Category Archives: Interviews

Inspiring People: Scott Butler – journey to Elbrus

In this interview I catch up with firefighter and British human powered adventurer Scott Butler, to hear about his latest expedition to climb Mt Elbrus, the highest mountain in Russia and the continent of Europe.  His climb has an interesting twist as he is not starting at the base of the mountain but from his home in the UK, some 2550 miles away!

[Axe]  Hi Scott, thanks for taking the time to talk.  Can you tell us about your current expedition “Journey to Mt Elbrus”.

[Scott]  Hi Axe, thanks for asking me! The Journey can be broken down into three stages – firstly the cycle which was a 2000 mile unsupported, fully loaded solo journey from the UK to the west coast of the Black Sea and the port of Burgas in Bulgaria.  Secondly I aim to do a solo, unsupported, row 750 miles across the Black Sea to the port of Batumi in Georgia.  Stage three involves the title of the trek – climbing Mt Elbrus just inside Russia which is the highest peak in Europe at 5642m and one of the seven summits (the seven summits are the highest mountains on each of the seven continents).

[Axe]  What gave you the idea to attempt this journey?

[Scott]  It all started with just the simple thought of “what next?!”  I was just looking for my next challenge and climbing a mountain seemed like the next thing to do.  From there I figured why fly all the way there?  That body of water could be interesting to cross somehow… and it all just fell into place!

[Axe] In 2015 you set-off and had some bad luck, can you give us an overview of what happened?

[Scott]  Wow!  Yeah, it seemed if it could go wrong it would! I started with a failure of my sat nav and so from day two in France I was already off my planned route and trying to navigate by map and by phone.  This is very time consuming and wasn’t helped when my phone gave up the ghost!  Add to that broken spokes and punctured tyres, 40 degree heat and then the worst news.  My car that was towing my boat; kindly being driven by friends Tim and Jason, blew its turbo 15 minutes into France!!  Sadly, the car is still in France and not working and all attempts as getting the boat to Bulgaria never worked out despite valiant efforts by many.


[Axe] On a scale of 1 – 10 how disappointed were you when you when you realised you could not continue in 2015 and would need to postpone?  Did you ever feel like giving up all together?

[Scott]  Disappointed… yeah, that’s one way of describing it! I felt as though I had failed and let people down if I’m honest. I was lucky in one way in that I had the rest of the cycle to focus on, and tell myself that just the ride on its own was no mean feat. If 10 is the worst, the I’d say 8 or 9 at the time, but the support and well wishes of my followers helped me get through that. Giving up altogether was never an option!

[Axe]  Has this journey been attempted before?  If not – does being a ‘first’ make it more of an attraction to you?

[Scott]  People have been cycling across Europe for decades and Elbrus has no doubt been climbed by thousands, but nobody has ever rowed across the Black Sea before so a World record is in the offing!  I didn’t know this until I’d set my mind on this challenge so it wasn’t an incentive but certainly became a huge focus of the journey.

[Axe] What were the highlights of the 2015 stage?

[Scott]  Austria was undoubtedly a huge highlight.  The scenery along the Danube was breathtaking and camping literally meters away from the riverbank in a stunning valley was one of those moments where you think “It’s places like this that are why I do these things”. The Danube in general was a highlight- especially as I never planned to ride it!  With the navigation problems an Englishman living in Germany that I bumped into suggested that I take the Danube as it was well signposted.  It wasn’t straight but I could just knuckle down and it enabled me to knockout 140 mile days in the saddle.


But more than the scenery it was experiencing countries like Serbia where you wouldn’t necessarily visit.  The further East I got the more friendly people became.  That’s not to say I didn’t meet wonderfully kind people in the West, far from it!  But I think the further East you get, the less cyclists there are and maybe people appreciate how far you’ve come to be there in that moment. Honking horns, people waving, thumbs up as they pass, being given free food and drink in exchange for photos with me, picking me up when stranded with a busted bike in Hungary when looking for bush to camp behind… it really was wonderful.


Not forgetting the other cyclists that I met! People from all over the world, heading in each direction, with different aims and daily mileage, but all out there searching for something.  Brilliant.


[Axe]  I understand you took a ferry across the English Channel, which obviously is not human power, did you ever consider human powered options for this portion and how important or non-important was it to you to make the trip as human powered as possible?

[Scott] As I mentioned before, the journey really only began as a jaunt up a mountain and slowly developed into the trip it became.  The idea that I would make my way by human power was something that ‘just happened’.  I did take a ferry over the channel –  I looked into kayaking the channel but it proved to be too costly!  I never made too much of it being all human powered and although there was some disappointment at having to take a ferry, ultimately I felt that I was covering enough miles by my own power!  The problems with the boat and the extra cost ultimately made up my mind.  Once this is competed and I have a few thing under my belt then ‘going the whole hog’ might be on the agenda!

[Axe]  What were your biggest fears before you started the journey and how how did you manage these? 

[Scott]  Without being big headed, I didn’t have any fears.  At least I didn’t allow myself to acknowledge any fears!

[Axe] Whats your biggest fear and challenge going into Stage 2 and 3?

[Scott]  Again, no real fears, although, and you’ll laugh at this; my boat sinking!?  Since I discovered that the boat I had bought was rotten inside, I’d spent all my time repairing something I had no knowledge of.  With such tight time constraints I never managed to get the boat into the water to see if it floated!!  People were incredulous that I was heading onto the Black sea without seeing if my repairs were seaworthy and in hindsight this was quiet irresponsible, but I was confident!  At least now I get to test it in some actual water!

[Axe] What is your budget for this expedition? (if you don’t mind me asking!)
[Scott] A budget is a funny thing. It makes you think, naturally, of money. But in reality, certainly in my case, it meant ‘time’ much more than it did money. We all lead such busy lives with so many commitments that getting time away (and to train!) to pursue these sometimes perceived crazy pursuits can be difficult. I’m very lucky that my employers allowed me to:
A. save some holiday from the previous year and
B. the shift pattern that I work as a firefighter allows for larger chunks to be taken off.
The two different budgets will of course intermingle if you aren’t as lucky as I have been as you may need to get the financial backing to cover unpaid leave for example.  For me that was the toughest part: getting sponsors. I did secure some but ultimately I have backed the majority of this adventure. Now I’m doing it ‘budget’ style, certainly in regards to the cost of the boat, and if I’m honest I’m waaaay too slapdash to keep proper track of my expenditure. Once I’m ‘in’ I’m ‘in’ and what it cost is what it costs, using my credit card and dealing with it another day. With the problems I had with the boat and the car and false dawns of restarting thanks to the garage in France (whole ‘nother story) my costs went up. But loosely 8k for the boat, £1000 for tow bar and trailer service, £800 for the bike and equipment, mountain guide, pass and visas etc £2500…. around £15k should have covered it all… but bear in mind as long as I don’t sink or trash the boat there is always a second hand market for ocean rowing boats and it will always be an asset.
If you want it enough it can be done!


[Axe]  Please tell us some more about your boat

[Scott]  Pacific Pete is a 23ft 1997 Woodvale class plywood ocean rowing boat.  It has crossed the Atlantic 5 times and was last owned by Geoff Allum who, along with his cousin rowed the Atlantic in 1971!! Geoff was a huge help and inspiration and I only hope I can justify his decision to sell it to me!  By today’s standards it is old fashioned and heavy- but I like that about it!  As you well know yourself Grant, this isn’t a cheap thing to undertake and Pete was in my price bracket.  It was unfortunate that it turned out to need so much work, but neither Geoff nor I were to have known.  Finally, it’s name.  I’m honoured to carry the name Pacific Pete.  Peter bird was the first man to row solo across the Pacific Ocean and he was a great friend of Geoff’s.  Peter was sadly lost at sea on a further attempt at the pacific.  It’s an honour to own and to be rowing such a legendary boat and one with such a legendary name attached.


[Axe]  How much training, planning and preparation did you and are you doing for this expedition?

[Scott]  Training wise I did at least a 10k row every day on the rowing machine, but usually 2 hour stints – sometimes 2 sets of 2 hrs and sometimes a 4 hour stint (mind numbing!).  I’d also fit in weight training and running.  Couple that with evening stints on the exercise bike at work and 50 to 80 mile bike rides.  The planning was relatively simple, but the logistics and fundraising/sponsor seeking was hugely time consuming and to be honest with you quite demoralising!  I’m no ‘blagger’!  All in I took around 18 months to bring it all together… which made the last minute rush with the boat repairs quite galling!

[Axe]  What are the top three lessons you have learnt from attempting this expedition? In hindsight would you do it again?

[Scott]  Would I do it again?  Absolutely!  As soon as I got home I missed the ever changing scenery, the never knowing where my next meal was coming from or where I was going to sleep that night, meeting new and interesting people and challenging myself every single day.

Lessons?  Hmmm… No matter how demanding my thirst or how pushed for time, you’ve got to eat.  I’m well aware of the importance of nutrition and in my opinion I follow a diet that fits my training needs, but this seemed to go out the window when on my travels!  Take spare spokes and… Bring a spare car!?!

[Axe] How can people follow your progress when you set-off again?

My website has a map linked to my GPS Spot system and I update my facebook page – which proved to be the greatest tool on my travels to keep people involved with little videos. Over 1500 people watched me run into the Black Sea!

This interview features in the Inspiring People section of my website.  Not ‘inspiring’ in terms of making billions of dollars from raping the planet and the earth’s resources, but tales from ordinary people who do extraordinary things, who get out and make positive impacts, who send positive messages through the way they live their lives.  We all have a part to play in our future.  I am very excited to share these stories with you and if at least one of them can touch and inspire you to make positive changes then I will be very happy!


Inspiring People: Terence Tay – Singapore’s solo motorcycle nomad

Some of my favorite travelling experiences have been when I have been solo.  Today we catch up with a very cool cat, Terence Tay to talk about his passion – solo motorcycle touring around Asia.

[AXE]  Hi Terence – Can you tell us about your passion for ESMT? (extreme-solo-motorcycle-touring)

[TERENCE]  I’m not entirely sure if what I do can be considered extreme motorcycle touring, Axe. But I enjoy pottering around on a motorcycle, visiting places, meeting people and learning more about their cultures. Perhaps the only thing extreme is the food I put in my mouth! 

One man's meat is another man's delight. Sampling some rat meat, 100km outside of Bangkok. (Jan, 2015)
One man’s meat is another man’s delight. Sampling some rat meat, 100km outside of Bangkok. (Jan, 2015)

[AXE] How did you get into riding motorcycles in the first place?

[TERENCE]  It all started in college, many years ago. During my first week of school, I spotted some older boys, fooling around in the parking lot, on their dirt bikes. They were trying to do donuts, burnouts and wheelies on their bikes, if my memory serves me right. They weren’t very good, to be honest, but boy, they seemed to have loads of fun on their machines. 

We became friends later and they sort of got me interested in riding. We would meet up at night – school days or not – and go riding into MacRitchie forested area, prohibited, of course. Or race along Orchard Road(town) on weekends, also illegal. 

Motorcycles, to me, symbolise freedom and mobility. And a great way to start a conversation. It’s also a relatively cheap way to get around. For that reason, it’s a popular way to get around in an expensive city like Singapore.

Stuck in the Dawna Mountain Range, moments after clearing customs, at Mae Sot border, Burma.(Mar 2014) Teaches patience in a hurry.

Stuck in the Dawna Mountain Range, moments after clearing customs, at Mae Sot border, Burma.(Mar 2014) Teaches patience in a hurry.

[AXE] What gave you the idea to start motorcycle touring?

