The 7 Summits Blog

Climbing the Matterhorn
29th August 2017
I was telling my friends the other day that at the end of every summer I look back and think.. yeah I’ve had a good one! Whether I‘d do an epic European road trip or venture further, I make sure my summers are filled with adventures, laughs, family & friends’ time, incredible sunsets, overcooked camping food and lots of great memories.
This summer was going to be no different. I had grand plans but unfortunately things in life don’t always turn out the way we plan it… After summiting the 6th of the 7summits in March, I was hungry for more. I had to be back in the mountains to recharge, to be surrounded by beautiful snowy peaks, to feel the happiness, help my heart healing. And to push myself beyond what I thought was possible.

I’ve been to Zermatt to photograph the Matterhorn on a number of occasions, never during the climbing season though. I fell in love with the mountain the first time I saw it. Sitting like a Sphinx on the Italian and Swiss border, it’s one of the most iconic mountains in the world. No wonder people in the 80’s and even today are obsessed to reach the top at 4,478m. Bank holiday weekend coming up, my only chance to return to Zermatt and give it a go this year. Trip and mountain guide booked, I told only a handful of people I was going to attempt it.



I arrived at the Swiss Youth Hostel Friday evening and the mountain top was already hiding behind thick clouds. The weather report didn’t look great for Sunday afternoon and beyond so I agreed with the guide I’d hike up to the Hornli Hut Saturday afternoon, meet him there for dinner and try the summit Sunday morning.



My alarm rang at 4am. I had everything laid out the night before; head torch fitted on the helmet, a 1-liter Nalgene bottle filled with tea, clothes in order with harness on top. Pack organized with items & layers inside in order I’d need them. Got ready quickly and placed my rucksack in front of the main door. Breakfast was served at 4.30am, and at 4.50am on the dot the hut doors opened and guides with their climbers, eager to get out first rushed out into the darkness. The climb begins with a steep wall and once you’re through you can settle into a rhythm. After 45 minutes of climbing, my mouth was dry and I could feel dehydration kicking in. I asked my guide if we could stop (wouldn’t have need to if I had a Camelbak..) but I was thirsty again. The air is dry and drinking sweet tea didn’t help. Next thing I realized the sun was coming up behind me and I wanted to stop to take pictures but we were traversing a dangerous rock fall area and pushed on until we reached the Solvay hut (emergency shelter at 4,003m). I thought we would break there but instead we carried on.


Photo credit: David Fasel

We were moving slowly but steady, having had no time to acclimatize (I’d strongly advice against it) I felt that tempo was the best I could do. An American guide with his climber caught us just below the crampon point and I thought they’d pass but we ended up moving almost together. He was motivating and encouraging his ‘buddy’ telling him what was coming up and listening to that assured me as well. One of the scariest parts for me was managing the knife-edge ridges and the shoulder because you feel incredible exposed.
Every time I looked up, the summit seemed so far away. There was no time for chit-chat, no time to stop and pose for photos, no chance to think about anything apart from finding the gaps in the rocks to place your foot and fingers. Just you, the guide at the other end of the rope in the eerie quietness which was occasionally broken by the sound of falling rocks. (Tragically, one of these loose rocks hit and killed a solo climber below us.)
When my guide told me the summit was half an hour away, I kicked into the next gear. When he said we were a few minutes away, I could hardly believe it. And there we were, on the Swiss summit at 4,478m..


