November 2019 / News | Social Responsibility

Supporting Veterans to Achieve The Heights of Everest

Chelsea Group supporting 65 Degrees North and the team of veterans summiting Everest

 

“Summiting Everest was the toughest and most amazing experience ever. To be working as part of a team again where we had to push and rely on each other in order survive really has proved to me that when you put your mind to something, anything is possible.” Brendan Davies


By changing the perception of mental and physical disability through the ‘Spirit of Adventure’, 65 Degrees North aims to inspire and motivate others to overcome, achieve and succeed.

For the Chelsea Group, the concepts of both psychological and physical fitness are of equal importance for active personnel as well as former military veterans. Through the group’s sponsorship relationship with 65 Degrees North, Brendan Davies, a Royal Marine’s veteran, recently conquered Mount Everest as part of a team in an incredible feat of mental and physical preparation and determination.

Brenadan joined the Royal Marines at the age of 19. After successfully completing 30 weeks training he then served with the 40 Commando RM where he was deployed on operational duties in Northern Ireland and The Adriatic. Other deployments included desert training in Oman and arctic warfare training in Norway.

Whilst serving in the Royal Marines Brendan suffered serious spinal injuries which resulted in hospitalisation and a lengthy period of rehabilitation. Following his discharge he suffered with depression and anxiety having left a job he loved. These were his dark times and this was to shape his next few years where he was forced to seek help and treatment.

Brendan successfully summited Mt. Aconcagua in January, Denali in June 2018 and Mount Everest in May 2019, with the 65 Degrees North team. These brutal and demanding endeavours removed Brendan completely from his comfort zone and pushed him to his absolute limits, increasing his confidence and self-belief that he can achieve whatever he sets his mind to.

Brendan hopes to inspire others to take on their own challenges big or small which will hopefully help them in having a better quality life.

Here is Brendan’s summit story in his own words.

Everest – The Last 48 Hours, By Brendan Davies

“After numerous team meetings and discussions, the decision was made on the 15th May to leave Everest Base Camp (BC) very early on the 17th May, well ahead of what would be a big crowd of climbers. This was a key decision. Words could not describe how excited I was especially as at one point, the feeling was that there may not be an opportunity for a summit push this year at all, due to poor weather conditions.

The plan was to leave BC at around 2am on the 17th May and push through the Khumbu icefall, past Camp 1 (C1) and move straight to Camp 2 (C2). Take a rest day there and move to Camp 3 (C3) on the 19th and Camp 4 (C4) on the 20th.

After completing 3 rotations so far, working our way as far as C3 we all knew what to expect, however beyond C3 would be the unknown for all the team.  A ‘rotation’ was a form of training and practice that took us up to C3 and back down to BC, three times, and was essential preparation and acclimatisation.

We spent the next few days eating and drinking as much as possible to get as much fuel in for the difficult task ahead.  I also tried to get as much rest as possible as there wouldn’t be much sleep after we left BC.  Some last-minute preparations: sort kit, make sure I had plenty of snacks, gather up the pictures of my family and a couple of close military friends who sadly are no longer with us and put them in my down suit pocket.

Before getting some rest on the 16th I used the Inmarsat satellite phone to call my wife, sons, parents, sister and friend as this would be the last time we would talk until I got back to BC. Everest was waiting.

At approximately 2am on the 17th May 2019 we said our goodbyes to Leesa, our base camp ‘anchor’, and all the BC staff before setting off on the difficult climb up through the icefall for the 4th and final time.

Chelsea Group supporting 65 Degrees North and the team of veterans summiting Everest

The team leave Base Camp at 2am for the summit push.

The Khumbu Icefall

The Khumbu Icefall is such a scary place as it changes daily and is full of blocks of ice, some bigger than houses and crevasses which you can’t even see the bottom of. There are many crossing points on aluminium ladders which definitely get the heart pumping. On my first rotation through the icefall there was an avalanche close by, and another on the second time when I was actually on a vertical ladder which was a scary experience.   I had felt very weak on my first rotation to C1.  This was due to not enough fluids and rest, too many layers on and I was fighting off a bad chest cold which I caught on the way to BC. I felt stronger on the 2nd and 3rd rotation and even better this time on the 4th.

We moved relatively quickly through the icefall with Nimadai Sherpa leading the way.  The route had changed slightly from the previous time. This was due to parts of the icefall collapsing and the route needing to be changed.  We crossed crevasses on horizontal ladders, one of which was very unsteady requiring someone to hold it in place.   It was beginning to get light as we reached the top of the icefall, behind us was a spectacular view of BC and the mountain of Pumori in the distance standing at over 7000m (22,965ft).

