Two British climbers will attempt to complete one of mountaineering’s greatest challenges in record time this summer.
Jon Gupta and Nick Valentine will fly out to Central Asia in July to tackle The Snow Leopard Award, a gruelling mountain marathon consisting of five back-to-back climbs of 7,000m peaks.
Only 14 people have achieved the feat in history and Jon and Nick are not only hoping to become the first Britons on that list, but plan to do so in the fastest time ever.
The five mountains, which are located in the Pamir and Tien Shan ranges, are:
- Ismail Samani Peak (formerly Communism Peak), 7,495m (24,590ft).
- Peak Korzhenevskaya, 7,105m (23,310ft).
- Ibn Sina Peak (formerly Peak Lenin), 7,134m (23,406ft).
- Jengish Chokusu (formerly Peak Pobeda) 7,439m (24,406ft).
- Khan Tengri, 7,010m (22,998ft).
The current best Snow Leopard Award time is 42 days, set by Denis Urubko, but Jon and Nick, who have been climbing together since 2009 and have named their expedition ESLtwelve, are aiming to do it in less than 40 days.
Mountain guide Jon will be climbing in aid of Dyslexia Action, while ski instructor Nick is raising money for Multiple Sclerosis.
Here, Jon answers questions about the Snow Leopard Award expedition …
Where did you get the idea from and why take it on?
A friend of mine sent me a link to Peak Lenin (one of the five peaks) as an idea for climbing a 7,000m peak. Intrigued, I did a bit of digging around online and came across a link to The Snow Leopard Award. A few minutes later, I was hooked, and started searching the web for the limited info I could find relating to this mountaineering challenge. Once I had realised that no British people had completed the award, that was it, I decided it I wanted it.
How big a challenge will it be compared with what you have done in the past?
It will undoubtedly by the hardest thing we have ever done. It’s a high-altitude endurance event and we’re going to face some very harsh conditions and be forced to make so tough decisions. I believe we are ready for it, but we are not underestimating how hard these six weeks will be.
How are you preparing for the expedition?
Oddly enough, we train mostly by going to work! We both work in the outdoors and when we’re not working, we go climbing. I work as an outdoor instructor and expedition leader. I have just returned form leading a team on Kilimanjaro, which consisted of four amputees and Duncan Bannantyne! And in two weeks’ time I am off to Nepal to lead a team on Island Peak. Nick is currently living in Verbier working as a ski instructor.
What does the historical significance of the expedition mean to you?
It would be so good to achieve a British first. I think for us, it’s a stepping stone in the right direction of becoming better mountaineers and if we can inspire, motivate and make people believe at the same time as pulling of an ambitious British-first expedition like ESLtwelve, then that’s perfect.
What will be the main obstacles to success?
This expedition is all about making good, informed decisions and staying as safe as possible. That’s on top of overcoming the obvious dangers of high-altitude mountaineering; the weather is going to play a huge part in our progress and can put a stop to everything.
Any ideas for your next challenge after this one?
Ha! Someone asked me this the other day. In all honesty, I haven’t really thought about it. The project is so big it’s all I’m thinking of at the moment, that and running my company with trips to Kili and Nepal just after ESLtwelve. I’m thinking of having holiday first. Maybe a beach holiday, in a $5-a-night bamboo beach shack, sun, sand, surf and cocktails! Back to mountains, I have been thinking about going back to Ecuador for some more volcanoes or there is a peak in Peru called Chopicalqui that Ive had my eye on for while…
How did you get into climbing in the first place?
I guess my first taste was in Scouts a long time ago. This also introduced me to camping, fires and enjoying the outdoors. In my gap year, I decided I wanted to work in the outdoors and then, when I was at university in Aberystwyth, Wales, I began climbing and mountaineering a lot.
Who are your inspirations – past and present?
At the moment, it is anyone who is doing something physically incredible and at the same time managing to inspire and motivate people. For example, Eddy Izzard running 46 marathons in 51 days really inspires me. In the mountains, mountaineers such as Mick Fowler and Cory Richards are incredible and I inspire to be like them. They are both hard-as-nails mountaineers and I love the expeditions that they do.
What is “Inspire | Motivate | Believe” and how is it linked to your charities?
One of my main goals in life is to share my experiences to help benefit others. I was diagnosed as dyslexic when I was 9 and, since then, felt like I had to work twice as hard to achieve in school. I found a passion in mountains and the outdoors and now love every minute of my work. Through ESLtwelve, I want to raise slot of money and a lot of awareness, and most of all I’d like to motivate and inspire people to believe that they can achieve anything.
* Read Jon’s account of his solo ascent of Ama Dablam in Nepal here