By John Gill
For three days, we wandered the rubble hills and icy sinkholes of the Yalung Glacier, tucked beneath monoliths of ice and rock on every side. Each step was uncertain, often sliding down the loose rock and dust towards ancient creavasses, yawning with frozen teeth as if about to swallow us whole. Rock slides and avalanches crashed down the steep walls on either side of the valley, which had been sculpted over countless years by this torrent of ice beneath our feet. The glistening peaks above looked down on us, like Gods on their lofty thrones, while we picked our way through the dark labyrinth below, building cairns to guide us back. This is the land of giants, shrouded in mystery and wonder. Our mission was to recon the south face of Kanchenjunga, the third tallest giant in the world, to photograph and document potential climbing routes. Always in our sight, Kanchenjunga shone bright like a beacon guiding us. We weren’t the first to cross that glacier, and we won’t be the last, but the feeling of remoteness, wilderness and exploration overwhelmed me. I thought, “this is what I’m made to do”.
Even as a child in England, I was an explorer. I’d have adventures in the forest behind my house, climb trees to see into the neighbour's yard, and dig huge holes in the garden (to my Mum’s disgust) in an attempt to find buried treasure or tunnel to Australia. I’d go caving and hiking with my family, and my Dad taught me skills in navigation, ropework and survival.
Like many of us, when I hit adulthood I lost that drive. A desk job, too many nights in the pub, poor diet, and a generally sedentary lifestyle became the norm. The extent of my explorations would involve a four hour stint on Minecraft.
The ‘kick up the ass’ that I needed came in 2011, when I went to Nepal for the first time with my family to trek to Annapurna Base Camp. At the same time I read ‘South Face’ by Chris Bonington, about his expedition to climb the South Face of Annapurna in 1970. His story of suffering, struggle, tragedy and triumph somehow rekindled the fire inside me to pursue my own dreams to become a climber and explorer. This same year I visited Squamish for the first time, working on a summer camp for 3 months. I immediately fell in love with the mountains of British Columbia and 3 years later I was calling the West Coast my home.
Nepal gets under one’s skin… once I’d experienced the majesty and magnificence of those giants, I had to get more. No matter how happy I was climbing and exploring in the Sea-to-Sky corridor, I dreamed of epic Himalayan expeditions, discovering remote Buddhist villages and losing myself in the peaceful culture and tradition of the Sherpa people. There’s something magical about being there - life is hard, yet the Nepali people are the happiest and most generous I have ever met. The mountains are the homes of Buddhist Gods and Goddesses, each with stories passed from generation to generation and local rituals willing the gods to provide a bountiful harvest. You can't help but feel the energy of these lands as you wind through deep valleys and over high passes. Everything is powerful; the raging rivers, thundering avalanches, intimidating spires and peaks, even the Sherpa people have immense power. Yet it's all, somehow, so peaceful.
I am only at the start of my Himalayan discovery, but it has already taken me to the summit of Ama Dablam (6,812m), on multiple trips in the Everest region, to Annapurna Sanctuary and to the remote and wild Eastern border with Sikkim to explore Kanchenjunga. Nepal is not only where I found big mountains and even bigger adventures, but it is also where I found myself, discovering my dreams and the drive to achieve them.
In 2016, I started a trekking company, Outdoor Explore, providing guided hiking tours in B.C. and treks/expeditions to Nepal. I work with my good friend, Namgya Sherpa (11 times Everest summiter), in Nepal to organise and lead adventures that aim to show people why Nepal is so special, and encourage others to find their inner explorer. I am working with local charities in an attempt to create a more sustainable experience and to give back to the people who have given me to much.
We are proud suppliers of Nomad Nutrition on our trips in B.C. and custom expeditions in Nepal. I’ve found the nutrition-to-weight ratio to be miles above the competition and I’m always pleasantly surprised with the quality and taste of the food.
To celebrate this partnership, we are offering a 10% discount code for customers and followers of Nomad Nutrition. Simply enter ‘NOMAD’ when booking a trip, or mention this code when contacting Outdoor Explore. https://outdoor-explore.com/
The future holds big plans for further treks into more remote parts of the Himalayas, as well as ambitious expeditions to climb some of the higher peaks in the Himalayas. However, I'm most looking forward to the people I’ll meet along the way, the climbers I’ll rope up with, and the Sherpa I'll learn from. Spending time on the Yaling Glacier, beneath Kanchenjunga, gave me such an immense appreciation of how powerful the mountains are, but also how fragile they can be. It’s this fragile power that particularly intrigues me and draws me to explore deeper. I have a heightened respect for these wild places, and my desire to climbing Kanchenjunga burns more than ever.