Authors: Bear Grylls
To those great men and women of the mountain:
You are a credit to Nepal and I am lucky to call you friends. Sherpa Nima, Sherpa Pasang, Kami, Thengba, Ang, Pasang Dowa,
Babu Chiri, Ang-Sering and Nima Lamu.
To the team:
To Henry Todd and Neil Laughton for your trust and faith in me when it really mattered. Michael Crosthwaite, my friend and brother. I hold more respect for you than I could
ever say. Captain Geoffrey Stanford, Grenadier Guards. Jokey Longworth. Edward Brandt. Andy Lapkas. Allen Silva. Michael Downs. Carla Wheelock. Graham Ratcliffe MBE. Ilgvar Pauls. Ali Nasu Mahruki.
Scott Markey. I could not have been with better people.
To those we were alongside on the mountain:
Tomas and Tina Sjogren for saving Mick’s life. Bernardo Guarachi. Iñaki Ochoa. Bruce Niven. David Lim. The Singaporean Everest
Expedition. Pascuale Scaturro. Captain Sundeep Dhillon RAMC. Tomi Heinrich. The Iranian 1998 Everest Team. You all epitomize the qualities that bring a mountain to life – strength, dignity
To those who loved and supported us:
Mum and Dad and Lara for loving when it hurt. You’re my best friends. Thank you. Grandpa Neville for your love and smiles. You are the best
example of a man I could ever have. James and Mungo. Shara, my angel, for your love, patience and kindness. You were with me all the way. Patrick and Sally Crosthwaite, Mrs Ronnie Laughton. This is
your book as well.
To those who believed in us:
To all at Davis, Langdon and Everest for putting your faith in me. Your willingness to reach out is why you have made DLE such a success. You are pioneers.
Eve Theron. SSAFA Forces Help for all your support towards a messy-haired lout. You have made it all such fun and your work for the British Services is remarkable. Rev. Colonel D. Cooper, Richard
and Sue Quibell for untold inspiration. Jay Martin and NSA, for your ‘Juice Plus’ support. Lewis McNaught. Stephen Day. Ginnie Bond and Becky Lindsay for your great patience and
For help in my research:
Elizabeth Hawley. Paul Deegan. Royal Geographical Society.
To the best:
Brunel Team – for always being there. Rev. Hugh Maddox, Ethel Bell and Nan for your prayers. Charlie Mack for your friendship. Sam Sykes for your time and energy in
this entire project. Emma McK. Green Island. Tash. The Brigadier. Fozza. Ant . . . brrr. Annabel. Tom. Walter Scott, for all your editorial help. The late Colonel Anthony Witheridge. Judy
Sutherland. Hugo M-S. Woggie. Brian and Vinnie. Dom S-B. Mike Town for showing me the hills when I was younger. The Big ‘E’ Squadron for your encouragement and humour. I’ll always
remember my time with you. Corporal Bob W. for your faith in me.
The sky was beginning to fade, and the brilliance of the African sun was being replaced by the warm glow of dusk. We huddled together in the small plane and my feet began to
get cramp; I tried to tense them and get the blood flowing again. The parachute made a comfortable backrest, but you always felt nervous leaning on it in case you damaged anything or accidentally
deployed it. I shuffled again. As often is the case, there was no eye contact with the others in the little plane as we climbed up to now nearly 16,000 feet. People were engaged in their own little
worlds – the air felt electric with silent tension.
As the plane banked to make another steep ascent, I glanced out of the little window down to the African basin far below; at that height you begin to see the curvature of the earth at the edges
of the horizon. I felt a warm peace come over me.
Squatting there, cramped and nervous, I sensed a part of the magic that is found in edgy situations – a certain calm, a sharpening of one’s senses.
The plane levelled out, people began to shuffle and become alert again, checking and rechecking equipment. We were all now crouching and someone reached for the door. As it slid back on its
rails, the ferocious noise of the engine and 70 m.p.h. slipstream broke the silence.
’. All seemed strangely still as we stared at the bulb flashing at us. ‘
’. It flicked to green. Andy reached out, looked far below, and then
quickly fell away. Soon all the others had followed, and I was alone in the cargo area of the plane. I looked down, took that familiar deep breath then slid off the step. As the wind moulded my
body into an arch, I could feel it respond to my movements. As I dropped a shoulder, the wind would begin to spin me and the horizon would move before my eyes. This feeling is known simply as
‘the freedom of the sky’.
I could just make out the small dots of the others in freefall below me, then I lost them in the clouds. Seconds later I was falling through the clouds as well; they felt damp on my face.
I should come out of these soon, I thought, but instead I just kept falling through the whiteout. I looked to check my altimeter but it was hard to read.
‘I’ve got to pull now and deploy; I’m too alone here.’
I reached to my right hip and gripped the ripcord. I pulled strongly and it responded as normal. The canopy opened with a crack that shattered the noise of the 120 m.p.h. freefall, as I slowed
down to 15 m.p.h. As the buffeting ceased, I realized I should now be safely under canopy. I glanced up to check the symmetry of the chute as I’d often done before, to confirm that all its
cells were open and working. They weren’t.
I just stared for two or three seconds before realizing what had happened. Instead of the smooth regular symmetry of the nine or so cells above me, I had a chaotic jumble of silk. The force of
the opening had torn part of the canopy in two. It flapped nervously and irregularly like two badly reined chariot horses tugging in different directions. I pulled hard on both my steering toggles
to see if that would help. It didn’t.