Photo credit: David Fasel

After the mandatory photos with my flags, we descended a few meters to a ‘picnic’ spot where we had a snack, drank some more tea finally got my phone out to snap a few photos. The next couple of hours of descending were hard, painful and felt never ending. There’s only one thing harder than climbing up steep rock faces, climbing down!
The first abseil was not fun, my guide kept saying lean back (into the void) and let it go and I could have come up with a million other things I’d have rather done than hanging on a thin rope with absolutely nothing below me. After the third abseil I was almost a pro until a sudden swing when I hit the rocks so hard I banged my knee and hurt shin. No time to feel sorry for myself, we continued descending. He very openly criticized my technique and I told him maybe after the 150th time I climbed this mountain, I’d be able to “run down” until then let me do it my way. I did manage climbing down properly some parts when he gave me encouraging words. It’s a funny business climbing with a stranger and sharing this experience. The guide is there for one reason and I’m there for a different but we both want the same, get to the top and back down safely.
On the way down we bumped into two guys on their way up about 100-150meters below the Solvay Hut who stopped us and asked for advice. One of them was in a bad shape and wanted a heli rescue. My guide agreed safety first and told the chap to call mountain rescue. They had a chat and we carried on but stopped and my guide called Zermatt air to check if they were coming to get the guys. Apparently, they were busy (collecting another body) but we saw the heli later on heading to the direction we met the climbers. It really hit home and I was so relieved when we finally “touched ground”.



I took a few more photos of the mountain then headed back to the Hornli hut to change into shorts and running shoes, reorganize the backpack and head back down to Zermatt. Three guys were leaving at the same time and we ended up chatting. Turns out they are British and live near Wimbledon where I’m based..small world hey! We chatted about mountaineering, triathlon, cycling and of course climbing Matterhorn. I told them I was heading to my favourite bar for a burger later and we met up for a drink.
They climbed the Breithorn the following day and I was seriously tempted to join them but decided to take the morning easy and go for an afternoon run on some beautiful trails with the views of.. you guessed, the Matterhorn! We met up again for dinner and we shared more stories and had a wonderful time. When I woke up the following morning (Tuesday 29 Aug), I saw the mountain in full glory. No clouds just stunning blue skies and the Matterhorn lit up by the morning sun, sitting there gloriously inviting climbers…

I’d like to thank my fantastic team at work for the support and thinking of me, Ilja from the Zermatt Hostel for giving me the biggest smile and hug when I returned from the climb, the three British amigos (Jake, John & Maz) for the best company anyone could wish for. And of course, a massive thanks to my guide David for putting his trust in me, guiding me up and bringing us back to base safe. I can very honestly say I couldn’t have done it without you.
Thank you.

Alex
Xx


Post climb trail run Zermatt - Sunnega 2,288m - Zermatt. Stunning views.
The Hurt half marathon
05th June 2017
Saturday 3 June



Quads now recovered from the race in the Surrey Hills, I still can't stop thinking (and laughing) about how I managed to get lost on a marked route (in the second lap!) :)

Wandering off the course during a half means that you quickly realise something has gone wrong, the downside is that it's very easy to loose position in such a short race. (6 in my case)

What I learnt from this event:
1. have a rest day before race day..nope, not even a cheeky 10k allowed
2. just because a runner looks the part doesn't mean I should follow him blindly :D (and hereby I'm sending my apologies to the other runner who followed me.. we did have fun doing extra 2 hills though didn't we?)
3. turn back sooner and don't carry on hoping a sign would turn up if I have a strong feeling I'm lost
4. a bit more hill/ steps training won't hurt (because those steep ascents during the race did) so train more in the Surrey hills!
5. finishing a tough race is a good experience and a great mental prep for other races and endurance events

I would love to hear about how others deal with getting lost during the race and how to push on, please get in touch & share your story! alex.photography@hotmail.com

I wish you all a summer full of adventures, smiles and happy moments!

Alex
X
Carstensz Pyramid Mar '17
21st March 2017
Carstensz is near the Equator so there is no ‘season’ to climb it. “There’s bad weather all year around” or as I approached it, you can attempt to climb it anytime! ☺ And because organising an expedition to the mountain is a logistical nightmare, you really are in the hands of the weather gods to even have a chance to fly into its’ base camp in the Yellow Valley.
At 16,023 ft. (4,884m), Carstensz Pyramid or Puncak Jaya (“Victory Peak”) as the Indonesians call it, is located in the western central highlands and is the highest peak in Oceania, Australasia continent. The mountain was named after Jan Carstensz, a Dutch explorer who was the first European to sight the peak.

3pm Thursday 16th of March: after a short 22 hour flight I landed at Denpasar in Bali where I was greeted by the local company’s tour organiser Caroliena. We drove to the hotel but I couldn’t enjoy the facilities (mainly the bed) for too long because in 4 hours time we had to be ready, we were flying to Timika in Papua that night. A quick introduction to the team; 3 guys from China and 2 from Poland. I’m the only woman in the team, but it’s not the first time.

