Inspiring Individuals: Rupert Jones-Warner, who summited Mount Everest
3 years ago, I’d injured a tendon during my marathon training and was feeling hugely disappointed, sure that I’d have to drop out and let down my sponsors. By chance, that summer I met a man who’d attempted to summit Everest that same year, who told me some very wise words about the pressure to succeed and how to cope when things don’t go to plan. 3 years later, he himself has succeeded in summiting Mount Everest and I knew that I simply had to interview him about the experience!
As you’ll discover through this interview, even Rupert’s second summit attempt didn’t go to plan – showing just how difficult and rare it is for these expeditions to succeed straight off. We normally only hear about the success stories, and rarely about the immense effort, perseverance and often failure that’s involved in getting to that success. Rupert’s story fascinates me, as last summer I attempted to summit Mont Blanc with my mother, but bad weather annoyingly put an end to that attempt and I was left feeling very frustrated. So I’ve loved hearing about how Rupert deals with that on a much larger scale, and aren’t his photos are just mind-blowingly beautiful? Some of them remind of parts of Nepal that I visited myself 2 years ago.
It’s still an incredible achievement to have summited Everest once, standing on top of the world at 8,848m, and I hope you find Rupert’s story as inspiring as I do!
Q. How did you get the idea to attempt a double summit of Mount Everest in the first place?
A. The idea came in 2015 about a month before I was set to leave the UK for Everest. The original idea was to traverse the mountain by climbing up the Nepalese side and descending down the north side of the mountain and into Tibet. Unfortunately, I was told I couldn’t get a permit that would allow the traverse. Plan B was the double – the aim of this was to climb up the Nepalese side and once I had summited, descend to base camp as quickly as possible, jump in a helicopter and try and get around to the northern side of the mountain and go for a second summit as soon as I could. Looking back I don’t know why I considered the traverse – the double is far more exciting!
Q. How did you set about organising and raising funds for the expeditions? What did you learn that might be useful for others thinking of organising any kind of expedition?
A. This really is the hard bit and it is incredibly tough. Someone said to me before I went: “Anyone can climb a mountain or row an ocean but the really hard blokes are the ones who can make it happen” and it’s true. The actual expedition is the easy bit. I took a year out to fundraise for my expedition. Do not underestimate the time and effort it takes to raise the funds for these trips. It doesn’t happen overnight. I think in order to make these things happen you have got to be very passionate about what you are doing. I knew fundraising was going to be demoralising so I went into it thinking that 99% of people I contacted wouldn’t care about what I was planning on doing. The other 1% may care but are probably going to be too busy to reply to me. That may sound quite pessimistic but it meant that any reply I got back was a bonus, even if they were saying “no thank you”. You have got to aim for that 1% though and accept that the rest are not interested. Unfortunately, there is no easy way and you have just got to be stubborn and keep going. I got the final amount of money for the expedition to Everest about 48 hours before my flight. You have just got be passionate, polite and just not give up.
Q. What training did you do beforehand and how did you know you’d be physically capable of summiting once, let alone twice?
A: I didn’t know I would be fit enough to summit once, let alone twice! It could have been incredibly embarrassing if I couldn’t even get up once! I just had to really back myself and convince myself and others that I was up to the challenge. I am very lucky though as I live in the South Downs in West Sussex. It’s a perfect place to run and cycle and get ‘hill fit’. I would run or cycle most days and track my progress on Strava. I’m quite active so didn’t really need to change my training. I did a few ultra marathons in preparation but they were a bit counter-productive. You don’t need to be super fit to climb Everest, you just have to really want to do it.
Q. Your 2015 expedition was devastatingly called off by the earthquake in Nepal. Can you tell us what happened when you were there? How did you cope with the news and what did the experience of starting all over again teach you?
A. The 2015 expedition was a bit of a learning curve. I had arrived in Nepal a few weeks before setting of for Everest with the intention of going and acclimatising in Langtang just north of Kathmandu. It was beautiful and we (the Everest team) trekked through the valley and did a bit of climbing. We then headed over to the Tibetan side of Everest to make our summit attempt. Once we arrived at basecamp we chilled out for a few days to allow our bodies to acclimatise before heading up the mountain. We managed to climb up to the North Col (7000m) and then descended back down to basecamp to allow our bodies to recover. The following day while I was chilling in my tent the earth violently shook. I got out of my tent and looked around outside. It was a beautiful day and the sky was clear. Moments later the mountains around us started throwing down huge amounts of rock. It was over within seconds and everything seemed ok. However… minutes later we started getting updates from news apps saying Nepal had been hit by a violent earthquake and thousands had been killed with many more left homeless.
