Everest 2014: Henry Todd – The Small Quiet Guide, today

Henry Todd at puja

There are many names associated with Everest from climbers to guides. If you are a long time follower of Everest, mind one name that is very familiar is Henry Todd.

Henry has, sick well, let’s just say a reputation for his Everest activities and some would say, for activities outside of Everest. But that is an old, tired story and not something I wanted to rehash.

I wanted to understand what he was doing today because each year his name comes up, albeit quietly. Even though everyone I asked told me that Henry doesn’t do interviews preferring to stay under the parapet, I reached out to him anyway and he was gracious enough to give me a few words.

I also contacted his long time friend and climbing associate, Rob Casserley plus recent member Brandon Chalk.

I met Henry in 2003  at Everest Base Camp. We visited his private tent. I felt like I was meeting royalty as Henry was sitting behind a desk aka table, where he pointed out route features on a large map taking pride in talking about the history of Everest. He was generous with his time, knowledge and scotch!

Henry has been involved with over 60 major expeditions. At age 69 he no longer climbs, but has had some impressive climbs including Everest in 1989 via the West Ridge and summits on Cho Oyu, Manaslu, Pumori and Ama Dablam. On Everest he has seen it all from the early summits to the 1996 disaster to the recent crowds and fights.

Henry has been organizing climbs for over 25 years. Today his company ICE8000, runs the logistics for very independent climbers wanting to share the $70,000 permit fee each season. He is also on other large mountains including Manaslu where I saw him in 2013. He says on his site that he has run 44 8000m expeditions, 39 of which have had members on the summit. He has run expeditions on 10 of the 14 8000m peaks in Tibet, Nepal and Pakistan.

Henry also helps other expeditions obtain and refill their oxygen bottles. It is clear he is still heavily involved with Everest. He has little overhead thus keeps his costs low and passes that on to his members. While in the past he ran teams with a large number of climbers, today he stays somewhat small by modern Everest standards.

brandon kristine chalk
Brandon and Kristine Chalk in Antarctica

As he has done for over a decade, he and his long time, very loyal Sherpa team set up Base Camp at the base of the Khumbu Icefall; he only runs on the south side.

Brandon and Kristine Chalk climbed with Henry in 2010. The Chalks recently summited Vinson making them the youngest couple to climb all of the 7 Summits together.

Brandon said the food was basic and simple but good enough to get them to the summit. He was very impressed with Henry’s Sherpa team, and base camp facilities. But more than anything, Brandon was impressed with Henry’s knowledge of the mountain, weather and how he ran the expedition.

Overall, we had a really good experience with Henry. Yes, at first he can be a bit abrupt, but once you get to know him, he is a fantastic guy who cares more for his climbers and Sherpas than most. He keeps to himself a lot but if you need something, advice, whatever, he is there for you. I remember when I first got to base camp, he knew I was an engineer so employed me essentially to go fix the microwave in the cook tent. It took me all day, but I succeeded which got me in his good graces. Like he said, he is not a guide, but an expedition manager. He is good at it.

We have kept in touch over the years due to the friendship garnered on Everest and I cherish his continued friendship. A times, sure there were frustrations with the ” not knowing” and maybe him keeping to himself, but as a climber I learned to appreciate that. Many times he entrusts you to make your own decisions – something that I think climbers come to appreciate since they are used to making their own decisions in the mountains.

I asked Brandon about Henry’s style and Sherpa team

He is simply there to provide logistics, manage the climbers from base camp, and provide guidance and support. He gives you a lot of comfort on the mountain knowing he is behind you and there for you.

I found his Sherpa team top-notch. Really super fellows who have multiple summits under their belts and with whom we became friends. All very supportive and there for you if you should need them. We had a 1:1 climber to Sherpa ratio on summit day like most everyone else. All other days on the mountain, us climbers would basically climb by ourselves with guidance from Henry and the Sherpas would be going back and forth between camps shuttling gear and providing support. Specifically, Thundu and Namgel Sherpa were fantastic, who went onto work for our friend Mike Kobold (who was on Henry’s 2009 and 2010) climbs making watches and opened a shop in Kathmandu.

