Mike and Anna Brown
Mike and Anna Brown Interview taken in 2018
British husband and wife Mike and Anna Brown reached the summit of Mount Everest via the North side together on the 22nd May at 03.30am 2018
Apart from Mount Everest, what other mountains have you both climbed together?
There has been a variety of alpine 4000m peaks, a few Peruvian 5000m peaks and an unlimited amount of Pyrneees, sub 3000m. A few named examples; the North face of Gran Paradiso; South Ridge Laginhorn and NW route on Ishinca. Most of our climbs though have been independent of each other.
What made you both decide to climb the highest mountain in the world?
There was a strong desire for us both to try high altitude climbing and an 8000m peak. Given the style with which we wanted to climb (small non guided team), much depended upon where Altitude Junkies were climbing. Thankfully they were returning to the North side and we managed to get on to the team. Makalu had been an initial consideration, but the expedition run by Phil and the Junkies to Everest was too difficult to pass up.
Did any of you have any close calls while on Everest? Like a ‘slip’ or ‘illness’ for example.
There were various illnesses in the group, some more serious than others. Cough and lung infections were main problem and tummy problems are a given. Mike and I stayed well for the whole trip, we were exceptionally lucky. I had some problems with AMS early on but we stuck with the plan to move slowly during our rotations and be extra careful about hygiene. Thankfully there were no heart stopping moments during the climb, on accent or decent, but it does make interesting times when trying to down climb the ladders on the second step; searching for the top of the ladder with your feet backwards hanging in mid air was a pretty hairy moment.
How did you both find ascending and descending the Second Step?
The second step is renowned as a bottle neck of the north east route. It’s a pretty imposing rock structure that you can see from a good distance away; even in the dark. After the Chinese closed the mountain on the 19th May, we had this beautiful route to ourselves, meaning there would be no concerns about passing other climbers or waiting. Our team was only small and our team leader Phil and a Sherpa managed to summit extremely quickly meaning unbelievably we met at the 2nd step on our ascent and their descent. We all laughed so much; we couldn’t breath as it was but it was such a funny moment. The 3rd step caused a few more difficulties for me, it was larger than expected and technically more difficult and higher of course. Catching your breath is hard at that altitude. Mike found an exposed traverse section immediately before he gained the summit ridge more tricky. It all just makes the route even better though.
At the high camp what was the weather like and did you both get much (any) sleep before leaving for the summit?
Arriving at camp 3 is a pretty exhausting event, the climbing is nearly entirely on rock. It’s a good 6 hour climb from camp 2 and arriving there we jumped in some tents that had been left behind. We arrived at about 3pm with an expected departure time of midnight, however Phil had spotted some weather changes taking place lower in the valley, so we left at 8pm instead. This meant the full accent and about 2 hours of the descent took place in the dark. I think mike slept at camp 3 but I didn’t. I noticed that mikes breathing when at rest was quite laboured so I liked to keep an eye on him. It’s really not easy sleeping in your oxygen mask and certainly makes getting ready an interesting feat in a tent hanging off the mountain; we needed about 2 hours to be in shape to leave the tent.
On the North side of Everest this year (2018) some climbers had problems with their oxygen apparatus. Did you have any problems with yours?
No, everything worked brilliantly; it’s something we know Phil takes great care of.
How long did you both stay on the summit for and did any you take your oxygen mask off?
We were on the summit for about 10 minutes and it was pitch black, this is my most vivid memory. The stars were magical and we saw numerous shooting stars that felt like you could reach out and touch. Its the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. You could clearly see the south route but there wasn’t a soul in site, just us on the summit. I didn’t for a moment think to take my oxygen mask off, nor did Mike. We were focused on descending the route which was going to be the biggest challenge, descending straight back down to ABC; I can tell you that this was the hardest thing I’ve ever done and Mike would agree; it’s a long long way.
Apart from family and friends, can you both name one thing/item each that you missed while on Mount Everest?
Oh great question; this is a food answer for us both because the kit was great and we are used to tent life. Mine for sure was vegetables, I craved them day and night, I’m not kidding when I say that I started dreaming of a vegetable stir fry. Mike craved cold water (we had beer, that’s part and parcel with altitude junkies); but all the water is served hot after boiling up snow and glacial water.
While on Mount Everest did you see any dead bodies and did it effect your thoughts about climbing the mountain?
Yes we saw several. We have the up most respect for those that have died climbing mountains, Everest is just another mountain and many more people have perished climbing others; it’s just too difficult to bring bodies down at such a high altitude. Most bodies we saw were covered, and respectfully moved to places that were less visible. Seeing dead bodies certainly makes you focus, it makes you think of people you care about back home, but Mike and I were lucky to have each other as support.
Anna, were you treated any different by the Sherpa’s or were you expected to muck in like the male climbers?
The equality in the group was as it should be, perfectly equal. There wasn’t a moment that I felt things were different for me and that’s exactly what I’m used to. It works both ways though, in my experience; large male groups need to know that they have an equal with them, and some team members can struggle with this concept. It doesn’t take long though for things to settle down. The Sherpas called me Didi for the entirety of the trip (sister) and made me feel totally at home. We had an absolute ball all of us.
What food did you both enjoy the most at Base camp?
One of the most surprising elements of the trip was the quality of the food. I remember it been good in Peru with the Junkies but Everest food was far more varied. Phil has an excellent set up and a brilliant cook, Da Pasang, who takes complete control of all the cooking with his small team. There’s a tent for all the cooking and a separate dining tent. Everything is prepared carefully and as hygienically as possible. Not only do you get great food at base camp it continues up the mountain at ABC. Da Pasang made great rice pudding, steak meal, fried eggs, but to be honest it was all good. We were never short of food, in fact our climbing buddy swore he put weight on during the trip.
Do you think that George Mallory and Andrew Irvine climbed the Second Step?
I like to think they did.