Stuart Peacock Interview taken in 2015
Stuart Peacock was the first Briton to climb Mount Everest via the North Ridge route three times.
How did you get into mountaineering?
Family trips to the Lake District instigated by my Auntie & Uncle were my first introduction to hill walking when I was about 5 or 6. Coniston Old Man was the first peak I climbed. After that it was really Scouts and Venture Scouts that got me into the mountaineering and rock climbing side of things. My Venture leader, Craig Hinkins, was the Cheshire County Mountaineering Adviser at the time and so he got our unit away into the hills as much as possible for weekend adventures in Wales, Peak District and Scotland in the Winter. I then joined a couple of Merseyside based climbing clubs: The Wayfarers & The Merseyside Mountaineering Club, which opened up my horizons to adventures further afield.
Apart from Mount Everest you have also climbed many other mountains such as Kanchenjunga, K2, Ama Dablam and Cho Oyu. Do you have a favourite and why?
Of the 8000’ers I’ve climbed Cho Oyu & Broad Peak without oxygen, I’ve also climbed on Manaslu and K2, but weather put stop to the summit bids. Other notable peaks I’ve climbed through work are: Ama Dablam, Peak Lenin, Alpamayo, Lhakpa Ri, Aconcagua. I’ve not had the opportunity to go to Kanchenjunga but if I had a bucket list it would be on it. I don’t really have a favourite as such I’d happily go anywhere that I’ve been before. For me mountains, big or small, are special places that always give me a great sense of satisfaction to be on and around. It’s always nice to see new places , but equally I enjoy taking new people to somewhere I’ve been before and see their reactions when they get their first view of a particular mountain, or see them experience the challenges a mountain can throw at you.
Have you ever consider climbing Mount Everest via the South East Ridge route?
I have been on the South side. We had a group in 2008 when the Olympics was on. Sadly I didn’t get to the summit that year. I ended up being out of the tents for an hour on the South Col organising things and got cold. We had to stay an extra night on the col due to some clients being tired the day before. So by the time we headed up for our summit bid I lost some feeling in my toes but hoped they would warm up. Unfortunately I had to head back down from the balcony after frost nipping my toes. Some of the team still made the summit with the Sherpas which was great and I coordinated things from the South Col. One client was taken ill returning from the South summit, so I headed back up at midday to assist with him coming back down to the South Col and then on to base camp. All worked out well.
How do you find climbing the Second Step now considering you have been on that route three times?
The views up and around the 2nd Step are pretty special, particularly the view down the Kangshung Face near Mushroom Rock, the traverse from the 1st Step to the 2nd Step is along some quite narrow ledges and is a bit easier if there has been some significant snowfall. The climb itself starts with a shallow chimney with some blocks in it, this then leads to a short slab, which is an awkward couple of moves with crampons on, from the top of the slab there is a short mantle shelf and this then brings you to the corner where the ladder is to the top of the step. The last time I climbed the 2nd Step the shallow chimney had two ladders in it, which felt like they were more trouble than it was worth, it was certainly easier without the ladders. In 2002 the top section had the small ladder (see pic) which required you to step off to right on a little rock ledge which felt a bit precarious and was the main discussion point when talking about the step. Since then a longer ladder was put in place which is at an easier angle and helps reduce the delays of getting over the step. It also means you can down climb the ladder when coming down rather than having to abseil the top section, if you prefer to do that.
I believe I am right in saying you were out on or near Mount Everest at the time of the avalanche triggered by the earthquake. Where you or anyone one from your team caught up in the avalanche?
No I came back from Nepal on the 12th April, so wasn’t personally nearby. We did however have people in Langtang and on the North side of Everest. The teams in Tibet reported some rock fall near base camp but, that was it. The clients in Langtang were exceptionally lucky, their decision to sit outside and have a brew rather than go to their room and change out of their boots saved their lives. What has happened in Nepal is just tragic, not just for the people involved in the avalanche at base camp, but right across the country. As a company we are focusing our fund raising to projects in Langtang as they were so severely affected and this year we had a few teams in that area at one point or another. From the Everest perspective and the staff that work in the mountains it’s especially hard after the avalanche last year.
Do things like the deadly avalanche we have now seen on Everest the past two years put you off from climbing it?
No, this is a pursuit that has inherent risks those that we can mitigate and those we can’t. The recent earthquake has highlighted one of the risks that we can’t manage and naturally we don’t know what instabilities this might have introduced on the routes, but hopefully time will allow things to settle down for the next season.
Did standing on the summit of Everest the third time feel as good as the first time you were there?
You do have a small sense of self satisfaction of being up there again, but it doesn’t compare to the first time you step on to Everest’s summit. For me I think the main satisfaction comes from taking other people on that journey. I actually felt the second time was the hardest of the three trips and that was more down to the mental pressures of going back and questioning myself of can I do it again, by the time the summit bid had come round everything was in place I was feeling strong and so the summit day went well. I think once you’ve climbed it a second time and proven you can repeat it then that mental pressure is off you can concentrate on keeping fit and healthy through the trip.
During your three Everest trips did you have any close calls, like a slip or illness?
No close calls. Some nasty annoying coughs the odd time and a suspected cracked rib from coughing, but nothing major thankfully.
The Sherpas are known for there hard work and strength at high altitude. Do you think that they are treated and paid fairly?
They do an amazing job and without them there would be very few ascents of Everest and other peaks in Nepal & Tibet for that matter each year. In all the places I’ve climbed I’d say the Nepali staff are the most attentive to their clients. With respect to pay there is always scope for improvement, however it’s difficult to do this without it having a knock on effect of the cost for the client. Coming from the UK where we don’t charge to climb our peaks it would be interesting to see if the climbing royalties could be better served in some way to the people who work on the expeditions, but I think this is unlikely.
What meal do you enjoy the most at Everest Base Camp?
Ooh so many to choose from. I tend to prefer the local foods when I’m on a trip, so occasionally sneak off to the cook tent for some food with the sherpas. Not sure how you spell it, but it’s something like Zjum Zjum is a particular treat. It’s basically sauce or dip made from mayonnaise with madras, finely chopped chillies, salt and pepper. Nice with chapatis, but goes well with omelettes at breakfast time. Mo Mo’s and sherpa stew are other favourites. Thankfully I tend not to suffer with appetite suppression too much at altitude so always ensure I eat well. If it is one of the Western dishes that the cooks russle up then it would have to be Chicken Fajitas.
Dead or alive, which climber would you like to stand on the summit of Mount Everest with and why?
Where Everest is concerned, it would have to be George Mallory.
Do you think that George Mallory and Andrew Irvine climbed the Second Step?
Yes providing they did take three cylinders each. I don’t think they would have climbed it the way Conrad Anker climbed it using the corner crack. The corner crack although shorter is steeper and as they would not have had any climbing protection with them, then I think the option of the right hand crack although broken and on friable rock was a better alternative for someone like Mallory.
The mystery still carries on and I personally would like to know if they achieved the summit. I don’t think would take anything away from Tensing & Hillary because as the saying goes “The summit is only half way”. There have been several attempts to try and find Irvine and one fairly recently based on close inspection of some old aerial photos. Technology has moved on a bit now and I think the best way to try and locate Irvine now would be to use the helicopter that landed on the summit to fly multiple sweeps over the North Face, assuming the Chinese gave permission, and use some very high resolution imaging equipment to capture the whole of the face. I think this would give a much better chance of locating him, but that would require some serious funding and negotiations with the Chinese.
Stu Peacock works fulltime for Adventure Peaks, to find out more about him then check out their website www.adventurepeaks.com