I still got this bloody headache?” I said out loud. Noel paused, then turned to me and said “I think you might have altitude sickness.”

The words lingered in the air. “No…” I finally said “I’m just run down. I’ve never had altitude sickness before. I’m pretty sure it’s just a headache.” 

In all honesty, the thought of having altitude sickness had not entered my head even once in the 18 hours we’d been at camp 2. Even in my confusion as to why my headache wasn’t subsiding with fluids and pain killers, altitude sickness still didn’t even come into consideration. I have never had it before, I’ve always been strong at altitude, it just didn’t seem possible.

But of course, it was. Altitude sickness can strike even the most experienced mountaineer quite suddenly and seemingly out of the blue. I have climbed 3 8000m peaks, and been in the death zone for many days. We spent 2 nights at camp 4 on Everest, 2 nights at camp 4 on Lhotse and climbed Manaslu in one push, with no acclimatisation above 5500m. My body knew altitude, and it knew 6600m was essentially just the start. I had spent probably weeks of my life at this height, and never had a problem once, it felt so low, far too low, to get something as serious as altitude sickness. But I was soon to learn, just above 6000m is exactly where it typically starts.

The day seemed to pass in a blur of semi-consciousness. My head wanted to explode and that was all I could think about. I wanted to be sick all the time. I couldn’t muster the energy to eat, drink, even sit up to take a pain killer. I couldn’t think straight. I just lay there and prayed for the pain to go away. I tried to hide it, but finally, Noel called Yuri, our team mate and the team doctor.

Dr Yuri kindly came to our tent to assess me, as there was no way I could have even moved, let alone dressed myself to step outside. He asked to see my eyes (I had my sunglasses on because the light, even inside the tent, was painful). “Ok Bonita” he said, “I can see you have swelling all around your face and eyes- this is a typical sign of AMS, but tell me what your symptoms are.” I listed off the nausea, the searing pain, allergy to light, total lethargy. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was basically listing every classic symptom of AMS and more worryingly, signs of Cerebral Oedema, which is extremely dangerous and life threatening.

Dr Yuri took and deep breath and very calmly said in his Mexican accent “Ok. Bonita. You need to go down. I am going to give you some drugs, and in the morning, early, you go down.” 

Noel was right all along. He gave me a dose of Diamox from the expedition medical kit. 

I don’t remember much of that night, other than that I wondered how on earth I was every going to climb down the mountain. “You have no choice” I told myself. And yet, I couldn’t even muster the energy to sit up and take another Diamox pill because my headache was so encompassing that I daren’t turn my head or even move an inch. 

Morning came, and the thought of moving was overwhelming. I lay in my sleeping bag, the tears streaming down my cheeks. “How am I going to do this?” I thought “I can’t do this.” I had to.

Noel and I made it back to base camp later that day. I had to sit down every few minutes- even with the end in sight, I had nothing left to give. He was a true hero sticking with me, and looking after me for those 2 days in Camp 2. 

Upon reaching base camp, I knew my expedition was over. A helicopter was called (the key thing with altitude sickness is to get the patient down to lower altitudes as fast as possible) and just like that, I was going home, and not back up the mountain.

When I arrived at the Military base a Doctor assessed me and told me that I was lucky to be alive. He said that Cerebral Oedema typically happens very fast, and leads to death very quickly, often within hours of symptoms developing. When I heard those words, I thought of myself in Camp 2, refusing to admit to having a serious problem, trying my best to act normal, convinced I needed to stay there with the team. I could have killed myself with my stubbornness.

Now, back in the UK, I am still trying to process what happened. How can nearly a years worth of preparation end in the blink of an eye? Why did I have to get altitude sickness then? Of all the expeditions I’ve been on, why this one? 

But despite knowing that I had no choice but to leave, I felt like I had been robbed of my chance. People have said to me “you did your best”, but really, I don’t feel like I got the chance to give my best. The whole expedition felt like it was over before it had really started.

It’s even more frustrating when I look back on my life as a climber: 5 Himalayan peaks, a ski to the North Pole, two Kilimanjaro trips and various other smaller expeditions, and I’ve never come home empty handed. The feeling of failure is very new to me, and it’s been really hard to take.

But, then I sit back and reflect and actually think about what’s really important. I read back through my blog posts and diaries from the trip, and see that the most important thing was to come home safe. I achieved that goal, and that’s the most important thing.

