firstly cheers for all your messages last week saying you were going to do some stuff to make others smile, one of which was a friend of old, who text me saying he showed his staff last weeks blog, and they then "sent a bunch of flowers to an unsuspecting client whose father had passed away recently, and have now decided to do a feel good factor theme every first of the month", great job steve, thanks for letting me know.
this old blog mullarkey has an impact which i sometimes underestimate, as i found out when i had a young lady contact me last week who is a psychologist and wants to help do some stuff together, and when i asked her why, she told me she read my recent blogs and liked the honesty, so therein lies a lesson.
anyway, this week i am going to share my first chapter of my book with you, which is written exactly how i've been told to write it, with no research, no referencing, just let it flow, grammar and spelling mistakes an' all, so here goes.....
As the summit came into view probably two hundred metres away, I knew that I was going to make it.
The boy from finsbury park in North London, who had gone to school with holes in his shoes, was going to summit Sagarmartha, the tallest mountain in the world, standing at 8848m high, this was the mountain that everybody knew, though possibly by it’s western name of Mount Everest, the one the movie was about, the one that hundreds of books and documentaries were about, and I had probably seen all of them in my bid to learn as much about this place as I could.
And yet, all of my research and meticulous preparation couldn’t prepare me enough for the emotion that I would feel as I realized my dream, my goal, my pure unadulterated joy of getting to the top of the world.
As I breathed through my mask that had provided me with supplementary oxygen for the last thousand vertical metres, I knew that barring any lapses in judgement I was going to get to sprinkle my best mates ashes on the summit, have pictures taken with my sponsors flags, and I also knew I would get to make that call.
That call back to my home in Cardiff where my family were waiting, pacing up and down, totally out of control, fearing the worst, that I might actually die on this last leg of the journey, but hoping and praying that I would call and tell them that I had made it.
This journey I had taken was extremely selfish, and only after I returned to the UK did I realize how much my family had been affected, fearing for my life for the best part of ten weeks while I was in Nepal.
They put on brave faces, but Tania and our two daughters Tiffany and Chloe 26 and 22 had lived through the pressure of not knowing if I would come home, knowing that if I were to die, where many do, on this amazing but deadly mountain, that I would have died in a world that would make me happy, but their lives would have to carry on without me, and as a very close family that would have been sad.
With each step that took me closer I could see the brightly coloured prayer flags fluttering gently in the wind. Today was a morning of amazing weather, and Russell Brice our head guide, or Big Boss as his team of Sherpa call him with affection, had got the weather forecasting perfect, and our trust in his judgement was to be rewarded, as the sun shone bright and clear, and the wind on the top which can reach up to 150 miles per hour was almost at zero.
Every step I took got me closer to the summit, and I started to prepare to be as efficient with time as possible, as I knew we would only spend 15-20 minutes at the top, and that would pass very quickly.
I knew where my satphone was, as I had it inside my down suit, next to my heart, not for symbolism, but to stay warm, as when satphones and cameras get cold their batteries lose power, and I really didn’t want any hiccups with my planned call home.
Flags were packed neatly in one of my rucksack pockets, and moose’s ashes were in another pocket, safely ensconced in a lightweight camera case, to stop me from accidentally smashing the tiny glass container they now resided in, I really didn’t want my mates remains scattered inside my rucksack, that would have been time consuming even though he would have laughed at the comedy had this happened, such was our relationship, and the guy who had been my ice hockey defenceman for a number of years on the ice, had also grown to become my best friend, often getting me in and out of scrapes as our teenage impudence moulded the men we would become.
As I sat in a tiny hotel toilet drinking a bottle of beer, rehearsing my lines for my best mans speech, I didn’t realize that this, the first public speaking I had ever done at my best friends wedding, would be followed years later by speaking in front of thousands of people about my adventure to the top of Mount Everest to scatter his ashes after he died aged 42 from cancer.
We approached the summit, me and my two team mates Joe and Karzu, along with Gyaljen Sherpa and our guide Bruce, an antipodean that I had met and climbed with three years previously when my first Himalayan adventure had taken me to climb Manaslu. As we all made our way onto the crown of Peak 15 as this work of nature was known prior to the Welshman George Everest, measuring her back in the 1852, and being renamed as Mount Everest in 1856, I noticed how amazingly calm it was, almost serene, with no threat of danger whatsoever.
However, we were well into the Death Zone, above 8000m, and our bodies were dying with every ridiculously tough step we took up towards the blue sky.
Science says that our bodies cannot function properly at this altitude, and due to the lack of oxygen, we actually start to eat ourselves, so staying any longer at this height than we really needed to was above and beyond dangerous, literally.
I had made it, and now I wanted to share it with my family, to let them know I was safe.
I put my hand into my down suit and fumbled for my satphone, but it wasn’t there.
It must be, there’s no way it would have fallen out, and I searched harder and deeper, and as I felt the aerial deep inside my pocket, I breathed out relieved.
I took the phone out and it felt warm as it had been sitting next to my heart, which I imagined would have been beating faster than it probably had ever done before, and thus generating lots of heat.
I pressed the tiny button on the side, and it burst into life, and told me that it had full battery, brilliant, so far so good.
Now, would we get signal?
There was no way I could prepare properly for this moment, I was in the hands of Thuraya the satphone company, and I just hoped that at that precise moment signal would be good.
