Valerie Parkinson, the Asia Base Manager and Trek Leader of Exodus Travels UK, became the first British woman climber to summit Manaslu(8,163m), the eighth tallest peak in the world, without supplementary oxygen last fall. This April, she is all set for an expedition to the highest peak Everest. She is climbing with Altitude Junkies & Project Himalaya Everest team, led by Phil Crampton. Explore Himalaya is handling the logistics for the team.
Just back in Kathmandu after spending two months in UK, Explore Himalaya caught up with Valerie (on 19th March 2009) to talk about her latest venture and her passion for adventure.
Valerie at Explore Himalaya
Q. How was your last expedition to Manaslu? Valerie: It was very good, though a bit hard. It’s hard to climb without supplementary oxygen. But it was fantastic when we finally reached the top. Somebody asked me when I got back, what I saw from the summit and I couldn’t remember. I was just happy to reach the top!
Q. After Manaslu, why did you choose Everest? Valerie: Because I have always wanted to have a go at Everest. I have done trekking peaks up to 6400m before but Manaslu was my first 8000m peak and maybe if this is the last time I am going to try an 8000m peak than it has to be Everest.
Q. How are you preparing yourself for the big climb? Valerie: By going trekking. I went trekking between Christmas and New Year. I spent three weeks doing the Annapurna Circuit and Anna Base Camp treks, and really enjoyed it.
On 26th of March I am flying to Lukla with a Sherpa. I am doing two weeks trekking over the high passes of Renzo La and Cho La, and I will be meeting the group at Lobuche on the 6th of April.
Q. We see very few female trekking or expedition leaders. You say you have been working as a trekking leader for 25 years. What made you choose this unconventional career? Valerie: I would say the mountains of Asia and its people. I have been doing this for 25 years .I have been leading treks. I love being with the groups. I started this 25 years ago, I loved it and I carry on doing it.
Q. On your adventures, do you feel you are being treated differently for being a woman? Valerie: In Muslim countries like Pakistan and Morocco, yes. But in India and Nepal, they treat you kindly then they treat men. And especially the Nepalese people, they would do more if you are a woman. If you are in a group and face problems, the Nepalese would do the most to help you. I think it’s better being a woman leader than a man leader in Nepal.
In the last expedition I was the only woman in the team and I got special treatment. At meal times especially, I was given special treats!
Q. How supportive is your family? Valerie: My father is 79 and mother is 76, and they live in Wiltshire. My father has been to Nepal thrice and he wishes he could do my job. My mother, of course worries when she reads the horror stories. But they know I love what I do and they are supportive. They know I love my job and Nepal.
Explore Himalaya had an opportunity to meet up with Andy Elson, renowned scientist and a crew member of the Everest Skydive team on 2nd Oct 2008. Before he left for England, Andy talked at length about the Everest skydive and his part in the project.
Andy is a cosmonaut, aeronaut and life support systems specialist. He is also the first balloonist to fly over Mt.Everest.
EH: What do you think about the Everest Skydive project? How does it help Nepal?
AE: The Everest skydive is very exciting and because it brings all sorts of different people together to have another adventure in Nepal, it brings a lot of publicity to Nepal . Hopefully the introduce lots more and people to Nepal.
The skydivers will be parachuting from 29,500ft probably the height of Everest about seven or ten miles away from Everest, landing at Shyangboche and it’s not just for experienced skydivers. You and I can go and do it. It’s possible to make a tandem jump where there’s an instructor and you get strapped onto the front of the instructor and you get down together under one big parachute. That makes it possible for anybody to do it and possibly even people with some sort of disabilities can do it. So it’s really exciting. It’s bringing Everest and the view of the top of Everest to people.
I think the skydiving really focuses world attention on Nepal. China has just had the Olympic Games and that was a great success and everybody is concentrating on sports now. And this is uniting people whose sport is skydiving from all over the world. We have got people from New Zealand, South America, North America, France, Germany, Belgium, Pakistan and UAE. I believe its really uniting people from all over the world and they are going to take the message back to their country that Nepal is a fantastic place .Of course they wouldn’t have come here if it wasn’t for the skydiving. So you know I think it helps to make Nepal an up and coming place (which it is) and make the world aware of it. Nepal is one of my favorite places and I have been here many times. It is a delight being here and trying to make this project a success.’
