An interview with Geordie Stewart – mountain climber extraordinaire.
How did you first become interested in climbing?
When I was 17, I hadn’t decided what I wanted to do next in my life, and so I was taking a year out before university. Just before my A-levels, my Dad gave me a book about climbing. This book inspired me. Right after reading it I decided that it would be a good thing to try. I booked my first trip and then told my parents what I was planning. Only five people knew I was going to go on an expedition: my best mate, my two sisters, and my mum and dad.
What did your parents think about you climbing?
My mum has a typically maternal perspective and so she worried a lot. As for my dad, he loves the outdoors, too. My parents never pushed me, but they were very supportive. I am independent enough to afford these trips myself, but their support was very important to me, and I think I needed it.
Do you consider summiting Everest conquering the mountains and nature?
I don’t like the term “conquer”, because I don’t think that it’s possible to conquer something that you have no control over. I mean, you can only climb a mountain if the weather permits it. If an avalanche or something similar happens, you can’t do anything.
Why do you think people enjoy climbing?
Everyone has their own reasons. Mine was that I wanted to challenge myself. The Seven Summits, in particular, appealed to me. It was a good physical challenge and it allowed me to travel around the world and experience different cultures. In general, climbing allows you a different perspective; it gives you a sense of escapism, a sense of freedom, which you might not otherwise experience within everyday life.
Have you made any good friends on your expeditions?
Yes, I have. To go on a big expedition, for instance, Everest expeditions, you need to get permits etc, and so you usually have to go with a commercial company. You end up spending a lot of time with people that were previously unknown to you. Building friendship and trust with your teammates is so important, as, on an expedition, your life could be in their hands and vice versa.
What did you miss the most, when summiting?
I obviously missed my family and my friends. This is odd, but even though I’m the one who goes on the trip, and takes their photos and reaches the top, there are a lot of people who make it possible. I also miss watching matches, and I always miss ice cream, which is odd, because it gets really cold on mountains. I miss food, my bed, a mattress; very generic things that you become accustomed to when you’re at home. When you’re in a completely different environment, these are the things that it is nice to get back to.
Do you have a motto that helped you to make it through?
I like to take the mantra of “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.” I do think it is a good one, especially for climbing expeditions.
How did you feel when you achieved your goal?
Going to the top was the best moment in my life, probably. It was surreal. When you set these grand plans aged seventeen, you dream that you’ll get them done, but it is pretty rare that it actually happens. For me it was four years of constant obsession with trying to get to that point.
When you’re standing on the top of Everest, and you’re the highest person in the world, you get stuck in the moment. You stand above the clouds. I felt an incredible amount of emotion: joy, relief, happiness, and excitement. But you’ve also got to keep a sense of pragmatism about you, as you still need to get down safely. That’s the dangerous part, in a sense.
Climbing is a difficult physical challenge. How long did it take to recover?
With Everest in 2010, I lost over two stones (over 14 kilograms), which is quite a lot. I took three months to properly recover from the sheer exhaustion of the trip. The first week of getting back you’re just physically exhausted; you’re sleeping all the time; you don’t want to do anything. It takes a lot of time to recover, but I suppose, the more you do the trips, the less it takes out of you.
What are your favorite books about climbing?
I like George Mallory a lot: he was a pioneer, a true British adventurer. He went to Base Camp with Champaign. His books about Everest and the biographies of him are fantastic. He became completely obsessed with mountains, which is something I can relate to.
So you also became obsessed with mountains?
I became obsessed with Everest, yes. I wanted to do the Seven Summits. It was the first I read about and it is the highest. It is the one that you know most about and you read most about; it always had a sense of intrigue that the others didn’t. I think that that sense of adventure is usually in someone’s psychology. I have done the seven, my next trip doesn’t necessarily have to be a climbing trip, it could just as easily be a cycling trip, for example. I don’t think it matters as long as it has that sense of adventure and challenge.
Do you think adventure trips change your outlook on life?
While you are on the trip you think, “When I get back I shall have this new perspective on life”. But then it’s amazing how quickly you readjust to life and to your routine. Your perspective on people, however, changes. The high level of stress and the highly competitive atmosphere on these trips bring out the best and the worst in people. I think they have made me more accepting of people, in general.
Images – Geordie Stewart