I did a more extensive interview with Rob Casserley who is a guide (Trek8848), climber and a physician in Canada. He has eight summits of Everest including summiting twice in each of two seasons (2007 and 2010) plus climbs on other 8000m peaks.

In 2008 he was a high-altitude cameraman for Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ Everest Challenge expedition. In 2010, following the 1st summit, he was credited for saving the life of one of his teammates who had an episode of tracheitis, a life-threatening closure of the airway. Oh, by the way, Rob’s other passion involves rowing across oceans as he did in the annual Woodvale Atlantic Rowing Race.

Rob describes his relationship with Henry as family. He has a long association with him and credits Henry for help in building his climbing career.

Rob CasserleyQ: With 8 summits of Everest, what is the personal attraction to you?

A: I love the place, the people and the sense of adventure I get each time I go. Why wouldn’t I go back?!

It seems like no time at all that I was there for the first time, in 2003, as a member on one of Henry’s expeditions. The trip as a whole, and thankfully its ultimate success, was a life changing moment. In some ways it has made me and for that I will always owe the mountain, the Khumbu and the Sherpas a huge debt. The Khumbu has become like a second home to me, so returning year after year, seems pretty natural.

I shouldn’t forget to say that through Everest, I have met so many incredible people who in some cases have become life-long friends. Sherpas, fellow teammates and now, the guiding fraternity with whom I have the honour of working with during expedition time. It’s a proud moment to go to a guide’s meeting during an expedition, and be able to chat with legends like Henry, Russell, Mike Roberts, Kenton, Dave Morton, Dave Hahn et al. These are people you read about in books, and there I am, right in the middle of things and made to feel like an equal. I have to pinch myself from time to time to believe its really happening. Priceless.

Q: Do you classify yourself a guide, a leader or something else when working with Henry?

I started out with the self-coined title of ‘high altitude tea-boy’. It didn’t feel right calling myself a guide and I certainly didn’t deserve the title. I’d spent years carving out my career in medicine and earnt a lot of credentials along the way – MBBS, MRCS MRCGP & CCFP – but no UAIGM! So ‘high altitude tea-boy’ worked just fine. I certainly brought something to the teams that I worked with in the earlier years of working on the mountain – whether it was as expedition medic, collecting ice to boil at the South Col, or raising spirits when times were hard. And without wanting to ‘blow my own trumpet’, I (we) came to realise that I am very strong at altitude and could be relied on to be around, through thick and thin. I learnt to go the pace of the slowest, if needed, and became at ease providing this ‘sweeper’ service.

I think that it was in 2007, when I achieved the first of my two ‘double summit’ seasons, that something changed for me and I was perhaps regarded differently by the other guides. Although I still didn’t have the UAIGM qualification, I had earnt their respect through my actions. I’d summitted twice in a week, working with 2 groups of people, and summitted them all. It was an amazing experience and a great apprenticeship. So through my experiences on Mount Everest, I have arguably earnt the right to claim the title of ‘guide’. without treading on anyone’s toes. I am proud to provide a high-end service to anyone who climbs with me, with the added benefit of medical back-up, which has come in useful (too) many times over the years on Everest!.

Q: As a physician, is there a single biggest mistake you see climbers make with respect to health on Everest?

I can’t keep it to one – there are a couple of problem areas!

Climbing Everest is, in my opinion, 80% psychology. Keep it ‘all together’, and you’ll increase your chances of success. Keeping calm and taking things in your stride is the way to ensure that mentally, you’re as strong as you need to be for a successful summit bid. Ignoring your psychological well-being during an expedition can prove costly and I am sure is the single biggest reason for failure,.

