This interview with Ronnie Muhl is one of an ongoing series I do each season with Everest climbers. I try to reach a wide variety of climbers around the world. I welcome suggestions for anyone climbing in 2013 I should interview. Now here’s Ronnie:
Most people in South Africa do not dream of climbing Everest one day. But the power of a well written phrase often plants a seed that cannot be ignored.
A driven man, click Ronnie Muhl has embraced life and his adventures with a zest that has taken him to Everest three times summiting from the north in 2007 fulfilling a dream he had for 28 years. He was the 7th person from South Africa to summit Everest. And he is back in 2103.
Ronnie has taken those climbs as motivation to write a book, speak professionally and start his own adventure company.
I was curious about mountaineering in South Africa, Ronnie’s ability to juggle all these jobs and what it was that got him started.
Please meet Ronnie Muhl:
Q: How widespread is extreme mountaineering in South Africa and how did you get started in the sport?
A: Extreme mountaineering is not widespread in South Africa. To date only 26 South Africans have summited Everest, with an additional handful who have summited on 8000 metre peak. Unfortunately, South Africa is not the home of high mountains, with the highest peak being 3450 metres above sea level. As a 15 year old schoolboy, I climbed to within a few metres of the summit of this peak and got caught in a snow blizzard. That experience changed my life forever and while some of my school mates never ever wanted to repeat that experience, I wanted more. I learnt so much about myself at that very vulnerable age and continue to learn about who I am to this day whenever I am on a big.
Q: You run a financial planning practice, a speaking and training consultancy and a mountain adventure organization. How do you find the time to train?
A: Alan, my life is hectic and if I don’t train first thing in the morning, then things fall apart. Running comes easy and naturally for me and so this is my primary source of exercise. I do a little bit of gym work and some long walks on the weekends, but I rely heavily on my early morning runs. I successfully summited Aconcagua in January this year for the second time, so this has also contributed to my fitness level this season. I leave for Nepal on the 13th of March to lead a commercial trek into Base Camp before our expedition commences, so that should also help with my acclimatization and hopefully my endurance.
Q: Ronnie, as the Managing Director of Adventures Global , you lead expeditions. How did this start?
A: After I came back from my first attempt on the North side of Everest in 2006, three fellow South Africans who were planning to go to the mountain in 2007, asked me to help them put their expedition together and to be their leader. I had learnt an incredible amount about the mountain in 2006 and to some extent Chomolungma had become demystified for me. I took up the challenge and the business grew from there.
Q: In 1979 you read “The Impossible Victory” by Peter Habeler and that inspired you to climb Everest. Was there a specific part of the book that spoke to you?
A: There is one particular passage that moved me beyond words. It reads as follows: “Incidentally, one thing that the scientists have not considered, simply because there are no yardsticks by which to measure it, is that at the absolute limit of physical and mental capacity there is, somehow, an increase of strength – a second wind – which seems to emanate from the innermost soul and which enables the impossible to become possible.”
This passage really spoke to me. It inspired me in such a profound way, that I knew that I needed to experience what they had experienced. I needed to go into thin air and tap into my innermost soul, so that I could understand what it meant to make the impossible possible.
Q: You did not summit on your first attempt in 2006, what happened?
A: Throughout the 2006 expedition I felt strong. I had acclimatized extremely well and was among the strongest in our team. When I left Camp 3 (8300m) on the summit push, I started struggling after the first few steps on the fixed lines. I climbed to above the Second Step (8700m) but it was getting late and the weather was beginning to change. I met two Russian climbers just above the Second Step and they had turned around just before the Summit Traverse (8800m). This convinced me to turn around as well. I later discovered that I had a faulty Poisk oxygen mask, which probably accounted for the slow pace on the summit push.
Q: What did you change to allow a summit in 2007?
A: The first thing I did was a Top Out oxygen system. Secondly, I changed our climbing strategy, where we spent less time acclimatizing above the North Col (7000m) than we had done in 2006. I believe this kept us healthier and stronger than the year before.
Q: Your first two climbs were from the North side and then you were the leader of a team on the South side in 2010, but did not summit. What went wrong?