[TERENCE]  Before I sold my car in 2010, I was driving up and down Malaysia on my own. However, I wanted a better connection with the places that I’ve visited, as I felt that the sensory input bit was missing. It was like watching a movie inside a car. So I made a decision to sell the car and purchase a motorcycle so that I could “participate in the movie”. Now, I could feel the heat, smell the road, taste the rain and sometimes, touch the sky. 

I started riding on my own to Genting, Kuala Lumpur and Malacca in that order, before venturing out to Cameron Highlands that year. Then I rode up to Hatyai, Thailand with some other bikers. That was a breakthrough for me. Once I crossed into Thai soil, it sort of broke the mental barrier. My mental map expanded from just Malaysia to include Thailand. Now I’ve a build-in GPS for Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam in my head as well. 

Taking a rest in the mid-day sun, en route to Mae Sariang, northern Thailand (Dec, 2012)

Taking a rest in the mid-day sun, en route to Mae Sariang, northern Thailand (Dec, 2012)

[AXE] Whats your largest adventure todate? Is this also your favorite adventure? If not what is and why?

[TERENCE] That’s a tough one, Axe. In terms of scale, the 15,000km, 82 day journey of Indochina would be my grandest. I travelled across Malaysia, Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam before returning home to Singapore. It left me broke financially but a richer person, spiritually and mentally. I traveled really slowly on my motorcycle and experienced many things most tourists wouldn’t. I received kindness from locals less resourceful than myself and even took a step closer to mastering the art of non-verbal communication. All in all, I’ve a better feel of what our neighbours are doing up north, as it happens on the ground, and not as reported in the mainstream media.

15,000km, 82 days, a route map showing Terence's favorite adventure to-date.

15,000km, 82 days, a route map showing Terence’s favorite adventure to-date.

It’s arguably my best adventure, if not for the one that followed. Last December, I was able to share my love for motorcycle touring with my partner Cher who has never toured on a motorcycle before. So to push and prod her around Thailand on a 6,700km journey over 23 days and return her safely to her parents…that felt really special. It felt like an achievement.

It’s one thing to be able to do something you’re passionate about. To share that passion with the person you love, priceless.   

Cher right, me left. Sampling Chinese style dim sum near Golden Triangle. Nothing like sharing one's adventure with a partner. (Jan, 2015)

Cher right, Terence left. Sampling Chinese style dim sum near Golden Triangle. Nothing like sharing one’s adventure with a partner. (Jan, 2015)

Making sure that our armpits receive an equal amount of sunlight, and airing in Pai, Thailand. (Jan, 2015)

Making sure that our armpits receive an equal amount of sunlight, and airing in Pai, Thailand. (Jan, 2015)

[AXE]  Why do you normally choose to ride solo?

[TERENCE]  Ah, that’s a simple one. When you ride alone, you’re the boss. You get to make all the decisions, and accept all the consequences. Life’s easier that way. When you ride in a group, more often than not, you’ve to share that responsibility. 

Also, riding alone reduces the barrier between others and me. I may become an easier target for crime perhaps but the distance between two strangers shrinks very quickly too. So if I become a victim of a crime, it’s also easier to get help.

At Vientiane, Laos. The Arc de Trioumph or Patuxai Arc. Can't afford the real thing in France so this will do for now. (May, 2015)

At Vientiane, Laos. The Arc de Trioumph or Patuxai Arc. Can’t afford the real thing in France so this will do for now. (May, 2015)

[AXE]  What are the three best things that undertaking these massive adventures has taught you?


1) Life’s about making decisions. Better decision, better quality of Life.

2) You can only control what you can only control. So always start with that first.

3) If nothing happens, nothing happens. No worries!

Dealing with corrupted border/custom officers in Poipet, Cambodia. Part of the experience. (Apr 2014)

Dealing with corrupted border/custom officers in Poipet, Cambodia. Part of the experience. (Apr 2014)

[AXE] Terence – I understand some of your trips you have given back to the local communities – what have you done, what gave you the motivation to do this?

[TERENCE]  Yes, I may have been alone on trips but I couldn’t have done it alone. I’ve received much kindness and generosity on the road, from random strangers mainly. So I try to give as much as I receive so usually, towards the end of a trip, on the return leg, I’ll seek out the homeless and destitute along way and leave pieces of clothes(freshly laundered, I might add!) with them. 
The last trip, however, Cher and I decided to take a more organized approach and adopt an orphanage in Mae Sot. The goal was to raise awareness and funds during the ride. The response was very encouraging and we met our fund-raising goal quickly. We even received 2 solar cells from Third Wave Power, a local tech company, and 4 amazing adventure books “From Peak to Peak” from a Kiwi author (who chose to remain anonymous) to donate! How about that!
Traveling via a motorcycle allows me to take a glimpse of everyday people on the ground, and witness how they go about their daily business. At a kampong or village house in Central Cambodia. (Apr, 2014)

Traveling via a motorcycle allows me to take a glimpse of everyday people on the ground,
and witness how they go about their daily business. At a kampong or village house in Central Cambodia. (Apr, 2014)

Giving a random stranger a free ride over the Hai Van Pass to Danang, 30km away. Sometimes you help others and sometimes, others help you. (May, 2014)

Giving a random stranger a free ride over the Hai Van Pass to Danang, 30km away. Sometimes you help others and sometimes, others help you. (May, 2014)

[AXE]  Riding motorbikes is risky in Singapore. Let alone around Malaysia, Thailand and Myanmar – how do you handle the risk personally and how does your family handle the risk?

[TERENCE]  Gee Axe, that’s a tough one. I’m generally a risk-taker. The greater the risk, the greater the rewards, presumably. If there’s a 80% chance of survival, I would usually accept the challenge. Not sure how that would sit with my parents but they stopped worrying about me since the Indochina trip. 

On the national highway in Laos, built by the same people who worked on the Cambodian national highway.

On the national highway in Laos, built by the same people who worked on the Cambodian national highway.

[AXE]  What is the hardest thing about any motorcycle adventure? 

[TERENCE]  For me, it would be to stop. I enjoy life on the open road. Perhaps too much! So whenever the end of a journey draws near, I will start to feel a tinge of sadness in my heart. Then I dream about the next adventure. 

[AXE]  How would you recommend people to get started motorcycle touring? What would you tell them if they said they were worried about the risk?


1) Start with a motorcycle that you can pick up over and over by yourself.

2) Pack light to go farther.

3) Have a plan but prepare to make changes along the way.

As for risk, Life’s too short to worry about dying. Start living today!

Riding along a bamboo bridge in central Cambodia. It's only good for 6 months.  (The monsoon will wash it away, only for the villagers to rebuild after that. Talk about resilience.)

Riding along a bamboo bridge in central Cambodia. It’s only good for 6 months.
(The monsoon will wash it away, only for the villagers to rebuild after that. Talk about resilience.)

[AXE]  Whats your dream journey?

[TERENCE]  Right now, it’s a toss up between circumnavigating India or running the length of Americas, from Argentina to Alaska! Thank you so much for the thoughtful questions, mate.

One of the many sunsets on the road. It's usually the last reminder to stop messing about on the road and find a guesthouse quickly.

One of the many sunsets on the road. It’s usually the last reminder to stop messing about on the road and find a guesthouse quickly.

[AXE] Terence thanks so much for taking the time to share your adventure’s.  To follow Terence please like his facebook page:
This interview features in the Inspiring People section of my website.  Not ‘inspiring’ in terms of making billions of dollars from raping the planet and the earth’s resources, but tales from ordinary people who do extraordinary things, who get out and make positive impacts, who send positive messages through the way they live their lives.  We all have a part to play in our future.  I am very excited to share these stories with you and if at least one of them can touch and inspire you to make positive changes then I will be very happy!

Inspiring people: Dave Field – losing weight one mile at a time

Lose weight without changing your eating plan, no expensive gym or crash diet programs and only 7 – 10 minutes of exercise per day? Possible or Impossible?  To answer the question this week we catch up with fellow kiwi Dave Field for a peek at what he has been up to for the last 365+ days 

[AXE]  Hi Dave, firstly a massive congratulations on reaching your 365 day goal. Can you give us a brief overview of what you have just accomplished?

[DAVE]  Thanks Axe!  Basically I ran every day for a year.  It’s known as Running Streak and the thing is to run a minimum of 1 mile per day for however long you want your Streak to last.  My original goal was for a year and I achieved that on 1 Jan 2015.

I didn’t run marathons or anything in getting there, I just focused on my Run Streak.  Days when I had more time I would run for longer, other days I would just run the 1 mile. Some were faster than others; some were run hung over….  I would say that 80% of my runs were between 2-4km and started at my front door.  I generally went for longer runs in the weekends or if were away somewhere and I wanted to explore a bit more.  I mixed up running on the pavement and on local trails.

I think my highlight run was completing a 13.5km skyline run in Wellington (NZ) with my two brothers and sister-in-law (see photo 1). There is a 100m vertical climb hill near to home and it was a highlight running up there the first time, then again when I ran up pushing my daughters baby buggy.  Running in Adelaide during a heat wave and near Wilpena Pound, Bluff Hill (NZ), which almost killed me, then the humidity of Singapore and Malaysia on work trips

A happy Dave (right side of photo in green) after completing the Skyline Run Wellington Dec 2014.

A happy Dave (right side of photo in green) after completing the Skyline Run Wellington Dec 2014.

[AXE]  You mean you ran every single day for one year – never missing not even one day? What if you were sick?

[DAVE]  That’s right Axe. I never missed a day – even when I had the flu I got out for a trot.    There was one run I had to complete in wet work gear and shoes after a minor boating mishap (involving flares, life rafts, at sea rescue, lost car keys, locked out of my house for 18-hours), but that is a different story…So no, never missed a day.

[AXE]  What was the motivation for undertaking this and where did you learn about it?

[DAVE] I guess I wanted to be fitter and lose some weight.  I wasn’t particularly worried about either but I had been fitter in the past. Also it was a challenge to complete and something that not many other people had done also provided motivation. 

I knew about it about it through a friend (Greg Camburn) who was already doing it.  We had talked about how he managed it over a few beers, after which he ran home to his place whilst I walked and we had a few more beers back at his. He had made it work and it sounded like fun, or at least something totally different.    After having a look online ( there were people who had been doing it for 45+ years!  From there I figured it was a bit different and something I wanted to complete.

Th 'before' shot - a happy Dave in 2013 - over 11kg heavier before he started the running streak.

The ‘before’ shot – a happy Dave (on the left) in 2013 – over 11kg heavier before he started the running streak.

[AXE]  How long did you think about it before you made the decision to commit? What considerations did you take into account?

[DAVE] About 10 minutes!  Dee, my wife, was driving me to the airport on 2 January 2014 and I said maybe I should just do what Greg does and run every day…it seemed like a good idea!  I had my running gear in my bag so when I arrived in Tauranga at 5pm that night I went for a quick run before heading out for dinner with the work guys.  That was the start of it.  I told people that’s what I was doing and so was committed I guess..I obviously knew about it before hand but hadn’t made the mental jump to do it.  Now I am four months behind Greg and am secretly waiting for him to miss a day!

Considerations, I guess not many given the time I thought about it!  I had been doing a bit of running, trying for the typical 4-5km two to three times a week and a longer one in the weekend but to be honest I was not that dedicated to it and each run always felt like a slog.  I wasn’t very motivated to do it and I used the excuse that I was busy at work and I couldn’t find the 25-30min to go for a run, so realistically was only doing 2-3 runs per week.  I had a busy year ahead at work and was due to become a Dad for the first time so I wanted something achievable.  Some may laugh that running everyday doesn’t sound achievable but I guess I broke it down day by day and being achievable meant that I had to run for 10-minutes per day.   I am not a natural runner but knew I could run and that if I put my mind to it I could achieve it. 

