ALYSSA AZAR: EVER­EST

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At the ten­der age of 8, most kids are con­tent with rid­ing bikes, go­ing to school and play­ing with their friends. Alyssa Azar how­ever, was no or­di­nary 8 year old. In 2005 she crossed the Kokoda Track in Pa­pua New Guinea with her dad, (trainer and men­tor – Glen); be­com­ing the youngest per­son ever to do so. From that trek on­wards, she had high hopes to tackle some of the most fa­mous hikes and climbs the world has to of­fer, and has trekked in Nepal, com­pleted the Ever­est Base Camp trek at age 10, the Kokoda treks nu­mer­ous times, Mt Kosciuszko and the Aussie 10 (the 10 high­est peaks in Aus­tralia) at age 12, and Mt Kil­i­man­jaro at 14 years old. Not only is she a re­mark­able climber and trekker, but she also won an Aus­tralian box­ing ti­tle.

Alyssa com­pleted a moun­taineer­ing course in NZ in 2011, and has since climbed in South Amer­ica and Nepal. While other 18 year olds were out par­ty­ing Alyssa was in train­ing for the big­gest ad­ven­ture of her life, and in May this year, she be­came the youngest Aus­tralian to reach Mount Ever­est’s sum­mit.

Alyssa’s ma­jor spon­sors Moun­tain De­signs caught up with her after her re­turn with a few ques­tions about her suc­cess­ful sum­mit.

Can you talk me through the dif­fer­ent stages of the climb?

I took the south side route in Nepal to climb Ever­est, and it started with a trek in the Base Camp which was about 9 or 10 days.

We started at a place called Lukla, which took us to Ever­est base camp. From there we started our ac­cli­ma­ti­sa­tion process. It’s a 2 month expedition so we started by do­ing our ro­ta­tions; by climb­ing up to Camp 2, and then com­ing back down, and then we did 2 ro­ta­tions head­ing up to Camp 3 be­fore we ac­tu­ally went for the sum­mit push.

What was the fi­nal sum­mit push like?

When we left the last camp, I felt quite strong on sum­mit day, even with the al­ti­tude I felt pretty good and we were mov­ing at a good pace. It’s pretty sur­real after all the years of prepa­ra­tion and plan­ning and train­ing to think it all comes down to this one day; this is the sum­mit day. That was an amaz­ing feel­ing,

I re­mem­ber we ar­rived at the South sum­mit which was maybe 2 hours from the ac­tual sum­mit and you can see that last lit­tle ridge line.

What did it feel like to reach the top of the world?

It was mixed emo­tions when I ar­rived at the sum­mit, those last few steps; and then ac­tu­ally stand­ing there, a lot of things go through your head. I was just think­ing about tak­ing it all in, you have to keep telling your­self,

‘I’m ac­tu­ally on the sum­mit of Mt. Ever­est’, and there’s al­most dis­be­lief. It’s a mixed feel­ing be­cause you’re re­ally ex­cited and you’re happy, but at the same time you know you’ve got to get back down; and that is equally as chal­leng­ing in some ways be­cause you’re more ex­hausted. I was also just mak­ing sure I kept fo­cused for the climb back down as well.

What could you see from the sum­mit?

You’ve got just a tiny lit­tle sec­tion as its one per­son at a time on the sum­mit, but you can see the prayer flags that are con­stantly up there as you’re get­ting there. I sat up there for a bit, took some pho­tos, and we could see some other climbers com­ing up from Ti­bet. You can see all of Ti­bet on one side, and on the other side all of Nepal, so it was pretty amaz­ing.

How long were you able to spend at the top?

We had about 20 min­utes to be on the sum­mit, and then we had to get back down and make sure that we didn’t run out of oxy­gen or time. There was just enough time to take some pho­tos, take it all in and then it was time to go down.

It was about then that I knew was go­ing to sum­mit, and when I ac­tu­ally did it, it was quite sur­real to be stand­ing there.

