This interview with Mike Chambers is one of an ongoing series I do each season with Everest climbers. Not the famous, sponsored ones who get plenty of publicity but the regular people, who often have full time jobs, full time families and climb for the love of the climb. I welcome suggestions for anyone climbing in 2013 I should interview. Now here’s Mike:
I was not sure what to make of the following sentence in a recent email:
My fiancé is in love with another woman. It happened the minute he laid eyes on her, turning a small corner on a rocky, winding path in Nepal, I was only a few steps behind. Over the years I have grown accustomed to Mike’s love of challenges and gotten used to his chaotic schedule of working, climbing, pushing, traveling. Whether he was training for a 100-miler or guiding a group up Mt. Kilimanjaro for the 5th time, we developed a routine of sharing responsibilities at work and at home. But Everest was different, I could feel her wrap around his mind and heart, and I have slowly come to accept that if I want to marry all of this man, I have to first give Everest her turn.
It appears the time has come!
Mike Chambers is on a mission. His life changed when he saw orphaned children in Kenya. It broke his heart to think they were abandoned, left without hope by parents with few choices or, worse. He dedicated his life to making a difference.
He joined Flying Kites, a non profit organization that runs an orphanage near Kilimanjaro. Mike is their Director for Adventure Programs. Since 2010, he has led climbs up the steep slopes of Kili raising over $500,000 for Flying Kites in the process.
A natural adrenaline junkie, Mike loves adventure. You name it, he loves it: running, rowing, surfing, biking and, of course, climbing. Fresh off Aconcagua in 2011, he ran the Bear Mountain North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Miler in a respectable time of 10:18. But it was that trek to Everest Base Camp that set in motion the climb of his life in a few months – Mt. Everest.
Understanding it will be his biggest climbing challenge, Mike has been training for months to get his body ready. Crossfit is his tool. His mind is already there knowing his climb will raise $100,000 for his kids – if donors come through – and a lifelong dream.
He says his climbs of New Hampshire’s Mt Washington in the winter was good training. Also a summit of Aconcagua honed his skills. But his favorite climb in the past year was the Notch Couloir on Longs Peak. My kind of guy!
Please meet Mike Chambers
Q: I want to start with Flying Kites, your charity. Can you sum up what it means to you personally?
Determination. Passion. Resiliency. Mental toughness. Love. Family.
I was drawn to the Flying Kites mission because it’s unique. In Kenya, we aim to raise the orphaned children in our care as if they were our very own. This means getting them the best. Access to the best schools, the best doctors, the best life experiences. It’s not innovative. It’s what parents all over the world want for their children. By setting these kids up to be future leaders, it is our hope that they’ll have the opportunity to work to improve the system that’s failed them.
Having experienced more suffering in a few short years than most people will know in a lifetime, they are a collection of the most compassionate, resilient and brave children I have ever met. The embody a sense of work ethic and determination that inspires me everyday. In the three years I’ve known them I’ve learned more about myself than any expedition or classroom could ever teach me. In addition to raising funds, it’s my hope to help these kids realize their dreams while I’m chasing my own.
To be perfectly clear, I am not climbing Mt. Everest for them, I am climbing Mt. Everest because it is my dream. Howeverby doing so I hope to inspire, and enable them to one day go after their dreams.
Q: How did you get into mountaineering?
I started climbing in high school after I got caught sneaking into the girls dorm after hours. The school recommended that I go spend a few weeks in the mountains of Maine to learn more about self-discipline. It was the best punishment I’ve ever received.
Q: You have lead multiple trips on Kilimanjaro. What do you see as the biggest challenge on Kili today?
Over the past few years I’ve been fortunate to lead several groups to Uhuru Peak to raise funds for the children of Flying Kites. I see two main issues facing Kilimanjaro today; local deforestation and it’s effect on climate change and the working conditions for the porters. The latter has improved drastically over the past few years thanks to the efforts of Karen Valenti (Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project) and the IMEC’s implementation of the Partnership for Responsible Travel Program. If you plan on climbing Kilimanjaro be sure to climb with a company that’s approved by the IMEC.
The issue of local deforestation and it’s impact on climate change is one that needs more attention. Whether it’s logging for timber and charcoal or using fire to harvest honey the forests surrounding Kilimanjaro are at serious risk. Deforestation is the major cause for the rapidly melting glaciers which ultimately could have a significant impact on the millions of people who depend on the mountain for water.