The mountain will always be there, and as Doug Scott said “the best mountaineer is the one who comes home.” I’m not saying I’m a great mountaineer, not anything like that in fact, but I am trying to put into perspective the fact that it is just a mountain. It’s hard to have that perspective sometimes, when you out so much of yourself into a goal, but it’s the hard truth- it’s just a mountain.

As I’ve just finished writing this, I’ve heard the news that my team have had to abandon their summit attempt, due to a massive avalanche wiping out camp 3 on the mountain, where all their gear was stashed. 

I feel desperately for them- many on their second attempt, having given up so much and pushed themselves to the limit in every area of their lives, just for one more try, and still, they’ve come home having gotten no further than last year.

I haven’t spoken to my team yet, but I hope that despite not reaching the top, they feel fulfilled that they gave it their all, did their absolute best, and enjoyed being in one of the most remote and beautiful places on Earth. 

That’s the thing about mountains, you go hoping to reach the top, but what you come away with is often far more valuable-  renewed gratitude and awe, and a rich life experience that you’ll never forget. 

Finally, people ask what was the best thing about the expedition was, and for me, it was getting to visit Pakistan and hang out with so many awesome people. 

I was a little worried before I left about how safe Pakistan was. My only knowledge of it was what I’d heard on the news. I can’t tell you how pleased I am to be able to say that it was absolutely nothing like the country that is depicted in the press. Every single person I met, without exception, was kind, welcoming and just well, “normal”! But I really did feel their love and kindness very strongly, and that feeling will always stay with me. 

The thing I heard a lot was how they felt their country was misunderstood by the rest of the world. I would absolutely recommend visiting Pakistan, and discovering for yourself the beauty of both the landscapes and the people.

Finally finally finally, I want to say a huge thank you to my family and my sponsors. I am so thankful to have been surrounded by people who believed in me, and trusted me to give it my all on this mountain. Dear Kate were an immense support, not only helping the fund the expedition, but also with their amazing sports wear and tonnes of positive vibes and loads of supportive messages all the way from New York. Also The North Face and Ordnance Survey, who have been a continuing support, I look forward to getting stuck into the next projects with both of them. And then my family and Adrian. Where do I start? I wouldn't have been able to do any of this without you all. Thank you for everything. You will never know how much it means to feel so much love and support. I am truly blessed to have you all in my life.

Now for the next step… I have learnt what it feels like come home empty handed. And I can tell you, there’s nothing like a set back to fire you up. I am already planning the next challenge, and I know for sure that the sense of failure from K2 will be just what I need to keep me going for future crazy goals!

 

Camp 1

We're making great progress, and ahead of time, are already back from our first rotation on the hill.

On Sunday morning at 3am my alarm went at base camp. My sleeping bag had a thin layer of ice over it from the water vapour in my breath. I dressed and clambered out into the darkness, for a hurried breakfast in the mess tent, and then along with my team mates, we were off just before 4.30am.

At first, we must trek across a glacier to reach a small ice fall- this takes about 45 minutes. The ice fall reminds me of Everest- huge towering blocks of blue ice, us little ants walking in the shadows of these sleeping Giants, praying that they don't collapse whilst we are beneath them.

Out of the ice fall, we reach ABC and gear up ready to climb- harness with all our gear, helmet, ice axe- there's a lot to carry! My ruck sack also has my sleeping bag, all the stuff for our tent and a nights worth of food. I feel pretty weighed down, and worried I'll be exhausted after the climb ahead.

We start out traversing back and forth across an icy slope, ice axes at the ready, before coming the the first of the fixed lines. From here, at 5200m, it's a steep straight up climb to camp 1 at 5900m. I take an energy gel and gulp down some water, and then I'm off.

I'm not sure whether it's the training at the altitude centre, or sleeping in a hypoxic tent, or all the hours spent in the gym at the Westway, but I feel like I'm flying up the fixed lines. It is such an amazing feeling to be back on an 8000m peak, huge exposure beneath my feet, and the most incredible view all around me.

I got to camp 1 at 10.30am, ascending 900m in 6 hours. Happy and tired!

Unfortunately I think I went a bit too fast, as I then got a headache, which two paracetamol sorted out.

The night in camp 1 was pretty uncomfortable but overall it was not the worst night at high altitude. Winds battered the tent all night, waking me up every half an hour, and sometimes the wind sounds like an avalanche, so my heart stopped a few times before a huge sigh of relief when I released it was just another gust.