What was the tough­est part of the climb?

I think prob­a­bly my tough­est day wasn’t even nec­es­sar­ily a re­ally steep sec­tion; it’s one that I had done be­fore on my ro­ta­tions. We were go­ing from Base Camp to Camp 2 but skip­ping Camp 1, which was a re­ally long day. We stated by trekking through the Khumbu ice fall first thing in the morn­ing, and then it gets quite hot to­wards the end of the day. It’s just a long day, and that was prob­a­bly the tough­est day to men­tally push through. After that, I felt re­ally good the last 3 days to­wards the sum­mit.

How did you get through the chal­leng­ing mo­ments?

To get through those chal­leng­ing mo­ments, I think (one) I was just so fo­cused on the goal, and (two) I was so grate­ful that the climb was go­ing ahead and we had this op­por­tu­nity this year; I think I just recog­nised that that op­por­tu­nity was here and I did feel ready, re­gard­less of how hard it was. I just pushed through in my own head and said, ‘This is what I re­ally want to do’.

Was there any point where you were afraid?

I was afraid or ner­vous when we were head­ing up for our sum­mit push the day we were leav­ing Base Camp. We started through the Khumba ice fall which is the most dan­ger­ous sec­tion on the moun­tain, as you get into the later stages of the sea­son it gets warmer and so the ice fall is even less sta­ble than when we started.

We were head­ing up there at 2am, and all you can see is your head torch so its pitch black, but we could hear a lot of avalanches hap­pen­ing around us. You don’t re­ally know how close they are, but they’re quite loud. That was prob­a­bly the one time I felt re­ally afraid, but I wanted to go for the sum­mit so we kept push­ing on.

Who did you climb with?

Our team all climb to­gether, but we climb at our own pace as well. Every­body has a Sherpa for the sum­mit push that they work with, so it was my Sherpa and I, but I also sum­mited with an­other woman named Me­lanie who was on my expedition.

Can you tell me more about the Sher­pas?

Sher­pas are full-time climbers. Of­ten they’ll start out as a cook on ex­pe­di­tions and then even­tu­ally they work their way up to be­ing climb­ing Sher­pas. Most of our Sher­pas were from a vil­lage called Kun­jung, where we stayed on the trek to the base camp, be­cause it’s in the same val­ley.

They took us into their homes as well and we got to see how they live. My Sherpa was in­cred­i­bly ex­pe­ri­enced as well, so it was great to climb with him.

What were some of the most spec­tac­u­lar ex­pe­ri­ences you had dur­ing the climb?

I think it’s re­ally hard to pick what the best parts were, even though the ice fall is re­ally dan­ger­ous I ac­tu­ally quite en­joyed climb­ing in there, and it’s some­thing I’ve imag­ined a hun­dred times. I think just to be on the Lhotse face that, once again, I’ve imag­ined so many times.

To be stand­ing there at each point, it felt re­ally good and more than any­thing there’s ob­vi­ously the sum­mit, which is al­ways the high­light of the expedition, but I quite en­joyed climb­ing through the ice fall as well.

How does it feel to be back? Has the climb changed your per­spec­tive?

It’s good to be back. It was a long but good expedition, but at the same time I can’t be­lieve it’s over. I think your per­spec­tive changes ev­ery time you come back from an expedition, I don’t think you can go through some­thing like that and still be the same, so yes, my per­spec­tive has changed on a lot of things, and right now I’m just re­ally happy to be home.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

I’m aim­ing to do the seven sum­mits next, which is an ex­ten­sion of Ever­est, ob­vi­ously Ever­est be­ing one of them, but that’s the high­est point on each of the seven con­ti­nents, and I would have five to go. That’s my aim through this year and next year, to com­plete those.

I hear you’ve also got a book com­ing out. Can you tell me more about that?