Q: Can you tell our readers how Kili has prepared you for Everest?
Kilimanjaro hasn’t prepared me for Everest. It is just one piece of the puzzle but an important piece. Kilimanjaro holds a special place in my heart as it’s become my training grounds much like Mt. Rainer is for many climbers in the Northwest. When leading trips on Kili I always find ways to make the mountain more challenging. Whether it’s going for long runs at each camp or carrying a heavy pack on summit night there are no shortages of ways to use Kili’s altitude and terrain to become a stronger mountaineer.
Q: Everest will be your first 8000m peak. Any concerns?
Yes and no.
Of course I would have loved to climb Cho Oyu or Shishapangma before heading to Everest but it wasn’t in the cards for me financially. I do wonder how my body will perform over 8000m but I wouldn’t say I’m concerned. I tend to only worry about things I have control over.
Also, my feeling is that the traditional “Road to Everest” (Kili, Aconcagua/Denali, Cho Oyu, Everest) has the potential to give climbers a false sense of confidence. Success on Cho Oyu (or any other mountain) does not guarantee success on Everest. While having the peace of mind would be great, not having it has made me train that much harder. It’s an oddly calming feeling to know that the only hazards I have going into Everest are objective (Avalanche, altitude, etc.) because physically and mentally I couldn’t be in better shape.
If I have to turn back, I will. The mountain isn’t going anywhere.
Q: When asked a general “Why?”, you say “Because I’m scared. Because I am absolutely terrified. Because it makes me feel alive. Because I want to see if I can. Because it’s hard.” Mike, what are you afraid of?
As I’m sure you know, the question of why as it pertains to potentially dangerous and seemingly futile endeavors has stumped many of adventurers and mountaineers alike. For years I dismissed the question, I wasn’t even sure of the answer myself. However, I’ve recently given the question more thought and decided that from now on when people ask me why I will tell them it is because I’m afraid. I’m afraid of what life would look like if I did not go after my dreams. I’m afraid of not trying. I’m afraid of the concept of being too afraid to do something.
Q: Your physical training schedule has been a killer! How has the mental training been going?
What makes mental training for high-altitude climbing so difficult is that there is a fine line between mental toughness and stupidity. One can be stupid and run through injury or illness in an ultra marathon, which I’ve done many times, with relatively moderate consequences. But the decisions you make at high-altitude are a matter of life and death. For me it’s not so much about having the capacity to push through the pain but having the capacity to listen and understand my body. System checks. What does my body need right now? Is that an injury or discomfort? Do I have enough in the tank to continue at this pace?
Of course the best way to get your mind and body in tune is to replicate the scenarios in low-risk situations. I’ve trained my mind using long runs with weight vests, long alpine days with heavy packs and a little game I created to help me deal with overcoming defeat. It’s called Crow Dice. Leila, my fiancé, will roll a single die and keep the number to herself. The number she rolls equals the number of loops I’ll need to do. II’ll set out on a 5.5 mile loop (sometimes in the middle of the night) not knowing how many times I’ll have to go around. Each time I return to the house she either gives me a thumbs up for “You’re done” or a thumbs down for “Another loop.” I’ll do this every other week in addition to my normal training. It can be torturous, but it’s really helped me learn to deal with situations as they arise.
Q: Sounds like you have a wonderful fiancé. When is the wedding and will you be going to Africa for your honeymoon?
Leila is amazing. In Kenya, a culture that values work ethic above all else, she is widely known in the community as Aunite Nyawira which, in Kikuyu, means “hardworking woman”. She founded Flying Kites in 2007 after having spent her college’ summers volunteering in the slums of Nairobi and continues to work tirelessly for the children.
She pushes me to be better in everything I do, and holds me to the highest standards. If I’m not training hard enough she’s always the first to tell me. We decided to wait until after Everest to begin planning our New England wedding which will be followed by a celebration with our other family in Kenya.
Q: Any other thoughts for us followers this year?
Despite what you may hear in the media, this year on Everest, just like every year for the past sixty, a collection of passionate and determined men and woman will gather in the Khumbu to attempt to climb the highest mountain in the world. It’s a beautiful thing. Try not to get sucked into the negativity and enjoy the ride!
For those interest, you can follow my journey at my website
Best of luck Mike for you and the kids. Mike will be climbing with IMG on the south side and can be followed at his website.
Memories are Everything