Did I set out to run every day for a year – yes. That was the goal.  Did I think I would make it???  Yes and no – I thought I might get injured or sick and not be able to achieve it, but I was committed to finding the time every day.  It gets a bit addictive as the numbers start racking up and the thought of having a rest day and having to start again at zero just doesn’t seem worth it.

Dave and Cate enjoying an early Sunday morning run together

Dave and Cate enjoying an early Sunday morning run together

[AXE]  What were the top three positive things you have got out of doing this challenge?

[DAVE] Overall I feel a million times better than when I started. I am fitter, lighter and healthier. This leads to being more active with our daughter Cate. Prior to the running streak I used to get sore knees whilst kneeling down (knee ACL reconstruction in 2001) and couldn’t stay there for long. I also used to suffer from a sore lower back if bending over a lot. So basically the worst things for trying to deal with a baby! The running sorted out my knees and a few sessions of burpee’s and sit-up’s a week sorted out my lower back. So personally I feel a lot lot better and Cate gets a fit and active Dad.

Other people would come for a run with me, not like Forrest Gump style but if I was going I would ask if they wanted to come along.  I think if I wasn’t there then they probably wouldn’t have run that day so it was good to motivate them and have someone to run with.  I would say to people that I don’t care what pace we run at, I can go as slow as you like or as fast as I can to keep up.  For me it was just another run and I enjoyed running with someone else for a change.

Thirdly I feel more positive and outgoing to do things whether that is fitness related or other.  I guess I am mentally stronger and know that if I want to achieve something I can.

[AXE]  Were there any completely unexpected benefits from doing it?

[DAVE]  When people ask or you tell them what you are doing they look at you as if you are mad.  To be honest it feels quite satisfying.  I enjoy running. I thought that I might get bored with the whole thing but quite the opposite.  Sure there are days when I am not as motivated as others but I still enjoy it. You recover from a hangover quicker!  Especially when you run first thing the following morning.

I recently learnt that I had inspired my cousin’s husband to start his Run Streak this year which is pretty cool I think. He thinks it’s a great concept and commented that he went out the other day for a 1-mile run but was feeling good so did 2-miles. And also that if he was trying to do 10 km three times a week he would be much more likely to find an excuse not to and get out of the habit. This is exactly what I found.

[AXE]  What was the hardest thing about completing it? Did you ever think about giving up?

[DAVE]  The first week or so it’s a novelty, by day 60 I was feeling like it’s a pretty good achievement already, but after 160 days I was thinking there is so long to go and what am I doing….The mental aspect of it was the hardest thing, initially anyway, certainly at times it felt a bit like ground hog day.

To keep it varied I would change my route, add in sprints or hills, stop and do some press-ups etc.  During the week I would just run from home, around the streets and a few tracks nearby.  During the weekends I would try and go for a longer and more varied run, but it all depended on time available. Sometimes I would run hung over to pick up the car from the night before..

I can’t ever recall thinking about giving up but certainly some days I was more motivated than others!  Some days I would just plod around slowly thinking about anything but running.

[AXE]  You had a busy year I understand with becoming a father for the first time and work wise.  How did you handle it when things got really busy?

[DAVE]  Yeah it was a busy year and I am lucky to have a very supportive wife and a flexible job.  I found the beauty of the ‘minimum 1-mile’ thing is that if it was busy I would just do that.  If I really want to punch it out I can do the run in around 7-minutes….so it takes longer to get ready and stretch before and after (which I did for every run, no matter how long or short). For me, if I did the run in the morning it would only add 10-15 minutes to my day.  Get up, go for a run, have breakfast whilst cooling down, shower, off to work.  I figured that if I couldn’t find 15-minutes per day there was something wrong.

I would also try to make the run work around what I had to do during the day – drop the car off for a service, run home; run to work instead of the bus or if I didn’t have the car; run home from lunch with friends; run to the hardware store to pick up DIY items rather than driving; drag the boss out for a run at lunch a couple of times a week; or just run in the evening after all the chores were done.   My hospital bag for our daughters birth contained a set of running gear in it and I had mapped out a 1-mile route from the front doors of the hospital; luckily I had completed my run earlier in the day and didn’t have to test my wife’s support behind me doing my run during labour!

I also started running with my daughter in the buggy which was good workout and she loved it.  We did need to be mindful of Cate’s (my daughter) neck strength though so I didn’t do too much running early on and we used to wedge her in with support.  Recently we purchased a second-hand dedicated running buggy and I need to get out with that more often.  Running with Cate would also give Dee (my wife) a break as well and I would often go for longer runs which we all benefited from.

A happy Dave - on day 365, after the 365th continuous run!

A happy Dave – on day 365, after the 365th continuous run!

[AXE]  What advice would you give someone who was thinking about attempting something like this?

[DAVE]  Give it a go!  It is actually easier than you think.  It becomes a routine rather than a chore so your mindset about running changes, well it did for me anyway. 

Tackle it day by day and break whatever target you have into bit sized chunks. I would suggest starting slow by just completing the 1-mile run for the first few weeks so your body adjusts and build from there, if you want to.  Make sure you have easy runs so your body gets some rest.  Don’t worry about looking at your watch, your per km times will eventually fall.

[AXE]  Why do you think more people do not do things like this?

[DAVE]  I think because they think that such a short run or short session of something doesn’t have any benefit.  I am sure I was once told that if you don’t run for more than 20-minutes at a time you may as well not bother, which makes it very easy to say I won’t bother!  But there does seem to be more published research/articles recently suggesting that short but frequent runs or training sessions are the way to go.

I certainly found that it worked for me. I lost around 11kg and dropped about 1.5 minutes off my per km time. I generally eat healthy anyway but I didn’t go into a diet or anything, I still ate and drank whatever I wanted.  Motivation itself in that.

[AXE]  What does your wife/family and friends think about what you are doing and have done?

[DAVE]  My wife thinks it’s a great achievement and is very supportive of me continuing with it.  My family and friends think I am little bit mad and keep asking if I have missed a day…but think it’s a massive achievement.

[AXE]  Where to from here? are you planning to carry on with this?

[DAVE]  I don’t want to return to zero!  No, I enjoy it and want to continue so as of today (28 Jan) I am on day 392 and 500 is not far away..

This year I am looking to join a running club to meet some new people and explore some new trails.  I quite enjoy trail running and am interested in completing some 20+ km runs.  I am also looking to complete one of the OXFAM 100km walks with some work people, but recognise this will take a lot of training time, much more than 10min per day so will have to see how this one works out.

[AXE]  Awesome work Dave – thanks for taking the time to share your story.  You have inspired me to go for a run – see you out there!

This interview features in the Inspiring People section of my website.  Not ‘inspiring’ in terms of making billions of dollars from raping the planet and the earth’s resources, but tales from ordinary people who do extraordinary things, who get out and make positive impacts, who send positive messages through the way they live their lives.  We all have a part to play in our future.  I am very excited to share these stories with you and if at least one of them can touch and inspire you to make positive changes then I will be very happy!

Inspiring People: Ria Tan – Saving Singapore’s shoreline

I have lived in Singapore for 17 years, however it was not until I bought my inflatable kayak 3 years back that I started exploring the coast.  Many enjoyable kayaking trips later, I can say my eyes have been well and truly opened to the beauty of this tiny countries natural coastline! I have seen some amazing natural sights, including wild pigs on the beach in Pulau Ubin, snakes off Sungei Buloh, huge monitor lizards swimming between the Sisters Islands, a large turtle off Sentosa, a family of Otters swimming through a mangrove river and a Dugong or Dolphin which surfaced very close to our kayak in Chek Jawa.  All these animals I saw in their natural environement, at zero cost to me other than some human powered effort to paddle my boat on my weekend micro adventures.  While researching idea’s for area’s to paddle, I stumbled across a very interesting website called WILDSINGAPORE – run by Ms Ria Tan.  Ria is extremely passionate about the shores of Singapore and we catch up with her here to learn more about she is up to.

[AXE]  Hi Ria – thanks for taking the time out to talk to us – can you let us know about your website WILDSINGAPORE and what the purpose/aim of this website is?

[RIA]  My hope is that wildsingapore can be a one-stop location for those who want to learn about our wild places; and do more for them.   When I first got interested in nature in Singapore, I struggled to find out more. I felt I should compile what I had found in a simple website. Over the years, the wildsingapore resources got bigger and wilder. I added a news blog, a happenings blog, online photos for free download, fact sheets and more. It is now quite a jungle! I apologise to those who get lost in the website. I definitely didn’t expect it to turn out this way when I first started.

[AXE]   How did you first get interested in the the marine conservation of Singapore’s shoreline?

[RIA]   My first real taste of wild nature in Singapore was as volunteer guide at Sungei Buloh. I then heard about and visited Chek Jawa. It was gorgeous. This was my first photo of Chek Jawa  427626099_11337693d3_z I was distraught to learn that it would be reclaimed in about 6 months. I did what I could, bringing everyone I could to see Chek Jawa before it was gone forever and posting photos online (I had to learn html!). I was astonished when reclamation was deferred.  We nearly lost Chek Jawa because we simply didn’t know it was there. Its marine wonders are only easily seen at low tide. Are there any other amazing shores in Singapore? I wondered. I vowed to visit a shore every low spring tide to find out.  (The living rubble at Chek Jawa before the boardwalk was built)  601505539_a9995be726_z I thought I would cover all Singapore shoresin two years. I’ve been doing this for more than a decade and I still haven’t seen every Singapore shore!  I now make about 100 field trips every year covering about 40 locations.  And every Singapore shore is full of life! I blog all my field trips on the wild shores of Singapore blog (Pulau Satumu, the location of Raffles Lighthouse, has some of the best reefs in Singapore.  463798487_9ae9a3e380_b My seashore travels also led me to meet amazing people who work tirelessly, quietly, every day, on a broad range of issues that impact our marine life. Besides our amazing marine life, it is these like-hearted friends that keep me going. (Here’s the enthusiastic volunteers of TeamSeagrasswho monitor 6 shores in Singapore) 7730322476_75aa68a826_b [AXE]  You blog and post information about Singapore on a daily basis – this takes enormous energy and commitment on a long-term level – can you explain what gives you the energy to do this?

[RIA]   I am very keen to learn and know the latest news about Singapore’s wild places and the issues that affect them. Since I’m already reading the news, it isn’t really much additional effort to share them on the wildsingapore news blog.   I love to visit Singapore’s wild places and join activities for ordinary people to learn more about them. Many of them are offered by passionate volunteers for free. So I am very glad to share these on the wildsingapore happenings blog.  It doesn’t take much time or effort. My day doesn’t seem right if I haven’t done the daily updates. 

[AXE]   Do you have another job or is WILDSINGAPORE your full time occupation?

[RIA]   I have been doing wildsingapore for about 10 years while I had a full-time job. I retired about 3 years ago and am now doing wildsingapore and other wild stuff full time.

[AXE]  You say on your site – your life is governed not like the vast majority of us by human related daily milestones – but the the cycles of the tide.  What do you mean by this?