Nutritional requirements increase exponentially in a hypoxic environment. Ignoring this will prove costly. Treat summit day the same way that you  might approach a marathon – regular calories in a palatable, digestable form, every 30-60 minutes. This would protect against ‘bonking’ as we can frequently see up high. With a good oxygen delivery system, 2L of water on summit day (with adequate hydration prior to departure) and a reasonable energy supply, the basic science of making ATP – the body’s energy unit – should be an attainable goal on summit day. Failure to pay attention to this basic physiology can lead many climbers astray.

Cough. There is no cure, so prevention has to be the name of the game. The air in the Khumbu is cold and dry, and at a microscopic level, there will be some element of bronchial inflammation and hypersensitivity, that can leave susceptible individuals with a debilitating, chronic cough. This is an incredibly energy consuming and worrying symptom for some people, so better to prevent it from occurring in the first place. Wear a buff, try steam inhalation, lozenges. Just keep on top of things and keep the cough at bay!

We’ll with all this solid endorsement of Henry, I reached out to the man himself and got these brief responses – so true to form. These days Henry prefers to let his members and references do the talking.

Henry Todd at puja
Henry Todd, center back, at a Puja

Q: What got you involved with Everest and guiding?
As climber on a Polish Everest expedition in 89,  West Ridge then up the Holbein Coulior from Nepal side, but over Khumbutse then across the Lho La, not from the Western Cwm.   Am an expedition manager I don’t guide.

Q: You have seen a lot of changes over the years. What are a couple of the most significant ones in your mind?
Weather forecasting, improvements to the oxygen delivery systems, and modern communication systems for emergencies.

Q: What are your thoughts on the progress the Sherpas are making in running their own expeditions?
Not having been on an expedition run by Sherpas, I’m completely unqualified to comment.

Q: Costs for Everest climbs has escalated over the years, how do you keep your costs so low?
I have a zero $ marketing budget. Concentrate spending soley on accomplishing the climb safely. Keeping a low profile is inexpensive.

Q: What is the profile of your typical member?
A climber who’s determined, fit, and has done their reseacher thoroughly, knows who they’re with. Usually been recommended.

Q: How is your 2014 looking?
Pretty full.

Alright then, Bob’s your uncle. 🙂

Henry summed everything up when he told Brandon back in 2012

“Brandon, my outfit is all about having climbers who know what they are doing, not top-price paying guided members who need decisions made for them all he time”.

Best of luck with the 2014 season Henry. You can contact Henry at Ice8000, Rob Casserley at his email and read more about Brandon and Kristine at their website.

Climb On!
Memories are Everything

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8 thoughts on “Everest 2014: Henry Todd – The Small Quiet Guide, today

  1. Hi Alan – thank you as usual. always enjoy your blog and especially this pre Everest season series on notable Everest people. However, disappointed to find that Henry Todd’s website,ICE8000, is 3 years behind with future expedition information.

  2. I have read many articles about Henry Todd and it’s interesting to receive “live” interview thoughts from him especially when he is answering sensible questions asked by you. The questioner often ask such stupid questions you begin to wonder which planet they were born on. Thanks again Alan. When do you set off for Everest and which side are you heading for ? Cheers Kate

    1. Thnaks Kate, I was pleased Henry agreed to a few brief questions along with Brandon and Rob. No Everest for me this year. Staying home in Colorado to cover all the action for you 🙂

  3. Have read so much stuff on Henry he really does sound like a character, first heard about him with stories about the 1996 disaster and other negative stories about his operation.
    However sometimes thought that we are only hearing about the negatives. Then I read Bear Grylls story about his summit on Everest (excellent read by the way) and it gives a very different view of him.Infact he credits Henry as being an excellent manager and really supporting his summit bid.One of the lines that sticks out is bear thanking him for helping him reach the top and Henry modestly saying that it was down to his own determination that he reached the top.
    Another interesting article Alan Thanks.

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