We then found out there had been a massive avalanche on the Nepalese side of Everest that had killed 19 people. At least another 61 were left injured, dozens initially reported missing and many stranded on the higher camps. It was chaos but at the same time it was incredibly calm. Around 9,000 people died during the Nepal earthquake of 25th April 2015. The tiny village of the Langtang in the valley accounted for 243 of them: 175 villagers, 27 local tourism staff (guides and porters), and 41 foreign trekkers. All of their names are now recorded on a memorial mani wall that has been built among the wreckage.
It was surreal. It was hard to process the scale of the earthquake and the destruction it caused. We decided at this point to abandon the expedition and see whether there was any way we would be able to help out. Unfortunately, we got stuck at basecamp for about a week and were told there was likely to be another in the next few days (which there was). We couldn’t get back into Kathmandu and Nepal because we had heard the road into Nepal had been destroyed. We also tried to get a helicopter back but were told we couldn’t fly in Chinese airspace. Despite our best intentions, we had no other options than to go to Lhasa and fly home.
It was a setback but at the same time I felt very lucky. Nepal had been hit hard and I was lucky enough to go home in one piece. It didn’t knock my confidence though. I knew I wanted to go back. I just knew the next time would be harder. If you want it enough you will make it work.
Q. Through determination and persistence you re-organised and repeated the attempt in 2018, successfully completing the first summit. What went through your mind as you stood on the summit of Everest? What did it feel like?
A: It was not what I expected… I expected to arrive on the summit and there be this big celebration, I thought I would sit there and savour the moment. I didn’t at all. I arrived exhausted and when I got there, looked around and thought “yeah this is quite cool, time to go down and do it again”. This is a bit out-of-character but I think at the time I was so focused on the double summit, I didn’t take the time to appreciate the fact I was standing on top of the world. It was beautiful and in hindsight I really wish I had stopped and thought about what I had achieved. Had I not been aiming for the double summit I think I would have enjoyed it more. In fact I really regret not chilling out more. Something tells me it won’t be the last time I go to Everest… That itch has far from gone away.
Q. What happened when you attempted the second summit from the Tibetan side? How did you feel?
A. The second summit was all going well. Once I had summited from the south side there was a race to get around to the Tibetan basecamp as soon as possible. Once we arrived we were told the mountain had been shut to climbers, but somehow I managed to go up with two sherpas. We had the mountain to ourselves, it was a memorable experience. Not many people can say that. We left basecamp and all was going well. We had a small weather window so the second summit had to be short and fast. We climbed up to the North Col where we would start using supplementary oxygen. Unfortunately, when we got there, the tent where we had expected to find our oxygen was empty… There was no oxygen for us. We couldn’t go on, it was too dangerous and the only oxygen available was at basecamp which was a day’s trek away. We had to summit that night before the weather window closed… Unfortunately, we were out of options. We were forced to abandon.
It was devastating. To this day I do not know what happened to that oxygen and it was a disappointing way to end an awesome expedition. I’m still upset but that’s life… I probably will go back to Everest but I need to start from square one again. I have committed so much to this project and I feel I need to see it through to the end.
Q. What has surprised you most about Everest and your visits to the Himalayas?
A. How addictive it is! I thought summiting Everest would put an end to this madness but it has only made it worse. I keep thinking I need to settle but the draw to adventure is too strong. Nepal is a beautiful country and has so much to offer. I keep finding myself planning the next trip, or reading about others adventures.Q. Do you have any advice or tips for others who are interested in summiting mountains on how to get started?I started by climbing Mont Blanc. It was great fun and I would say it’s a great introduction to climbing and gives you a bit of everything. I went on a week’s course in Chamonix and they taught me the basics. I think the place to go and learn is Chamonix. It’s beautiful and it will give you a good flavour of the mountains. I climbed a few other mountains in the Alps before heading to the Himalayas. Island Peak in Nepal is a great one to climb. It takes about 3 weeks and you trek most of the way to Everest basecamp. On the summit you can see Everest, Lhotse, Ama Dablam and many more. I would recommend it to anyone.
Q. What are you doing now, and will you do any further expeditions?
A. Yes… I am back planning my next trip. I have let my imagination run riot and am planning a trip that makes the Everest double look like a walk in the park. A bit of it involves climbing K2… Which is scary in itself but we will see – time will tell!