The BMC held Everest 70: Tales From Basecamp to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the first ascent of the world's most celebrated mountain. Hosted by Niall Grimes and surrounded by Nepali-inspired art, the audience joined us in looking back at that first ascent and heard modern stories told against the backdrop of ancient conquest. Here are some of those stories, we hope you enjoy them:
Deon Barrett had a troubled youth. Living in the urban outskirts of South West London he found himself on the wrong path, getting in trouble in school and becoming involved in the local gang culture.
He recalls walking holidays with his mother, who was keen to show him a world beyond the familiar confines of the city streets. He initially found the trips boring, but crediting her passion to travel and bring him along, he was exposed to new landscapes and gradually found his love for exploring. Throughout his outdoor adventures, he was aware that he didn’t see many people from a Black background like himself. Curious to understand more, he learned that of all the people who summited Everest in the past 70 years just 0.17% are Black, a statistic that Deon is determined to change.
Recognising the importance of role models in his own life, in 2022 Deon created the True North Project, setting out to inspire the younger generation through his own adversity. For him, finding True North means “To become your authentic self. To develop a positive attitude that empowers us in ways that take us wherever we decide to go. I believe, though adventure we can discover that truth.” Through the project, Deon speaks at schools, campaigns for outdoor education to be included in the curriculum for all young people, and helps create opportunities for students to make safe trips to the mountains.
Deon is training to climb Everest in 2025, and become one of the first Black Britons to reach the summit of the world’s highest mountain. Beyond that, he aims to inspire future generations, boost self-esteem and provide essential life skills. By equipping young people with the right tools and attitude to promote their own mental resilience, he believes they too will find their own True North.
Deon Barrett is a speaker and explorer training to be an extreme mountaineer to inspire the younger generation. Follow the adventure at https://www.truenorthproject.co.uk/ or on Instagram @5_twenty_
Dev Raj Gurung grew up in poverty. In Kathmandu in the 1970s life was hard, but happy. Speaking gently, he describes mud huts and the chaotic streets of Kathmandu, living hand-to-mouth and wondering what his next meal would be. He doesn’t romanticise the hardship; there was no safety net. When you grow up like that, he says, it stays with you for life.
For ten years Dev worked as a trekking guide, and like many Nepalis guiding was a financial necessity rather than for pleasure. On seeing Everest for the first time, a mountain that looms so large in the consciousness and economy of Nepal, Dev’s first reaction was "Is that it?” His expectations and reality were different.
Guiding comes with its own measure of hardship and risk, but it was through trekking that he met his partner, a Rotherham lass, eventually moving to the UK and establishing his business The Hungry Buddha. Dev explains that travel opens your mind. He appreciates now how different and interesting the sights and sounds of Nepal can be. The chaos makes it special because you don't get to experience that elsewhere.
Dev was born a Buddhist - Gurung is a hill clan - and in both the region’s prominent religions (Hinduism and Buddhism) the mountains are sacred. For Westerners, he observes, sports, or career, or climbing mountains is a vehicle you travel with, a mirror showing you as a person in the world around you. The more extreme or the more dangerous your vehicle the more you learn about yourself and your limits. In contrast, Eastern philosophers go inwards, believing you have the questions and you have the answers. It's just a matter of working it out, understanding and moving ahead.
Reflecting on Everest and its effect on Nepal, Dev accepts that change is inevitable. It's not good or bad, it's just the way it is. In many ways, Dev embodies the balance of East and West that those involved with the mountain are still seeking.
Find Dev at The Hungry Buddha in Moor Market, Sheffield.
While other teenagers slope off to their bedrooms to complete their homework, or procrastinate behind closed doors, there was no escape for Adriana Brownlee. Revision occurred under the watchful eye of her father within the confines of a tent on the foothills of Aconcagua, a 6,961m peak in Argentina.
For Adriana, climbing mountains is about spending time with her dad. She remembers an incident on Ben Nevis when, as small girl in dangerously freezing conditions, he allowed her to make the call about whether to press on to the summit or retreat and climb another day. She made what she believes was the right decision but, more importantly, her father reassured her she was learning the skills to stay safe in the mountains.
This early introduction to mountaineering sparked a lifelong passion, and Adriana dreamed of climbing Everest from the age of eight. Supportive of her goal, her parents agreed to pay for the expedition, but at a cost. Her father sacrificed his own dream of the summit, funding Adriana’s trip in his place. After a tense month waiting for an elusive weather window and a swift negotiation with the Khumbu Icefall ‘ice doctors’ who were due to fly home that day, Adriana summited Everest on May 31 2021.
Adriana aims to become the youngest person to summit all 8,000m peaks. So far, at the age of 21 she has reached seven of the fourteen. It was on one of these expeditions that Adriana met her life partner Gelje Sherpa, and his more spiritual approach to the mountains has changed Adriana’s perspective. Climbing is no longer about conquering, and if they feel the mountain doesn’t want them to be there, they’ll leave.
So, what’s beyond the top of the world for Adriana? Thinking back to her introduction to mountaineering, from homework in the tent to the summit he sacrificed, she says she wants to return to Everest with her father - this time as his guide. “I’d love to close that circle.” While many climb for records, recognition and fame, these days Adriana climbs for love.
Adriana Brownlee is a British mountaineer who aims to become the youngest person to complete all 14 8000m peaks. So far Adriana has summited 7/14 and plans to summit all 14 in 3-4 years meaning she would be 23 years old when completing her mission.
All photos by Sam McQueen for the BMC.
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