On a mis­sion to reach his peak

For­mer army medic Terry Ledgard served with the SAS in Afghanistan, but when his war ended he needed an­other chal­lenge. Now he and a mate have their sights set on the world’s high­est moun­tains, as TIM HILFERTY re­ports

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MIL I - TARY vet­er­ans know the feel­ing. That rest­less­ness. The strug­gle with the mun­dan­ity of civil­ian life. The nag­ging voice ask­ing “what next?” Terry Ledgard had it. He’d re­turned from Afghanistan in one piece. In his usual de­ter­mined way, he fought his demons and over­came PTSD.

He’d used his skills as an army medic to land high-pay­ing jobs in oc­cu­pa­tional health and safety in the min­ing and oil in­dus­tries. He was work­ing all around the world. He should have been happy. But he wasn’t.

“About 2013, I wasn’t en­joy­ing ‘nor­mal’ life,” Ledgard, 34, said. “It was like Ground­hog Day.”

“There was no sat­is­fac­tion or chal­lenge.

“So I said to my­self: ‘I can ei­ther con­tinue like this or I can do some­thing.”

With mate and for­mer SAS “Voodoo Medic” Brad Watts, they came up with a plan.

They y would climb the high­est moun­tains on all seven con­ti­nents.

“When you go to war you think, when I get back I’m not go­ing to take it for granted,” Ledgard said.

“When you come back there’s a sense of rest­less­ness.

“This is a healthy chan­nel for that rest­less­ness.”

“Healthy” is a rel­a­tive term.

Ledgard and Watts would risk death from avalanches and al­ti­tude sick­ness. They could lose dig­its from frost­bite. And it would cost them – is cost­ing them – a for­tune.

To­day, Ledgard and Watts are in Antarc­tica. They are part of a 12-per­son ex­pe­di­tion to climb Mt Vin­son, at 4892m the tallest peak on the con­ti­nent.

The weather fore­cast is promis­ing. Winds of 50km/h are pre­dicted to ease. But it’s cold. Like -36C all day (there is no n night dur­ing De­cem­ber in Ant Antarc­tica). And with the wind-c wind-chill fac­tor, the tem­perat per­a­ture can get down to -55C -55C.

Make a mis­take on V Vin­son, and it could be your last. Or at least your last with a full set of fin­gers. In 2014, on the flanks of Mt Aconcagua in Ar­gentina, Ledgard t took his gloves off for ju just 90 sec­onds while he adj ad­justed some equip­ment. “T “That’s when I learned that gloves only work if your hands are al­ready warm,” Ledgard said.

“I couldn’t feel my hands for the rest of the day, I had to look to see if I was hold­ing my ski poles.”

If ev­ery­thing goes to plan, Ledgard and Watts will un­furl their Voodoo flag on the top of Mt Vin­son on about De­cem­ber 15. Ledgard should be back among fam­ily and friends in Whyalla by Christ­mas. Just over three weeks on the frozen con­ti­nent will have cost him more than $75,000.

Ledgard was a born sol­dier. He pushed him­self hard in train­ing, and ex­celled dur­ing the SAS se­lec­tion course.

He wanted to join the Voodoo Medics, Aus­tralia’s elite com­bat medics, and wear the fa­mous sandy beret. He wanted to go to Afghanistan and serve his coun­try.

Then came the an­kle in­jury. With his goal so close, he had to tap out. His body had let him down.

In 2007, af­ter he healed, an op­por­tu­nity came. He could trans­fer to the SAS and serve on sec­ond­ment as a medic in Afghanistan. At the same time, a spot opened up on an­other SAS se­lec­tion course. The choice he made shaped his life.

“It’s my one and only life re­gret – not get­ting that beret,” he said.

He blames “fear of fail­ure” for turn­ing his back on the bru­tal train­ing course. But his “cop-out”, a tour of duty in Afghanistan, would see him face en­emy ac­tion, save lives, and see oth­ers slip through his fin­gers.