7am Saturday 18th of March: eagerly waiting for our helicopter in the tiny airport of Timika. We’ve checked our bags in which basically meant weighting it (the 458th time) and handing it over to a guy who seemed like he knew what he was doing. I kept my summit rucksack with the gopro, my camera and some water. The weight restriction for the heli ride is crazy strict. Our group was split into two; me and the two polish guys were taking the first helicopter. We were about ¾ of the way when heavy dark clouds started to closing in so we turned around. Back to the bungalow in Timika and take 2 tomorrow!

6.30am Sunday 19th of March: it’s finally happening! We knew the drill; returning to the airport (bags stayed there..somewhere.. overnight), waiting and people watching. A lady in uniform comes over and asks me to go with her. Brilliant, what have I done now? Oooh she just wants a selfie. And someone else comes over. Next thing I know I’m posing with the entire airport staff who can’t stop giggling. The two helicopter pilots greet us in their crisp white shirt and with huge smile. Would love to spend more time with the locals but it’s time to fly!
The 45minute flight out of Timika, over the giant rainforest and mine villages was incredible. My head didn’t want to explode either from the pressure like the day before, always a bonus!



8am same day: as per the expedition itinerary we were a day behind schedule because we couldn’t fly into Base Camp the day before. Should rest on Sunday and maybe summit on Monday if the weather is good. Extra day on Tuesday planned in so no worries. Except.. we’re going to the summit. Now.



The climb: I remember three parts. The dry, the wet and the miserable cold & wet ☺
After a couple of hundred meters scrambling we began rock climbing on fixed ropes. And if that wasn’t fun enough for Alex, I was allowed to go ahead and climb in my own rhythm. The rock felt good but climbing in B3 shoes was a mistake (did keep me warm though!). Getting up to the summit ridge was perhaps the most enjoyable part, now the weather turned it and started raining which made balancing on the ridge with massive drops on both sides just a bit more challenging. Not to mention negotiating the Tyrolean Traverse. I can tell you if you have fear of heights, this is the place to overcome it! ;) I’ve seen videos of climbers pulling themselves across this 20odd meter cable so I was prepared for that, walking over like a Cirque du Soleil performer was not in the contract! Well, too late to turn back now so with the help of our guide I was attached to the dangling cables, took a deep breath and walked across looking only ahead.





Probably the scariest part was (every step) when I lifted the back foot which meant the cable started moving under my body weight whilst I balanced on one foot.
The best part? I had to do it all over again on the way back :D

2pm The summit 4,884m: There were a few more eerie moments jumping from rock to rock but I carried on marching, climbing ahead. We’re here now, screw the rain and the fact that we didn’t acclimatise (or rested, or ate). Just before I reached the summit I grabbed my phone from my pocket, it was now soaking wet so a little bit of snow wouldn’t do any damage and having no one in front of my or at the top, I captured an empty summit where only praying flags and signs were dancing in the wind.
Getting to the top was a fantastic feeling. 6 of the seven summits. Only one more to go. Holy moly!



The descent: to celebrate on the summit, I waited for the rest of my team who at this point I hadn’t quite gelled with but we were a team and I couldn’t have turned around without greeting and hugging them on the top. Sadly the longer I waited the colder I got and with the rain I was now completely soaking wet. Both my climbing gloves were soaked throughout and we still had a long way to go down. By now, a mountain river formed in the cracks where the fixed ropes were waiting for us, which meant rappelling down in a power shower or skidding down on my ass with water pouring into my neck under my jacket, into my climbing pants cooling down my back directly into the boots. How could this situation get worse? It got dark and I had no head torch.

