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The next morning we sent the Branson household some very expensive Scilly Isle flowers, accompanied by profuse apologies with a PS saying that we hoped he had had a chance to read our proposal.
We never got a reply.

But not all of our ‘sponsor hunting’ was so stimulating and generally the routine went something like this . . . ‘Rummage for a clean shirt, and struggle into my
grandfather’s old suit. Venture halfway across London to endure a terrifying meeting with a frumpy PR woman with hair on her upper lip. Try desperately to maintain composure, but fail
miserably and invariably manage to spill coffee down my front. Go home, peel off my suit and begin again.’ God I hate suits.

This went on depressingly long, and I soon began to wonder if maybe there was something wrong. I bought some Clorets breath fresheners and kept trying.

Having dozed off, I was woken at my desk to the sound of Corporal Jones on the television, ‘Don’t panic, Captain Mainwaring, don’t panic!’ I yawned and turned it off. It
was all too close. I picked up the telephone and carried on with the struggle.

A month later and still out of luck, I found myself in the unfortunate position of now being three weeks away from our departure date and still US$16,000 adrift. It was a cold February morning,
and I was bicycling off to have a quick sandwich with a friend in the City. As I flew along the pavements, wearing only shorts and an old woolly jersey, covered with mud, I saw a firm called
‘Davis, Langdon and (to my surprise . . . ) Everest.’ They had to be worth a try.

I skidded to a stop, tried to flatten my hair and went in. A giant-sized photo of Everest adorned the wall of the reception. I gave one of my sponsorship brochures to the receptionist and asked
if she would be kind enough to ‘send it up to either um . . . Mr Davis or Mr Langdon.’

The lady then leant forward and pushed her glasses back onto the bridge of her nose. As if annoyed to have been disturbed by this scruffy ‘thing’ in her reception, she told me that
Messrs Davis and Langdon were the two people who had founded the firm in the early 1900s, and that therefore my request may be a ‘little difficult’. I stood my ground and insisted, and
eventually arranged for my brochure to go to the ‘current’ Senior Partner, then sauntered out and thought nothing more of it. I had done this a thousand times before, to no avail.

That weekend I spent at home with my parents in the country. Desperation was beginning to kick in. If something drastic didn’t happen soon, then the expedition, for me, was off. I felt as
if I was on this diddery old tight-rope and it was beginning to wobble.

‘Why don’t you pray?’ my mother warbled from the kitchen. It had got way beyond that, I thought. But, in despair, I agreed. So my mother and I knelt in the field, with donkey
droppings all around, and said a short prayer for some help. I was all too aware that if I couldn’t find the remaining funds, I would have to withdraw from the team.

Forty-eight hours later a phone call came in for me. It was the Senior Partner of Davis, Langdon and Everest (DLE); they’d received my brochure and wondered if I would have a moment to
come in for a meeting.

‘Let me think . . . this afternoon you say? Hmm, yep, I think I’m free, but I better just check . . .’ I calmly said, almost unable to even sit on the chair with
excitement.

I raced up to London, squeezed into my suit once more, swallowed a breath freshener and hoped for my last shot to work.

The Senior Partner informed me that the founder of their firm had been a descendant of George Everest, the Surveyor General of India in the 1830s. George Everest had been the first man to
properly study the height of this huge mountain in the Himalaya, and 160 years later and with the use of laser technology, scientists showed that he was accurate to within 0.09%. The mountain came
to bear George Everest’s name, and his descendant had founded the company whose coffee I was now drinking.

The team of people I was chatting with seemed a world apart from the slightly sour fat cats I had been dealing with elsewhere. They were interested, friendly and had a vision for how this
expedition could work for them. Rather than purely wanting the PR from any media coverage, what they saw in it was entirely different.

They wanted a unifying focus for their company. They recognized that a successful company becomes successful from the inside out, rather than the other way round. What they wanted was a project
to focus and excite all who worked for DLE, something that everyone would feel a part of. It seemed that I was fast going to become that ‘something’. I swallowed nervously. I would have
to start brushing my hair.