[RIA]   My priority today remains keeping an eye on all of Singapore’s shores. Together with some wacky hard-core volunteers, we go out every low spring tide to check out one of our many beloved shores. (Landing at Pulau Jong, one of the last undeveloped islands in Singapore. 14862379273_d9d5d6859d_b The best low tides happen from about 2am to sunrise, so the team suffers greatly from self-inflicted jet lag and sleep deprivation for half of the year. (Predawn survey on Terumbu Semakau, a submerged reef opposite Pulau Bukom. 5581734870_ec91e1e055_b During neap low tides, I also check out the mangroves. (Fun in the mud with the Mega Marine Survey of Singapore, a once-in-a-lifetime survey to document Singapore’s rich marine biodiversity. 5438175031_1c0925f65a_b My life is planned around these tidal events because the field trips are getting harder on me as I get older. I can’t do much else after a low tide trip. More about our wacky tides here

[AXE]  What is the current status of Singapore’s coastline, is it in good condition, bad condition, deteriorating or improving? [RIA]   There are so many different shores. Each with different situations that is difficult to make a general statement.  Despite having massive petrochemical and industrial facilities in our Southern Islands, and being one of the world’s busiest ports, Singapore’s waters are quite clean and wildlife teams in our wild Southern islands and reefs. Cyrene Reef for example, has some of Singapore’s best sea grass meadows in the South, and teems with large sea stars and other awesome marine life. This despite it being located in the middle of what I call the Industrial Triangle. 4600783141_0778c24dcf_z I was very surprised to discover a vibrant coral reef growing on the artificial seawalls at Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal.  12744128104_da79a22985_h Nearby, seagrasses have settled on the artificial reclaimed lagoons. And these reefs and seagrass meadows survived the massive oil spill in 2010. Mangrove trees have even settled naturally on the artificial seawalls at Pulau Hantu!  8734512126_3676031450_b This has given me the delirious idea that perhaps a ‘Singapore Great Barrier Reef’ is possible when we construct seawalls appropriately?

[AXE]  What are your favorite area’s in Singapore’s coastline that you would recommend for readers to visit if they have the chance?

[RIA]   Chek Jawa remains dear to me and now with a boardwalk, anyone can visit at any tide! This shore is found on Pulau Ubin, Singapore’s last unspoilt island, and a refuge from city-living.  4124197499_f4538d23fa_z No need to swim, no need to dive! The Sisters Islands have some of Singapore’s best reefs that are easy for ordinary people to visit at low tide. These islands are now part of The Sisters Islands Marine Park and there will be programmes for ordinary people to join as visitors or volunteers. It will also be developed for divers and volunteer divers will eventually have a role too. (Amazing reefs at Big Sisters Island can be seen from the jetty. And yes, sometimes the viz in Singapore can be awesome!  444441437_7a7f7d836e_z Pulau Hantu is a great place to dive in Singapore. Join the Hantu Bloggers, volunteers who conduct guided dives every month there. (The living reefs of Pulau Hantu at low spring tide) 4600783141_0778c24dcf_z On the mainland, explore our magnificent mangroves at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, now with an extension at Kranji that allows kids to get muddy and close to nature. Or explore a mangrove boardwalk at night at Pasir Ris. There’s even a mangrove boardwalk right next to an MRT station!Berlayar Creek just steps from Labrador MRT station. (Sankar, a volunteer guide with the Naked Hermit Crabs, introduces kids to the mangroves at Pasir Ris. 8591861948_0bf7cc48b3_b I guide with the Naked Hermit Crabs and we offer free monthly guided walks at Chek Jawa and Pasir Ris specially for families and kids. More about Singapore’s wild places.

[AXE]  What are some of the surprising animals and natural life that you have discovered that many people would not know we have here?

[RIA]   Most people are surprised to know wild dolphins frolick in Singapore’s waters and that sea turtles lay eggs and babies hatch out at East Coast Park. More here. We also have dugongs. Although I have yet to see a live one, I do often see dugong feeding trails on seagrass meadows such as at Changi and even in our Southern submerged reefs, such as these on Terumbu Pempang Laut, a submerged reef near the petrochemical plants on Pulau Bukom.   7383193970_3af541ffc0_b One of the most amazing creatures I saw is a White-spotted eagle ray, which belongs to the family of Manta rays. I saw it at Tanah Merah’s artificial lagoon during one of my monthly checks on this shore after the massive oil spill there in 2010. I was alone, it was dark, and I was trying to photograph some squids in knee deep water. When this humungous thing swooped into my torchlight. I fled in one direction, the creature in the opposite direction. After sunrise, I went back to look for it and was astounded to see this beautiful creature!5724329079_3ce9b4e660_b [AXE]  What is the largest threat to Singapore’s coastline and how can we help protect against this?

[RIA]   I think the largest threat is that most people do not know that Singapore has amazing marine life. But people do care deeply once they realise what we have. And most people will then do what they can to protect our natural heritage. Another threat is an attitude of helplessness or cynicism. We need to do what we can, every action matters, no matter how small we might think it is. We also should encourage those who act. Too often we are quick to complain but slow to praise and support those who are trying to do something right. I am constantly delighted to discover the many quiet souls working tirelessly on protecting Singapore’s shores. Many work in government, others in corporations and many more as volunteers. And the countless fathers and mothers raising aware children. Priscilla the tame Wild Boar, accompanied visitors on Chek Jawa. 1203364430_f33795455c_z There are and will always be threats. The best protection is people. Who understand and care.

[AXE]  On your site – you say we can all make a difference to conserving our environment – can you give us some practical idea’s how we can do this by making changes in the way we live and work?

[RIA]   wildsingapore’s tagline is “You CAN make a difference”. And how shall we do this? Simply explore, express, ACT. Explore Singapore’s wild places. See, smell, feel them for yourself. Bring your friends and family.  Express what you feel about our wild places. Share on social media. A photo or two is enough. Speak up politely but firmly when a wild place is threatened. And ACT where you can. There are a wide range of volunteer opportunities to suit various inclinations and time availability that allow ordinary people to learn and love and make a different for our wild places. 

[AXE]  When you go to sleep at night, what is the main thing that makes you happy and content that you may have achieved during your day?

[RIA]   At my age, I’m grateful for every day that I can walk and do my bit. And during low tide, I’m so sleep deprived I have no trouble sleeping, though this usually happens in broad daylight!   What makes me happy and content, is to see the wonder in the eyes of a child or a young-at-heart visitor when they first discover their very own shores. Like these delightful young ladies at the Sisters Islands Marine Park public walk. 14736547838_4965f5fe7c_b It is in their hands that the fate of our seashores and other natural wonders lie.

[AXE]  Ria – thanks so much for taking the time to speak to us today – your amazing passion shows through in the work you are doing and the positive example you set, informing and educating us about the wonderfully abundant, diverse and unique natural world – and what we have to loose if we do not look after it.

This interview in in the Inspiring People section of my website.  Not ‘inspiring’ in terms of making billions of dollars from raping the planet and the earth’s resources, but tales from people who get out and make positive impacts, who send positive messages through the way they live their lives.  We all have a part to play in our future.  I am very excited to share these stories with you and if at least one of them can touch and inspire you to make positive changes then I will be very happy!

She did it! Margaret Watroba – a post climb interview with the 1st Australian lady to summit Everest from the North and South

In March 2013 I did an interview with Polish/Australian high altitude mountaineer, cyclist, engineer, wife, mother and grandmother Margaret Watroba, just before she left on her 4th Everest expedition.  (Read that interview here).  This is a follow-up interview with Margaret after her successful return from Everest in April and May 2013.  Margaret became the 1st Australian woman to summit Everest from both the North and the South Sides.

Margaret you did it! Congratulations, how was the climb over those last 200m which you missed out on last year?

The whole summit push & specially summit day went really well for me. I was climbing relatively fast without exhaustion. However, when I reached the point at which I had to turn back last year I couldn’t believe I reached that point last year being so sick. The 3rd step was not as easy as you promised Axe !!-:) It is high and we went through it in complete darkness.  As it is a huge pile/mountain on its own , of big stones/boulders it is quite a task to go through it…

Then we faced the beautiful surprisingly steep triangle face full of fresh snow in which we were sinking up to our knees, the sun was now rising on the horizon to my left and it was so beautiful ; but then I had to face the traverse.  Phil  [Ed’s note: Phil Crampton is the expedition leader and owner of Altitude Junkies] was talking about it and I was dreading this.  Narrow path with a steep fall to my right.

All I was thinking was “I hope I don’t have to pass a person on my way down!” Than at the end of the traverse, another surprise. Sharp turn to the left and I was facing a steep up climb of another wall of stones barely covered with snow making crampons totally ineffective. However at the end of that climb I found myself on the huge snowy field (this is the snowy part which can be seen on the photographs of the summit taken from the ABC) in the distance to my right I could almost see the prayer flags , so I know I made it.  We arrived at the top at 6:30 am Nepal time. The view was stunning but we had the wind of about 70 km/hr.

Margaret Watroba victorious on the summit of Everest for the second time after climbing the North Ridge/North Col route.

Margaret Watroba victorious on the summit of Everest in April 2013.  Her second Everest summit, this time climbed by the North Col/North Ridge route.

How did the rest of the team get on this year?

As you know only 3 people from the group plus Phil summited.  From the beginning when we started to climb  I thought the group was very strong so I was surprised how they started to drop on the summit push. Some went down from C2 and some arrived at C3 too late to start summit climb at 8:30 pm or even 10:00 pm.

What was your feeling when you got back down to safety at BC?  How tired were you?

I was very very tired, but so happy. The north side is more dangerous , more technical than south and I had to concentrate very hard on the way down on safety.

Did the mountain feel crowded this year from the North side?

Not at all. AngGelu [Ed’s note: AngGelu was the climbing Sherpa which Margaret paired up with to climb on summit day] and I were the first on the mountain and we could see through the night the stream of headlamps behind us, beautiful and  surreal view.

Tell us your feelings on the summit? Were you there alone? How long did you get to spend there?

We would have been first and alone if not for the valve in my oxygen mask which had to be defrosted just before we started to climb/ walk the last meters towards the prayer flags. As we stopped to deal with the valve some people overtook us !-:)))

Thinking about last year sickness and the fact that I had to turn back so close to the summit I was just soooooo happy -:)

Because of the strong wind we didn’t stay long , we took just few pictures , the batteries in my camera ‘died’ because of cold so I only have few pictures from the summit top.

 You have climbed Everest from the North side and South side now, can you compare the two routes for us and tell me which side is more difficult?

Phil was always saying the North is more technical more difficult …but I was wondering if that is so since South has Ice Fall regarded by climbers as most dangerous part of any 8000m mountain. But overall I agree with Phil and many other Mountaineers ( ie Lincoln Hall) who stated that North,  starting from the end of the snow line when you leave C1/bottom rocks of Camps 2 is more difficult and definitely more dangerous than South.

North Face is very similar to Lhotse Face , South has dangerous Hilary Step but North has 3 steps all dangerous specially second and third!

Margaret climbing higher on the North Ridge in April 2012

Margaret climbing high on the North Ridge in April 2012

Many people are holding you as in inspiration especially to older people in life – what do you think is the key to doing amazing things like you are doing at your age?

No it’s not the older people who call me their inspiration , it’s the young people because they can do what they have dreamed of but thinking it’s not possible! They look at me and think , hay maybe it is not a silly dream I have, maybe I  can do it . I always tell them it does not have to be physical, sport event it can be education etc. Education was actually the first ‘inspirational’ success I had with young women when I arrived to Australia and realized how few female engineers use to be here and that the girls were often not encourage to study , especially the subjects regarded as ‘ for boys’ I.e. engineering. The older people are very happy and enjoy my success. Unless you call ‘older’

people the ones in their 50 ?! You better not !!!-:)

I have been doing ‘things’ people thought are impossible all my life because so it is difficult for me  to define it, but it is important to have a dream, have target , trust yourself, do not put your dream, assessment of you into other people’s hands don’t listen to those who say “what makes you think you can do it ? ‘   and that often includes (unfortunately) the family people who make such statements know nothing about you & your dreams they not your friends even when they say  ‘ I’m only saying this because I worry about you because I don’t want you to be disappointed etc”.  Share your dreams carefully only with those who really care and want you to succeed .

Oscar Wilde said: “Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live.”

And very important – do not be afraid to fail ! You can always try again !!!! Failure or not succeeding in a first go is = experience !

