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.