I’m making good progress and on track to publish my book Seven Steps from Snowdon to Everest well ahead of my 1 December deadline. It’s been over three years in the making and I’m very happy to be so close.
If you pre-ordered it then it should be appearing on your e-readers early in November. If you haven’t pre-ordered it yet, here is the complete prologue from the book to whet your appetite and tempt you to buy the whole thing.
The book is available HALF PRICE for a limited period, so hurry! If you enjoy reading this blog, then the best thing you can do to give me a big thumbs up and encourage me to write more is to buy this, my first full-length book. If you buy it soon (such as by clicking here immediately after reading this extract) then it will help me significantly by boosting my sales rank and increasing the chances of it being recommended to other readers by online bookstores.
This is a very important blog post for me. I dream of one day making enough money to become a full time writer. Publishing my first book is a big step to achieving this dream. I would be very pleased if you could share this post as widely as you can on Facebook, Twitter and anywhere else you can think of to introduce my writing to more readers.
I’m publishing it as an ebook initially, but if you’re one of those people who like to hold a paperback in your hand and smell the print wafting off the page, then my next task will be to start work on the print version with a view to releasing it as a paperback early next year.
I hope you enjoy this extract 🙂
Imagine the Eiffel Tower were eight times as high, and that it rose not 300, but a dizzying 2,400m above the River Seine.
Instead of standing inside its viewing platform behind a comforting wall of iron latticework, you have to edge out onto a roof of sloping terracotta tiles. Just to make things a little more spicy, the tiles are coated with a light dusting of snow, not enough to sink into, but enough to make the surface a bit slippery. You are wearing crampons on your feet – metal spikes that are useful for digging into snow and ice, but not so handy on a tiled roof – and several strands of old rope threaten to trip you up if you don’t concentrate on where you’re putting your feet.
Let’s just examine some key details here. Imagine the Eiffel Tower rose 2,400m off the ground. That’s one and a half miles – or for those of you who prefer to think in metric, nearly two and a half kilometres. Vertically.
If you fall off you will have about twenty-two seconds to think about what it’s going to feel like when you splatter, pizza-like, among tourists in the Champ de Mars, instead of a little under eight seconds. You will be travelling at 781 kilometres per hour, instead of 276.
And what must the river and the people look like from those sloping tiles, if you’re brave enough to look down? I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t know. I’d be too busy edging back inside and heading over to the Louvre, where the viewing experience is a bit less intense.
There’s one more thing to consider, and it’s not insignificant. Suppose that two years ago a man climbed up, and was so exhausted after shinning up all those metal girders that he collapsed and died of exhaustion, falling flat on his back with the crown of his head pointing towards the Seine. It’s a long way down, but there was just enough friction on the tiles to stop him sliding over the edge and making that twenty-two second journey.
You made an early start to avoid the queues when you visited the Eiffel Tower two years later. It was so early that you arrived as dawn was breaking; the dim sunlight cast the horizon in a powder blue, and you realised there was a city down there. As you tiptoed across the roof tiles, you happened to glance down and notice the corpse was STILL THERE, staring up at you and perfectly preserved in a colourful down suit. Well, it would have been staring at you were its eyes not frozen in place.
A bead of cold sweat is crawling down my face as I remember it all.
The Eiffel Tower isn’t one and a half miles high – that would be ridiculous – but a few years ago, on the 19th of May 2012, I had a very similar experience to the one I’ve just described on the North-East Ridge of Everest. It’s an experience few people can comprehend when I describe it to them, and the more time passes and memory fades, the more unreal it becomes to me too.
I had been climbing in the dark since 11.30pm, and dawn was approaching as I trod carefully along a narrow rock ledge. Because of the darkness I was relatively unaware of my surroundings and the extraordinary situation I found myself in. I was at an altitude of 8,500m, where the lower air pressure contains only a third as much oxygen as at sea level. This causes the brain to function in unexpected ways, and although I had an oxygen mask strapped to my face to provide vital stimulation, this had a side effect of making life seem even more surreal. I tried to put two and two together, but I didn’t even get five. In fact, I think I got a banana.
I reached the end of one of the fixed ropes keeping me secure on that narrow ridge, and clipped in to the next one. To combat the extreme cold I was wearing a pair of down mitts the size of a sea lion’s flippers, and I needed to take them off to accomplish the task.
It was after I put them back on and looked up that I saw the corpse.
I had just climbed the First Step, the first of three prominent rock features on Everest’s North-East Ridge. It would be described as an easy rock scramble back home in the UK, something hill walkers could accomplish with a few basic handholds. But at that altitude it was an exhausting task. By the time I reached the top I was so tired that I nearly threw up in my oxygen mask, and I wondered how on Earth I would get back down. To say the corpse unnerved me would be like saying sheep are furry.
