Adventurer interview: Everest climber Matthew Dieumegard-Thornton

Matthew Dieumegard-Thornton is an up-and-coming British mountaineer from Sleaford in Lincolnshire, England. This spring he is aiming to become one of the youngest British climbers to summit Mount Everest, climbing via the South Col from Nepal. His training has included climbing Peak Lenin in the Pamirs range of Kyrgyzstan and Mera Peak and Baruntse (7,219m) in Nepal.

During his Everest climb, Matthew, 21, will be supporting Global Angels and raising awareness of climate change through Climate Unchange. He has recently graduated from Nottingham Trent University with honours in Sport and Exercise Science, specialising in environmental physiology.

Matthew will be writing articles for Live For Adventure and, here, answers some questions about his background and preparations for Everest.

Matthew Dieumegard-Thornton will attempt to summit Everest this spring

Matthew Dieumegard-Thornton will attempt to summit Everest this spring

What kind of adventures are you into?

As I’m only 21 years old, I have many planned adventures ahead of me. But some of my favourite days have simply been climbing during the Scottish winter, and the Lake District through the driving rain, thick fog, and the odd bit of thunder and lightning for good measure. Equally, after climbing in Kyrgyzstan and Nepal, I find high-altitude expeditions the ultimate test and adventure.

What’s your favourite destination?

My favourite destination would have to be wild camping in Ennerdale. It’s one of the quietest valleys in the Lakes and, for me, it’s often the simple things in life that are the best.

Who’s your adventure hero?

I wouldn’t say I have one hero in particular. I have a wide range of people past and present that I admire, who all posses different qualities. These include Mallory and Irvine, Hillary and Norgay, Andreas Hinterstoisser, Heinrich Harrer, Dougal Haston, Reinhold Messner and Bear Grylls, among many, many others.

What’s your favourite adventure book?

I have three books that I couldn’t possibly choose between. These are The White Spider by Heinrich Harrer, Mallory Of Everest by Showell Styles and Facing Up by Bear Grylls.

How are you preparing for Everest?

This is a complex question, but the answer lies in effective goal-setting. To climb Everest, you need to be physically and psychologically fit, combined with good mountain experience.

For my goal-setting, I have broken my training in the run-up to Everest into four landmarks in my training.

My first element of training was a Scottish winter, which I did in January 2010. It’s an amazing place to train for Everest, and I had a steep learning curve.

My second goal was a 23-day expedition to climb Peak Lenin in the Pamirs Range, Kyrgyzstan, in July 2011. This is where I learned the expedition routine and the important personal admin needed to become self-reliant.

Thirdly, I embarked on a 35-day expedition to Baruntse, a 7,129m peak in Nepal in October 2011. This was a great test at high-altitude and where I perfected my skills.

A final Scottish winter this January will be my fourth and final technical preparation for Everest.

Around these expeditions, I have a regular gruelling training regime, involving two sessions each day, with either one afternoon, or one full day off per week. The training is varied, from restrictive breathing swimming, to ultra-distance running and plyometrics. To test my training level, I set myself challenges, the first one being a marathon, which I completed in September 2010.

Matthew Dieumegard-Thornton on the summit of Mera Peak, Nepal

Matthew Dieumegard-Thornton on the summit of Mera Peak, Nepal

What is the hardest part of an Everest expedition?

Most people would be shocked to hear how difficult finding sponsorship is for an Everest expedition.

Having said that, once on Everest, a whole new set of challenges present themselves. These range from high altitude to extreme cold, and since I am climbing on the south side, the technical sections, such as the Hillary Step, also need to be overcome.

All these challenges, even down to finding sponsorship, can be managed by effective goal-setting, which keeps everything in perspective.

What’s the best climbing advice you’ve been given?

Getting to the summit is optional, getting down is mandatory.

What inspires you?

I have a few mottos that I like to remember when I’m training, which are great for motivation and help occupy your mind with positive thoughts.

I do have two favourites. The first is a motto from a famous Australian squash player: “All dreams are achievable, only if you have the courage to chase them.” The second is a motto I use personally: “Dare to Dream.” I find this particularly motivating, since if you speak to anyone who has ever achieved greatly, they did so with a healthy amount of daring.