After a short break to take in some fluids and snacks we pushed on for another couple of hours to C1.  This is where we had stopped for the night on our first rotation, when all I could do then was get in the tent to rest up as I felt totally exhausted.  I remember feeling quite worried that this challenge may be too much for me physically, and I didn’t want to let Rich or my team mates down.  On each rotation I felt stronger which increased my confidence especially for the final push.

Pacing was an issue at times, especially around obstacles and crossing points. This improved through the very hot Western Cwm as we had regular stops for fluids. The highlight of this section was bumping into Kenton Cool, an Englishman who has been to the summit 14 times and is a leading high altitude climber, and who was on his descent from summiting with his client days before.  After a quick chat with Kenton and a team photo, we then pushed on to C2.

We arrived at approximately 11.30 in good spirits but extremely tired.  Surprisingly, Rich, Tom and I found it far too hot to rest up in the small 2-man tents, so we grabbed our sleep mats and stretched out in the team tent which was much cooler.

“I found sleeping at C2 extremely difficult due to the high altitude of 6400m (20997ft). Anxiety levels were also high due to the regular avalanches, especially during the night where some of them were quite close to the tents.  I would fall asleep, but soon wake up in a panic thinking our tents were buried in the avalanche.”

Chelsea Group supporting 65 Degrees North and the team of veterans summiting Everest

Safely through the Khumbu icefall for the final time.

To C3 And Beyond

Thankfully the 18th was a rest day at C2 so we had time to practise things such as clipping into fixed ropes wearing our summits mitts.  I had a slightly better sleep the next night and we were up at 6am for breakfast and preparing to leave for C3 at 7am.   The last time we left C2 for C3 the temperature was freezing cold with a severe wind-chill, especially on the Lhotse Face (LF). This time we were stripping layers due to being too warm, the sun was beating down on us on the Lhotse Face.  I pulled my phone out to do some filming, minutes later the clouds came in and some rocks or lumps of ice fell from above to the base of the LF.  Climbers shouted ‘Below’ to warn other climbers of the falling rocks.  This was time to put the phone away and concentrate!

After approximately 6hrs we arrived at C3, which sits at 7200m (23,622ft).  This was when we used our oxygen for the first time apart from the training.  Most of this day was spent in the tent with our tent buddies, mine being Rich, and we melted snow on our stoves for water and freeze dry food.

Another difficult night sleeping with an oxygen mask on and we were up at 4am.  Rich lit the stove to melt snow for breakfast and a hot drink.  When it’s absolutely freezing inside the tent and the sleeping bag is covered in ice, hearing the stove being fired up and feeling a little heat is such a morale booster.

We packed our kit away, the view from C3 looking back down the Lhotse Face to C2 and the Western Cwm was quite breath-taking with Pumori in the distance, but this time below us.

At 6am on the 20th May we set off from C3 up the remainder of the Lhotse Face towards C4.  This was to be a very long and tough day and the whole team was feeling good.

Considering I had hardly slept much over the last few days I was feeling very good and strong. I was struggling to eat but made sure I snacked on sweets and nuts as well as keeping myself hydrated.  I always made sure I drank a litre of water before setting off each day containing electrolytes and kept another 2 litres on my person.

Joe and Tom were up ahead followed by me, Rich, Scott and Eli. I could see a few tents in the distance thinking it was C4 but I was wrong, it was a camp for Lhotse climbers!  Moving closer I could see what I thought were some bags on the ice near the tents, however as I got closer I then saw a pair of legs!

We were prepared for it, but seeing a dead climber lying in the snow and ice really hit home how dangerous Everest is.

“After a short break we moved on for the final section towards the South Col.  As we approached C4 the weather took a turn with the temperature dropping with high winds and snow.  I couldn’t believe it when we arrived at C4 as it was completely littered with empty oxygen bottles and broken tents.”

Chelsea Group supporting 65 Degrees North and the team of veterans summiting Everest

C4, littered with broken tents and oxygen bottles.

Rich and I got in our tent thinking there was no way we would be leaving for Everest’s summit in this weather in just a few hours’ time. We were extremely tired after climbing for around 9hrs after leaving at 6am, but there was no time to sleep as we had to melt more snow to eat and drink.  I drank as much water as possible and Rich and I shared a freeze dry meal which was extremely difficult to eat.

After an hour or so in the tent my feet felt very cold, I took my boots off and my socks were soaking with sweat.  These were new socks we were keeping for the summit push, but thankfully I had a clean spare pair of the ones I usually wear which warmed my feet up immediately. By the time we had finished melting snow, eaten and sorted our kit out, it was time to prepare to leave for the summit push.