As the sky became lighter I became more aware of my surroundings, and with it came the realisation of just how much fresh air stretched beneath me. I was creeping along narrow ledges which sloped down towards a yawning abyss. The rock beneath my feet was dusted with snow, not ideal terrain for the spikes of my crampons, and to make it a little more like an army assault course the surface was covered with bits of old rope from previous years. It’s fair to say I wasn’t entirely happy with the position I found myself in.
Up ahead was the Second Step, Everest’s most infamous rock obstacle, rising about forty metres in a series of cliffs and ledges. I clambered up a short ladder tied to the rock, and found myself in a small alcove. To my right a smooth rock the size of a car rose above my head. Somehow I had to get up it.
I stuck my foot in a crack down its left-hand side and tugged on some old ropes that were attached there, trying desperately to heave my right foot onto the top of the rock. It wasn’t the most elegant climbing technique, and for anyone watching from below it probably looked like I was trying to mount an elephant seal, but elegance wasn’t my primary objective at that moment. I’m no gymnast, but on the plus side at least I wasn’t wearing tight trousers.
My foot slid down the rock and I gripped the ropes to keep my balance. I tried a second time without success, and I was conscious of Chongba behind me – my Sherpa companion who had climbed Everest twelve times but never from the north side. I knew he was desperate for me to succeed, and could only imagine what he must have been thinking as he watched me flounder.
I was also acutely aware that 2,400m of fresh air waited for me on the other side of that rock, and my reward for climbing it would be to find myself standing on a tiny ledge staring straight down into the abyss.
My hands were shaking as I gripped the rope and prepared to try again.
We don’t know whether the British mountaineers George Mallory and Sandy Irvine managed to climb the Second Step in 1924. If they did then they may have been the first men to reach the summit of Everest, twenty-nine years before Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary accomplished this feat in 1953. We do know they didn’t make it down again. Mallory’s body was found not far from there in 1999.
We also know that three Chinese climbers and a Tibetan took at least three hours to climb the Second Step in 1960, during what is now generally accepted as the first ascent of Everest from the north side. Liu Lian-men took four attempts and fell off each time. Chu Yin-hua tried to climb another crack a little above the one I struggled with, and even took his boots off to give himself more grip. They eventually made it up by standing on Liu Lian-men’s shoulders, who by good fortune happened to be a fireman. Charlie Chaplin couldn’t have choreographed it better, and it lent some respectability to my own slapstick performance, although I was glad only Chongba was watching.
Or so I thought. I looked behind me and saw my two friends Mark and Ian approaching along the slabs with Ang Gelu and Kami Sherpa. I didn’t want to hold them up, so I tried a third time. Lifting my right leg as high as I could, I wiggled it around like an overdressed can-can dancer, desperately probing for the top of the rock. It was no use. I couldn’t get it high enough; nor could I get any purchase on the rock with my crampon. I turned to Chongba and saw his crestfallen look.
We had come all this way, but it looked like I wouldn’t be able to go any further. Was the incident Mark now refers to as the time I couldn’t get my leg over on Everest to be the final act in my ten-year journey to reach the world’s highest point?
I hope you will read on and find out. I also hope you won’t get too hung up on the corpse I saw on the North-East Ridge, as many people do when I mention it. Some writers have focused on this theme to cast the modern-day Everest in a negative light without understanding the context.
Despite the slightly macabre opening, this book is not about death. If you picked it up hoping to read a ripping yarn, or a horrifying tale of tragedy and desperation, then read one of the many accounts of the 1996 Everest tragedy, or one of the dozens of mountaineering books on the market that form a sub-genre known unofficially as disaster porn.
My story is a bit more uplifting than these. At its heart it’s the story of an ordinary guy who did something slightly out of the ordinary.
I don’t regard myself as a climber. I am a simple hill walker who had a dream to climb the highest mountain on Earth. In my youth this would have seemed as ridiculous as the mullet haircut I sported as a teenager. I hope that by telling my story I can inspire other ordinary people to look beyond the horizon and follow a dream that might at first seem incredible.
I also have another reason. In recent years Everest’s reputation has been tarnished by negative and sensationalised media reporting. The modern-day Everest climber has been caricatured as having no climbing skills, more money than brains, and – somewhat implausibly – is carried to the top on the backs of Sherpas. Although it’s true we are no longer elite climbers, we have done a little more to be where we are than this disingenuous caricature suggests. I hope that by the end of this book I will have dispelled some of the misconceptions and helped to restore the reputation of Everest and those who climb it.
This is my story.
And that’s the end of the teaser, the complete prologue from my book Seven Steps from Snowdon to Everest. If you enjoyed it and want to read more, then head over to my book page for a list of online stores where you can buy the whole thing, currently at HALF PRICE.