A: I picked up a sore throat in Base Camp just before our second rotation, so I missed spending a few nights up on the Lhotse Face (7000m). On the summit push my legs were sore and I really struggled with my breathing. I was climbing with our Sirdar who kept wanting to crank up the O2, but after 3 to 4 hours I decided to turn around for fear of running out of oxygen.
Q: So Ronnie, with what you have experienced of both sides, do you feel one side is distinctly harder?
A: Alan this is a great question. Both sides have their adverse dangers. On the North side you get up high on the mountain with relative ease, but the summit day is tough. You have to climb the three rock steps, with the Second Step being the crux. But beyond that and just beneath the summit you have the Summit Traverse which is extremely narrow and I think very precarious. I find it fascinating that not more is written about this section on the mountain.
On the South side you have the Icefall to deal with. This exciting and beautiful landscape is a dangerous place and not something that I am particularly looking forward to this year. On summit day you have the South- east ridge and the Hillary Step to deal with. I have not yet experienced this section of the mountain, so I look forward to answering this question next time around.
Q: You are a marathoner; do you feel this training gives you an advantage at altitude?
A: I believe that high altitude mountaineering demands that you have a strong pair of legs, a good set of lungs and a healthy heart and marathon running certainly contributes to all of those requirements. Marathon running also demands that you “dig deep”, stay mentally focused, deal with pain and keep going, by placing one foot in front of the other. There are many parallels between marathon running and high altitude mountaineering and I am convinced that my marathon experience has stood me in good stead.
Q: Everest conditions were difficult in 2012, any concern about this year?
A: Alan, I am not concerned about the conditions in advance of getting onto the mountain. I fully appreciate that global warming is affecting the Himalayas, but as we saw last year, the teams that stuck it out were able to summit. Chomolungma will always throw challenges at us. Let’s hope she is kind to us this year. As we all know, Chomolungma is climbed on her terms and not ours and we always need to be prepared for that.
Q: Last question, do you have a favorite piece of gear you use on all your climbs?
A: I have thought about this question a lot. On a serious note, I have a – 40°c sleeping bag that is the most cozy and comfortable piece of gear that I own. I love climbing into that bag. It reminds me that I am on a serious mountain and it takes care of me accordingly.
On a lighter note, my pee bottle has to be another favorite piece of gear. This awful pink Nalgene bottle has lived with me for the last 9 years and I would be devastated not to find her in my duffle bag on any big mountain trip.
Q: Any other thoughts for us followers this year Ronnie?
A: I am a pretty sentimental guy, so I will be doing a few crazy things this year. Firstly, my father passed away last year and so I plan to take a few of his ashes to the summit with me, so that I can scatter those into the breeze of the “Mother Goddess”. Secondly, I have a small stone which I picked up from the North side summit in 2007. I plan to take it back with me to the South side summit this year and leave it behind. Thirdly, in 2007 I took a New Zealand 5 dollar note (the one with Sir Edmund Hillary on it) to the summit. It is now framed and hangs proudly in my office. A dear friend of mine that lives in New Zealand, managed to get another 5 dollar note for me with his signature on it and so I plan to take that to the summit with me this year in tribute to the 60th anniversary of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s incredible achievement.
Thank you very much for this opportunity and please follow our expedition on www.adventuresglobal.net or like us on Facebook for daily updates.
Best of luck Ronnie with this season. We’ll be following you and the entire team. His Adventures Global team will be climbing from the South side and again with Dream Himalayas Pvt Ltd and Ang Kami Sherpa who has 6 Everest summits under his belt.
Memories are Everything
Warm greetings from Johannesburg – SOUTH AFRICA
Thank you for the great interview with Ronnie.I’ve read Ronnie’s Book – EVEREST – Surviving the Death Zone – twice.
Inspirational! Proudly South African!
Ronnie, All the BEST with the expidition! Ek weet jy kan!
Good luck to all teams! Wishing you all the wind beneath your wings!
Very nice interview, Alan.
Ronnie– our Good wishes are with you for a Safe Summit & back. You are so respectable to Chomolungma– She would ensure you reach your Goal & come back safe & sound.