We have had the toughest 3 days to date, and we are all shattered, but now adrenaline is kicking in, blood is pumping through my veins and my heart is racing, excited, anxious; this is what we have been training towards for such a long time.  I have read the books, watched the documentaries and films but now this is real.  I am here, part of this awe-inspiring team that Rich has put together, and I want to do my team mates proud, especially Rich for giving me this opportunity.  I kiss my pictures of my family then pop them in my down suit pocket as they are coming on this journey with me, THIS IS IT! The summit of Everest awaits.

The Death Zone

At 7pm at C4 in the ‘death zone’ on Mount Everest, daylight was fading as we all put on our crampons which was a difficult task in the freezing cold.  We checked each other off and were ready to go.  Head torches on, Scott left first with his Sherpa followed by Joe, Tom, Rich and me. The other Sherpas were packing some things away and were going to catch us up.

We soon hit the fixed ropes with a steep climb ahead.  I’d practised clipping in wearing summit mitts quite a few times and had no issues, but the first few I came to I was having a nightmare! This created a gap between me and Rich, but I eventually managed to close it and catch up, thank God.

After a few hours of climbing, at approximately 11.00pm and around 8300m (27,230ft) up, we were on a very steep section of the climb, the weather extremely bleak; Rich called me, ‘Bren, Bren!’, a look of terror on his face.  He told me he was having trouble breathing with his oxygen mask on.  Trying to remain calm I gave him my mask to try while Tengee and Nupu Sherpa checked his mask over.

They radioed Namgya who was up ahead and after a brief discussion between the Sherpas, Namgya then spoke to Rich on the radio, ‘Rich if you can’t breathe you must go down, go down, go down!’ he kept repeating! This was absolutely devastating and a terrifying moment.  This was Rich’s expedition, he had put so much hard work in to making it happen. I told him to take my mask and I would go down, he refused this offer immediately, I then said I would go down with him and the Sherpas, if he goes down I go with him! He said to me that he wanted me and the team to go for it and push on for the summit!  We parted ways with an emotional goodbye, Rich on his descent with his Sherpa sharing oxygen back down to C4, and me pushing on up with Tengee Sherpa.  The rest of the team were way ahead at this point. I was now on my own, with my Sherpa.

The next couple of hours were probably the most difficult for me after splitting from Rich.  I kept thinking, ‘is he OK?’ Should I have insisted on going down with him? What if this or that happens?’  My mind was working overtime and I felt physically, mentally and emotionally drained.  I felt very slow and weak at this point, I was expecting Tengee to tap me on the shoulder to tell me we had to turn around due to the time factor.  The Sherpas are the nicest, strongest and kindest people you could ever meet, but communication between me and Tengee was difficult due to the high winds and language barrier, especially when trying to speak through the oxygen mask.

On a very steep slope in the dark with a severe wind-chill, I was feeling quite emotional and lonely at this point. I started thinking of my family and friends and everyone back home who had supported me.

“Each step I took I would silently name each family member, and my 2 friends whose pictures I had in my pocket; 1 ex-navy and the other a marine who had recently taken their own lives due to their own struggles. This gave me some inner strength to push on up.”

I looked back thinking Tengee was struggling as he was slowing down, he gave me a thumbs up so I carried on.   Suddenly I saw the light of a head torch further ahead, and someone wearing the 65 Marmot down suit.  Even though it took me around half an hour to get to that point, it gave me such a lift that I was finally catching up with my team mates.  When I arrived, at that point I realised it was the balcony, the area where we would pick up a new oxygen bottle. Even though Tom, Scott and Joe had moved on and I could see them in the distance, Namgya waited for us at the balcony. He checked that we were OK, changed my oxygen bottle and then moved on after a quick break.

Further ahead at approximately 2am on another very steep section, I couldn’t believe what I was now experiencing, I was having trouble breathing through my oxygen mask!  I turned to Namgya behind and explained to him that I thought the same thing was happening to my mask as it had with Rich’s.  We were in a very difficult spot to stop so I said I’d push on a little further to a ledge where we could check the mask without affecting climbers coming behind.

Over the next few minutes, breathing got so difficult that I had to lift my mask off my face to try and breathe.  This was bad, so I prepared myself that I may have to turn back for C4. Namgya checked my mask but couldn’t get it functioning properly so he spoke to another Sherpa, he had a spare mask.  This worked and I could finally breathe, panic over. I thought to myself that I wished the guys had a spare mask for Rich, I was wondering if he was OK and back in C4 safe and sound with his Sherpa.

