Liv­ing her dream

Liv­ing her dream

Adventure - - #209 - Suze in ski tour­ing mode near Wanaka

Wanaka based Ad­ven­ture Con­sul­tants is a world-renowned moun­tain guid­ing com­pany that takes ex­pe­di­tions to some of the worlds high­est peaks, and treks to re­mote cor­ners of the globe. Based in the alpine re­sort town of Wanaka, Ad­ven­ture Con­sul­tants has a large on-ground team led by the Gen­eral Man­ager, Suze Kelly. It’s funny when you know some­one through work via email and my deal­ings with Suze in the past have al­ways been re­lated to mar­ket­ing and I pic­tured her sit­ting at a desk stuck be­hind her com­puter, deal­ing with the on-ground lo­gis­tics of run­ning a com­pany. So, when I be­gan re­search­ing Suze for this is­sue of Ad­ven­ture I was quite shocked to see she was an ex­pe­ri­enced and ac­com­plished moun­taineer in her own right. Suze has climbed nu­mer­ous moun­tains, in­clud­ing Mt Kenya, Kil­i­ma­naro (three times), Mt As­pir­ing, Aconcagua, Lhotse and Mt Cook, how­ever I was most blown away by the fact that she had sum­mited (and safely re­turned) from the high­est peak in the world, Mt Ever­est.

So, it was a real plea­sure to in­ter­view Suze and I must ad­mit to be­ing some­what in awe by the time I had fin­ished. I hope you en­joy as much as I did…

You are based in Wanaka, an ob­vi­ous per­fect lo­ca­tion for NZ moun­taineer­ing, how much time do you spend here vs on ex­pe­di­tions? My role at Gen­eral Man­ager at Ad­ven­ture Con­sul­tants is full time and keeps me busy for most of the year so I’m home in Wanaka for most months. For the past few years I have spent the whole pre-mon­soon sea­son in Nepal, which is April-May time, ei­ther climb­ing, lead­ing treks or work­ing in lo­gis­tics for the com­pany. Last year I guided a trek on Kil­i­man­jaro in Jan­uary, then was climb­ing Ever­est dur­ing April-May and in De­cem­ber I got the op­por­tu­nity to visit Antarc­tica and join one of our ex­pe­di­tions climb­ing Vin­son, so that was more time away than I’ve had be­fore. I ex­pect to be home in Wanaka for more of the year this year!

Tell us a lit­tle bit about your­self? I was born in Master­ton, and I come from a ru­ral back­ground, grow­ing up on sheep farms in the Wairarapa and near to the Hutt Val­ley. I’m the youngest of five and have four older brothers and def­i­nitely had a very out­doorsy back­ground roam­ing around the farm, rid­ing horses and bikes from a young age, al­though I did get sent to bal­let les­sons whereas my brothers learnt how to ride mo­tor bikes and went hunt­ing. I was re­ally into ski­ing as a teenager and was for­tu­nate to be able to spend school hol­i­days in the South Is­land hang­ing out with brothers who were work­ing as ski pa­trollers.

I did Duke of Ed­in­burgh awards at col­lege and ex­pe­ri­enced my first tramp­ing trips, led by nuns, com­bined with sci­ence projects in bi­ol­ogy and ge­ol­ogy that we would do in the field. It was fas­ci­nat­ing!

Once I fin­ished my univer­sity stud­ies I moved to Wanaka to take up a job work­ing as a ski host at Tre­ble Cone ski area and climbed my first moun­tain, Mt As­pir­ing, when I was 21. A group of friends who are guides in­vited me along and we did a walk in/walk out as­cent, climb­ing from French Ridge hut, which is not of­ten done to­day. I skied a lot, and spent sea­sons in Whistler, Canada and Ver­bier, Switzer­land. I worked for Har­ris Moun­tains Heli-ski­ing in ad­min­is­tra­tion from the age of 23 and got to heli-ski a fair bit. My ski moun­taineer­ing car­ried on from there and that led to more climb­ing. What I love about the South Is­land and Wanaka in par­tic­u­lar, is that you are so close to the South­ern Alps with seem­ingly end­less wilder­ness to ex­plore and you’re able to ac­cess it quite eas­ily.

You have a post­grad de­gree in sci­ence, how has that ap­plied to the work you do now? I al­ways say I like to only em­ploy sci­en­tists, as their ap­proach to prob­lem solv­ing and the struc­tured ra­tio­nal way that a sci­en­tist thinks is very handy when you’re do­ing lo­gis­tics like we do. How­ever, these days that’s not en­tirely true, as we have peo­ple from all walks of life on our team. For me, be­ing cu­ri­ous about the world and all who in­habit it, I feel comes from a sci­ence based ap­proach and be­ing able to be me­thod­i­cal and ex­act­ing makes the work less daunt­ing. The art of what we do is some­thing else and can only be de­scribed through the ex­pe­ri­ences that we en­able peo­ple to have.

