This interview with Ricky Munday 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 2018 I should interview.
Ricky is strong, determined and dedicated. Watching his twin uncles, Patrick at age 58 and Michael at 69 taken by cancer set Ricky on a path that would change his life. Through climbing, he has found a way to give back.
He has climbed four of the seven summits, and attempted some of the world’s most iconic peaks, including Khan Tengri, Mont Blanc, Kilimanjaro, Mount Kenya, Matterhorn, Aconcagua, Elbrus and Damavand. In his home country, he has completed solo ascents of several Grade II winter routes in Scotland and Wales, a solo ascent of Mont Blanc and an unguided attempt on the Matterhorn. This guy dreams big. He talks bout the “Triple Seven Summits” See his blog for those plans!
Everest has become a mission for Ricky, a serious rugby aficionado. Last year, he was stopped by poor conditions and a risky summit push that he and his teammates narrowly escaped. This year, he has taken lesson from his mountaineering and marathon running to attempt a safe and successful climb from the North side.
Please meet Ricky:
Q: As we covered in the intro, you turned back on you summit push during your 2017 attempt on Everest. Please walk us through your decision process in that moment.
I climbed strongly up to 7,000m. On my second rotation we slept at the North Col without O2 and I could neither eat, nor sleep. My oxygen saturation in the morning was pretty low (52%). On the summit rotation I really struggled again to eat at the North Col, and felt very nauseous. Moving up to C2 the following day was tortuous – I felt completely drained of energy and my team-mates began to overtake me on the snow slope up to 7,600m. We were on O2 at 1L per minute, but I was able to take just a few steps before stopping doubled over to catch my breath.
The fingers on my right hand were starting to get cold due to conduction from the ascender, despite wearing BD Guide gloves, wrist warmers and chemical hand warmers. I spoke briefly to the leader and we turned my flow rate up to 2L per minute. This had an immediate effect and I was able to reach the top of the snow slope and up the rocky ridge to our camp, which was the highest of all teams at 7,900m in a very exposed position.
That evening, I was still unable to eat and I was worried about three things.
I was deeply concerned about moving above 8,000m with such low energy levels and without being able to replenish them. I wanted to be certain that I could get myself down off the mountain and not put my life in someone else’s hands. I had struggled really badly to reach C2 and felt I would get worse as we moved higher. I was climbing without a personal Sherpa.
Secondly, that I had used more oxygen than planned just to reach C2 (I had 5 bottles in total) and I had a nagging concern about what might happen higher up with O2. Finally, I was also concerned about the weather, as our window had forecast 40mph winds and when we reached camp the leader indicated the forecast had worsened and we would spend two nights at 7,900m.
This combination of factors felt too risky. I made the difficult decision to descend the next morning – a decision I have not regretted for a single moment!
Q: At what moment did you know you would return?
I was hoping to return in 2019, but a change in my personal circumstances meant that an unexpected opportunity arose in late February.
I had long planned a repeat trip to Ojos del Salado in February but the local agent cancelled. I found myself with free time and started looking for expedition options. Out of the blue, I heard that Adventure Peaks were running an Everest north trip with just one member, and this felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
A small team means a higher ratio of support and the ability to move swiftly to take advantage of small weather windows.
Q: You are recently engaged. How does Camila feel about your return?
It’s fair to say that she would rather I was spending time and money on wedding planing at this point! However, she respects my long-term objectives and understands that I feel compelled to follow my dreams.
She was a superstar last year and really helped me engage with people on social media above BC as my satellite wifi hotspot only allowed me to send emails – I couldn’t post directly to social media and she ran my facebook account.
Camila climbed Kili with me and we reached the summit on New Year’s day this year, and I popped the question – she tells me she has now officially retired from mountaineering, so it was a short but sweet career.
Q: You competed the Marathon des Sables, a marathon in the Sahara Desert that some people call the toughest footrace on earth. How do you translate the lessons from that experience to your climbing?
Completing that event changed my life forever. I had recently been made redundant from my Chartered Accountancy training program for failing my tax exam twice, and I entered it because I needed something really positive to focus on to help deal with some significant mental health challenges.
I had previously allowed self-doubts or fear to hold me back from following my dreams. Running 150 miles across the Sahara seemed impossible – it was mid-rugby season so I was rugby training twice a week and playing on a Saturday, which left little space to complete long runs. In fact, my longest run before the event was 13 miles.
I realised that with continuous effort, a refusal to give up and the support of family and friends, I could overcome physical pain and exhaustion.