The next morning we left super early for base camp- up at 4am and on the ropes first thing. I love the repetitive process of abseiling- get to each anchor, change the gear over, check the safety system twice, and start again, flying down the fixed lines as fast as I dared myself! We were back on the glacier at the bottom within 45 minutes, and back for breakfast at base camp within 2.5 hours.

All in all a great first rotation. Tomorrow we head up again, this time for 3 night, hopefully to tag camp 3, and from there, we will sit tight and wait for the summit.

Thanks for reading and I'll be updating soon.

Bonita

Trek to Base Camp

The Walk In- 10 things I learnt and loved about our 7 day trek through the Karakoram.

As far as treks go, this has been the most exciting I’ve ever done. To put it’s difficulty into perspective, there was a trekker on another team who had been to Everest BC in the past, and on day 4 here he took 15 hours to get to our lunch stop.

Out here, on the Baltoro glacier, there are few obvious paths, no tea houses, boulder fields that take over an hour to cross, wide jumps across crevasses and river crossings on slippery stepping stones. The weather varies wildly from unbearable heat to freezing cold. There is loose shale, sand and glass ice, ready to throw you onto your back at the slightest bad foot placement. Then there’s the dust. Oh, the dust. In our lungs, up our noses, all over our clothes and reddening our eyes. Couple all that with the altitude (K2 BC is at 5000m) and you’ve got yourself a serious challenge.

For anyone reading this hungry for some serious trekking, I would highly recommend that you sign up immediately. It has been the most thrilling trek I’ve ever done. 

Now, we’re at basecamp, and I’ve been reflecting on the trek and have picked out my 10 most memorable moments:

  1. Giving out Union Jack pencils on the first day to school kids in Askole village. Seeing their happy smiles and their eyes light up.

2.  Setting out at 4.30am one morning and walking alone towards Trango Towers. The sun burst through two mountains in the distance, and bathed the Baltoro valley in a beautiful golden light.

3. Braving a “shower” on our rest day, which means a bucket of icy cold mountain water and a jug. I hesitated for a moment. Embrace it. I told myself. I chucked the jug over my head and felt the shocking moment as the cold hit, followed by goosebumps and shivering. I told myself “You’re washing in fresh mountain water, thats taken thousands of years to reach you. Embrace the cold, you’re so lucky to experience this!”

4. The most fun? Accidentally ending up on the glacier with two porters. They ran across mound after mound of glassy, bullet proof ice. There’s no friction under foot. I was terrified. I was off route, my team mates nowhere to be seen. I was obviously taking a short cut, and one that I really shouldn’t be taking! Every mound we crossed, we’d drop down again, me gingerly using my umbrella as an ice axe to hold my balance, whilst the porters ran down the glassy ice in flip-flops with 25kg loads cheering each other on. I could barely keep up, but there no was path so I couldn’t risk falling behind. They stopped at every stream crossing to make sure I made the giant leaps they took to avoid falling into the fast rushing rapids roaring down from the mountains above. I was both terrified and having the time of my life. Out we popped about 10 minutes later, and my team mates were right there, having taken the “normal” route. “Where have you been?” They said when they saw where we’d come from, the look on my face, and how exhausted I was.

5. Most poignant? On day 4 sat up high on a rock above camp one night, a group of us surveyed the Baltoro glacier below and a beehive of energy in front of us as porters set up camp for the night. We made jokes and chatted about nothing, and then Michael said in front of everyone “Bonita, you had a bit of a wobble yesterday. You said this was your last ever expedition. I think you were having a weak moment, right?!” 

“Really?!” said Kari, “No, you wait and see.” 

“Hey guys” I said, “I didn't say that because I don't like climbing anymore, I said it because I want to have children.”

Everyone awed. “Well” said Kari “that is the best reason, but remember- it don’t take long to cook a baby.” Everyone laughed.

Michal turned to me and said “My children are the proudest thing in my life. I am so so proud of them… So proud” and he had tears in his eyes. It was a lovely moment sat on that rock.