Approaching The South Summit of Everest

At approximately 4am when I was approaching the South Summit, it was beginning to get light and after climbing in the dark for hours I looked up to finally see the amazing views around me and the rare sight of the shadow of Everest in the distance, something which was a privilege to see for a very short time as the sun rose.  When I got to the South Summit I could see the main summit ridge and what a sight that was! Even better I could see my team mates on the ridge on their way to the top of the world.  Feeling quite emotional at this point with mixed emotions, happy to see Scott, Tom, Joe, Eli and the Sherpas on their way to the top but feeling very sad and worried about Rich, I pushed on myself onto the summit ridge.

Apart from a few climbers, I pretty much had the ridge to myself so I tried to take it in as much as possible to enjoy the moment.   Soon Joe and Scott were on their way down after summiting Everest, this was the first time we spoke since leaving C4 at 7pm.  They asked where Rich was so I briefed them very quickly, gave them a cwtch (hug) before pushing on myself.  About 10 mins later Tom and Eli were on their way down after summiting.  Tom was apologising for not waiting on the summit for me as the winds were ferocious, causing a severe -55 wind-chill.  They were concerned about Rich so again I explained briefly, another cwtch then it was my turn.

“I was approaching the Summit of Everest on my own, Namgya, Tengee and a few Sherpas were at the peak taking pictures. It felt very surreal walking onto the Summit on my own, it was not as I planned or imagined, Rich had been by my side on the summit of Aconcagua and Denali but this one I had to do without him.”

Chelsea Group supporting 65 Degrees North and the team of veterans summiting Everest

Approaching the summit of Everest.

Standing on the Summit, I tried to slow everything down, take in the moment as I knew I would soon be on my way down.  I looked around, a complete 360, it was so clear, the sun was rising and I wished that everyone who had supported me could see what I was seeing.  I said a few words for my mate, ex-navy who had recently died by taking his own life.   I tried to get my phone out of my down suit pocket but my zip was frozen solid.

Seeing me struggling, Tengee Sherpa called me over to join the Sherpas and he offered to take some pictures which was very kind of him.  After having some pictures taken by Tengee and Namgya I moved away from the group slightly and looked around once again.  The windchill was extremely severe, however the view was breath-taking.  So many thoughts and emotions were flying through my mind at this point and I didn’t want this to end.  I thought of a quote by Rene Daumal that Danny once told me.

“You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.”

While deep in thought I felt a tap on my shoulder, Tengee Sherpa telling me it was time to start making my way down the mountain.  I picked up my back pack and took a final 360 look around before clipping back onto the fixed line and beginning my descent.

Chelsea Group supporting 65 Degrees North and the team of veterans summiting Everest

Brendan, deep in thought at the summit

A while after summiting I started having difficulty breathing again. While approaching a steep section towards the balcony I asked a Sherpa to check my oxygen.  Instructing me to carry on, I clipped into the fixed line and made my way fairly quickly down the steep section.  I could see Nimadai and the rest of my team further down near the balcony.

Breathing became a lot more difficult so I had no choice but to remove my mask.  Still having difficulty breathing, I called out to Nimadai Sherpa who was further down the fixed line, he couldn’t hear me.  Knowing I had to get down as quickly as possible I sat on my backside and slid down the steep section to catch the rest of the group up. I finally met the team at the balcony where the Sherpa checked my oxygen, I’d run out!   He changed the bottle which was such a relief as I could breathe properly again.

Scott and Joe immediately pushed on with their descent while Tom waited for me to have a break before setting off.  Tom, Tengee and I set off together from the balcony making our way back to C4.

I felt exhausted approaching C4 but followed on behind Tom and Tengee towards the tents.  I unzipped my tent to find Rich sitting there with his oxygen mask on.  This was such a relief as I had no idea how he was since splitting the night before. After a quick chat with Rich, feeling absolutely exhausted I fell asleep. Soon after Namgya came to our tent – it was time to pack up and leave to head all the way back to C2 as this would be our resting point for the night.

Homeward Bound But Not Finished Yet

Before approaching the Lhotse Face we had a break, this was where we saw many climbers on their way up the mountain.  I was so chuffed that we were not on our way up with so many others.  Soon after we were at the point where the dead body was, we passed another person face down in the snow with climbers around him.  I turned to Rich wondering if the person was OK, but then realised he was dead and had been for some time apparently.  Climbers had been digging him out of the snow.