Which came first, your pas­sion for the out­doors or your job/ca­reer? What I mean were you an ad­ven­turer who found work in the out­doors or did you find work and be­come the ad­ven­turer? I think I’ve al­ways had the pas­sion for the out­doors, and I specif­i­cally chose not to live in a big city in or­der to be closer to a life of ad­ven­ture, so I did choose ad­ven­ture over a ca­reer. The ca­reer has man­aged to track me down though and I do work long hours to achieve what we achieve. It’s in­cred­i­bly re­ward­ing to be able to fa­cil­i­tate the types of ad­ven­tures for peo­ple that we do, and to see them re­turn­ing changed by their ex­pe­ri­ence and em­bold­ened for new chal­lenges is re­ally a high­light of my job.

What is it you love most about climb­ing/ moun­taineer­ing? The time spent out­doors in sim­ply amaz­ing places is what makes it all worth­while, and I have to say the peo­ple that you get to spend such qual­ity time with is su­per stim­u­lat­ing and the ba­sis for all the fun. I do re­ally love find­ing out what is just around the cor­ner, which with climb­ing you are al­ways ex­pe­ri­enc­ing when you go to new places though even the same places have dif­fer­ent con­di­tions when you go back to them. Mov­ing through the land­scape and over­com­ing chal­lenges are also huge high­lights.

You have spent a lot of time in Ever­est Base Camps, can you tell us a lit­tle of what it’s like there? On my first visit to Nepal and Ever­est Base Camp in 2000 I was sur­prised at how such a bar­ren moraine cov­ered place could have such rich tex­tures, smells, and sounds

as­so­ci­ated with it. Colourful rocks abound and birds sweep past at un­ex­pected mo­ments. I’ve re­turned on many other oc­ca­sions and en­joy the rar­efied air and sim­pler life that you lead whilst there. As part of a big ex­pe­di­tion there is al­ways some­thing go­ing on and it can be quite so­cial. We’re quite self-con­tained with our size at AC and tucked up a side ‘val­ley’ so to speak so you can be there for weeks with­out see­ing many other teams these days. A walk up to a higher view point to stretch the legs and lungs is al­ways a treat and the views are gob­s­mack­lingly amaz­ing. I’ve spent so much time there that it feels like a home of sorts but you also re­alise when pack­ing up camp that it quickly packs away into stor­age and is only tem­po­rary and you are al­ways glad to see the end of a long ex­pe­di­tion.

You sum­mited Ever­est last year – I am in

awe! What was that like? It was a very spe­cial ex­pe­ri­ence, be­ing able to go above Camp 4 / South Col, travers­ing what I call hal­lowed ground. We left at 9pm from camp 4 and I made it to the South Sum­mit at 3am, which is too early, so we made ef­forts to slow down our pace. It was still dark then but the whole sum­mit ridge was lit up by the lights of other climbers and I felt like I was on the steps of a cathe­dral. On sum­mit day I was climb­ing with our Climb­ing Sir­dar Kami Rita Sherpa and af­ter the Hil­lary Step we stepped off to the side of the ridge, shel­ter­ing be­hind a rock in or­der to wait for the sun­rise. A few oth­ers were also wait­ing, and we chat­ted and sipped hot tea from a ther­mos. We were check­ing reg­u­larly but then some­one no­ticed the first glow of the dawn com­ing, so it was time to get go­ing and make our way up the last few min­utes onto the sum­mit, ar­riv­ing at 4.20am. It was mild enough to only need glove lin­ers and there was a bit of a party go­ing on on the sum­mit with all the ex­cited peo­ple who had ar­rived, from both the south side and north side. In­cred­i­ble views and ela­tion. I was the first from my team to ar­rive and as the oth­ers ar­rived I could give them all a hug and share in their ela­tion. Af­ter about 40 mins I did start to feel the cold and it re­ally was time to get mov­ing and get down. We got back to Camp 4 at 8.30am, and even though it had been a per­fect day there were three deaths on other teams in the pre­ced­ing 24 hours, and a lot of high drama. Once back in my tent I sat down and sobbed and let it all out, a re­lease of the stress and ten­sion of what we had seen and what it takes to pull off a suc­cess­ful sum­mit day on Mt Ever­est. More was to come though as we had su­per high winds that night and we spent the next morn­ing hold­ing down our tents on the col.