6. Later that night, on the long walk back from the toilet area, I looked up and was aghast at the amazing sight before me. A full moon was illuminating the jagged peaks in a glorious yellow glow. Behind these knife edge peaks, a navy blue sky was ablaze with stars. I switched off my head torch. The darkness engulfing me made the colours of the moonlight mountains and stars beyond even brighter. It was so peaceful, so still. “Remember this” I said to myself “soak in every last moment. You are alive, on planet Earth, looking at a most precious and rare sight. You lucky thing.” I breathed in the cold mountain air, breathed it deep into my lungs, and then stole one last glance, before heading back to my tent. When I close my eyes now, I can still see that amazing panorama.

7. After managing to stay at Mahmout’s heels for 2 solid hours of super fast walking/leaping/running over a vast boulder field to Broad Peak BC he shook my hand and said to me “You very fast and young,” he said “very good. In one month time, we go to summit together”  and he pointed towards K2. “Really?” I said. “Yes, I go with you. Fast and young.” Mahmout is our Sirdar, so to know that he has chosen me as his partner for the summit is a huge honour. I have to preserve my energy though, I know I'm fast down here, but I need to be able to keep up with him on summit day.

8. Seeing K2 for the first time on the 6th day of the trek. We arrived at a point where three glaciers meet, called Concordia. In front of us is the Gashebrums, and Broad peak slightly to the left, then as we walk further up the Baltoro, K2 reveals itself up the Godwin Austin glacier beyond Broad Peak. However, we only glimpsed the summit for a few seconds before it was shrouded in cloud again. Still, it took my breath away. Even today, three days on, the mountain is a mystery to me- still protected by a barrier of thick white fog, it won’t give away its secrets that easily. I can’t wait to finally see it.

9. Arriving at Base Camp finally, and falling into my new home after dinner last night- my tent, which i’ve decorated with all my good luck cards, and have my furry cat water bottle as a home comfort. I crawled into my sleeping bag in my Dear Kate leggings, and had the cosiest nights sleep ever. I’m here, I thought. I’m sleeping at the foot of K2.

10. Having some privacy when going to the loo! Here at BC we finally have a toilet tent, and what a luxury it is to crouch over a hole in the ground behind the tent fabric, rather than out in the open for all to see!

Skardu

We have arrived in Skardu, and I am writing this on the veranda of our guest house, looking out at the most incredible view.

Below, tall trees line a great wide river. The distant roar betrays how it looks from here- serene, crystal clear, but I’m sure up close it is a torrent you wouldn’t want to go for a swim in.

From the river, huge dusty peaks rise and act as a fort, guarding the snow capped peaks beyond. I can just spy what looks like maybe a 4000m peak in the background. It has probably never been climbed.

At just over 2000m, Skardu is a military base and bustling town- the last major outpost of the Karakoram. It’s super friendly here- even though we are getting a lot of stares as we walk down the street.

On the plane from Islamabad, I sat next to two Pakistani Army Officers. They were the perfect gentlemen, doing their best to chat to me in broken English, and apologising for talking too loudly. That kind of sums up Skardu for me- everyone does their best to speak English to us, is really friendly and very polite.

As we landed, a Mirage jet was taking off. “The Swiss army de-commisioned the same jets about 30 years ago” my team mate Michal (from Switzerland) told me. “It’s just a daily show of force for the Indian neighbours.”

In town, I handed out some pencils to local school boys who had stopped on their way home from school to stare at our group as we bartered over umbrellas (it’s super hot here, so we’re going to use them on the trek for shade). At first, the boys were very shy, almost too shy to accept the pencils. But when they realised they had the Union Flag printed on them, one of them said “UK?”. Yes, I nodded. They all smiled and studied the pencils intensely. As they walked off I could see them showing off the pencils to their friends. I hope they get to use them in school tomorrow.

Our team is truly international, with Mexico, France, England, Ireland, Russia, Germany, Austria and Switzerland all represented. Everyone is very experienced, with a few having attempted K2 last year, before being thwarted by a change in the weather.

We’re also here with Garrett Madison’s team, and a few groups of trekkers. It seems like there’s going to be a lot of people on the mountain this year, which could cause a few problems as there is next to no space at camp 2 and 3 for more than a few tents. Everyone is aware, so hopefully we can work together and plan in advance to avoid major problems.

The Sherpas from Nepal have also arrived, and I am still getting to know them. I’m really looking forward to climbing with them on the mountain. We also have Pakistani climbers with us, so there will be a great mix of cultures and people at base camp, all the way (hopefully) to the summit.