At the mo­ment I’m work­ing on a book as well with Pen­guin Pub­lish­ing, which is set to be re­leased in Septem­ber. We’ve been work­ing on it for a cou­ple of years now and this expedition and the suc­cess­ful sum­mit is go­ing to be the fi­nal chap­ter, so it cov­ers ev­ery­thing from Kokoda right through to Ever­est, and I’m look­ing for­ward to that.

We were met by SIVB mar­ket­ing of­fi­cer Stella Lu­cas on ar­rival and taken to the Her­itage Park Ho­tel. A cou­ple of hours later all of our gear was de­liv­ered to the ho­tel, SUP’S, Outrig­gers and 4 bags of gear!!

Satur­day morn­ing it was off the wharf to be met by Bob from Raiders Ho­tel Tu­lagi and trans­ferred with all our gear across Iron Bot­tom Sound to RAIDERS HO­TEL on their 9.2 me­tre Alu­minium dive and trans­fer boat the MV CO­BRA. This is one of two boats Bob and Yvie run out of RAIDERS, cater­ing to trans­fers and dives around their re­gion.

Bob Nor­ton – Owner/manag­ing Di­rec­tor of Raiders Ho­tel & Dive was to be our GO TO GUY on this expedition. His in­ti­mate knowl­edge of the Is­land, its cus­toms and weather was to prove in­valu­able. At the same time the hos­pi­tal­ity and food pro­vided by RAIDERS is sen­sa­tional. If you are ever in the Solomon Is­lands make sure you stop here on your way to or from Ho­niara. The rest of Satur­day was spent pack­ing, repack­ing and then pack­ing again all of our gear and en­sur­ing that the out­rig­ger was made sea­wor­thy. This meant the use of lots of sil­i­cone and duct tape…

Sun­day morn­ing was an early start with break­fast and a 6.30 de­par­ture from RAIDERS. The day’s ob­jec­tive was to pad­dle up the West Coast of the Is­land from Tu­lagi to the vil­lage of Nugu a dis­tance of 17 nau­ti­cal mile us­ing the pre­vail­ing wind and cur­rent.

After pad­dling up the coast, into a head­wind the de­ci­sion was made that we would not reach Nugu be­fore nightfall so we de­cided to head straight the Rod­er­ick Bay Beach Ac­com­mo­da­tion run by Pa­trick and his fam­ily.

It is not easy to miss as the three huts used for ac­com­mo­da­tion are right next to the World Dis­cov­erer that hit a co­ral reef and ran aground on Pa­tricks beach in 2000.

Les­son One. If a lo­cal says keep left, they mean keep left, they re­ally know what they mean. If you don’t fol­low this in­struc­tion then ex­pect that you might be tak­ing a de­tour… as we did.

To­tally ex­hausted we were helped with all our gear up onto the beach, pro­vided with our ac­com­mo­da­tion for the night, along with a shower and toi­let. It did not take long for us to off­load our gear, have a shower, and then be taken off to the com­mon area for a meal… WOW fresh veg­eta­bles, min­eral wa­ter and Tuna.

No sooner was this meal con­sumed then it was off to sleep as our bod­ies re­ally needed it.

Mon­day we de­cided that we would take the op­por­tu­nity to spend the day with Pa­trick, vis­it­ing the area where he and his fam­ily live. What an eye opener. Firstly to see how they pro­vide for their own fruit and veg­eta­bles as well as school­ing and com­mu­nity set up gave me an un­der­stand­ing of life on the Is­lands.

Lunch was fresh caught fish with veg­eta­bles, fol­lowed by an ex­plo­ration pad­dle of Rod­er­ick Bay and snorkelling around the World Dis­cov­erer. That evening, we were sur­prised when Pa­tricks kids and his broth­ers kids en­ter­tained us with a cul­tural dance and sto­ry­telling. Truly in­spir­ing.

By now, and after talk­ing to the lo­cals we had a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the winds and cur­rents and de­cided to head off the next morn­ing at 5am to put in an­other big day on the wa­ter and get to the vil­lage of Mboro­hi­namba.