EH: What were your responsibilities as part of the Everest Skydive team?
AE: ‘My job on the project has involved advising on the altitude, how the people can stay safe. That’s part of the reason why they got quite an extensive trekking program where there’s not people arriving in Kathmandu, flying up to Lukla and then rushing off to do the skydive. They are going for a ten day trek to acclimatize first to altitude and then once they come back from the trek to Shyangboche, which is a drop zone, they get taken at 29,500ft in the aeroplane where they would be on oxygen all the way up and then just before they jump they disconnect from the aeroplane oxygen supply and connect to a bottle which they have got onto their parachute harness. So they are on oxygen all the way back down to the drop zone again at 12,300 ft.
My job is to write the specification for all the equipments and to do the initial test for the equipment. I have done my part of job there and I am going back to England, to start hopefully, doing the preparation for next year’s skydive. But I have trained a small team of people to work with the oxygen equipment and they are all there in Shyangboche. It all seems to be going on well so far.
I thoroughly enjoyed working with the rest of the team to make it happen or to help to make it make it happen and I hope it will be very successful and everybody enjoys it and benefits from it. I am very proud to have been able to help with it.’
EH: Did you find it challenging to work on this project?
AE: ‘I think the project of this nature is always a challenge. Getting everything together at the right time, getting the weather forecasting right and getting all the people in the right places is a challenge .But its great fun just bringing people to Nepal and seeing the look on their faces, especially while they are trudging up Namche Hill (which is quite difficult), and they get to that point in the hill where they see Everest through the trees and they smile, and forget how tired they are. It’s great to see the smiles lighting up their tired faces! ‘
EH: What are you involved in, at present?
AE: ‘In Europe I am designing a new heating parasystem, which is carbon neutral. And as an engineer, I am trying to help the planet a little bit by working on to reduce the emissions that people produce by using electricity. It is a private project and I am working with my small team.’
“My name is Namgyal Sherpa and I am from Khotang. I work with Explore Himalaya and I climbed Everest with the team Project Himalaya as their climbing climbing sherpa. Though I have summitted thrice from the Tibet side, this was the first time I climbed Everest from Nepal side. I feel very happy to have succeeded.
Credit: Jaimie McGuiness – 2007
CV of Namgyal here
As I was the climbing Sherpa of the group, I became a part of the 11 member Sherpa team chosen to fix ropes and open trails up to the summit. On the 20th May we worked up our way to 8,500m but then some of the other Sherpas began to give up and turn back saying that the wind was too strong and the weather was worsening. But I had to open the trail up to the summit because our clients were to summit the next day. I couldn’t just give up and leave. I reached the summit at 3:26 pm (Local time). Namgya Sherpa , from Arun treks came a minute after me at 3:27. I have the video clip of him coming after me at the summit.
At the base camp, I heard and read about how Namgya’s name was falsely reported in the Nepali media, as the first person to summit Everest this season. I think the media should get their facts right before flashing their reports. I talked with the liaison officers there, at the Base camp, about the false reports doing the rounds. I told them since they were the government’s representative it is their duty to report what’s really going on at the summit. They assured me that they would talk with Namgya and set things right.”
– Namgyal’s testimony was recorded in Nepali and translated to English
“It felt like some faraway place… like South Pole “- Søren Smidt of 7 Summits On Everest
EH had the opportunity to talk at length with Søren Smidt of 7 Summits, on the 29th of May, about his Everest summit and their (his & Henrik’s plans and future goals). Here we reproduce the excerpt from the interview.
We spent a very short time on Everest .We were there for just 20 days. Some of the climbers spent 60 to 65 days and that’s very tiring to be in this environment. For us it was a short and fast climb. We meant to do Mera peak and Lobuche but we did not do it. There were some regulations for the Olympic torch by the Chinese so the Nepalese authorities put some regulations and in the end we dropped our climb on Mera peak and our climb on Lobuche. During the time the climbing was banned we went to Russia and climbed Mt. Elbrus. It was very cold and windy .Just managed to get back safely.