We’re now waiting on our bags to arrive from Islamabad, and will spend a few hours packing, then have a meeting this evening, and then tomorrow we will spend all day driving to Askole, which for anyone who knows me, will probably end up with me being car sick at some point. 

Anyway, Skardu has been great and I feel very privileged to have met people in this town, a place I would never visit were it not for mountaineering. I feel very blessed to have met people who are culturally very different from me, but actually- as soon as we make eye contact, the differences don’t seem to matter at all.

I’m looking forward now to starting the trek, and I guess I’ll send my next blog when we arrive at base camp in about 8/9 days time.

Thanks for reading. 

Bonita

Support

One of the biggest lessons K2 has already taught me, is to cherish and understand the impact of a great support network.

Without our support networks, we would never be able to spread our wings and set our sights on our biggest goals. 

Everything we achieve in life, we stand on the shoulders of those that we love. For even the smallest things that they do take time and thought and effort, with the hope that that little thing will make a big difference to us. That it will make our journey along the path less travelled a little kinder, and that we will take them with us along the way.

Support networks come in all shapes and forms. For me, I am so blessed to have so much support. From friends who have sent cards, emails and good luck trinkets, to my mum, who has washed clothes, cooked dinners, bitten her tongue when I’ve been making a mess whilst packing, and all the time holds back the fact that she does not want me to go. 

Then there’s my Dad, who was always the person who told me to follow my dreams, and who had my corner when few others did. I wouldn’t have gotten very far in life if I didn’t have him tell me he believed I could anything I put my mind to.

 

Then, there’s the support of a mentor, and I had that in my Step-Dad. Rob has always guided me and taught me the importance of working hard, having discipline and pushing myself out of my comfort zone.

So, I can proudly say that I have always had great support since the day I was born. I am incredibly lucky to be able to say that. Without my parents love and guidance, I certainly wouldn’t have had the courage to climb Mount Everest aged 22. I wouldn’t have had the knowledge, or skills or self belief to do a lot of the things I have done.

As we go through life, our support networks change and grow. 

I met my boyfriend, Adrian, just over 8 months ago. Today, this entire journey, in my eyes, is completely bound up in wanting to get back safely to him. 

When we met, I instantly felt like I had a partner in crime. Somebody who I could be spontaneous and adventurous with. Someone who would have my back, and I would have his.

Little did we both know that K2 would become just as much Adrian’s project as mine. He became chief strategist, website designer, agent and training coach. He slept for months in a hypoxic tent with me, and in his own words “hated every second”. He set up meetings, wrote spreadsheets, sourced kit, and got me doing “just one more rep”, all whilst juggling his own business and commitments.

He’s also been a boyfriend and life partner, saying the right things when I’ve been lacking in confidence, or feeling scared. He’s given me guidance when I’ve faced tough decisions, and has always made me feel very loved.

Without his support, I would not be on a plane to Pakistan right now.

As the trip has drawn closer, the realisation that I won’t have my partner in crime with me every dayhas been hard to prepare for. We are both independent characters and are used to going away on long trips, but I’ve never felt so strongly that I have something much more important than myself to return for, that perhaps I don’t want to leave behind in the first place.

At the airport just now, we said to each other that if something happens and we never see each other again, we’ve had the most incredible 8 months. He’s given me all the support he can, now it’s time for me to go and do what we’ve worked so hard for, and to make sure I come back to him.

*

Maybe you’re not heading off on an expedition to climb a dangerous mountain, but every day you are stepping out into the world and taking risks. 

Be thoughtful of the people who see you off on your adventures in life. Who worry about you even when they have their own worries. Who make little efforts every day to make your life more special and easier. Who bring you breakfast in bed, or run an errand you needed doing. Who agonise over a gift, or organise their day around when they can see you. 

Show your support network how much you cherish them too. Go the extra mile. Put your needs second. Do something little that to them will make a big difference. Show them that you care, and that you appreciate their support. 

Without our support networks, we would be nothing. And, we would have nobody to share our best and worst moments with. What would be the point of going it alone? 

Mountaineers are seen as very selfish characters, but every time we stand atop a mountain, we are there because of the love and support of many. We represent the combined efforts, dreams and worries of those who have worked tirelessly to help us get there. From Sherpas to sponsors, family and friends, partner’s in crime to climbing partners and everyone in between. 