Ok I could go on and on on this subject -:)

Was there any point this year when you thought you would not make it?

I was very very nervous especially on the summit push when we started summit push from ABC.  I’m always very careful not to be cocky but reasonably confident. I was concentrating to stay healthy  and  don’t get exhausted walking from camp to camp etc and I was praying to Chomolungma to let me summit -:) I was also very lucky to had a great companion to walk around BC and to talk to – Edita Nichols, what a fantastic person and now friend !

How important were the Sherpa’s in your climb this year

Sherpas are always important , as you know, nothing happens on the mountain  without Sherpas ! I have a tremendous respect for Sherpas and I’m very grateful for their work support etc

The question on everybody’s lips Margaret is what’s next?

I’m not revealing it – yet , but already planning -:)

If interested readers would like to hear your story in person do you give talks and how can they contact you?

Yes I do presentations all the time and because I work full-time I have to restrict them to no more than 2 per month.  They can contact me on my mobile or email

Thanks again Margaret for taking the time to answer these questions and another huge congratulations again on an amazing effort and becoming the first Australian woman to summit Everest from both the North and the South sides!

An interview with female Russian high altitude mountaineer, Liudmila Mikhanovskaia

You don’t bump into many woman climbing the worlds highest peaks without oxygen, let alone 26-year-old, tall blond ones!  Hear first hand from my teammate from Everest 2012, Liudmila Mikhanovskaia about her audacious plans for 2013.

Mila – you about to leave in 7 days time to attempt an audacious challenge. Please give us an overview of what you will be attempting?

 I will attempt to climb Everest via the Southeast Ridge route without the use of bottled oxygen. My plan initially was to try to attempt Lhotse [immediately] after Everest, but I have now ruled that out because I don’t think it’s a realistic proposition, at least, not for me. I am, however, interested in trying to swim across the frigid Pumori Lake at about 5300 meters, near Everest Base Camp. Needless to say, the climb is the priority and something I would like to – and have to – focus all my energy on.

Mila carrying out one of her other passions:  swimming in Pumori Lake in December 2012

Mila carrying out one of her other passions: swimming in Pumori Lake in December 2012

The summit of Everest has only 30% of the available oxygen that we have at sea level here. This lack of oxygen hugely affects our bodies capability to perform.  Last year on the summit of Everest I took off my mask for 4 minutes and subsequently lost my memory for the next 20 minutes.  What are the main issues that concern you with climbing without oxygen and how do you plan to combat these?
Naturally, I have many concerns related to climbing without supplemental oxygen. Pulmonary and cerebral edema as well as severe frostbite become much more serious risks for someone climbing without O2 than someone using the gas. If on my way up I feel like I absolutely must use oxygen to tackle those risks while still making the summit, I will use it: I plan to have a climbing Sherpa trailing me with bottled O2 for this purpose. Thus, I will rely on plenty of emergency oxygen, a dedicated climbing assistant and common sense to keep safe on my way up. My biggest worry is not going up – when I can still stop and return to the relative safety of a lower camp quickly enough – it’s exhaustion on descent. I know from my last year’s experience on the North Side that it can be deadly; it probably would have been for me, if I wasn’t using supplemental oxygen. The top of the world is one of the most dangerous places I can imagine, where assistance is impossible; to get there and have no strength to get down on your own past the Death Zone above 8000 meters is stay there for good. How will I tackle this risk? By trying to resist the summit fever and just being honest with myself about how far I can go – and whether I can come back – without oxygen.
Why is going oxygen-less  important to you?
To me Everest or, as I prefer to call her, Chomolungma, is more than a mountain: it is something that reshaped both my body and my character, something that, I feel, made me a better version of myself. The challenge of climbing to the top of the world, the toughest one I had taken up, exposed my every weakness, and I have tried, during and after the 2012 expedition, to work on myself. By returning to Chomolungma, I want to ‘thank’ Mother-Goddess of the World for teaching me so many invaluable lessons in what counts and what doesn’t. It is not, in fact, important for me to climb without oxygen; rather, it is something I would like to do as a way of learning even more about myself from the best of teachers.
What is the highest altitude to date that you have climbed without breathing supplementary oxygen?
Mila relaxing at Manaslu Camp 1 in September 2012

Mila relaxing at Manaslu Camp 1 in September 2012

I have been to 7450 meters, the elevation of Camp 4 on Manaslu, without bottled oxygen, twice. The first oxygen-less ‘visit’ ended my 2011 Manaslu expedition as I suffered from frost nip on the night before summit day. On my second attempt I simply used O2 from that elevation onwards. What makes me think I can go higher this time without risking frostbite? Experience. I have climbed quite a bit since my fingers and toes got dangerously cold at 7450m, and, I think, have learnt how to keep myself warm and what gear to use.

You reached the summit of Everest on 19 May 2012 climbing via the North Ridge. Just how tough was that expedition?
Very tough. The summit push was especially hard because I was suffering from a chest infection and climbing with a fever. I made it to the top, but the descent was extremely unpleasant: my body kept trying to go to sleep every time I would sit down to rest and cough; I could feel it shutting down, and there was nothing I could do about it. Getting back down to Camp 3 on summit day felt like the most amazing accomplishment.

It took a while to recover from the expedition: I coughed persistently for about 1.5 months after returning to Kathmandu, and felt very weak. I only really got better after climbing again in Kazakhstan in August :).

You are born and bred in Russia, have any Russian woman summited Everest without oxygen before?
Not to my knowledge, no. Then again, I don’t get terribly excited about Everest statistics: the mountain has already seen too many ‘firsts’, and doesn’t need another one. Nor do I. Climbing Everest, with or without supplemental O2, is a personal challenge; a pilgrimage, if you will.
You seem to have had a complete re-think of your approach to training and preparing physically for this climb. How have you prepared differently and why?
My physical weakness on descent scared me. I detest the feeling of helplessness, and I experienced it often on Everest last season. My age (I was 25 last season), general fitness and experience in Himalayan climbing certainly played greatly to my advantage, but they would not have seen me through an oxygen-less ascent. I had to make sure that this spring I would have that extra physical and mental strength and endurance if I was climbing without O2.   Last season I was preparing by climbing in Nepal; this season I find myself in Thailand, training Muay Thai for 5 hours daily. Last season I was teaching myself to put up with extreme cold, climbing throughout the winter; now I am learning to deal with heat and humidity, too. Last season I had rather long periods of rest between my climbs; this season I only have Sundays off training. I think, variety is great for the body and for the mind – keeps one ready for ‘surprises’, of which prolonged oxygen deficiency must be one of the most dangerous.
Mila with her trainer at Sitsongpeenong Muay Thai Gym in Bangkok

Mila with her trainer at Sitsongpeenong Muay Thai Gym in Bangkok

Mentally how are you preparing?

By being punched in the face, quite literally. I chose Muay Thai as a means of training for this expedition because I knew it would push me way out of my comfort zone every day. I am very shy, clumsy, and I absolutely hate my physique: well, I have to wear short shorts as, surrounded by some of the best Thai boxers out there, I perform my complete-beginner-style punches and kicks. I never used to run because of the pain several old injuries cause me – I now run 10-12km every morning as it is part of the training. However, the most difficult aspect of Muay Thai to come to terms with is that it is a contact sport: you hit people and they hit you back. I didn’t think I would be able to do that, but doing it I am, and actually enjoying myself in the process. Muay Thai is teaching me humility and reminding me about my weaknesses and limitations, which, I hope, will keep that summit fever in check.
What chances do you give yourself of success?
About 1% for the oxygen-less ascent. Yet, I know I will work at 100% to be successful, and that is the percentage that counts. An ascent which would have me pushing my limits very hard but not overstep them, balancing on the tips of my toes without falling over, would be a successful ascent, be it with or without O2, to the summit of Everest or just as high as Kalapattar
As a climber on Everest, getting help or assistance if you become incapacitated very high on the mountain can make it impossible to be rescued.  What are your thoughts on this?
Two people died on my summit day between the top of Everest and Camp 3 [Ed’s note:  these 2 died on the North East ridge, 4 others died on the South side during the same summit window]. I have seen the corpses from previous years, which remain in the death zone because it is impossible to remove them without risking lives. I know exactly why they are still there, because I have walked that route and experienced first hand the state beyond exhaustion, where you are just as alive as you are dead. In a situation like this, one could not be of any assistance and, therefore, ought not to expect it from others in the same position. As a climber on Everest, I accept that fact.

What lessons has mountaineering taught you that you apply to other area’s of your life?

I think, the most important lesson I have learnt in high-altitude mountaineering is to just keep getting up no matter what. Your mind could be telling you that you can’t; your body could be numb with exhaustion, but if you want to see the people who you love, sleep in a warm bed or go swimming in the sea ever again, you have to keep going – or crawling, if that’s what it takes. This is extreme, of course, but this particular mountaineering lesson helps me overcome all kinds of small everyday weaknesses, failings and embarrassments.   Another important lesson I learnt by watching people in high mountains is that we are really quite weak, even the toughest-looking ones of us; and that it’s great to help each other when we have the strength to.   Mountaineering has also taught me humility and shown me that there are some things out there that cannot be done without putting one’s own or others’ lives at risk.
What does your family feel about climbing? 
I think, only one member of my family, my mother, truly understands my love of mountaineering. Her first husband died climbing, so, naturally, she is very concerned about me. Yet, she also respects this passion that defines a sizable part of me. She is very brave and supportive.
The rest of my family have little interest in or understanding of high-altitude mountaineering. Being as it is to them ‘but another one of Mila’s unreasonable pursuits’, it’s not something we talk about much when we meet. Naturally, they still care and worry about me while I’m climbing, but not as much as they would have, perhaps, if they knew exactly what I was doing – I’m glad they don’t.
You support a local charity in Nepal – can you give us more info on this?
Several months ago I started a small charity project to support the disadvantaged children living and studying at Pema Choling Monastery in the Everest region of Nepal. You can read about it here:

How can people follow your progress on Everest this year?

After the climbing is finished, I usually post expedition accounts on my blog here:
I do not normally blog while I am on the mountain. I tweeted occasionally during my last winter expedition on Pumori and will probably do the same again while on Everest:
Mila – thanks for taking the time just 7 days before you leave for this enormous challenge to answer these questions.  Your ambition alone is inspirational, how hard you are training is  admirable and just going there and trying makes you sensational!  We wish  you a safe journey and all the courage to make the right decisions at the right times on the mountain this year. Bon Voyage!!!

An interview with Margaret Watroba

One of the great joys I have discovered in mountaineering, has been the friendships I have struck up along the journey.  I have shared tents in remote mountain ranges with people of different colors,  races and religions.  From different countries and from different cultures.  Yet despite all these differences, I have learnt we are all very similar.  We desire similar things.  Peace, security and safe environments for ourselves and our families to grow up in.  Personal freedom.  A desire for education and knowledge.  And most of all a passion to explore and experience the world. 

Below is an interview with a special lady whom I had the pleasure to meet whilst climbing the North Ridge of Mt Everest in 2012.  Hear Margaret Watroba’s story in the interview below.

Margaret – this is your 4th Mt Everest expedition. Can you give us a brief overview of your last 4 expeditions and what drives you to go back again this time?

Yes this is my fourth expedition on Everest.  I have also attempted Lhotse on another expedition. [Ed’s note: Lhotse is the world’s 4th highest peak and is next to Mt Everest.  The standard route up Everest’s south side shares the standard route with Lhotse for most the way before the summit push]

In 2011 I reached the summit of Everest climbing from the south side. That was after a failed attempt the previous year in 2010. Last year in 2012, I made an attempt to climb from the North side.  I was unsuccessful due to  my chest infection which I got a day before the summit push.  So I am going back to try to summit from North again this year.

