Alex Staniforth was still at school and studying for his GCSEs when he first set sights on climbing Everest.
At the time it seemed a fanciful dream, far out of the reach of a teenager with no climbing experience or means of finding thousands of pounds to pay for the expedition.
Now 18, Alex has turned the tables on the odds and is preparing to set foot on the world’s highest peak next spring. Before then, he will give himself a first taste of Himalayan mountaineering by making an attempt on Baruntse this October.
Here, Alex answers questions on how he got to this point and the challenges still ahead…
What made you want to climb Everest?
When I first got into the outdoors, I was out on a walk in the Lake District and realised I had no idea where Everest even was. I knew nothing about it. I got home and researched it and became fascinated, and that then grew into an obsession and I fell in love with Everest. I was looking for challenges and this seemed the ultimate. Shortly after, I went rock climbing in the Lake District for the first time with an Everest summiteer and guide Tim Mosedale, who inspired me with his experiences. Since then, I’ve just learnt more about what it takes to climb Everest and progressed with my skills and experience. I decided late last year I was ready to take the final steps and committed to 2014. I didn’t want to keep dreaming for much longer, so took the opportunity. Other Everest climbers like Becky Bellworthy, Matthew Dieumegard-Thornton and Mollie Hughes have definitely inspired me. Hearing their successes first made me realise Everest could become a reality for me, too.
Baruntse is first up – why did you choose it and how tough do you expect it to be?
I chose to climb Baruntse because I felt I needed some serious high-altitude experience before going to Everest, and it’s a compulsory pre-requisite for most expedition leaders anyway. I considered different peaks but chose Baruntse because, at 7,129m, it gives sufficient altitude experience, while still being viable at my current skills level, and also financially viable compared to an 8,000m peak. Being in Nepal is another advantage because I’ll get a taster of the Himalayan environment and conditions. It’s a beautiful and very high peak that will definitely challenge and push my limits, whilestill being achievable and a suitable progression from the altitude of Mont Blanc last year. I’ll have to wait and see, but I’m ready.
What training have you been doing and how has it gone?
I’ve been focusing on endurance and stamina and it’s gone well. Two weeks prior to the expedition, I’m feeling strong and although we can always wish we had a bit more, I do feel like I’ve got the fitness now. I’ve been running mainly, plus doing lots of UK hillwalking with lots of miles and heavy packs. I was doing long bike rides, too. I train four days a week and do three strength sessions. I had an injury last year that ruled me out of all training until March, but with a lot of luck and training sensibly, I’m fully sorted now.
What obstacles have you had to overcome?
The road to Everest is a long and winding road. I’ve had lots of obstacles to deal with, but it’s all part of the package. Setbacks include one big sponsor pulling out on me and nearly being unable to join my Baruntse expedition, which would have thrown the whole thing out. There have also been little niggly bits like unexpected costs, problems with kit, flights, insurance, having my bike stolen. I’ve even had to consider whether it was fair to be leaving my family worrying for so long. And then there are more mental hurdles, such as maintaining dedication, shouldering the responsibilities and dealing with the anxieties and uncertainties of certain aspects that sometimes you can’t control but simply have to just put to one side.
How are you funding the expeditions and how hard has it been to find financial support?
Baruntse wasn’t cheap and, in the time I had, I doubted I would raise it, but I cracked on and managed to get there. It was surprisingly easier than I thought and took about six months through a mix of fundraising events, sponsorship, grants and personal money. I had lots of support, because I was balancing fundraising with studying for my and A-levels, so it was manic. Everest is all sponsorship-based. My parents can’t fund my expedition, but I’m not letting it become an obstacle. Sponsorship is much harder nowadays – there’s lots of competition and it’s hard to stand out, but I’ve found it easier than expected so far. I’m really fortunate to have more than half of my expedition funded already and my first major sponsor confirmed this week, TextLocal.com, based in Chester, like me. I have also been sponsored with some great kit by top brands like Marmot, Craghoppers and Icebreaker. There’s still lots more work to be done, it just takes lots of time, persistence and luck. I’ll get there.
You have never climbed in the Himalayas before – how are you feeling mentally?
I’ve never been anywhere like it, not even to that part of that world, so it is daunting to be starting with something like this. But it’s always good to aim high and find your capabilities. At the moment I’m mad busy balancing the organisation, planning, training and sponsorship, but deep down I am excited about the trip, the adventure and the new experiences ahead. I think once I get there I’ll relax and it will feel surreal as I take in such an awe-inspiring place. I’ve not found it daunting yet and I’m only really scared of failure to reach the summit, for whatever reason. It’s going to be a great trip regardless and the thought of hopefully reaching the summit and making the youngest British ascent of Baruntse is a very proud one.
Should you succeed on both Baruntse and Everest, what’s next?
I’m going to put my feet up with a coffee and a slice of cake! Everest is my ultimate life ambition, so right now all my focus is centred round that and I haven’t given anything else much thought. Everest is the highest but not the hardest and there will definitely be bigger outdoor challenges and charity fundraising on the horizon. But I think I’ll relax for a few years and focus on my running.
Follow Alex on Twitter: @alex_staniforth
Visit his website: www.alexstaniforth.com