A few hours later, Rich and I arrived at C3 for a break, Tom, Scott and Joe were ahead of us so had already left C3 for C2. This was when I had a first proper drink since leaving C4 for the Summit the day before. I left C4 with plenty of snacks and two and a half litres of water, but the temperature was so cold that my water was frozen along with my down suit jacket zip meaning I couldn’t get any snacks.  The Sherpas had melted water at C3 so I was able to melt the ice in my drinking bottle which felt amazing as I was feeling very dehydrated by this point.

With daylight fading, I remember thinking that I would do anything to jump in one of the tents at C3 and sleep for hours, but we had one final push for C2 so had to move on before it got dark.   We made our way down the final steep section of the Lhotse Face in the dark wearing headtorches.  I could see the lights from C2 in the distance and couldn’t wait to get there.  Rich, Nimadai, Sherpa and I arrived back at C2 at 21.30pm, 26.5 hours after leaving C4 for the summit.  Feeling exhausted and dehydrated, I drank as much fluids as I could, I couldn’t stomach any food at this point and very soon I fell asleep.

The following morning, feeling much better after a good sleep we were up for breakfast around 8ish.  This is when Rich and I realised that Scott had severe frostbite on his toes and was getting flown straight to Kathmandu in the next hour or so. Eli had taken good care of Scott throughout the night, but he needed to be hospitalised immediately. Nimadai also had frostbite along with an infection on his face so he also needed emergency medical treatment.

After packing away the kit we said our goodbyes to Rich, Scott and Nimadai as they flew off down the Western Cwm towards base camp.  Soon after, Eli led the way on foot followed by Joe, Tom and me. We set off at a quick pace as we didn’t want to be too late crossing the icefall when the temperature was hot, as this meant the ice would be slowly melting.

I felt so much better after some sleep and was thinking all about the previous days as we trekked down the Wester Cwm. I was finding it hard to believe that I was stood on the Summit of Everest yesterday morning, it all felt like a dream.

The Final Hurdle – Down The Icefall

We were soon at the top of the icefall with base camp in sight, what an amazing feeling that was. I kept thinking, this is it, the last hurdle.  We hit some traffic on the obstacles which slowed us down quite a bit.  This meant it was getting later in the day and warming up.   We could feel the ice getting soft under our crampons and we all knew we had to get a move on.

“At around half way down the icefall I heard an enormous crashing sound, Eli who was in front looked back at Joe, Tom and I, and with a scared and serious look on his face he said ‘we need to get out of here now!'”

Eli saw an enormous block of ice crash very close to us and other climbers.  This was it, we were half way down the icefall and it was melting, but we were committed and there was no turning back now so the only option was to get down as quickly as possible.  Not long after, the same happened again and it’s safe to say, by now were all feeling very anxious.

The icefall is an extremely dangerous place and so many climbers have lost their lives over the years.  If one of these ice blocks falls on us, then its game over and we all knew this.   We tried to speed up but this was very difficult after what our bodies had been through the last 6 days.  I started to fall over a lot as my legs felt extremely tired and mistakes were starting to be made.  I was the last man in the team with Tom in front of me who was keeping me in sight and regularly checking to see if I was OK.

Finally, over an hour later we were on our final ladder crossing and we all knew we were nearly there. Relief was starting to kick in and all I could think about now was a nice cold drink. Being dehydrated after summiting I had been craving Coca Cola for a few days especially on the decent to C2.

Each time after our previous rotations, two members of the kitchen staff would leave BC and trek about 30 mins to the base of the icefall to meet us with cold drinks and snacks.  Up ahead we could see more than two people waving at us. Rich and Leesa were there filming us as we walked in on our final section and what an emotional but lovely feeling it was to see them, especially after the eventful final crossing of the Khumbu Icefall.

Chelsea Group supporting 65 Degrees North and the team of veterans summiting Everest

Rich and Leesa awaiting the team’s arrival from the summit.

After a warm welcome, Rich opened his ruck sack and pulled out ice cold bottles of Coca Cola which was absolute heaven, followed by a tube of Pringles which went down very well.  Feeling very tired but relieved and happy as we knew we were safe, we made our way on the final section, a gentle stroll back to our BC tent where another warm welcome awaited us from the rest of the staff.

Summiting Everest was the toughest and most amazing experience ever. To be working as part of a team again where we had to push and rely on each other in order survive really has proved to me that when you put your mind to something, anything is possible. The whole experience has had a positive impact on my mental health and hopefully this will inspire others to step out of their comfort zone, and take on their own challenge big or small to take their steps to recovery.

Brendan Davies

July 2019