What drives me? – I like to compete with my body and mind -:) I love Himalaya I love mountains and being there.

Margaret on the summit of Everest, 2011

Her face showing the pain, Margaret Watroba enjoying a sweet moment of success on the summit of Mt Everest, 2011 after climbing the south ridge.

I do all my Everest expeditions with Altitude Junkies, run by Phil Crampton. I regard Phil Crampton as a very safe and diligent operator. I also did with him Manaslu [Ed’s note: Manaslu is the 8th highest mountain in the world].

I was 2 x on south side which I love and regard more picturesque then north which is extremely windy and the trek to ABC is a chore -:) While climb through Ice Fall is fantastic and very picturesque although regarded by experts the most dangerous part.

North Face and Lhotse face are very similar , they are both steep, can be very icy, very windy and either very cold or very hot!

Summit day on south side requires to climb 1000m vertically, while on North side only 500m.  But the horizontal distance on North is longer so I find both are equally demanding.

Summit push on both sides are very similar, very demanding and hard. Views, if the weather is good, are fantastic on both sides.  From both sides you can see the beautiful majestic Makalu. The icon, the land mark of pictures taken from the top of the world.

How important is the goal of being the ‘first’ Australian lady to summit from both sides to you?

Not at all. I truly didn’t think about it when I made the decision to go back

I would just love to conquer my body & mind , since as you know 90%+ climbing is in the mind.  Being the first Australian woman to do so would be just  very nice.  So to say, the “icing on the cake-:)” An extra big bonus!

You have a very interesting background being born and raised in Poland.  Can you share with us a little of your journey from growing up in communist Poland to your life in Australia?

I love Poland.  It’s a country with rich history and culture. It’s in Poland  I got the bug to trek and climb and fall in love with mountains. Every holiday in Poland I spent with my father and twin sister trekking mountains and hills in the south of Poland. However, the worst thing living in Poland before migration was that lack of freedom. Bad economy and then after finishing university, pressure to join the political party or face not being promoted in your professional life.

Then one day when I was 12, I asked my father if we can go overseas for holiday. His reply was “not really, because it’s very difficult to get passport”.  I  realized then that some government thugs are having power over people and can dictate what we can and cannot do.  I clearly remember my thought “no way,  if that’s the case I don’t want to live here”.

This thought came again when political situation in Poland become worse and worse with years and then when we had two daughters. I started again to plan and think to take them out to live in a free country as I didn’t want them to live in a country with a restricted freedom and very poor economy. The opportunity came when Australia was taking migrants in 1980.

One of the best things in Poland was access to education.  Many schools, universities , society had a huge appreciation to be educated; in my family and around me it was not important how much money you have but how well are you educated. I remember my parents were continuously doing courses and encouraging us to do the same.  From very early age I knew I will study at university and biggest goal was always to be the best at school , best in class and eventually to work as a scientist.

Well I didn’t end up to work as a scientist because of Tad! [Ed’s note: Tad is Margaret’s husband]. I fell in love, married , have two daughters and live very happy and still manage to fulfill my professional and sporting dreams.

My other passion was sport , as far as I remember I always did some sport. I was in the top hand ball team in Poland I represented my school in swimming and athletics. That passion for sport still stays with me till now.

Why did you and Tad choose Australia as the destination?

Because Australia was far away from political problems with neighbors had mining industry and fantastic weather.

So do you consider yourself Australian or Polish? Or a mix of both?

When Australia play volleyball vs Poland Tad and I said ” whatever outcome whoever wins we will win …..”-:)

I consider myself Australian, of Polish background.  It’s difficult issue, Australia gave me the best life, the best opportunity.  But Poland become free country around 1990 so maybe if we stayed I would have the same opportunity, who knows?

I’m so grateful and so happy to live in Australia it’s the best country in the world (next to NZ) ha ha!!

Has Poland changed much since those days of your escape?

Oooooh yes!! It’s totally politically free country and doing pretty well economically.

You are also very successful in your working career. Tell us a little about your job and how you manage to fit in climbing around it?

There was a time when I worked long hours but always had time for gym and sport i.e. tennis, running etc.  I always wanted to see Himalaya but because work commitments I was putting it away and postponing till one day I literally woke up and said enough!  That very day I went to the Peregrine agency and booked a trip to Nepal.

From then on through the network of engineers I created a circle of few colleagues who know my job and responsibilities and can do my job in my absence.  You just have to plan that sort of thing ahead, this way I can take 2 months off and my position and duties are attended and look after.

But I also made a sacrifice not to ‘climb’ the corporate/professional ladder any further not to apply for higher position as a higher position would be more difficult to leave for such a long time as 2 months and find someone to act in my place.

Margaret on the summit of Everest in 2011.

Margaret climbing mountains of a different kind at work as an electrical engineer.

I love being an engineer doing design solving problems going to mine sites etc. It’s very rewarding.  I only ever work with men but have no major problem or issue with it.  Although I would love more women to join the ranks in the mining in resources as engineers and technical staff.

Whenever I have time I talk to forums promoting ‘women in engineering women in resources’.  Last year I got the award of ‘outstanding profession woman’ from CME (Chamber of minerals and energy) and that is an achievement I’m most proud of and want to pass my experience on other women as much as I can.

Are there any themes or values from your working life that you carry over to your climbing life (or vice versa) that you apply to be successful?

Definitely.  The most important is ‘safety first’.  In mining we are constantly analyzing ‘is it safe, what are the consequences of pushing ahead when in doubt?’. That helped me to make the tough decision in 2010 when I was about 50 vertical meters from the summit of Everest but due to the late time and changing weather I decided to go down.  And last year on the North side when I reached about 8600-8700m  but due to my chest infection and continuous cough I was getting weaker and I had to think: ‘OK I can summit but will I have enough strength to descend?’.

Vice versa – lots of different experiences from climbing can be use in private and professional life, being on the mountains with people I don’t know in a very tough environment teaches me cooperation with others, not giving up but looking for solutions in moments of disagreement or when a decision has to be made, accommodating others point of view and opinions, reinforces importance of safety, increases appreciation of family friends and lifestyle I have in Australia.

Last year on 19th May 2012, I climbed past you at 8600m on the north ridge of Everest. You were going through the process of making the decision to turn back from your summit bid. How tough was this decision and what were the key factors that affected your decision at the time?

It was extremely tough specially since I was very fit all the time and then as you may remember I got sick just before the summit push.

Margaret making the difficult decision to turn back from her summit push on 19 May 2012 at 8600m on  at 8600m, just below the third rock step on the North East ridge of Everest.

Margaret making the difficult decision to turn back from her summit push on 19 May 2012 at 8600m, just below the third rock step on the North East ridge of Everest. The summit is clearly visible behind her.

Then during the summit push every day every hr was so difficult so tough.  It was tough because I knew that if not for that infection I most probably could have summitted.  The weather was perfect and the summit distance on the north is much shorter then on the south  but then I could not stop coughing and it made everything much more difficult in high altitude than at sea level.  As you know – you are in the climbing gear it’s clumsy to move, it’s difficult to take gloves or mask off to cleanup your nose to cough.

The key decision was safety, it’s not just about summiting but also being able, having enough energy to safely descend.  I would not risk my life my health I have my family I love them dearly.  Losing that is not worth any amount of money or achievement goals.

You are a happily married to a wonderful man Tad, with two daughters and 3 grand children.  How does your family take your everest expeditions?

They are very supportive.  My daughters last year straight away said if you want to try again go for it.  Tad was sure I will not go back so when I told him I emailed Phil to go north again his face show total disbelief!  But he knows me, he knows he cannot stop me so he is fully supporting me now.

Your approach on Everest is very low key from a media perspective. You do not have a website or blog or market yourself to sponsors.  It seems like the word ‘quiet achiever’ would describe your style. Do you agree with this and why do you prefer to climb like this?

The major thing for me to achieve anything like sport or science was to conquer myself.  Yes I’m very competitive and I would lie if I deny that I love to win.  But I always realized that the main thing is to achieve your best, to bend your own body and mind to the limit because there will/may be always someone better than me.  So what then? Give up? Not do it?  Cry? Conquering yourself is the best feeling and then everything else, like getting the first prize is a huge bonus.

You are a very strong and fit lady – how do you prepare physically for your Everest expedition’s and how has your training and preparation changed over your 4 previous expeditions?

I’m very often asked that question. I always train as long as I can remember.  And I always was doing sports.  So it’s not like ‘ok I’m going to climb lets train’.  Instead , once I decide to climb I just increase intensity , although over the last few months  and following your comment/advise after you read my training regime I was doing in 2011, I took it a bit easier in 2012 to leave some margin and not push my body to the limit.

Some of the media in Australia have dubbed you affectionately as ‘Supergran’. Due to the fact you are a grandmother and yet such a fit active woman pursuing extreme activities.  You are indeed inspiring many people through living your dreams.  How do you feel about this?

I didn’t like the term ‘Supergran’ at all for many reasons.  But if I can inspire a person, then this is most important, most fulfilling.  It is the biggest reward.

I would love to fulfill the following motto :

“It’s not just about your achievements but how many people you can inspire”

Margaret, you are an amazing woman, thank you for taking the time from your busy schedule with only 2 weeks to go before you leave for Everest, to take part in this interview.  We wish you all the best this year on the North side of Everest and look forward to seeing you back safely to inspire so many more people.

Margaret is a regular guest speaker at events around Australia.  All money she raises from her speaking she donates to charity.


Margaret Watroba eyeing up her next challenge - the North Ridge of Everest 2013.

Margaret Watroba eyeing up her next challenge – the North Ridge of Everest 2013. (Photo: Grant ‘Axe’ Rawlinson)

Interview with Jayden Strickland – Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Trust

Those of you following my blog for sometime, will know of my sister Debra Avery’s car accident on 24th February 2012. Debra was severely injured and after some great work by local ambulance, fire crews and bystanders, was extricated from her vehicle and flown to hospital by the Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Service. Debra is currently on the long slow road to recovery. You can read more about her accident in my previous blog titled ‘Why do bad things happen to good people’.

Debra’s accident and subsequent rescue prompted me to work with the Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Trust during my climb on Everest in 2012. I am very proud to be working with the TRHT. To date we have raised $3,900 for the trust. I am very thankful to those people who have donated from all over the world to-date. As I have mentioned previously regarding donations, please do not feel pressured to donate money at this point. I encourage readers to follow my progress on Everest, tell your friends about it and enjoy the entertainment from the comfort of your homes. I try my best while working in the confines of an extreme environment, to bring you along with me on my journey through regular blogs, video’s and voice dispatches. I do not know if I will make the summit of Everest this year. After my attempt last year the extreme cold, horrific wind and the threat of altitude sickness make me very scared. No man or woman can conquer Mt Everest. We can only be lucky enough to sneak up to her summit and down again safely, on those handful of days per year when she lets us. At the end of the climb, what ever happens, I hope you will have enjoyed following the journey, and if so may be inclined to make a donation.

Behind every highly professional organisation there are great people working. I have had the pleasure of working closely with Michelle Zehnder and Jayden Strickland from TRHT. I am very thankful for both of them for agreeing to work with me with so little time before my climb. Jayden is the Chief Crewman for the TRHT and attended Debra’s accident scene onboard the rescue helicopter. I thought it would be nice to hear the ‘inside story’ of what the TRHT is all about. Jayden kindly agreed to an interview which you can read below.

Hello Jayden. You are a member of the TRHT. Can you explain your role with the TRHT, and how you became involved?

