What does it feel like to fail your expedition?

by Mar 4, 2020 | First published in 2017Adventure, Everest, Personal journal

There’s no way of avoiding it. We set out to climb the height of Everest in the Lake District over 5 days and we didn’t reach our target.

We failed.

The Everest Adventure

The Everest Adventure came about when I had the idea of creating a team expedition which would hopefully inspire others to get out there and take on an adventure no matter your background or ability. I turned to my amazing Love Her Wild community in search of a team who would help me on this mission. Over 100 applied.

I selected a final team of 8 and we got together for a training weekend (although Kate sadly couldn’t come). It was an opportunity to set in motion all the tasks that we had before September and our expedition…..training, looking for sponsorship and funding, organising a route, working out logistics, drumming up interest and contacting media.

Although most things went well in the build-up, we had 3 of our members pull out of the expedition for varying reasons. Although it was a blow, we came together as a group. We got our jobs done and tied up all the final details until, suddenly, our adventure was here.

We huddled around the fire of Burnthwaite Farm B&B together as a team for the first time…..Bex, Kate, Nichole, Seanna, Naomi, and Becki.

Things didn’t exactly go to plan

The next morning we set off early from the warmth and comfort of the B&B, a mix of nerves and excitement. Our packs were heavy on our back, full of camping gear, wet weather clothes and enough food to last us 5 days. I had in my hand a map and a route that took in multiple peaks and a long distance to cover the 8,848m needed to reach Everest.

It only took me until lunchtime to realise the route was not going to work.

The group were walking as fast and as hard as they could, without so much as a whisper of negativity, but we could only work to our limits. At the end of the day, we stopped at 20km and 1460m of ascent and set up camp with just an hour of light remaining. We cooked our dinner on the camp stoves and quickly layered up and retreated to our sleeping bags, hidden from the cold. There wasn’t much chat before bed.

failing your expedition

It was time for a re-think. We came up with a new route for the second day that was shorter in distance with more elevation and made the call to leave a tent up with our sleeping gear inside to lighten our load. It was a good decision that worked well until poor Nichole injured the tendons in her knee. The priority now was to get her back to camp where she could rest and stay warm.

Nichole, being the positive person she is, didn’t complain once. She hobbled slowly back through the pain still with a smile on her face. My heart sunk when I looked at my watch and saw that most of the day had already passed.

The dreaded yo-yo

We had to hit 1750m a day to reach our target of Everest and we were now really behind. We came up with a plan that we would yo-yo back and forth over Windy Gap, a steep saddle that meant we could gain height easily without having to go far from the camp and Nichole.

It turned out to be a demoralising decision.

We trudged up and down for over 700m, using every ounce of energy we had. The conversations died out, our muscles burned and the wind (Windy Gap really does live up to its name!) hammered us in the face.

Was this really worth it?

Feelings of guilt

I felt like I had let the team down. With a route and an expedition that was far too ambitious. I hated seeing the pain and the struggle on the team’s faces as they gave everything they had. Wanting to meet mine, each others’ and their own expectations.

I realised that by focusing on the height of Everest, I had underestimated the other challenges involved with this expedition. Some of the team had never set foot in the Lake District or terrain like this before. It’s tough. As is wild camping and being self-sufficient, carrying all your own supplies. But most of all was underestimating that outside of this expedition was a real-world and real challenges that we were all facing.

As we hiked, I listened to stories shared by the team. Everyone had a very personal reason for wanting to take on the Everest Adventure. As a team we have been through so much. We are still going through a lot. We are mums supporting our children, working difficult jobs, running businesses, battling health issues and family problems, all while searching to find our space and who we are in the world.

It would have been great if we had had more time, money and resources to train more. We could have met up more often, fit in some full practice weekends and all had personal trainers. But this wasn’t possible. And I realised that this was the whole point. This was about women who are all very different, coming together to do something that they wouldn’t normally do. And all we could do was give it our best and work our hardest. That’s all you can ever do.

Read Seanna’s story about why she took on the Everest Adventure to get more of an insight into the team.

Time for a change

It wasn’t easy letting go and accepting we probably wouldn’t reach Everest but we had a meeting and all talked honestly about how we felt. This was no longer about individual goals but about doing it as a team and reaching whatever our Everest might be.

After that, everything changed. Nichole’s leg recovered enough that she was able to keep going with the challenge. We started enjoying the views rather than having our heads down focusing on one foot in front of the other. Celebrating each peak rather than fretting over how many peaks were to come. Still working hard, walking far, climbing lots but without the pressure. And it was liberating.

We failed and I couldn’t be happier

I’ve re-written this paragraph 3 times but no words can quite articulate the feeling that the team had when we parted ways at the end of the Everest Adventure. In those 5 short but long days I was blessed to spend time with 5 incredible women who now mean the world to me. There was not a word of annoyance, no feeling of competition or judgments, not once throughout the expedition. Just love, acceptance and support. We will be there for each other from now on in everything that life throws at us. We know it and I can feel it.

Our aim was to climb 8,848m the height of Everest. Instead, we reached 6,220m. That’s more than the height of Danali (6,190m), Kilimanjaro (5,895m) and Elbrus (5,642 m). It’s the equivalent elevation to climbing Snowdon via the Miners track twice a day. Or climbing a 10 story building over 40 times a day.

I’m proud of that number. But there is no denying it. We set out to climb 8.848m the height of Everest and we failed. But heck, if this is what failure looks like, I’m happy with that!

Don’t ever let the fear of failure hold you back.

Maybe you will get there, maybe you won’t. But you will never know what you might find on the way if you never try in the first place.

Kate made an amazing film about our Everest Adventure…..

The Everest team would like to say a huge thank you to our sponsors Columbia, National Parks, and 1000 Mile Socks. And also to TentMeals, Pip&Nut and Vivo Life for sorting us out with top-notch expedition fuel.

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Any women reading this? I set up Love Her WIld – a women’s adventure community….we organise exciting adventures all over the world for you to join. Find out more – check out our private Facebook page.