Success: British Polar explorer talks climbing the Nose with Hans Florine

Posted by Sarah Stirling on 24/09/2015
Hans and Fiona on Texas Flake
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The BMC would like to say a big thank you to British Polar explorer Fiona Thornewill MBE, who recently climbed the Nose to raise funds for the BMC's Access and Conservation Trust, and to inspire people they can do anything, if they want to enough – Fiona is a 50-year-old amateur climber and mother of two. Fiona joined Hans Florine, who holds the speed record, for his 100th ascent of the route.

Thanks also to Hans Florine, without whom the ascent wouldn't have been possible.

So, congratulations! 

What was the hardest thing about the ascent? 

For me there were several things that challenged me greatly. I really am only a novice climber, and so I had to learn different skills, particularly rope-work. Normally I leave this to my husband Mike, but on this occasion the buck stopped with me.

Hans must have had the patience of a Saint, teaching me skills such as: lowering out, sac hauling, setting up complex belays and hanging a portaledge. I knew that I couldn't afford to screw up and cause a problem for Hans, so I felt the pressure.

There was another pressure; in that I had two young boys at home and I needed to concentrate extremely hard for a long period of time. One tiny mistake could have spelled a fatal mistake. I was well aware 40% of accidents are caused by fatigue and a simple careless action. I felt wired the whole time.

Any scary moments? 

The night before we set off I had all sorts of anxious thoughts going through my mind, but when I set off they quickly eased. I did feel butterflies lowering out from Sickle Ledge across Dolt Crack and eventually into Stove Leg Crack. It feels a very committing thing to do when you're 800 feet off the deck, using skills you've only just learned.

The next scary place was Texas Flake. I found this nearly the most exposed part of the climb. Although you're barely half way up the wall, I felt so insignificant and insecure setting perched on this massive 'semi-balancing' flake. The drop down from here is quite surreal. 

Another scary moment was the anticipation of lowering out under The Great Roof.  To me I should have been in an aeroplane this high up. But because I was totally committed, I just had to do the job in hand. I made myself stay calm and pressed my 'delete imagination button' - I guess it was a bit like an out of body experience. The Great Roof is not a place to let your imagination get out of control.

The last pitch was surprisingly hard too, because it overhangs in places at 45 degrees - although the exposure bothered me less here, because the drop had actually started to seem unreal. What I didn't like, was that there was no communication and I felt very out on a limb and alone.

Any moments you thought you weren't going to make it? 

No not exactly. I didn't have feelings either way. I just had the mindset that I would never give up unless Hans determined otherwise. I did wonder though on that last pitch if I was actually going to get stuck though - it was so physically hard getting the clips out. Leading it wouldn't have been any harder, physically.

I didn't climb the hard pitches. Hans led everything - and to see a master climber go, and how fast. He was amazing to watch. Largely I used jumars. But, where it was possible for me to, I followed. To be honest, I did the absolute best I could, and I was taken completely out my comfort zone, I've never known exposure like it.

How did it feel to stand on the summit? 

There are not adequet words for that - perhaps euphoric in its fullest meaning.

How long did the route take?  

Hans and I never set out to break any speed records for this ascent.  For Hans it was about the special occasion of him enjoying and succeeding at his 100th ascent. For me it was about simply staying alive, and doing my utmost to summit - so we did it in two and half days.

What's it like to sleep and wake up on a portaledge? 

I loved that - but you know? You do feel like you're dreaming, you almost have to pinch yourself it is really you actually doing it. I will never forget that experience.

What kind of food do you carry for an ascent like this?  

Nuts, cold soup, biscuits, not a lot really.

How much did you raise for BMC ACT?  

So far, Hans and I have managed to raise just over £3000 with Gift Aid, I had hoped to raise more, but we haven't done yet.

How did you celebrate?

Alcohol was a factor.

What's your next challenge?  

Let me get over this first!!!

 

READ: British Polar explorer joins Hans Florine for 100th ascent of The Nose here.

 

SUPPORT: you can still donate to Fiona's Just Giving page here.
 

READ: More about Fiona

Anyone who wants to follow (or simply view) Fiona can visit www.facebook.com/FionaThornewill.MBE


The Access and Conservation Trust

The BMC's charity  the BMC Access & Conservation Trust  promotes sustainable access to cliffs, mountains and open countryside by facilitating education and conservation projects across the United Kingdom and Ireland.

By educating climbers, hill walkers and mountaineers to enjoy outdoor recreation while minimising their impact on the landscape, conserving the UK’s upland resources, and campaigning for improved access rights, ACT enables future generations to continue to enjoy outdoor activities and the physical, mental and social benefits they bring to individual lives and society in general.

READ: More about the recent work of ACT

WATCH: the Mend Our Mountains: Make One Million campaign film


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