A couple of years back, we met Lee Farmer through a friend when we were visiting the UK. He seemed an unassuming fellow and we were surprised when our mutual friend brought up after a beer or two that Lee had just climbed Mt Everest. We don’t know if we’ll ever make it to Mt Everest, but we’ve watched every documentary we could find and think that it may happen for us someday. We asked what was probably too many questions, and Lee was more than happy to share his adventures with us.
Since that evening at the pub, he has become one of only 272 people in history to complete the Seven Summits; climbing the highest point on all seven continents. When you consider that that includes the infamous Mt Everest, the deadly McKinley and Antarctica’s Vinson, you realize what an amazing achievement this really is.We had a chance to interview Lee recently about his remarkable achievements. If you want the numbers and dates, check his website…we were most interested in how and why he did it:
JRT: How did you end up as a mountaineer? Did you just fall into it or was it something you planned?
Lee: It really happened by accident. I was into hill walking and general outdoors and I suppose you look up and see things that are high and snowcapped, and wonder, “What’s up there?” For me, it all started on Mont Blanc in 1999. I was looking for camaraderie, beautiful scenery…short term objectives. I didn’t start as a small boy saying this but I can’t sing, can’t act but I can put one foot in front of the other and do it for a very long time. I have great stamina and I’m happiest when it is a 15-20 hour day. I realized it was something I was just good at, but don’t ask me to do a 100 meter dash. I’m not a sprint guy.
JRT: Did you plan to climb the seven highest peaks before you climbed the first, or was it an idea that came after?
- 2003 – Kilamanjaro, Tanzania, and Mt Elberus, Russia
- 2004 – Vinson Massif, Antactica, by flying in from Chile to Patriot Hills (most expensive of all of my climbs)
- 2005 – Koskiuscko, Australia
- 2006 – Aconcagua failed attempt
- 2007 – Aconcagua failed attempt
- 2008 – Mt Everest – Southeast Ridge as an unguided expedition, as the youngest member of the team and the only one to summit with just one Sherpa. I met Hillary when I was 15 and never expected to walk in his footsteps
- 2009 - Aconcagua, Polish Traverse, on third attempt after weather and my wife’s AMS stopped the first two attempts
- 2010 – Delayed to join friends the following year
- 2011 – Mt McKinley, Alaska by the West Buttress leading for 8-13 hours
JRT: What is the hardest part of the profession of mountaineering? What would you say in warning to someone considering this as a career?
Lee: Raising funds, keeping fit and keeping a focus. This doesn’t attract the same sponsorship or prestige as golf or Formula 1; There’s a constant striving to find something new. I’ve thought about doing the other peak of the nine that make the list (Karstenz Pyramid, Indonesia) because few have done that. I’d like to go back to the Himalayas and Africa and am planning to go back to Africa next year. I’d also like to pick things we can do together and find things that would be of interest to my wife. I’d like to see more of Namibia, Ethiopia, Cameroon and Sub-Saharan Africa in general. I sometimes think of the lyrics of an 80′s pop band song, “The Look of Love”, where they sing, “Raise your sights but lower your aim.” I’m looking a lot closer to home.
JRT: What is the stickiest situation you’ve found yourself in? How did you manage your way out of it? What did you learn from it?
My worst have involved people not even in my group. I was climbing Cho Oyu between Nepal and Tibet and saw refugees being shot by Chinese border guards. They could have arrested or shot all of us. This became an international incident and ended up in a documentary called, “Tibet: Murder in the Snow”.
Another time, I was leading a team on Mera Peak in Nepal in 2009 and we were met by roadblocks set up by the Maoists. My clients asked me to sort it out with 200 or so die-hard party members. I was so glad I had long pants on because my knees were shaking. I had to do a parent-child thing with him and try to take control. I told him we were British and in his country to climb his beautiful mountains.
There have been close calls physically but nothing serious. I’ve had porters get sick but we monitored them and everyone made it. Altitude hasn’t been a problem because I often climb something else beforehand. I believe I’m naturally good at altitude. I Have never had headaches or been sick.
JRT: What comes next after the Seven Summits?
Lee: I’m a Fellow at the National Geographic Society and I’m very interested in walking where people went before. I’m and adventurer and mountaineer but not an explorer. The lack of knowledge the explorers had in those first trips is like landing on the moon for us today. They went to the white spaces on the map. Shackleton, Lewis and Clark and the others…they were the space explorers of their time. The 100th anniversary of Captain Scott’s expedition to the South Pole is next year and I wouldn’t mind being part of it.