On the Day they summitted (25th May ’08)
We had a very good summit day, the weather was good and there were few people and good Sherpas helping us. Our Sherpas were very good, technically great. We are grateful to them because they helped us in many ways. When I arrived at the summit there was no wind. Henrik came a little later and already it was becoming windy. But we faced no problems going down. We had a weather report which actually said that it would be stormy. So the whole time we climbed during the night we were afraid that the wind would pick up and when we looked up around midnight all we could see were clouds forming on the summit. So we thought the weather report may be right but luckily there was no wind. During the climb there just a little wind when Henrik arrived.
At the summit, I would say that we feel very vulnerable .I felt very vulnerable in the summit area and at the whole summit bridge. It really felt like some very faraway place on earth , like South- Pole .You know if the wind picks up, if you get a lot of precipitation you may lose your life easily. The balance between living and dying is very thin. Jamie McGuiness tried to rescue some climbers. He did a great effort, more then I would have done. It’s very sad that some people do not realize their own limits and endanger other people’s lives because responsible people will try and rescue other people who are in need of help.
About 7 Summits
Henrik is on a mission to create a world record. He has already summitted all the highest peaks in the 6 continents, only Denali in North America is left. I think this will generate a lot of attention and interest towards our company, 7 Summits. After he has made the record we will use our knowledge of the seven summits to make a profitable business.
We have not started selling any of the products. Let Henrik make the world record and afterwards we can use our knowledge of these peaks to sell our products. Henrik has just to climb Denali in Alaska, the highest peak in North America to make his record. Only sickness or an accident will prevent him from completing this feat. Originally the goal was to climb in 130 days. The current record is 155 days .Due to bad weather we were delayed on Denali and Elbrus. This will be Henrik’s second effort to climb Denali. In 7-13 days, he will have the record.
“Henrik has gone from being businessman to mountaineer, while I will go from being mountaineer to businessman.”
I make the program for his training. Before we started the 7 summits I have been giving a crash course because Henrik is a businessman who is interested in climbing mountains. I gave him the basic technical abilities and understanding of how it works when you go climb and how you behave in a mountain environment both in summer and winter. So this program started half a year ago before and since now has been sufficient. Henrik has gone from being businessman to mountaineer, while I will go from being mountaineer to businessman.
About climbing in Nepal
I have been to Nepal 15 – 20 times. I have climbed for 30 years. I started climbing in Nepal in 1986, when I did the solo Island Peak climb in the winter time. That was my first peak in Nepal. But I have also done Mera Peak and some of the known peaks.
Everest is a very big mountain and even if you think it’s easy its not. The ascent of the 77 year old man can give an impression that climbing the peak is easy but it’s not true. Its a big mountain and its also dangerous and you have to be very well prepared. You have to think very carefully about what you are doing. You have to have a good staff around you and you have to have the right equipment and enough oxygen to help you.
Henrik of 7 Summits is on a mission to create a world record by scaling the seven highest summits on the seven continents. He has summitted all the highest peaks in 6 continents .Now only Denali(6194m) the highest peak in North-America is left. Just back after summitting Everest along with Soeren, his partner, EH had a time to catch up with the climbers on 29th May , amidst their plans to fly out ,Henrik to Alaska for the Denali summit and Soeren to Denmark.
They summitted Everest on 25th May. Henrik is 43 years old entrepreneur. Excerpts from the interview with Henrik
EH: You have taken alpinism as a challenge. What inspired you to do this?
Henrik: I don’t know from childhood, I actually found it interesting.I used to cut out articles from newspapers because there was something that would interest me. And the first time I stood on top of a mountain I felt something, a feeling very difficult to describe. It is an unbelievable feeling .Its only you and the mountain.
EH: Among the peaks you have which has been the difficult till date?
Henrik: I would say Everest.
EH: How did you find climbing Everest?
Henrik: I feel very good. It’s a huge,huge mountain.
EH: You are from the corporate world. Do you find any similarities between mountaineering and corporatism?
Henrik: Yes, its similar, because its both about setting up goals and reaching them.
EH: How do you connect your climbing with your corporate life?
Henrik:When you are on a mountain and you find out how difficult things are you try to find solutions and also help in rescues. There’s a lot of things you can take with you into the business area.
EH: Do you have plans to come back to Nepal?
Henrik: Yes, I would like to come back again to do some trekking. But I am also interested in some charity stuff, maybe some scholarships for some academy for Sherpas so they can develop their skills. I think this would be a good way to contribute to Nepal somehow.