Mind Your Step

Mind Your Step

How about this for a definition of mindfulness:

“I told myself to stay cool and relax, to control my emotions and enjoy each minute as it slipped past. Those minutes would become hours soon enough, the hours would turn to days and each freezing night would give way to another new morning. I told myself to enjoy them and to live for the moment. And so we began this impeccable ridge”

The author is Sandy Allan and it is a quotation from his recently published book, In Some Place Lost, which tells the extraordinary story of the first ascent of an unclimbed ridge on the mountain Nanga Parbat: the Mazeno Ridge one of the last great unclimbed routes in the Himalaya. The formidable Mazeno Ridge had repelled elite climbing teams for decades; it stretches for 10 kilometres with many mini summits on its crest, virtually all of it is over 7000m, it is precipitous, technically difficult and a slip will send you plummeting to the glaciers thousands of metres below. It ends at a small niche which is the only way off (itself a very dangerous descent) or the start of a desperately difficult ascent to the summit of Nanga Parbat itself: the world’s ninth highest mountain.

Carrying everything themselves and using no supplementary oxygen it took eleven days of full-on, exhausting climbing for the team to reach the niche; there four descended and Sandy and his longstanding climbing pal Rick Allen continued up. They had already run out of food and due to a faulty lighter were soon unable to light their stove and so ran out of water too. Hypoxic, starving, dangerously dehydrated, hallucinating, digging into the snow each night to bivouac and continually on the borderline between survival and death they spent a further four days reaching the summit and descending again. A Shackleton-like epic adventure of the modern era and here’s the thing: both Sandy and Rick are in their late 50’s!


I know Sandy; he taught my daughter to ice climb and as a mountain guide he has supported a number of MacIntyre expeditions involving people with learning disabilities. Most notably he supported Paul Sillitoe to the summit of Pokalde in Nepal which was featured in an ITV documentary, An Everest to Climb: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IhU5Jesd8mE . Incidentally, a few years later, Paul went on to set a world high altitude record for a person with a learning disability on the North Col of Everest. Sandy is one of Britain’s top mountaineers; he couldn’t have otherwise climbed the Mazeno ridge but when not climbing he is an unassuming, generous man who works hard and has all the same worries and issues as the rest of us. However his description of his minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day approach to the climb is a metaphor for all of us.

When on the mountain the need to be mindful is literal as one has to focus on every step, every ice axe placement and be constantly vigilant of snow conditions, terrain, weather and one’s climbing companions. Fortunately we are rarely faced with such extreme consequences for lacking such intense concentration but I wonder how much we miss by coasting along? Sandy and Rick in their late 50’s achieved a goal, an extreme physical challenge, they had set themselves as much younger and fitter men and yet somehow they pulled it off. Their experience, well-honed skills, a deep understanding of the importance of team work, a continued openness to learning and a undiminished desire for new experiences combined with this extraordinary ability to focus on the moment all contributed to their success. When we talk of feeling inspired by the achievement of others I think it is important not to conclude: they must be special and I am not and instead think of what can I learn from them and how might it apply to my own personal challenges- whatever they are.

Even if it is only make sure to take a spare lighter next time!!

High Pass on Route to New Tingri