And so, with only fourteen days to go before we were due to leave, DLE came in as my main sponsor. The next day I went into the bank to pay in this huge cheque and the cashier’s eyes lit
up with delight as he asked me what I was going to do with the money.

‘Get high,’ I replied grinning, ‘ – literally!’

The countdown from then on was a blur of organising equipment; getting the correct sized high-altitude boots, sending them back and forth to modify them, and then getting the
most suitable crampons accurately fitted. We had to make sure all the medical kit was in order with large enough quantities of the right pills and creams. Then it would be on to checking and
re-checking the clothing. Outer-garments, thermal inners, windproofs, fleeces, silk inners, ice-axes, slings, harnesses; the list was endless. Sorting them neatly into the correct piles at home was
a delight to our cat, who was convinced the latest in high-altitude goggles was a dead rat. But slowly, and with much help, it all began to take shape.

At the same time though, the fitness training ceaselessly continued. On one of my training sessions some weeks earlier, that actually took place on New Year’s Day on the far north coast of
Scotland, I was somewhat ‘briefly’ having my annual New Year’s dip in the wild surf of the North Atlantic. As I emerged, clutching my wedding equipment that by now was looking as
if it might never return to its former self, there stood a beautiful, well wrapped-up girl with hair blowing in the wind.

‘Ah, sorry about this,’ I muttered as I hopped around on one leg, trying to put my trousers back on, before falling over on the seaweed. ‘I can explain everything.’
I’m not quite sure what happened after that, but the girl on the beach, very bravely, became my girlfriend.

Our relationship wasn’t exactly of the ‘regular’ variety, and Shara was thrown into the chaos of the final few months of preparation for an Everest expedition. They always say
that if you want to terminate a relationship, then take up Himalayan climbing. Well I’d just started one, and it was good – I didn’t in the least want it to end. I wanted to
believe in ‘if it’s meant to be, then it will be’, but when there’s a lot to lose, such a motto is really hard to trust. My fears were beginning to show. Keeping everything
crossed, I then disappeared for three months and found it a miracle that she was still there on my return. From now on I’ll always swim on New Year’s Day.

Our planned departure date was 27 February 1998, and that time was fast approaching. Because our team was relatively small, we had arranged to link up with a larger team who
were also to be climbing on Everest. The aim was to benefit from the logistical ease of a larger group, whilst still enabling us to maintain the autonomy of a small, close-knit unit.

This larger expedition was being led by Henry Todd, a very well-known Scottish climber with huge experience and skill. It was with him that I had climbed on Ama Dablam, some months earlier.
Rather like the Nepalese load-bearing yaks, Henry is huge, shaggy and matted, but in his case, somewhat better looking. We had been extremely lucky to have been able to join Henry’s team, and
without doubt were in the most capable hands around today.

The plan was that we would be climbing on the Nepalese side – the South-East Ridge. This was the original face that Hillary and Tensing climbed, and in the less than inspiring words of
Kurt Diemberger, the famous high-altitude climber, ‘this will always be one of the most dangerous routes.’ Of the total 162 deaths on Everest, 101 of those have occurred here – on
the Nepalese side.

The climb would lead us up from Base Camp into what is known as the Khumbu Icefall, a tumbling cascade of ice 2,500 feet high, that guards the way up to the first camp, Camp One. From here, the
route follows along the crevasse ridden Western Cwm Glacier to Camp Two. The route then goes to the end of the Cwm, over the Bergschrund ice bulge, and then up the sheer ice walls of the Lhotse
Face to Camp Three, 3,300 feet higher still. The climb then traverses the ice over the Geneva Spur, and then rises up to the South Col, Camp Four, our last camp.

From here the summit would be attempted in one final push. The route leads to the Balcony Ledge, and then up the South-East Ridge to the South Summit. Once over this and the famous Hillary Step
ice-wall, the summit lies 200 metres ahead. We planned it would take about seven weeks of climbing to reach – if all went smoothly.

The first ascent by Hillary and Tensing had used nine camps during their climb. We were to use only four. The planning even at this stage, especially by Henry, was meticulous. Strategy and the
effective allocation of resources is crucial in any attempt, and the four of us studied the maps and books like hungry students.