 

As I head off on this next adventure, I am bound up in love and am supported by so many, and I want everyone reading this to understand that however far I get on this journey, I am standing on the shoulders of my support crew. 

I cannot wait to see them again, to give them a hug and thank them for helping me to live my dream.

Last weekend in England

My last weekend in the Uk for 10 weeks was spent with loved ones. That’s the thing about going on a big expedition- you start to drink in every moment, and cherish every second, because time is precious and the countdown is on.

On Friday night I was at my step-dad’s 50th birthday party. All family and friends were asking how I was feeling, and how my mum was coping with it all. I replied “she’s fine- she’s used to me going on these trips.” Everyone was saying “just please be safe, Bons. Don’t do anything stupid.”

On Saturday my girlfriend’s came to stay with me at my flat in London. They bought me good luck cards and a Guardian Angel charm to put into my jacket for the climb. It started to strike me just how much my loved ones desperately wanted me to know how worried they were, and how much they wanted me to be safe.

On Sunday, I was having a cup of tea with my mum and step-dad. Throughout all my expeditions- Everest, the North Pole, Ama Dablam and Lhotse, Mum has never gotten upset in front of me. I assumed, like all the other times, that she was naturally worried as a parent would be, but that she felt I was going to be OK and come home safe. Then, she said “you realise Bonnie that it’s the parents who are left behind. You won’t know if you’re dead, but we’ll have to live with that for the rest of our lives.” And she burst into tears.

It was like being punched in the stomach. I felt sick to see my mum so visibly terrified and pained by a decision that I was voluntarily taking. How could I be so selfish? Even if I come back from K2 fine, is it acceptable to put someone you love through so much angst, just for a mountain?

I ran over and gave her a hug, and promised her I wouldn’t ‘do anything stupid’, that I would turn around as soon as I felt uneasy, that I wouldn’t take any unnecessary risks. I know she just wants me to say that I’ve changed my mind. It would make her so happy. I can see how burdened she is by the prospect of her daughter never coming home again- she is genuinely terrified of what might happen. And I’m choosing to put her through that.

I drove back to London in a daze. What’s the point in doing something so selfish? What if mum’s worst fears are realised? I almost don’t care about me dying, I’m more worried about how it will affect the people I leave behind. I felt terrified too. Why am I doing this?

That afternoon, I met with my friend Sophie. We walked in the sunshine around Hyde Park, it was a perfect sunny afternoon- the breeze in my hair, the sun on my cheeks. Seeing so much green. I drank it all in. “The thing is Bon” Sophie started as we walked with Ice creams, “is that I have no idea what actually happens when you go on these trips. You go, and a few months later you come back, and you haven’t changed one bit. It’s like you come back and we carry on as if nothing’s happened.”

I struck me how right she was. When I get home from an expedition, the first thing I want to do is just go back to normal. Right now, in the lead up, it feels like the biggest thing in my whole life- the expedition defines my life, and then once it’s over, it wasn’t really a big deal after all. I quickly forget about it, and within a few minutes of catching up with friends, the conversation has gone from my latest trip to who in our social group is dating who, and all the usual stuff friends talk about.

It made me think again “what’s the point?” If I climb K2 or If I don’t, I nor my friends and family really care in the long run. I know this because after getting home from climbing Lhotse, the very same night I stepped off the plane from kathmandu after 2 and a half months (and a seemingly life changing experience), I found myself in the gutter on the Kings Road, having gone out clubbing and realised all too late how much of a lightweight I’d become.

Head between my knees, sitting on the pavement whilst stiletto heeled girls tottered precariously around me, flicking cigarette ash into my hair, It felt like the incredible moment of reaching the summit of the world’s 4th highest peak and becoming the first British woman to get there was a million miles away. Now, I had come back to reality with a crash, and a raging hangover the next day. I know when I get back from K2, life will go just the same. So what’s the point in risking it all in the first place?

I said this to Sophie, and we pondered the point of it all- it always comes back to the same thing, people always say to me “you’ve got to live your life”. And that’s true, I feel as afflicted by my desire to climb big mountains as I do gratuitous and humbled by how lucky I am to do something I love.

Finally, Sophie said “Bon, do you remember we had this same walk 4 years ago, and you had the same fears and worries, and then you went and climbed Lhotse and everything was OK? You’ve been here before, and you did it and you came home. You’re going to be fine.”

