This April, 22 year old Maths student Andrew Whyte will travel to South Asia to make the climb from sea level to 8,848 metres above ground. Commercial airplanes fly less than 200 metres higher.
Straddling the border between Tibet and Nepal, Mount Everest attracts a steady stream of climbers and tourists who hope to summit the highest peak in the world. Although readily available to anyone with enough money, the opportunity to climb Everest should not be taken lightly: Notorious for avalanches and altitude sickness, the mountain is littered with the frozen corpses of past mountaineers, some of which serve as landmarks to today’s hikers. Even with the aid of yaks and sherpas, Everest should be tackled only by climbers with years of experience under their belts.
An avid mountaineer since he started university, Andrew first ventured to Nepal in April 2015 with the intention of summiting Everest. Shortly after his arrival, he and his team felt the tremors of what would soon be recognised as one of the worst natural disasters in the country’s history. Killing over 9000 people on the ground and triggering an avalanche on Everest that killed 21 climbers, the Gorkha earthquake devastated Nepal, prompting a worldwide relief effort that remains ongoing. It was nine days before Andrew’s group could leave the country, their expedition cancelled for the foreseeable future.
On the verge of embarking on his second trip down south, Andrew is hoping to raise money in support of Motor Neurone Disease. A physically debilitating illness, MND affects over 5000 people in the UK and prevents those suffering from engaging in many everyday activities. Projects such as mountain-climbing are frequently undertaken to raise both awareness and money for the disease.
Despite being able to reuse much of his kit from last year, the funds required for the journey are as steep as the mountain itself. A novice can expect to pay upwards of £40,000 from start to finish, while more prepared climbers may be roughly thirty grand out of pocket. Regardless of skill level, Everest is a massive investment of both time and money, necessitating concentrated dedication over an extended period of time. To support himself, Andrew has taken a semester off from school to train for the expedition and to work two jobs, with the goal of earning this personal milestone purely on his own merit. (One of his employers, Blackhorn, will be among his sponsors.)
Eventually, he hopes to best each of the Seven Summits, a feat achieved first in 1985 by Richard Bass and, more recently, by fellow St Andrews student Geordie Stewart, currently the youngest Brit to have accomplished the challenge. The Seven Summits consist of the highest mountain on each of the seven continents: Aconcagua, Everest, Elbrus, Kilimanjaro, Denali, Kosciuszko, and Vinson being the most commonly accepted set. Andrew is currently three summits away from having reached the peak of all seven; once he has climbed Everest, only Australia and Antarctica will remain.
George Mallory, a member of the first three British expeditions to Everest, uttered the iconic words “Because it’s there” when asked why he intended to make the climb. Describing himself as a lover of travel and adventure, Andrew appears to be driven by a similar spirit. Aware of the dangers posed by such a strenuous climb, his past year has been occupied almost entirely by preparations for the two months that he will be spending in Nepal or on the mountain itself. Enterprising and experienced, he will likely thrive on the ascent to the next of the many summits that he will see in his lifetime.