I am the Chief Crewman for TRHT, I am responsible for the training and management of paid and volunteer aircrew/teams and the serviceability of the rescue equipment these people put there lives into i.e. rescue harnesses/stretchers etc. Our various teams consist of experienced ordinary citizens within the Marine, Alpine and Bush environments whom require continual training in the environments they may face. I became involved with TRHT in Jan 2011 after leaving the New Zealand Navy as a Petty Officer Helicopter Crewman and Instructor, which I served almost 11 years. I sought a change in my flying career from Military operations to rescue work and since leaving the forces I have never looked back.

What kind of training are crewman required to go through?

Helicopter Crewman are required to meet a high standard of Airmanship to perform Emergency Medical duties onboard a rescue helicopter. My previous training with the Royal New Zealand Air Force and Navy had me well placed for the role on a civilian rescue helicopter.

I portray to people, a Helicopter Crewman in the flying environment is the eyes through his or her mouth to the pilot, as in most cases the danger area for a helicopter is most likely behind or underneath the aircraft out of the pilots visual range, and this needs to be relayed to the pilot by a crewman before an incident happens.

Therefore Helicopter Crewman are to have a high standard of “situational awareness”, mathematics, distance judging, be a team player, leadership towards direction and commanding, map reading, radio communications operations, meteorological understanding, ability to multitask, calling as you see it and preempting judgement calls (in the case of winch rescues), maturity and common sense. These are all tested through a vigorous conversion to type instruction by a qualified instructor. Once all the ticks are in the boxes you are then allowed to spread your wings to fly as a member onboard a rescue helicopter.

Can you give us a run down on the services the TRHT performs?

Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Trust offers a versatile range of services to our community (and outer Regions). Taranaki, New Zealand can experience some harsh weather and environmental conditions coupled with great outdoor and sporting activities, we have sea, bush, alpine and main highways surrounding us (more local details here The need for a well equipped, multi role helicopter is essential to carry out our tasks.

Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Trust owns a Agusta Westland 109 Power helicopter capable of carrying out the below tasks:

Search and rescue platform, i.e. we will be tasked to search for missing or injured persons in land and sea environments. We are equipped with a 600lb (272kg) rescue hoist, beacon tracking equipment, multiple radios to communicate with other emergency services and ground search teams. We have experienced volunteers trained in the Maritime and Alpine conditions.

Rapid response, to and from accident and medical incidents. Taranaki has been known as “Tiger Country”, this means our patients are often found in remote areas inaccessible by road ambulances or so remote the patient could face a long journey back to hospital for treatment. The aircraft can reach the entire Taranaki region within 30 minutes!

Inter-Hospital transfers, patients who require urgent surgery in specialist hospitals are flown by the Taranaki Rescue Helicopter as we can deliver a “door to door” service. Enabling our patients to get their specialist care in the quickest possible time.

Police assistance, the Rescue Helicopter can quickly role into a Police deployment platform delivering members of the Armed Offenders Squad to safe points near the incident.

On average TRHT performs around 200-300 missions per year. Flying around 350 hours per year at a cost of $3000NZD per hour!

On Feb 24th 2012 you were a crew member on board who attended the rescue of my sister’s (Debra Avery) car accident. Can you give us a run through of the rescue?

I remember the day clearly, we were in the office at the time and I heard the call on the Ambulance radio (not a response call for helicopter to go). The call came through as a two car MVA (Motor Vehicle Accident) persons trapped and a mention of injuries. The location Toko (East of Stratford, Taranaki) and instantly knowing the location we knew it would be vital for the services of the Rescue Helicopter to attend. The aircraft is always on the heliport apron in a standby status, equipment ready, fuel topped up. So all is required is for aircrew and medical staff to board start up and get airborne.

In a short amount of time we knew Ambulance communications were assessing the appropriate resources to utilise and mobilize for the best care of the injured, our pagers were then activated to respond. The flight time to Debra’s location would be 12 minutes by air.

In this flight time the crew are navigating to the scene via real time road maps and gps waypoints. The aircraft utilises a combination of on board gps Garmin 500 and 296, and a Panasonic Tough book with Topographic mapping and a Bluetooth live gps feed. The crewman is in constant communication with Ambulance, Police and Fire communications to paint a picture of what is happening on the ground and statuses of the patients. On locating at the scene we are assessing a suitable landing spot for the helicopter to avoid traffic, livestock and power lines and other hazards. In this incident we were graced by the knowledge of Toko volunteer fire brigade on the best landing site already setup and marshaled. They had cut a pathway through the No8 wired fence leading towards Debra’s vehicle. Who at the time of our arrival was being extricated from the vehicle.

The scene a silver two door flat deck ute with damage to the front right hand side, resting on the right hand verge of the road. Another vehicle (Debra’s) a green unrecognisable Mazda Familia (identified by a number plate search) 4 door sedan perched precariously down a bank. Severe frontal damage sustained, secured by a strop to prevent further movement down the bank whilst emergency services work to release Debra. Cutting equipment was required to release Debra from her vehicle and enable St John staff to assess her full extent of injuries.

Debra was carried by the volunteer fire fighters to the rescue helicopters crew and paramedics position at a safe point in the middle of the road. From there St John paramedics and helicopter staff worked frantically to stabilise Debra, administer required pain relief and prepare for transportation to Taranaki Base Hospital.

On loading Debra into the aircraft there is a slight moment of relief from emergency workers at the scene, they had done their job well and now it is up to the St John paramedic and us the flight crew to delivery Debra to Taranaki Base Hospital for controlled emergency care.

On arrival at the Taranaki Rescue Helicopter’s heliport Debra was transferred to a waiting Ambulance to transport her into Emergency Department.

What were your initial thoughts when you saw Debra’s condition at the accident scene?

My initial thoughts when I saw Debra’s injuries were of the severe pain she must be in and how could anyone survive this. Our thoughts are with the patient and doing our best to get them to hospital as fast and safely as we can.

Where does the funding come from to operate the Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Trust?

Funding is crucial to Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Trust. The Rescue Trust relies heavily on community funding through sponsorships, fundraising events and telemarketing. Our operational costs exceed $1.5 million dollars per year. We source around 29% of our funding from the New Zealand Government and the remainder 71% is obtained through community appeals.

Any fund raising initiatives or donations are welcome from groups, individuals, corporates as every dollar raised provides Taranaki (and outer Communities) with a free air medical service.

How do you enjoy working for the TRHT?

To be truthful the job certainly has its “ups and downs” (no pun intended!). Taranaki Rescue Helicopter offers a vast range of jobs and the saying “every day is never the same” is well and true. Successful missions much like this one of Debra’s makes it all worth while.

What’s the most difficult rescues to perform?

Every rescue has its varying degree of difficulty. What maybe a piece of cake one day maybe influenced by changing weather conditions, obstructions, lighting conditions, hazards the next. It is perceived in the rescue industry winch recoveries to be the most difficult or dangerous as they tend to be conducted in the worst environments where patients or survivors require immediate evacuation.

How do you handle dealing with working in such a highly stressful environment where you are involved daily with extreme cases of human suffering?

For me whilst in a situation its remaining calm, taking steps methodically, putting in practice my training received and on job experience. Afterwards it pays to talk about your experience with your work colleagues who may have been in the same or similar situation. We have great support network between St John paramedics, Surf Life Saving and TRHT teams..

What does your family think about you working in a dangerous vocation such as this?

My partner Bex supports my career choice, I’m sure there is an element of worry as I rush out the door in the middle of the night to respond to a job. But our processes here at Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Trust are robust and safe. Safety of crews and patients are high priority.

Jayden, thanks for taking the time out for this interview and to you, Michelle and all of the staff at the TRHT, keep up the good work!

For more info on TRHT please visit:

Donations can be made on-line by following the link on the left hand side of my blog or visit the ‘Community Tab’.

Photo below is of Jayden Strickland, beside the Rescue Helicopter.

Interview with Debra Avery – 6 weeks after the accident

Below is an interview with Debra Avery who is my sister.  Debra was recently involved in a brutal head on car collision.  She is currently recovering in New Plymouth Hospital.  You can read more details of her accident here.

I have previously broken one of my legs and know very well the pain involved  not only with the accident itself but with the subsequent operations, screws and plates and starting to weight bear (i.e walk) again.  What Debra is going through makes all that look like a scratch!

Read below to see how she is coping with her recovery, 6 weeks on from the accident.

Debra, on the 24th February 2012, you were involved in a horrific head-on collision.  What can you remember about the events leading upto the accident and the accident itself?

I can not remember anything about the accident at all. Apparently while I was in ICU I stated to my husband that I saw  a car coming towards me and I knew I was F_ _ _ _d. I can not remember this and only have odd memories of my stay in ICU. The last memory that I have of that day is when Paul [Ed’s note: Paul Avery is Debra’s husband who won the world shearing championships in  Norway in 2008] and I were at Toko School getting ready for the school gala. Paul had been asked to shear two sheep by the fundraising committee as a demonstration. Prior to their shearing, people had to pay to guess the weight of the wool once it was shorn off.

My last memory prior to the accident was securing a shearing plant up on a truck deck so that he could shear the sheep when needed(all OSH approved of course). After this apparently I drove home and collected some cup cakes that I had baked to take to school to put in the cake silent auction. I can not remember this and it was on this trip that the accident happened.

Can you give us a run down on the injuries you sustained during the accident?

Right leg – femur broken 7 times and rodded(mush as quoted by my surgeon)

Left leg – femur broken once(compound fracture) and rodded.

Left leg – knee cap(Patella) smashed and removed. Open wound where bones pierced skin, not skin grafted, doctors decided to let it heal naturally.

Between 5-8 ribs broken on right side and right lung punctured.

Head injury from impact, facial injuries – eye swollen shut, broken nose, teeth through bottom lip, bottom tooth chipped and 3 teeth numb.

The following are problems that have arisen since the accident but are directly related to it.

Bowel problems – lack of feeling/ constipation, if doesn’t resolve will be referred to general surgeon.

Memory loss and poor concentration.

Lower back pain and sciatica type pain shooting down my left leg.

Hyper granulation tissue in left knee wound – currently treated with nitrous oxide so wound not yet healed(6 weeks post accident)

What stage are you at in your recovery now?and what is the plans for repairing your legs?

My recovery has been pretty good until now. Things are progressing still or so the doctors tell me.

I spend the majority of the day in bed. In the past week I have begun to transfer myself to a wheelchair, using a banana board to lift my upper body across on. I have to have my left leg secure in a brace and it can be bent to 40 degrees. I have to manually move this leg as it currently can not move itself at all. I have been doing exercises 5 times daily and have fairly good movement with my right leg but currently am not allowed to weight bear on it at all.

I can also now transfer independently to the commode chair. This has been one of the biggest challenges for me. The total loss of privacy! It sucks, so being able to pull myself around my bed and into the toilet and then have a shower without assistance is rewarding.

Twice a day I am using the walking frame and walking about 10 meters. Sounds great, but my left leg is secure in the frame with no bend at all. I have to hold my right leg off the ground so not to weight bear(I asked the Physio to tie it up to my clothes but she said sorry we aren’t allowed to restrain patients!) I have to hop/shuffle on my left leg, all my body weight is on the handles and arm rest of the frame, as I do not put much weight on my leg yet due to the pain from the break.

Debra on life support in intensive care the day after the crash.

When do you think you may be able to walk freely again?

I would hate to predict when I can walk freely again due to the severity of both legs. Today the doctors explained to me that the left leg is only allowed to be mobilised very slowly due to the number of internal stitches and if it was bent before proper healing occurred then the stitches are likely to pull apart.

 I have yet to put any pressure on the right leg so that’s unknown.

 I have heard the time frame of a year being discussed before things are back to a comfortable standard. It’s just a wait and see game but I would imagine it will be a very long time before I and drafting sheep, walking hills spraying ragwort, sorting bulls in the yards or feeding silage to cattle from the trailer.