However, this can obviously only carry you so far in the mountains, as the objective dangers are far greater.
Q: Your family has been hit hard by cancer and you are raising money for research. Congratulations on your Justgiving Campaign that exceeded your original goal. I see that now you have a CrowdFunder campaign underway. What is this one about and how will the money be used?
I was strongly motivated to repay the support that Macmillan had given my family last year, and I was delighted to reach my goal despite turning back.
This year, I’m raising funds for Finding Your Feet, a charity that supports families affected by amputation of limb difference. My friend’s sister established the charity after suffering quadruple amputation after contracting pneumonia and septicemia in 2013.
My 2017 Everest team-mate Mike suffered amputation of half a finger following severe frostbite last year, after he was separated from the group and ran out of oxygen at 7,500m during the emergency descent that followed the storm at C2. This happened on the afternoon of the day I turned back.
For both of these reasons, I feel a very personal connection to Finding Your Feet (FYF). I’ll be launching my fundraising campaign for FYF from early April, and all the money I raise will go directly to FYF and will not offset my own costs.
My current crowdfunding campaign is to help me offset my own costs of £30k or so. I’m offering supporters who pledge a variety of rewards – I’ll visit a business or school to give an inspirational talk, I’ll wear a company logo on my down suit, they can win a £300 outdoor retail voucher etc. None of this money is donated to FYF.
Q: You are climbing from the Tibet side. Why? Did you have concerns about the Nepal side? Any concerns the Chinese will play border games this year?
Last year I chose to climb from the north because it meant not crossing the Khumu icefall, and because it was cheaper. I was also drawn by the fact that the British pioneered the route in the 1920s.
This year, I’m returning to the same route because I know the route up to 7,900m. I’d still still concerned about the Khumbu icefall.
We’ve been advised that the border crossing is open but I’m taking a very flexible approach this year and wont be concerned if we have to re-route. Usually, a solution to any problem is found on the ground.
Q: You mention going “non-supported” often but were climbing with SummitClimb who has a team leader and Sherpas for carrying your oxygen bottles and group gear to the high camps. Last year, your SummitClimb team was trapped and narrowly escaped disaster when high winds hit you at the High Camps. Wouldn’t it be better to have some level of support to ensure your safety in 2018?
Last year with SummitClimb I chose not to climb with a personal Sherpa.
The team suffered a number of serious health issues last year. Of the ten climbers who started the expedition, one left early with pneumonia, one suffered AMS and turned back on summit rotation above ABC, one suffered severe frostbite and multiple blood clots on his lungs, one suffered snowblindness at 8,300m, one suffered pulmonary oedema and another suffered less serious cold injuries to fingers and toes.
There was also an eleventh climber who was advertised beforehand and introduced in Kathmandu as assistant leader, but chose to make a solo summit bid early, then failed to intervene when Mike was brought back by a Sherpa to ABC severely injured. It was left to me to coordinate Mike’s medical care and evacuation from basecamp to Kathmandu. Most of these issues were entirely preventable. I will never climb with SummitClimb again.
This year, I’m going back with Adventure Peaks and I’m taking a personal Sherpa from 7,600m. One of my key learning points from last year was that having 1-2-1 support at high camps allows you to rest much more effectively, and makes admin on the hill (changing O2 etc.) much more efficient.
My approach this year is totally different. I’m taking more O2 (six bottles instead of five, all kindly donated by Summit Oxygen), I’m taking a personal Sherpa, and my approach to nutrition up high has radically changed – no freeze-dried meals, but lots of high-calorie snacks, powdered milkshakes and soup.
Q: I can personally relate to going back as I have done this myself a few times, but it’s also a challenge not to define your life in terms of a summit. Please talk about your emotions now, just a couple of weeks before leaving home.
I’m feeling more relaxed this year, and very much look forward to getting back on the hill. Having been there last year, I have a better understanding of the environment, the political context, the route, how my kit performed, the likely health issues etc. I understand where things went wrong for me last year, and I’m very focused on learning those lessons and applying them this year. I’m going with a different agency who have a clear focus on safety. I’m incredibly lucky that so many sponsors and supporters are backing me again this year.
Q: Any other thoughts for us followers this year Ricky?
I’d just like to say a massive thanks to all those who followed or supported me last year, and who have sent messages of support this year.
I do recognise what a privilege it is to have the opportunity to attempt to climb Everest once, never mind twice. I’m also aware that so many of you would love to have this opportunity and I’ll do my very best to help you experience life on Everest vicariously via my updates.
Memories are Everything