Searching for satellites…………………
The next twenty seconds seemed like twenty minutes, until the screen flashed up “Nepal” telling me we had action, and I proceeded to dial the number.
Within seconds the call connected, and the phone in my daughter Chloe’s hand rang with my satphone number as the incoming call, and I have since found out what her exact feelings were, relief, excitement, and still the fear that I had to get down the mountain safely.
Some years before this moment I had listened to my mate Richard Parks phone home from the same spot I was calling, and he cried, which in turn made me cry, so being a very emotional animal I anticipated a few tears as the emotion of actually making it to the top of the world would wash over me.
“Hi baby, we made it” I muttered, and I could hear Chloe’s emotion in her voice as she answered me, “We’re all safe, and we are now standing on the top of the world”, “that’s fantastic Dad, we are all so proud of you” and I could hear her voice cracking a little, so I attempted to be brave, and stay strong.
“The view is amazing, and everybody has made it safely”
“That’s brilliant do you feel ok?”
“Yep, I feel great, so we’re going to take some pictures, and head back down, and I will call you when we get down to Camp 4”
“OK, brilliant, stay safe, we all love and miss you”
I love you too baby, say hi to Mum and Tiffany”
“I will, we’re really proud of you”
“Love you baby, speak soon”
“Love you Dad”
And end call.
Now I felt emotional.
And breathe Smithman!!
I breathed through my Darth Vader mask very deeply, and felt the urge to say “Luke I am your Father” but chose not to, it seemed a little inappropriate, but broke the ice for me in what was a bit of an emosh moment.
Ok, next stage of Everest summit tasks!
I had admin to take care of, pictures to be taken, and ashes to be spread.
I sat down with the prayer flags very close to me to my left, and a picture of the Dalai Lama in the background, which I chose to be the backdrop for my summit pictures, and as I unfurled my sponsor flags, and handed my phone to Bruce, he kindly snapped away for me, capturing the images that I had dreamt of.
As Bruce pointed the phone at me I felt my feet slip, just slightly, but at over five miles high, slipping slightly was enough to put fear into my heart.
I lifted my feet up and stamped down with force, and the spikey crampons that were strapped to my high altitude boots, dug into the snow, and my mind drifted to thoughts of me being the worlds first climber to summit Mount Everest, but then to slip off, falling to my death, what an absolutely rubbish epitaph, I really didn’t want it to end with Bruce radioing down to Base Camp, to the legendary Big Boss, and saying “I’m really sorry Russ, but Jeff just fell off” it’s funny how your mind works when it’s starved of oxygen, but this really was bothering me.
I looked at my crampons, and they were dug in with some force, I wasn’t going anywhere, as I searched my rucksack for the small glass receptacle full of my pals remains.
I was given the ashes by his wife Julie back in 2014 when I made my first journey to Nepal to attempt to climb, but unfortunately that trip was to end in a massive icefall, which killed 16 of our Sherpa brothers, and the decision was made to cancel the climbing season that year, so moose’s ashes returned home with me, as he waited for the next post life adventure I would take him on.
I had deposited a small amount of the aforementioned ashes behind a radiator when I received an invite to number 10 Downing Street, but that’s another story for later, but for now I had to get Super Bruce to film me sprinkling my best friends remains at the top of the world, in one take, and without having them blow in any unexpected directions. I really didn’t want any gusts covering Joe with ashes, or for that matter have them blow over me, and I had this awful premonition that if moose was living in the after life, and had any control whatsoever he would have given a little blow, just to cause ashes to cover me, and my biggest fear of all, to go in my mouth, man I worry a lot!
Bruce signaled he was ready, and I started to take the tape off the bottle top, and gently poured the ashes into the wind, I only had one take at this, there was no second chance, no pressure.
The bottle emptied, and I looked at Bruce for confirmation that he had got the shot, and as he nodded I felt relief, and a feeling of happiness that my best mate had shared this moment with me, in some surreal way, but the fact that he was in my mind made me feel happy, he would have loved what I was doing, and I could hear his voice saying “you’re f*****g mad you are” but in a loving way, we had a great relationship, extremely rude to each other in a typical blokey way, but fiercely protective of each other, and I remember vividly getting the phone call from him, while I stood on a busy Regent Street in London with my family, and him telling me that his cancer, which he had beaten once, had come back again, but this time had spread to his liver, and I knew this was the end.
I stood like a statue on the busy London street, and it was like a movie, with everything passing me really fast, as I listened to my best mates soft voice tell me his news, and as we hung up the tears rolled down my cheeks, and as Tania looked at me she knew, we all knew.
that's chapter one, rough and raw, and i'm sure it will need to be polished, but we're cracking on with it.
here's the video we took at the top, in case you haven't seen it on social media, and just for reference the bit where i am on top of lobuche was shot on the anniversary of when i was in exactly the same spot in 2014 and heard that there had been the icefall killing 16 sherpa, and was feeling a bit emosh, which is why my voice cracks a bit #tinytears
so, finally we are just over three weeks until the cardiff half, and i just wanted to say thank you to everybody that has helped by signing up to run, agreed to carry a bigmoose sign, and generally helped in any way.
we're doing a brilliant job in raising awareness and dollar, for 'mind' and if you are coming to cardiff to watch the race, cheer our runners on with a 'moose moose moose' as they pass, they will be easy to spot in their bigmoose running shirts.
have a great week ahead on planet earth, and i'll see you back here next week, thanks for your support,