61-year-old Simon Knighton is climbing Mount Everest this year to raise £100,000 for Age UK and his local school.
If successful, Simon will become the first British person over 60 to reach the summit of Everest by the North Ridge.
We caught up with Simon to find out more about his Himalayan adventure:
Have you ever taken on a big personal challenge like this before?
I think in terms of physical activity there is no question this is the biggest challenge I’ve ever undertaken. But I have sailed across the Atlantic twice. There are those who say, ‘But isn’t that risky?’ But I believe the risks are calculated, and that has proved to be the case.
And that will be the same with Everest: I’ve never climbed that high, and been at that altitude for that long, but I do believe I can do it.
When did you first decide you wanted to climb Everest?
I’ve wanted to climb Everest since I was a teenager and I read a book called ‘Seven years in Tibet’. I had this vision of how wonderful it would be to be in the Himalayas. When you’re climbing at altitude in wild places, there is a sense you get of being at one with your surroundings which is very powerful. So for me it’s as much about being there as it is about getting to the top.
How have you been preparing for your climb over the last year?
I started getting fit 18 months ago in preparation for climbing Aconcagua in 2010 – a 7,000m peak in the Andes. When I started training, I was overweight and had a back problem, so although I’m fit now, I’ve built up to that over a long time.
Over the last year, I’ve done cycling, walking, swimming and running. Now, I spend a couple of hours exercising every day, and one day a week I do something for longer – for example, a walk or jog with my back pack on.
Would you say you’re in the fitness of your life?
I would absolutely say that. There’s a real age range in our group, including people in their early 30s, late 20s, and even one 16-year-old, and I’ve felt very comfortable training with them.
You’re attempting to be the first British person over 60 to reach the summit of Everest by the North Ridge. What particular challenges does the North Ridge pose?
If my attempt is successful, I’ll be the second Brit over 60 to make it to the summit – Ranulph Fiennes was the first about 2 years ago. But I believe I’ll be the first British person over 60 to reach the summit of Everest via the North Ridge.
The North Ridge is a bit more technical and involves more climbing than the more commonly-taken southern route. Above 8,300m there are 3 steps which involve a bit of climbing, and you do go up a knife-edge ridge. It’s also said you get a better appreciation and aspect of the mountain than from the south.
The North Ridge was the route chosen by George Mallory and Irvine, and the route on which they died, so for Brits it’s shrouded in history (although a lot of climbers have made it to the top by this route successfully since then).
Tell us about the plan for the climb…
I fly to Kathmandu on 2nd April. From there, the team will spend a few days acclimatising on the south side of mountain. We’ll then cross into Tibet on 10 – 11 April, moving around to the north side, and going up to base camp, which is at 5,200m. We’ll then climb the East Rongbuk Glacier, setting up Advance Base Camp (ABC) at 6,400m.
From ABC, we’ll trek up to Camp 1 and then come back down again. We’ll then go on to Camp 2, so you’re increasing your altitude exposure, while all the time the returning to ABC to recover from the strain of setting up camps. Eventually, you get to point where you can get to Camp 2 from ABC easily.
All that process of acclimatising takes about a month. You’re then waiting for a window of 3-4 days of good weather for your summit attempt. You move up to camp 2, and if the weather remains good you keep going up to camp 3, at 7,800m, high up on the North Ridge.
Above Camp 3, you have to use oxygen tanks, so you have to really go for it from here. It’s 6 hours from Camp 3 to Camp 4, which at 8,300m is 9 hours from the summit.