Tues­day. Leav­ing Rod­er­ick Bay at 5am we pad­dled for 4 and ½ hours, around Tan­uli Point to the Vil­lage of Vura stop­ping half way to cook break­fast and re­hy­drate. It was truly amaz­ing to be in such a vi­brant en­vi­ron­ment with dol­phins, Tuna feed­ing on the sur­face and a whale broach­ing about 5 kilo­me­tres off shore.

We left Vura to round Tanam­boli Is­land which stands as a sen­try be­tween Anuha Is­land and Nggela Is­land. As we turned we were smashed by 15-20 knot winds and wind swell. This re­ally took its toll on us and we ar­rived at the vil­lage of Mboro­hi­namba two and ½ hours later, av­er­ag­ing just four nau­ti­cal miles in that time.

Pulling up on the beach we were met by an en­thu­si­as­tic crowd of on­look­ers. We needed to find the vil­lage head and ar­range for some­where for us to camp for the night as well as re­plen­ish our wa­ter and bod­ies…

The lo­cal priest Fa­ther John would have no word of this and in­sisted we spend the night in his par­tially com­pleted hut. The op­por­tu­nity to chat with Fa­ther John and his nephew gave me an in­sight into how re­mote they are and cut off from the trou­bles of the West­ern World.

After re­plen­ish­ing our bod­ies with wa­ter, sup­ple­ments and Back coun­try meals it was time to sleep as the next day was go­ing to be huge. We planned to leave Mboro­hi­namba and head straight for the Mboli passge and catch the tide change to carry us all the way back to RAIDERS.

Wed­nes­day. We left at 5.30am and had a easy pad­dle all the way, turn­ing right into the pas­sage.

Feel­ing strong we de­cided to keep go­ing with­out a stop and see if we could reach the vil­lage of Ta­ro­niara by lunchtime and a 5 nau­ti­cal mile pad­dle across to RAIDERS with the forecast pre­vail­ing SW wind. A to­tal dis­tance of 15 nau­ti­cal mile.

Be­lieve it or not, two nau­ti­cal miles down the pas­sage the blade fell off the shaft of the SUP. Well what do we do now? We did not have a spare but know­ing that the vil­lages all use dugouts this would be an easy fix and an­other op­por­tu­nity to visit a vil­lage on our way.

So see­ing as that the in­for­ma­tion we had a about the move­ment of wa­ter down the pas­sage was in­cor­rect and that the tidal change was only hap­pen­ing at 1pm we rigged a line to the SUP and I hauled us back to the vil­lage of Mboro­mole.

The vil­lages were sen­sa­tional. Not only did we buy a pad­dle but water­melon, fresh wa­ter and a deck to rest were pro­vided as well.

Here is where Rory’s sin­gle minded drive and abil­ity to over­come ob­sta­cles came to the fore.

We reached Cock­a­too point and stopped for a breather… well what hap­pened next ended up tak­ing my breath away as whilst we were rest­ing on the side of the Man­groves there was some se­ri­ous move­ment in the bushes. Rory men­tioned the words THAT COULD BE A SALTY, and I took of­fand jumped straight into the Out­rig­ger… No croc­o­dile hunter here.

Rory pad­dled an­other seven Nau­ti­cal miles down the chan­nel on his knees, into the wind, with very lit­tle as­sis­tance from the tide.

Get­ting up­lifted and hav­ing a cold SOL thrust into our hands along with the words “Wow we are im­pressed with what you have done” com­ing from Bon, I then re­alised that Rory had just com­pleted over 70 kilo­me­tres on an in­flat­able SUP. What an un­be­liev­able ef­fort.

We re­alised that to cross the bay in the wind and pre­vail­ing swell, as well as the forecast for the next day was go­ing to be dif­fi­cult and risky as well. The de­ci­sion was made to power up the iphone and make the call to Bob to come and fetch us and take us back.

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