What is the most painful injury? And what’s the most uncomfortable or miserable thing about being bed ridden?

The most painful injury I now have has is my left leg. The break, which is just above my knee has formed callouses, which in turn then form bone. The muscles have attached themselves to this newly formed tissue and every time I bend my knee or tighten my muscles this causes the alot of pain.The knee went through hell and was washed out  3 days after my 7 hour leg reconstruction surgery. All the quad muscles have healing scar tissue from incisions, which now has to be stretched as my leg was kept straight for such a long time. I am able to bend the knee in a brace to 40 degrees. In order to do this I need to take strong pain relief 40minutes prior to exercise.

I think the most frustrating thing about being bed ridden is the unknown . I get very frustrated about why the accident occurred at all. I now get very frustrated about feeling so good yet not being able to mobilise on two useless legs. I know they will get better but to what degree no one can tell me. It will just take time and patience. When I look into the future, will I be able to do the farming duties that I have previously done – at the moment I’d say definitely not, but who knows!

What do you miss the most from your ‘normal life’ pre-Feb 24th? Has this incident changed the way you see life in anyway?

What I miss the most is the independence that I had. I never relied on anyone for anything and lived a full and active life. I made the most of every opportunity available and loved to be involved in community events. I certainly miss my family but they have been great and visit and communicate daily.

Has the accident changed the way I see life?  Not really. My motto has always been –  Live life to its fullest, love and enjoy what you do  and those around you and don’t stress about the little things. The accident has certainly given me a new respect for rural communities and how they pull together and help when situations arise.

People say you are fortunate not to have died in the crash. Do you think anything or anyone in particular saved you?

When I see the photos I don’t know how I did not die. One of those things never to be understood I guess. The doctors also say that I was lucky not to rupture my femoral artery. Considering I broke both femurs rather badly, I was double lucky there. I wouldn’t say that anything in particular saved me but I guess it wasn ‘t my time to go.

I believe in karma, so I guess what comes around goes around. By that I mean I like to get involved in things in my families lives and in the community. You get out of life what you put into it. I wonder if all the giving I have done hasn’t somehow paid off. I don’t know though and I never will.

Throughout this ordeal, the rescuers and medical staff and your family have all talked about how strong you have been both through the crash but also in you recovery stage. How do you keep your motivation and your spirits up?

Well, I have absolutely no recollection of the crash and I hope that it doesn’t return! Apparently I swore and screamed the whole time that I was trapped. I think I gave the fire brigade a hard time because I couldn’t figure out why they wouldn’t get me out of the car and unfortunately due to the head injury I guess I couldn’t remember what they told me on a regular basis.

I certainly wouldn’t say I’ve been strong the whole time. In the early stages that I can remember-week 3 I think when I was moved to ward 4, little things would get me. Like a photo or a message from the kids but on the whole, things were fine. I don’t see the point of getting upset – it only gives you a headache then they may refer me to the clinical psychologist so I like to avoid that!

Actually I can remember feeling pretty gutted one day when I’d just moved to Ward 4. I asked Mr Hadlow, my surgeon what was wrong with me and he gave me a run down. I might add he’d probably done this before but this was the first I could remember. My right leg was not in a cast or brace like the left due to it being rodded. So I was totally unaware there was a problem with it. When he told me that the right was like mush and broken 7 times my stomach kind of did a flip and wanted to vomit.

I figure there isn’t much point feeling sorry for yourself so I may as well get on with things and keep busy. I do my exercises regularly and the ward I’m in is so busy there isn’t many quiet times through the day. Grant bought me a net book and this has been so therapeutic and valuable for me. I had not had much use on face book prior to the accident but this has been great to help keep me in touch with my friends and especially my family(and keep me sane).

The Taranaki Rescue Helicopter was sent out to the crash scene to get you to hospital and the help you needed so urgently. What are your thoughts on this service?

Absolutely brilliant service that saves many lives. I think that more so rurally, this service is invaluable and an absolute necessity. Unfortunately I can’t remember any of my ride to the hospital which is probably a good thing. [Ed’s note:  The Taranaki Rescue Helicopter is also very active in saving tourist’s lives – especially those who get into difficulty climbing Mt Taranaki. John Foord’s ‘Axe on Everest 2012’ is raising money for this wonderful service, click here to learn more]

Debra thanks for answering these questions.  We are very proud of  you and the strength you have shown through this experience.  Many positive thoughts are flowing your way for your recovery.

If any readers have messages of support for Debra please feel free to add them as comments at the bottom of this post.

Interview with Alan Arnette

This Wednesday (18th February) Alan Arnette posted an interview on his website which he recently conducted with me on my Everest climb for 2012.  Alan is a speaker, mountaineer and a committed advocate for Alzheimer’s individuals and their families.  He is based in Colorado and summitted Everest last season from the South side.  For some years he has run a fantastic website where he covers the climbing season’s on Everest and the going’s on with the various expeditions (amongst other useful mountaineering  information).

An excerpt of the interview is attached below. To read the full interview, click here.


Climbing Everest is never easy. Sometimes you hear people dismiss a route as a Tourist Route; or pay your $65,000 then tie yourself to a Sherpa and get hauled to the summit. I respectfully disagree and suggest anyone who hears such a comment, ask a person who has been there, “So just how easy was Everest?”

Grant Rawlinson aka “Axe” would be a good person to ask. In 2011, he attempted Everest from Tibet. His story is full of lessons for everyone considering Everest and a wonderful story for anyone who has hit a bump in the road of life.

Born in New Zealand, this Kiwi has set his sights on returning in 2012 to finish what he started. He took some time from his training to speak with me about his journey and goals.

Q: You attempted the north side in 2011 without a summit. What happened?

I had some issues with the altitude early on in the expedition.  I pushed it too hard, too early. I live and train at Sea Level here in Singapore, therefore my body really needs a lot of adjustment to acclimatize as I get higher.  I developed H.A.P.E at Advanced Base Camp at about 2AM in the morning on my first acclimatization cycle.  There was only about two others left in our camp (including the Cook), and I had a pretty anxious 5 hours lying in my tent waiting until the sun came up.  I then spent an awful 11 hours struggling my way back down to Base Camp that day.  I felt completely exhausted from the H.A.P.E, it really drains your energy, not to mention the fact I felt like I was suffocating and could not get enough oxygen when I was breathing. I was also coughing up blood and needed to rest every 50 meters to breath bottled oxygen. But I was to weak to carry the cylinder myself.  I was so tired I kept falling asleep everytime I fell over.  Nima, a team sherpa was helping me down.  He would wake me up everytime I went to sleep and we would set off down again.  He was my guardian angel that day.  He never complained once as he walked behind me step by step the entire 11 hours.  He had to basically drag me up any slight inclines as I was to weak. I would hate to get H.A.P.E higher up the mountain where its on more technical ground.

I then went down to a small village called Tashyzom at 4200m, by myself for 3 nights.  This was to try and allow my lungs to recover from H.A.P.E.  The village was pretty basic, and I developed a very painful tooth abscess in my front tooth as soon as I arrived.  Unfortunately I had nothing to treat it with.  So my time in Tashyzom became a tradeoff from resting my lungs and allowing them to recover at a lower altitude from H.A.P.E, as to how long I could stand the pain from the tooth abscess.  I also got diarrhea from the food in Tashyzom as the conditions were very dirty. To top it off there was no vehicle to get me back to basecamp.  I ended up catching a ride on a motorbike back up to basecamp.  This took hours and every bump was really painful on my tooth,  like someone was driving a hot needle up through my mouth into my head.  I had also left basecamp in such a hurry I did not have my papers with me, and had issues getting through the three military checkpoints back into basecamp.  By the time I got back I was pretty miserable! I crawled straight into my tent, swallowed some amoxycillin and went to sleep for a 1.5 days.

It was all character building stuff however. I did recover over the next few days from the tooth absess, diarhea and the H.A.P.E.  I eventually managed to get back to 8350m on our summit attempt a few weeks later.  I had terrible luck with the weather though and it got very windy on summit night.  I developed really cold hands, after having a bad start from the tent at 11PM.  My oxygen valve on my bottle iced up, my crampon straps froze solid, my goggles exploded, all things which required me to take my hands out of my mitts and fix.  My hands were freezing before I left.  I climbed about 50m above the camp to 8350m before I realised I had a serious problem with my hands and I could not get them warm again.  I decided to return to the tent to reheat them and I figured I could start again in an hour or two as it was still only 12PM.  Back in the tent however, the wind never dropped and the other climbers started turning back also.

Q: And now, you want to return. Why?

I never really thought about not returning, it was just a question of when, and by what route. When I took one last look at Everest from basecamp as we drove off, I knew then that I would be back. I have focussed on Everest for so long, learnt so much of the history, trained so hard, went through so much pain on the expedition and got so close to the summit. I learnt a great deal in 2010, especially about climbing in extreme cold. Alot of things I learnt were small things, but these can make a big difference when you are up high and it’s really freezing. I am really excited about getting back. I am making adjustments to my training regime, my gear systems and my acclimatisation strategy. I will be stronger physically and mentally. Some people think I am nuts wanting to go back. Everyone is entitled to their opinion I guess. For me it seems like the perfectly logical decision. Failing this year to reach the summit is not a good reason to give-up trying. I got through a
lot of things that would have probably sent others home, so I think I have earned another shot.

Q: It is often said that the north side is significantly more windy and cold than on the south. What was your experience?

In 2011, climbers from the South Side were summiting in very early May. Whilst on the North the ropes couldn’t be fixed until around the 20th May, and there was only around 4 summitable days from the North side in all of May. It really gets super windy, which makes it feel so much colder up higher.  Once you get above the North Col you are completely exposed to the wind. Below the North Col its not so bad.

Q: Who will you be climbing with and which side will you climb?

I will be climbing with Altitude Junkies from the North Side again.  I feel like I know the route well from the North now, and I am super keen to finish off those last 500m vertical metres of the ridge up to the summit.  The exposure and the rock steps look awesome.  The rest of the climbing up to this point is really quite mundane and boring.

Q: You are a Kiwi from New Zealand but live in Singapore. How are you approaching training living at sea level?

Singapore highest point is 163m above sealevel (see photo attached of me on the ‘summit’!).  What we lack for in hills in Singapore we make for with tall buildings! I live in a 30 story apartment so use the stairwells in this every day for training.  I also run through the parks here up and down whatever hills I can find. I travel alot for my work, all over Asia, so use whatever I can find in the hotel when I am on the road for training purposes.  I do weights three times per week interspersed with my hill running and stair training.  My training is supervised by my personal trainer Darren Blakeley from UFIT who is excellent. He keeps me on track and balanced in my training.  Its really no problem to train physically here in Singapore.  The real issue you cant prepare for here is the altitude.  So this year I will head earlier to Everest and do an acclimatization trek somewhere  in Nepal, just before we leave for Everest.

Q: Your nickname is Axe, where did that come from?

I played rugby for 25 years, starting in New Zealand and then in Singapore here for 10 years where I represented the Singapore National side.  My nickname was given to me after a rugby game and has something to do with the way I was tackling people. As if I was an axe chopping down a tree.  Unfortunately it was given to me in jest and rather a sarcastic way,as I happened to be having a very bad game that day.  However the name just stuck and many people now know me simple as ‘Axe’ and do not know my real name!

Q: Any other thoughts for us followers this year?

Interested people can follow my progress on Everest this year by logging onto my blog.  Thanks as always to my sponsors John Foord and UFIT and thanks to you Alan for running this interview and for the great website you have developed on climbing and mountaineering!

Best of luck Axe. we will be following and rooting for you.

Climb On!


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