I tried to steer, but it responded slowly and noisily as if straining to stay inflated. I watched the desert floor getting closer and objects becoming clearer and more distinct. My descent was
fast, far too fast. Desperately trying to predict where the wind was, I realized I was too low to use my reserve chute – I’d have to land like this. I was getting close now and was
coming in at speed; I flared the chute too high and too hard, out of panic. This jerked my body up horizontal, then I dropped away and crashed into the desert floor.
I woke and sat bolt upright in bed, sweating and breathing heavily. It was the third time I’d had this recurring dream of what happened those moments just before my
accident. I tried each time to shake it from my mind; but the memories lingered. The fall itself had broken two, and seriously chipped a third, vertebrae. The Scottish doctor who had first assessed
me said that I had come within a whisker of severing my spinal cord, and paralysing myself for life.
My back ached worse at night; the doctors had warned me of this, but still I winced each time the pain soared through my body. I held my head in my hands, then lay back down.
As I lay in bed for those initial months recovering, friends would come and visit me. I would struggle to get up to greet them. I’d put on my back brace, strap myself in and try so hard.
It wasn’t in my nature to be like this. I felt embarrassed. Part of me didn’t even want them to see me in this way. I even remember trying to throw a rugby ball with a friend –
until the pain stabbed again. My parents then encouraged me back to bed.
They had lived through hell after they initially heard of my accident.
During the week in the local hospital in Africa, I had managed to speak to my mother on the telephone. I took off the oxygen mask that I was breathing through, and tried to reassure her. Her
voice sounded fragile, all those thousands of miles away. I hated myself for the grief I was causing. Since the moment I had returned, she had nursed and ferried me around all the doctors and
hospitals like a saint. She knew that she had almost lost me.
For three months I lay in bed. My plans, my dreams of the future, hung in shreds. Nothing any longer was certain; I didn’t know if I would be able to stay with the Army. I didn’t
even know if I would recover at all. It seemed as if in an instant my world had been turned inside out. I feared that this stinging pain in the middle of my back, of the nerves rubbing bone, would
never leave me. I didn’t want it to be like this.
Part of me feared that I would never recover well enough to be able to do all those things I loved. To be able to climb, to sail, even just sit in my favourite tree at home, high above the
village and just think. It was this not knowing that worried me; nobody seemed to know – not even the doctors.
I was eight years old when my father gave me a mesmerising picture of Mount Everest. From that moment onwards I was captivated. I would sit there trying to work out the scale of
the huge ice fields I saw in the foreground, and to judge how steep those summit slopes would really be. My mind would begin to wander, and soon I would actually be on those slopes – feeling
the wind whip across my face. From these times, the dream was being born within me.
As a child, the tedium of the weeks at school was relieved by the thought of days ahead at home: climbing on the chalk cliffs in the Isle of Wight with my father. I was never back for more than
a minute before I would be hassling him to come out with me.
I would clamber into my old hiking boots that were sizes too big for me; we would load up the car and the two of us would head for the hills. We would always take our two dogs with us, a
Shetland sheepdog and a dachshund. The Shetland loved the scrambling on the slopes, but the little dachshund used to get thrown in a rucksack and carried along, viewing the world from out of the
top buckles. And in such a manner were spent endless dreamy afternoons.
Winter was always my favourite time for these adventures, with the wind tearing across our faces as we strode out together through the fields. We would scramble up the cliffs with me fighting to
stay close to my father. From a distance the cliffs looked foreboding and treacherous and my mother would refuse to allow my father to take me up them. It made the climbs even more exciting –
they were forbidden.
‘You can never tell how steep something is until you rub noses with it,’ dad would say. He was right. Up close the cliffs were only steep walks. Small sheep tracks laced their way in
tiers up the face, giving us the chance to sit and rest every ten feet. My father would reach down with his hand and heave me the last few feet to each ledge. We would tuck in close to the cliff
and gaze at the views across the island. They were beautiful.
Eventually we would come out over the top onto the grass and lie there, often to the bewilderment of some old couple on a cliff-top walk. They would gawp in bemused amazement – then totter
off, shaking their heads with disapproval. It made the adventure even more real.
During these times my father would tell me stories of his climbing experiences in the Royal Marines; he would teach me all he knew.
‘Always keep three points of contact on the face at any one time. Move slowly and always, always keep calm – however scared you are.’
When I see these cliffs now, the same feelings come flooding back. They make me smile. The cliffs look small and hardly very dangerous, but as an eight-year-old I always felt as if I was
climbing the steepest face in the world. It made me feel different from the others when I got back to school. I had done something that I thought was really hard, and survived – and that made
me feel special.
I remembered those days and managed a smile from my bed.
Lying, unable to move, inside all day and sweating with frustration, my way of escaping was in my mind. I felt I still had so much that I longed to do, and so many things left to see.
Suddenly all my dreams plagued me. I had taken my health so much for granted, but when faced with the reality of having it taken from me, those dreams, that before were neglected, came racing
Lying in bed, strapped in my brace, gave me almost too much time to reflect on these things. I would rather not think about them. Forget them. Look at you, I thought, you’ve been in bed
Time seemed to stand still.
I looked around my bedroom, and the old picture I had of Mount Everest seemed to peer down. I couldn’t decide whether it was looking with pity or whether it was sneering. I struggled over
to it and took it down. There was no longer any point in having it up.
My childhood desire to climb Everest felt further beyond the realms of possibility than ever. During those months lying there, I remembered my love of climbing with my father; my secret longing
to one day see the world from the summit of the highest mountain. I remembered, but tried to disregard it as mere fantasy – as kid’s stuff. It eased the pain.