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Q&A with Jake Meyer - Scaling K2 for WWTW
We are supplying all of Jake's critical comms as he climbs K2 this summer to raise funds for WWTW. We spoke to him about his adventure.
Could you tell us more about your background?
I started climbing when I was 12 years old. The reason I got into climbing was because I was absolutely awful at traditional sports like rugby, football and cricket! When I was at primary school a friend invited me down for a few days climbing in Swanage in Dorset and I went and had the most wonderful time. It really created a passion in climbing and the outdoors.
Then, when I went on to my secondary school, I was fortunate enough to go to a school that had a full-time outdoor activity department, so I was able to spend all of the time when I wasn't in class actually canoeing, climbing, scuba diving, Duke of Edinburgh, all those things, which was absolutely brilliant.
When I was 14 I read a magazine article about a young British climber who had just become the youngest man to climb the seven summits, which is the highest mountain in every continent. If you can imagine, a cocky, naive 14-year old thinking to himself: "If he can do it why can't I?" I set myself that challenge, I wanted to become the youngest person in the world to climb the seven. I started with Kilimanjaro and watched the Millennium sunrise on top of 'Kili' on 1st January 2000 when I was 15, and slowly started to make my way through the other six, finishing with Everest when I was 21 years and 134 days old - on 4th June 2005.
From my point of view it was a tremendous journey, it was an incredible experience, a huge challenge, not just for the climbing itself but for the fundraising and preparation. I became the youngest Briton to climb Everest and the youngest man in the world to reach seven summits. Both of those records have since been beaten, but to have had them for a while was a very proud achievement.
After Everest I've done a number of different expeditions, but one of the things that was always in the back of my mind was K2. It's not the highest in the world but the second highest, and something I wanted to test myself on, because once you've done Everest (certainly in my mind) it's: "What next and how can you keep stretching and challenging yourself?"
I attempted K2 in 2009, got to about 7,700 metres and turned back due to snow conditions and a faulty oxygen system. Since then it's been in the back of my mind about wanting to return and I'm very fortunate that this summer, in fact in only two days' time, I'll be heading back for my second attempt to try and climb K2.
What's it like standing on the top of Everest?
I think the phrase 'feeling on top of the world' doesn't quite cover it. It really is an incredible experience - a mixture of emotion, elation, relief and exhaustion all rolled into one. The sense of achievement that you have with your climbing partner and your Sherpas, your team, and with anybody else that you see on your Summit Day as well, this shared success, whilst at the same time realising that you're in an environment that is not designed for human beings - or more to the point human beings are not designed to be in that environment. You really are living on borrowed time. The statistics for Everest go to show that, it still - to this day - has a number of deaths every year. I think this year there's been five or six deaths on Everest. But to have that focus, to have driven to that of the outcome, that was part of my driving force throughout my teenage years and early 20s.
What's the itinerary for your K2 trek?
We'll fly to Islamabad, then we'll move to Skardu which is a bit of a frontier town right up in the north of the country, then from that we'll head to the last town before we start walking which is called Askole. As we walk out of Askole, that is the last permanent human habitation that we will see for two and a half months, potentially. We have a 130-kilometre walk to get to base camp, for which we'll have porters who help carry all the equipment. Once we get to base camp (that takes a week of walking) we will then have five or six weeks of preparing the mountain, getting to a point where we can make a summit attempt, which will likely be right at the end of July or early August. Then almost regardless of whether the summit attempt is successful or not, you have one chance and then after that you're so exhausted, so spent, that you turn around and you come back. We're currently looking to return at around 20th August - hopefully we can be back slightly before that.
How many people are in your team?
We've got seven in the team - that's four Brits, a Canadian and two Sherpas from Nepal. The Sherpas between them have climbed K2 three times, so it's fantastic to have that level of experience within the team. Other than that I'm the only other member of the team who's even been before, but we're a really experienced team in terms of climbing and expeditions that we have under our belt. One of the other team members - the team leader - is my climbing partner from Everest, so it's amazing to go back on another big expedition with her, 11 years after we climbed Everest together.
How long does the preparation for something like this take?
