This interview with Mark and Leanna Shuttleworth is part of an ongoing series of interviews I do each season with Everest climbers. Not the famous, sponsored ones who get plenty of publicity but the regular people, who have full time jobs, full time families in many cases and climb for the love of climb. Please send me your suggestion for an interview. Now here’s Mark and Leanna:
You know climbing is in your blood when you post this for the world to read at age 14:
“I was the only girl on the 21 day trip, got quite bad altitude sickness from refusing to drink enough (a dislike of the toilet facilities that I quickly overcame!), and didn’t shower for weeks, yet somehow I had the best time of my life to date.”
After her trek to Everest Base Camp, Leanna Shuttleworth was hooked on climbing even though she lives in one of the flattest spots on earth, Dubai. Not wanting to miss out on the fun, her dad, Mark, joined her on her first big climb, Kilimanjaro and the dye was cast.
Inspired by Sue and Phil Ershler’s book, Together on Top of the World, Leanna began to scheme. She created a plan and in full entrepreneur mode, presented to dad. Now 3 years later, Leanna and Mark have climbed 6 of the 7 Summits (Bass list) with only Everest remaining.
They will be climbing with Alpine Ascents on the south side and will try to tag Lhotse within 24 hours of standing on top of the world, a feat never before accomplished by a female.
I am always impressed with the youth of the world and Leanna is no exception. She is driven, smart and grounded. With varied interest from scuba to medicine, she is also climbing for something more profound than just summit bragging rights. Her mom has Vitiligo.
Please meet Leanna Shuttleworth.
Q: Leanna, you are 18 living in Dubai climbing the world’s highest mountains, not the normal 18 year-old profile. What is it about climbing that drives you?
Well, from the original Everest Base Camp trek that introduced me to the climbing world, it’s been the experiences you gain along the way that really drives me. The bond that you make with the team from being thrown into a “survival” situation together; the beautiful scenery en route; the opportunity to visit amazing countries, or even continents that you never would have been to otherwise; the idea of focusing on the absolute basics and escaping everyday worries; and the actual process and challenge of climbing a mountain. That seems to really include almost everything, but it’s true! Climbing is a brilliant opportunity to escape, and to focus on accomplishing a truly difficult goal, in a hostile, rewarding and stunning environment that not many people are able to experience.
Now, of course, there’s also the added factors that we’re just one summit away from completing the Seven Summits, I’m aiming for two more “youngest British female” records with this trip and a world record with the two 8000m peaks within 24 hours, plus we’re raising money for The Vitiligo Society, and to dissapoint a charity that you wholeheartedly support would be really quite devastating; added inititive!
Q: Mark, you have climbed with your daughter, tell us what you see that keeps her going.
Leanna is a tremendously driven young lady; once she has set her mind on something or set her goal, she will do everything in her power in order to achieve it. I’ve seen numerous examples when most other people would give up, or settle for a lesser outcome, but that’s not Leanna at all! It’s been a real pleasure being able to see her develop from an inexperienced 15 year old with determination, to the climber she is today, good skills, great fitness and still as determined as ever.
Q: You are climbing for more than a summit. Your mom has Vitiligo. Can you tell us about it and how it has impacted your family?
Vitiligo is a genetic disease affecting at least one person in every hundred, causing the skin and hair to lose its pigment and turn white in patches. It’s very difficult to treat. My mum first developed it in her 20s, when she was very tanned, so it had a huge impact on her confidence, making her give up swimming, as well as being difficult to protect in the sun, and hard to “camouflage” with make-up for going out. Now living the the Middle East it’s been very difficult for her to stay out of the sun, both to stop it burning (those patches of skin have no protection from the sun) and to avoid a tan as that makes the patches much more obvious. The Vitiligo Society was a great help for her when she first developed it, giving her information, tips, contacts also with vitiligo, and keeping her up to date on current research.
Q: How can we help?
Thanks for asking this, we’re raising money for The Vitiligo Society on www.justgiving.com/leannashuttleworth, and would really, really appreciate any donation, however small, in sponsorship of our world record attempt.
Q: Leanna, you call Denali your toughest climb. Why?
Denali was both the toughest and the most enjoyable climb we’ve done, for both my dad and myself. Probably because of the length, and then the weight this incurred, with having to carry up food and fuel for three weeks. It was also the first really cold expedition we’d done. I think the difficulty really did boil down to the weight, especially on the way down with piled high sledges that refused to stay the correct way up… That’s one thing that our guides and everyone we talked to prior to the trip failed to mention – how difficult going down would be! Denali was absolutely fantastic though, you get to know the team so well in that time, and it’s a beautiful mountain and it’s challenging enough to be interesting the whole way up and back down.
Q: Everest is in a different league than the other 7 Summits. Any concerns?
Personally, I think health is going to be a huge concern for me. With the reputation of illness during the trip I’m worried that what could be a trivial sickness anywhere else is going to end up really impacting performance all the way up. Also, we’ve never climbed an 8000m peak before, and so neither of us know how our bodies will cope at that altitude, and the risk of HAPE or HACE is frightening. Another concern of mine is definitely how I’ll cope attempting Lhotse straight after Everest, there’s so many things that could go wrong! I only hope we’ve done everything possible to prepare properly, and have eliminated as much risk as we can so that we both get down safely in the end.
Q: Once you complete the 7 Summits, will you continue climbing
I will for sure, however I think I’ll be moving away from the expensive, commercial climbs, and focus on technical rock and ice climbing. Although Ama Dablam is very enticing… We’ll have to see how this trip goes, one step at a time. My dad will be having at least a break from it all, the number of holidays he owes my mum is building up, and completing the Seven Summits was his big goal for the time being. Having said that, my mum and sister are coming with us to Everest Base Camp, and we’ve always been an active family, so there’s no ruling out that there will be other trekking family holidays on the cards.
Q: Any other thoughts for us followers this year?
If anyone’s interested, I’ll be blogging consistently through the two months, and uploading photos too, at www.leannashuttleworth.com/MyBlog/ Also, if anyone knows anybody that might be interested in corporate sponsorship, I would really, really appreciate if you got in touch at http://www.leannashuttleworth.com/contact-me.html.
Finally, the thought I’d like to leave you with: Chances are if you’re reading this site you probably don’t need to hear this, but so many people don’t and I wish they would – follow your dreams, make them happen, because they usually are possible, even if they don’t always seem it.
We wish Mark and Leanna the best of luck for a safe and successful experience. I will be following this story closely all the way from Kathmandu to Everest, Lhotse and back. You can follow them on her blog.
Memories are Everything