“That time in Afghanistan – it was the most sat­is­fy­ing time of my life. The most re­ward­ing job I ever had.

“Ad­ven­ture, mate­ship, liv­ing An­zac val­ues as well as help­ing peo­ple.”

He said the PTSD that he strug­gled with for years on his re­turn “was worth it”.

“You can come out the other side as long as you make the con­scious de­ci­sion,” he said.

Part of that con­scious de­ci­sion was writ­ing the book Bad Medicine, a bru­tally hon­est, funny and tragic ac­count of a knock­about kid try­ing his best to live up to the An­zac tra­di­tion.

You don’t make the de­ci­sion to climb the seven sum­mits lightly. For Ledgard and Watts, it came out of a dream to climb Mt Ever­est.

To join a guided Ever­est ex­pe­di­tion, you need ex­pe­ri­ence on high peaks.

They did a moun­taineer­ing course on New Zealand’s Mt Cook and the idea evolved.

That was the time to wres­tle with the moral dilem­mas that moun­taineer­ing throws up. Am I pre­pared to risk my life chas­ing this goal? Would I give up on a sum­mit at­tempt to help some­one in trou­ble? Is it fair on my loved ones to put them through this stress?

“It’s a self­ish game,” Ledgard ad­mits.

Once the de­ci­sion was made, they started knock­ing them off.

Kil­i­man­jaro – es­sen­tially a high-al­ti­tude trek – was ticked off first. Kosciuszko is a walk in the park.

Then came Aconcagua in Ar­gentina, the high­est moun­tain in both the South­ern and West­ern hemi­spheres.

“It’s an ugly moun­tain,” he said. “It’s like walk­ing around a gravel pit tear­ing up $10 notes.”

Ear­lier this year, Ledgard and Watts sum­mited Mt El­brus, the high­est peak in Europe. A cou­ple of years ear­lier, they were turned around just 500 ver­ti­cal me­tres from the top as a storm closed in.

“That’s why you have a guide,” Ledgard said.

“You are not think­ing clearly – I wanted to ne­go­ti­ate. But it was the right call.”

In a few days, Ledgard will

be on the up­per slopes of Mt Vin­son, with noth­ing but snow and ice as far as the eye can see. So will he be en­joy­ing the view?

“I’m hat­ing it. I’m in the hurt locker,” he said.

“I just want to get to the top and, more im­por­tantly, get down.”

On Aconcagua, Ledgard bat­tled gas­tro lead­ing up to sum­mit day. But he’d come so far, and spend so much and he wasn’t go­ing to turn back.

“It was granny steps. I just had to keep com­ing up with an ex­cuse for tak­ing the next step,” he said.

Still, de­spite the thin air, the dodgy guts and the shift­ing, rocky ground, Ledgard found time for a cig­a­rette at 6300m.

“I think that’s a record. I’m proud of that.”

As­sum­ing Ledgard and Watts get to the top of Vin­son, they’ll make an at­tempt on De­nali, in Alaska, mid next year. And then it’s Ever­est in 2020.

But what comes next for Terry Ledgard? Will that rest­less­ness re­turn? Will nor­mal life, with­out a ridicu­lous chal­lenge, be a bore? Ledgard has a plan. “First I’m go­ing to write a book on the seven sum­mits,” he said.

“Then I’m go­ing to start my own busi­ness – I want to be in the cap­tain’s chair.”

And maybe even set­tling down af­ter half a life­time of ad­ven­ture and dan­ger.

“I do see my­self set­tling down at some point,” he said.

“But not while I’m climb­ing moun­tains.”


TOP OF THE WORLD: Terry Ledgard and Brad Watts on Mt Kil­i­man­jaro and, left, Mt Vin­son in Antarc­tica.

ARMY LIFE: Terry Ledgard treats a lo­cal in Afghanistan.

FO­CUSED: For­mer army medic Terry Ledgard is climb­ing the Seven Sum­mits.

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