Henry was dealing with all the logistical side of the expedition, such as arranging the oxygen, the portage to Base Camp, the food, and more importantly, the Sherpas. The Sherpas, who are the
local Nepalese climbers of the Everest region, would assist with the logistics on the mountain. Different expeditions would employ different Sherpas, but as with most factors on a mountain such as
Everest, everyone would mingle and work together. This, in many ways, is the strength of the climbing fraternity.

For the Sherpas, climbing runs through their blood, and because of having been born at a high altitude, they climb with the strength of ten men. They became close friends by the end, and are
truly some of the most wonderful people I have ever met.

Organizing these logistics though was a massive undertaking, but what would have taken all of us months of negotiations, Henry had a knack of being able to arrange in his sleep. He just quietly
got things done.

The last weekend before leaving I went down once more to the Brecon Beacons with some friends. We walked all day, threw a rugby ball around in the evening, and slept in a sheep
pen during the night. It was bliss.

A few days later we had a send-off party, for sponsors and journalists to attend. Throughout the whole evening though I began to feel this anxiety. It was all happening very fast now, almost too
fast. Part of me wasn’t even sure that I really wanted to go at all. The champagne flowed, speeches were made, but as I sat through it all, looking at all my friends chatting away and
laughing, I felt hollow. I’d never experienced this sort of loneliness. Even though here I was surrounded by all those I loved, part of me felt so alone. In forty-eight hours’ time I
would leave all of this far behind.

A radio station rang me the next day and asked for an interview. They said that they would like to do it on the morning show at 6.05 a.m. I gulped. I’m bad in the mornings at the best of
times, but at 6.05 . . .

Early the next day, the phone rang; I sipped my morning cup of tea, and prepared myself for the questions. They ran thick and fast, and soon it was over. ‘Easy.’ In fact I even
thought that I had done rather well. Ten minutes later though, the phone rang again. They said that I had sounded fast asleep and would I mind waking up and doing it again in twenty minutes. I
apologized profusely, slurped two strong cups of coffee, and tried again – a bit more coherently. All was OK, and I consoled myself with the thought that first time round it must have been a
crackly line.

The interviewer, though, had raised an issue amongst his many questions that I had been asked over and over again. He had commented that he always believed it wasn’t possible for people in
their twenties to be able to cope with the adverse effects of high altitudes; hence all well-known climbers tended to be in their thirties or forties, and never much younger.

I couldn’t argue against this. It did always seem to be that the stereotyped climber was bearded and haggard. Well, I might have been haggard but I certainly wasn’t bearded; in fact
all I could really grow was a couple of grandma’s whiskers on my chin. Maybe their assumptions were right. Maybe Everest was only for the hairy and older climbers. But there seemed nothing I
could do about this, apart from believe Mallory when he said that ‘climbing Everest is all about heart.’ It seemed that this was the only card I had to play.

My last evening, I promised to go and have a drink with a friend. I bustled along on my old 1920s Dutch push-bike to a seedy bar in the depths of night-time London, and joined the queue to get
in. It was heaving with people. The queue stretched right round the corner, and hardly seemed to be moving at all. I joined the end and waited in the chilly night. Eventually as I got closer to the
door and was standing against the window of the bar, I spotted my mate inside. He was swaying from side to side, with beautiful girls draped all over him. I shivered in the cold.

He spotted me in the queue, and sidled over to the window. We tried to talk through the fogged up glass, but I couldn’t hear. I then saw him gesturing something with his fingers. I
squinted through the window. With a broad grin he held out his two fingers, and twisted them up the inside of the glass – symbolizing a man climbing up a mountain. He reached up as high as he
could, then mimicked the man tumbling off. As he put his hand back in his pocket, he laughed out loud. I smiled at him from outside.

‘I’ll see you in three months, all being well; I’m not waiting in this queue any longer,’ I shouted. Tim was then swept back from the window by the crowds inside, and was
gone from view.

I turned and went home. I slept little that last night.

 
BOOK: Bear Grylls
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