She was right, we had had this exact walk in 2012. We had walked the streets for about 3 hours in as I poured my heart out to her. I was sick with worry, convinced something bad was going to happen on Lhotse. And it never did. I went, reached the summit, came home and still look back on that experience as the best of my life. The next time I saw Sophie we were at a party- I think we spoke about my trip for a few minutes and that was it. As if nothing had changed. Because it hadn’t.

We walked bare footed in the Princess Diana Memorial, the cold water numbing our feet at first, and then becoming gorgeously cool as the evening sun bore down on us. I remembered reading about the memorial when it opened- apparently the different stages of the water’s journey represent a part of life; from playful trickles; to tumultuous rapids and then a deep calm. We waded through the water around in circles for an hour, kids running and splashing around us, I tried to drink in the moment once more. It was a beautiful evening.

The next few months are hopefully going to be an exciting white water rapids part of my life. We go through good times and bad, we have to deal with things that we never thought we were capable of, and all the time, life goes on, and we move on to the next stage.

Until, eventually, we all come to that deep stillness, that deep eternal calm. We are all headed to that moment, so perhaps it’s better dive in head first, drink in life, and bathe in it’s miracle. To not waste a drop. To have the courage to ride out life’s rapids, instead of shying away.

I hope my eternal calm comes way in the future, but whenever it arrives, I know that I’ve cherished every moment, and experienced more than I could have ever imagined. I’m thankful to be able to say that, and that’s why despite everything, I am getting on that plane in 12 days time.

At 8pm the sun was low and blood orange in the sky, it was getting chilly and time to go home. I said goodbye to Sophie at Marble Arch and said “see you soon”. I hope with all my heart that in a few months time we are on a walk, chatting away, as if nothing’s ever happened.

14 Days and Counting

It’s two weeks today until I leave on a two month long expedition to K2. I can’t believe that after nearly a year in the planning, it’s finally here.

People want to know how I’m feeling. Nervous? Excited? I’m feeling all of those things and more.

Mostly, I wonder if I’m making a good decision. Climbing mountains is ultimately about assessing risk and reward: is the danger I am about to face worth it?

It’s a really hard question to answer, because the bottom line is that, no, no mountain is worth dying for. And yet we put our lives on the line every time we step on to the hill.

Therefore, I have to make a decision about how comfortable I am about pushing those limits and walking that fine line between life and death. I have to consider whether what I am doing will kill me aged 28, or whether it will more likely be another great experience that I’ll look back on when I am 98. Are the odds skewed in my favour, or against me?

The frustrating thing is that there is no crystal ball, I can’t guarantee that I will return from K2. I just have to believe that the odds are in my favour. I have to trust my judgement and instincts, so that if the moment comes when the odds become truly clear, I will have the courage to turn back, or the ability to get out of harm’s way.

People also ask me, why K2? That’s an even more difficult question to answer, because in some ways, K2 chose me. K2 has been lingering in the back of my mind for many years, but it was only last year that a plan began to form, and before I knew it, my life was on a trajectory towards the mountain, as if almost magnetically drawn. I feel like I have merely done what I was meant to do- I feel like my entire life has been leading up to this expedition.

So finally, is it worth the risk? What do I have to gain for putting myself in so much danger, suffering on a mountain in the Karakoram and leaving my loved ones behind to worry about me for two long months? The answer, for me, lies in everything that I believe life is about. For me, setting an audacious goal, problem solving towards it, dealing with risk and facing death and getting to experience a truly breathtaking part of our planet is what it is to be human.

I don’t believe that we are supposed to live within our comfort zones, but I do believe that when we take on risk and challenge ourselves, the most incredible things can happen. Today, the things I cherish most in life are my loved ones, the amazing memories I have from my travels, and I am also incredibly grateful for the opportunities that a life in the mountains has given me. But, I have had to face my own mortality, and perhaps that’s a good thing, as Steve Jobs so eloquently put it:

Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Almost everything--all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure--these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”


Climbing the world’s highest mountains reminds of me what is truly important: my family, my boyfriend and my friends. Climbing the world’s highest mountains keeps me grounded. They remind me that the things that we get bogged down with every day are completely secondary to what’s really important. Climbing the world’s highest mountains don’t make me happy, but they certainly help. I have seen, experienced and learnt things I don’t think I could have done spending my life any other way. I just see myself following my heart, because in the face of death there is no reason not to.