ALYSSA AZAR: EVEREST
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.