I'd split the answer to this into two parts. First, financially, equipment and all the logistical preparation for something like this takes a long time and it's intense. The opportunity came up about this time last year, so it's been about a year in the making, with much more focus on the expedition from January onwards.
From a physical preparation point of view - not a huge amount! I've never done any training for any of my trips - to quote Muhammad Ali: "Champions aren't made in the gym." You need to have the will to want to do these things, the skill and the strength will follow. But I'll have plenty of time on the mountain to acclimatise, to get fit and to prepare before we make that final summit attempt.
How are you feeling right now?
Very excited, obviously being right on the cusp of leaving. It's felt like a really long time coming and I can't quite believe it's now only a few short days until I leave. Part of me can't wait to get out there and get started, but of course another part of me, not seeing my friends and my family for two and a bit months, is going to be a bit sad. I've got a 2-year old daughter, my wife is pregnant, so wanting to ensure I come back as quickly as possible and safe and sound is number one on my list of priorities.
How has Arqiva helped you?
Arqiva is the expedition's comms partner and sponsor, and they've been absolutely brilliant in helping to support in terms of expertise, equipment and call time and data processing for this expedition. To make the most of them, so that people at home can keep in touch, these expeditions require some serious bandwidth to be able to send back photos, maybe even video. For Arqiva to be able to support is a tremendous help, but it also demonstrates how we can be connected wherever we are in the world and how Arqiva really is number one at being able to do that. So it doesn't matter whether or not you're on a mountain or at the South Pole, Arqiva is front and centre about keeping people connected.
Who are you going to be communicating with?
A line to my wife is a very important one, but the majority of it is getting back to the tech support crew in the UK, so the people who are updating the website, people who are uploading everything to Twitter, so that everyone can keep in contact. I hope that people are entertained by what I do but most importantly I want them to be inspired. That doesn't necessarily mean they want to go and have the desire to get up and do something like K2 because, let's be honest, that's quite a silly thing to want to do in the first place! But to push themselves, to stretch themselves, to experience something different and to really see what they can achieve when they put their mind to it. So whether it's a group of children in a classroom or other adventurers and everybody in between, I hope that, throughout the summit, they'll have the opportunity to follow the expedition, to live vicariously through my blogs, my posts, my Twitter feed, my Instagram, to really feel that they're there on the side of the mountain with me and going through the hopeful, triumphant - but potentially the rollercoaster ride - that is one of these big expeditions to somewhere like K2.
And this communication will be good for you as well.
Yes, it's a tremendous morale boost. Having spent time in Afghanistan with the army, out there you look towards your 30-minute weekly phone call back home where you can catch up on what's going on. It's exactly the same on the mountain; you're in this little bubble, this little microcosm, and you obviously can feel very disconnected from the rest of the world, so to be able to stay in contact, not only just to hear what's back at home, but also so that friends and family back home can find out how I/we are getting on is very much part and parcel of the maintenance of morale on an expedition as big as this.
What are the top three things you're taking?
Number one - and this is obviously aside from any lifesaving equipment - would be a photo of my family, which I can have with me in my pocket at all times. Number two would be a satellite phone so I can keep in contact with people at home and allow them to see what's going on. Number three is my bottle of tabasco sauce. The food out there can be pretty bland and monotonous, especially at altitude where you tend to lose your sense of taste, so having a little bit of a creature comfort in a bottle to put a little bit of fire in my belly and give me the energy to get up the mountain and make that food just that bit more palatable will be key.
What about your fundraising?
We're doing this expedition to raise funds for Walking with the Wounded, which is a charity that is incredibly close to my heart having spent time in Afghanistan with the military. I was very fortunate that, as a Reservist, I knew what job I had to get back to, but I also saw that those who were leaving the army, especially those who were wounded, either through physical or other scars as a result of the sacrifices they made, making that transition from the armed forces to the civilian world can be a real challenge. So, to help inspire anyone to get out of their comfort zone... it's about making that step and to further your career. This expedition is an opportunity to inspire people but also to raise some funds.
Walking with the Wounded is Arqiva's charity of choice, so to have this connection with Arqiva and with Walking with the Wounded, we can do a lot of good by connecting people not only with communications but also in their careers as well.
To support Jake on this extraordinary challenge, click here
To follow Jake's journey, click here