What inspired you to become a climber?
The real genesis of it all for me was when my dad bought me a poster of British climber Paul Ross. In the photo, he is swinging over an overhang with just a rope tied around his waist. I remember looking at it every day in my room. Eventually a friend and I went to a tool shed, bought a clothesline, and walked up to the local cliffs to try and figure it out.
Where was your first adventure and how did you prepare for it?
I traveled to Yosemite National Park in the late 1980s determined to climb its two iconic cliffs, Half Dome and El Capitan. But as soon as I saw them, I knew instantly that I didn’t have to climb them, not yet. That day I only managed to climb 100 feet off the ground, but the cliffs were under my skin. After that, I started to train hard.
Some older climbers took me under their wings. I spent about a year learning the ropes and climbing as many cliffs as I could in New England and New Hampshire, before returning to Yosemite the following year. I managed to make my way to the Half Dome, barely made it. That first ascent was probably the most sublime experience I have ever had in my career, and I have been pursuing that feeling ever since.
What prompted you to climb and write about Everest?
I have always been a student of exploration, mountaineering in particular. Everest has always been the only area for experienced and skilled climbers who paid their dues and earned the right to attempt to climb it. But in the 1990s, when I reached adulthood as a rock climber, I had a feeling that if you had a lot of money and wanted the trophy, you could buy your way, even if you didn’t. didn’t have the chops. It has extinguished an entire generation, maybe several generations. And so I never gave Everest its due.
But when I finally did, what struck me, mightily, was the legacy of that earlier era of climbing Everest, especially the mystery surrounding Mallory and Irvine. [the two famous climbers disappeared in 1924]. It was the spirit of those early British Everest pioneers that drew me to rock climbing in the first place, so I had to research and write my book, The third pole: mystery, obsession and death on Mount Everest. It’s a story that takes hold of people. It certainly went under mine.
How did you do your research on your book?
I flew to the UK and visited the Royal Geographical Society to sift through its Everest archives and artifacts. I got to look at George Mallory’s boots and the rope that had been tied around his waist, which were so powerful to see. I also visited Merton College in Oxford to see the archives of Andrew ‘Sandy’ Irvine and went to the Alpine Club.
During my ascent of Everest I was struck by how far ahead of their time these guys were when they tried to climb this mountain, almost 30 years before it was finally climbed . [Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reached the summit in 1953]. The technology of the time and the development of mountaineering and mountaineering as a sport were not yet ready for such a feat, but they did. I continually took my hat off to them all along.
I was there, in 2019, with the most modern equipment, and pretty much a lifetime of climbing under my belt, and I was still getting my ass kicked. I couldn’t help but think of those guys in leather hiking boots, wool and gabardine clothes, little leather bomber caps, and their homemade oxygen sets. I felt a deep respect and appreciation for what they were doing and how brave it was. I also felt a connection with them – we became linked by our spirit of adventure.
How do you cultivate your mental well-being during these difficult expeditions?
I rely a lot on the support structure I have at home with my family. After the trip to Everest, one thing that was really eye-opening for me was coming back to all of my wife’s messages of unconditional support. It’s hard for me to imagine not having that. I also receive support from my team partners. Expeditions are stressful, and situations where you are tired, cold, hungry, and scared can bring out the worst in people. So I learned to pay attention to the people I choose to climb with. On the Everest expedition, the team had a lot of soul – we had no drama and I was able to lean on them.
Do you have a favorite place to go rock climbing?
Yosemite is my home away from home – I’ve been climbing it every year since I was 18. But my favorite place to climb has to be my local cliff in New Hampshire called Cathedral Ledge. This is the place I visited with this clothesline when my mate and I were kids. On the one hand, it is a beautiful cliff. But every time I go there and walk in the forest at the base, I feel a special energy. I’m going to climb it until I can’t get up from my chair anymore.
What advice would you give to someone who would like to follow in your footsteps?
Take baby steps. My oldest son is so in the backcountry [off-piste] skiing that it begins to transform into ski mountaineering. He went up the Tetons with two ice axes, and I could see in his videos what the terrain looked like – he was going down something he needed those axes to climb. And that scares me because rock climbing and mountaineering are downright dangerous. If you do this for a long time, you should be lucky that you don’t have an accident eventually, but you are also more likely to have an accident early on.
I am an internationally certified mountain guide. At my guide school in New Hampshire, we teach hundreds of people every year. It’s about learning, working logically through progressive challenges. In climbing, there is always an imaginary line that you do not want to cross. As you get better, you push that line further and further, but you have to go through all of those years without crossing it. In a perfect world, you would find someone competent who could be your mentor, this is how it was traditionally taught. A good place to start these days is the gym, and when you’re ready to go out, if you can’t find a mentor to hold your hand, hire a guide.
What inspires you for new adventures? And where are you going next?
I follow my heart. I have been part of the North Face Athlete Team since 1997. As a pro there are sometimes conditions to be met, so you have to be careful to only choose things that are really meaningful to you, and not what you want. others might want. that you do. At this point, I want to use my platform as a writer to do epic things that maybe I couldn’t do otherwise. The Arctic is a place I can’t help but think about. It is magic. And I’m a pretty determined person, so I think there’s a good chance that in the next few years I’ll be heading north.
Marc SynnottThe latest book from, The Third Pole, is published by Headline, RRP £ 20. Mark’s Everest Climb featured in critically acclaimed National Geographic documentary Lost on Everest, filmed by Renan Ozturk.
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