Hav­ing made it to the sum­mit (and more im­por­tantly back again) can you ex­plain what it is that drives peo­ple to put their lives at risk? It’s about be­ing re­ally alive, and mak­ing the most of your ca­pa­bil­i­ties. We’re re­ally not here for a long time on this planet and with­out ac­cept­ing some risk in your life then you may as well con­sider that you’re not re­ally liv­ing life to the full. We’ve evolved our life­styles as hu­mans in a very short space of time with the aid of tech­nol­ogy to ex­ist in a very com­fort­able en­vi­ron­ment, and it’s easy to sit back and just ob­serve. There are lev­els of risk that can be mit­i­gated with skill and plan­ning so what may feel risky to some folk is just ev­ery­day life to oth­ers. Go­ing through the Khumbu ice­fall on Mt Ever­est is one of the riskier sec­tions due to the po­ten­tial for col­lapse or the ob­jec­tive dan­ger of serac ice fall from above, how­ever if you an­a­lyse the sta­tis­tics the for the amount of peo­ple who pass through com­pared to the over­all amount of in­ci­dences, then the risk is di­min­ished. It doesn’t go away though!

What are the great­est risks in moun­taineer­ing? I would say your own ego is the main risk, as ev­ery­thing else ex­ter­nal can be eval­u­ated and mit­i­gated. But avalanche risk and rock­fall is prob­a­bly my big­gest fear.

Where would be your favourite place to visit and why? Ooh, deep­est darkest Fiord­land is my favourite place at the mo­ment. It’s such a pow­er­ful en­vi­ron­ment to spend time in with a pre-his­toric feel­ing. And re­mote­ness, to be re­ally re­mote in a place like that brings a feel­ing of deep peace­ful­ness to me.

What’s the most chal­leng­ing thing you’ve ex­pe­ri­enced in your ad­ven­tures? Some­times the phys­i­cal out­put re­quired when moun­taineer­ing is ab­so­lutely enor­mous and you fail, as you’re not strong enough. Con­versely if you can over­come an ob­sta­cle by find­ing some strength that you didn’t know you had, then that’s su­per re­ward­ing.

What’s the scari­est thing you’ve ex­pe­ri­enced in your ad­ven­tures? Be­ing in the path of rock­fall down the Lhotse Face on Mt Ever­est rates right up there. I’ve been lucky enough to climb a lot with my part­ner Guy, who is the CEO of Ad­ven­ture Con­sul­tants, and on one oc­ca­sion when we were com­ing off the Lhotse Face I had al­ready de­scended and moved into a safe zone whereas he was guid­ing some­one slower and they were still di­rectly in the path of ta­ble sized rocks com­ing down. It was a huge re­lief when they also joined us in the safe zone un­scathed.

What’s the most mem­o­rable thing you’ve ex­pe­ri­enced in your ad­ven­tures? In 2013, when I was within a few me­tres of the top of Lhotse, the 4th high­est moun­tain in the world, I had a re­al­i­sa­tion, ‘oh my god, you’re about to climb an 8000 me­tre peak’ which is some­thing I just hadn’t thought pos­si­ble un­til that point. It was one of those life chang­ing mo­ments as for years I’d be­lieved that climb­ing at su­per high al­ti­tude was for other peo­ple, yet there I was step­ping on to the sum­mit of an 8000m peak. I get pretty ex­cited on sum­mit days gen­er­ally.

Where’s the most beau­ti­ful place you have vis­ited? I think Lake Hawea where I live is the most beau­ti­ful vista of all. The ever chang­ing light on the lake and moun­tains is as­tound­ing. It is hard to just pick one though – vis­it­ing Glenorchy in win­ter last year tops the list and the last time I went up the head of the Tas­man Glacier, well, wow just wow.

Have you had to face any chal­lenges be­ing a fe­male in the climb­ing en­vi­ron­ment? None that I can think of for high al­ti­tude moun­taineer­ing and in other dis­ci­plines such as rock climb­ing and ski moun­taineer­ing, it’s only your own self­im­posed lim­its that can hold you back. There are so many kick arse women in the world of climb­ing, you don’t have to look far to find in­spi­ra­tion.

Top left – Atop Kil­i­man­jaro in 2007Top right – On the Ne­lion route, Mt Kenya Bot­tom right – On the sum­mit of Ao­raki / Mt Cook with Guy Cotter, 2011 Bot­tom left – Sum­mit ridge of Ao­raki / Mt Cook

LEFT: Ap­proach­ing the sum­mit of Kil­i­man­jaro, 2011 RIGHT: Suze the sum­mit of Mt Ever­est, with AC guide Rob Smith, 22 May 2017

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