MOUNTAINS

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    "I will never forget my first mountain climb; Moel Siabod in North Wales.  It was no more than a rounded hump and at less than 1,000 metres above sea level, it was no more than a long walk.  However, soaking in the draw-dropping views from the summit with my mates was a defining moment in my life.  My wonderlust had been sparked and I wanted more of it.

    Having had a fascination with snow since I was a toddler, I wanted to get above the snowline - in my eyes, that's where the real adventure lay.  Subsequent climbs on steeper terrain in Snowdonia, the Lake District and the Scottish Highlands gave me the opportunity to use ice axes and crampons for the first time, climbing frozen waterfalls and mixed routes in winter conditions. 

    Over the course of the next few years, I began organising my own expeditions which took me all over the world, often combining my passion for the mountains with a lifelong love of skiing.  Highlights included a series of ice climbs on the Mont Blanc Massif, 6,500-metre peaks in the Bolivian Andes, a rarely-used route up Mount Kilimanjaro, a first ski descent of the western breach of the Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand, the famous Haute Route ski traverse in the Alps, a solo attempt on Aconcagua (the highest peak in the Andes), big mountains in Tibet in the shadow of Everest and skiing down an erupting volcano in Chile.  

    Another memorable trip to the mountains took place in 2006, when alongside two of my long-standing expedition comrades George Wells and Andrew Gerber, we became the first British team to complete the notorious Patrouille des Glaciers ski mountaineering race in the Swiss Alps.  The 110km-route begins in Zermatt and finishes in Verbier and involves over 4,000 metres of ascent and descent.  Known as the "Ironman of the Mountains", the race has been going since the Second World War and most of the competitors are from the Swiss military.  Less than half the teams manage to complete the race, and we were in pieces by the time we crossed the finish line after the most gruelling night of our lives.

    The climbing expedition of which I am most proud was our Silk Mountains Expedition in 2000.   We spent six weeks in the Eastern Zaalay Mountains of Kyrgyzstan, a largely unexplored 20-mile-long mountain range along the country's western border.  We scaled a total of nine unclimbed mountains up to 6,000 metres in height, most of which did not even have names.  We mapped large tracts of unexplored terrain, named mountains, glaciers and rivers and got a real feeling of what it must have been like for those early pioneers.  For the first time in our expedition careers, we felt like we were true explorers.  

    The greatest disappointment of my mountaineering career was having to abort my attempt to become the first Brit to ski down an 8,000-metre peak after a retinal haemorage at 6,500m on Cho Oyu in the Himalays left me temporarily blind in one eye (although the silver lining was my team mate Kenton Cool making a successful ski descent from the summit).  But you can't win them all - the mountains will be there forever and you can always come back!  When I look back on my time in the mountains, I have been incredibly fortunate to have had so many incredible life-enhancing adventures with my closest friends."