What are the most extreme adventures you’ve had?

The two main ones that come to mind are the Baruntse and Mera Peak expedition in 2011, which was certainly one of the best experiences of my life.

The second was in 2010 riding the world cup downhill tracks in Les Gets and Morzine, in the Portes du Soleil. My glory moment was jumping a 35ft river gap, although it was equally matched by the low point of falling straight off the end of a 10ft drop.

What’s your best piece of kit?

My full face helmet and full body armour are invaluable, certainly saving many ribs.

Matthew Dieumegard-Thornton on the summit of Baruntse, Nepal

Matthew Dieumegard-Thornton on the summit of Baruntse, Nepal

What other adventures have you got in mind?

After Everest, I hope to still be part of high-altitude expeditions alongside a masters degree in high-altitude physiology. I would also love to get into the combination of high-altitude climbing and ski mountaineering, and complete the Marathon des Sables.

How do you develop your training schedules?

During my second year at university, I was training to become a professional squash player, often training three times daily.

Squash is well known for its physical demands, which stood me in good stead for my current training.

I have had to modify my training to account for the greater durations involved, but the transition has been smooth. My degree may have also had a positive influence on my training.

How about the psychological element in training?

I have always been of the belief that any form of exercise is equally weighted: 50 per cent physical and 50 per cent psychological.

The main problem I have faced in the past is the transition from a short-duration sport, to ultra-distance.

A long squash match is around 100 minutes, compared with ultra-distance, which can last anywhere from four hours to several days.

I am fortunate to be working with psychologists at Nottingham Trent University, who help me to strengthen my psychology, and then implement the techniques into my training.

What did you study at university?

I graduated with honours in Sport and Exercise Science from Nottingham Trent University in 2011.

For the final year, I specialised in environmental physiology and performance nutrition. Both of these are a great asset in helping me to prepare and perform effectively for my expedition.

Environmental physiology is especially invaluable on my expeditions. It involves studying how altitude, heat and cold affect the physiology of the body.  It is a fascinating subject that has enabled me to take part in some cutting-edge science, including using trans-cranial magnetic stimulation to measure supraspinal fatigue in hot environments. This was a particular highlight since we were the second ever team to study and measure these effects.

The ability to use the university’s environmental chamber has also proved extremely valuable.

Any plans to take education further?

Having been in education for 16 years, I would love to say no! After my Everest expedition, I may look to study for a masters degree. I am extremely interested in combining my experience at high altitude with the study of high-altitude physiology, which is currently the cutting edge of science.

How do you view the environments you travel to?

I am very passionate about understanding and raising awareness for climate change.

At a shallow level, mountaineering takes place outdoors and is therefore linked to the environment. However, if you take the time to look deeper, you realise mountaineering usually takes place in some of the most precious and delicate environments on earth, as well as some of the most beautiful.

I believe, as inhabitants of our earth, we have a duty to protect and conserve the environment as best we can.
Many people have well-defined standpoints on their view of climate change and how it happens. Climate change is almost certainly a natural occurrence, but I believe one of the most famous outdoor quotes can be applied to the human impact of climate change: “Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints.”

By taking this standpoint, we can drastically reduce the impact humans have on the planet. We may not be able to stop climate change, but we can allow the earth to change naturally, and at its own pace.

In promoting the awareness, and understanding climate change, I believe we can help make sure future generations have the same special enjoyment we have had in the mountains.

What other sports and activities do you pursue?

My main sport is mountaineering, but I competed at national level in squash, reaching the top 50 at junior level in the country. My training for my Everest climb mainly involves running, cycling and swimming, as well as gruelling strength and conditioning sessions. I also throw downhill mountain biking, climbing and skiing into the mix to get the adrenalin pumping.

What are your aims for the future?

I aim to be involved in new and pioneering expeditions and challenges, constantly pushing the boundaries and breaking the known limits to human performance.


To contact Matthew or follow his Everest preparations, visit:



Twitter: @mattdthornton


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