We were never meant to take this long to climb up and down, mind you expeditions don’t leave at 8, 8.30am in the morning. We did and we summitted and all got back to the dining tent ok, 12 hours later.
I had nothing to wear bar my waterproof over trousers (that were conveniently in my tent the whole time) and a used merino base layer so I sheepishly crawled back to group tent asking for a jacket from one of our guides (the one who stayed at BC).
The bad weather continued the following day so after breakfast we were told that it’s not likely the heli would make it into the valley so we should go back to our tents.
How did I spend that extra day on the mountain?
Listening to music (a cracking playlist and a powerbank is a must) and laying out my wet clothes when the sun came out only to bring it back in less than 5 minutes, and repeat this about a hundred times.
We woke up Tuesday morning on a clear sunny day and our guides hurried us to pack our bags, we were flying out!



It may not have been the longest climb, the toughest expedition or the coldest place but nevertheless it was a great experience and gave me a huge confidence to climb on rock in the future.
Even though I could feel the division in our team during the expedition, we started coming together as a proper team towards the end, forming friendships and enjoying one more day in Bali together.



A big thanks to my team mates Janusz Mieczyslaw Kochanski (Poland) , Kamil Jerzy Suchanski (Poland), Zhang Liang (China) , Zhang Tingxi (China), He Zhu (China) our expedition leade Jeni Dainga (Poxi) 67 Summits and two guides Mr. Yoshua Noya (Yosh) 35 Summits and Mr. Meydi Pesak (Meds) 19 Summits.

Last but not least, I’d like to thank Nick Holmes at Robert Holmes & Company Wimbledon Village, Chris Hopkins at Park Accounts Wimbledon, Aniko Posztos at iQor Hungary and Karpati Jeno at the Magyarszeki Sport Club for helping funding the expedition, their kind words and support.
Why you should spend the weekend in the Peak District..
13th December 2016


1. It's closer than you think.
For Londoners: Get yourself out of bed early enough on a Saturday and you can reach the beautiful south side of the Peaks like the Dovedale Nature Reserve in less than 3 hours by car. If you don't drive or have access to a car, pick an area and check Virgin trains. You can be in the heart of the National Park in 3 hours from Euston station. That's not too bad right?!

2. It's stunning.
I'm yet to see and discover more of the area but what I have seen so far I absolutely loved. Rolling hills, moors, lakes & rivers, dramatic peaks and valleys, the landscape is so beautiful in every season. You can walk for miles and miles without hearing the sound of a car engine.

3. It's good for the soul.
Do you get to Friday afternoon at work feeling you're completely spent? Another reason to hit the Peak District. Whether you go away on a spa or active break, you'll come back fully recharged. Get used to not having mobile reception at most places but this will only help you to switch off.
According to Stephen Kaplan (Professor of Phychology at Michigan Uni) "The experience of nature helps to restore the mind from the mental fatigue of work or studies, contributing to improved work performance and satisfaction." I second that.

4. Walk, run on ride on new trails
It's great to mix up our training and go running somewhere different than the usual athletics track, parkrun or whatever we have access to during the week. It won't just be an exciting new experience to explore trails but will bring back the love of exercising.

5. PUBS!
I'm sure this needs no explanation :) Food in the North is tasty. And will taste even better after a long hike!

Tips from Alex:
- stay in a hostel (cheaper & fantastic locations)
- take warm layers & waterproofs
- be flexible with your plan
- don't forget to smile and say hi...you're not on the tube.



*Kaplan, S. 1995. The Restorative Benefits of Nature: Toward An Integrative Framework. Journal of Environmental Psychology
Welcome to my challenge
15th November 2016
Alexandra had her first taste of climbing mountains in March 2012 when she made a solo three-week trek in the Nepal Himalayas. The experience was life changing and inspired Alexandra to reach even greater heights by setting one of the biggest goals of her life so far – to climb the 7 Summits.
Alexandra tackled the first of the 7 Summits on 9 June 2014 as a very proud member of the first team to summit Russia’s Mt. Elbrus, the highest mountain in Europe, from the difficult north side in pre-season.
Less than six weeks later, on the 17th of July, Alexandra successfully climbed Mont Blanc solo, without a guide, team or support. She summited at 6.45am, reaching the top in just over four hours. She has also successfully summited Kilimanjaro in September, second of her ‘7summits’. On the 6th of December 2014, Alexandra stood on the top of the highest point of Antarctica, Mt Vinson. After months of hard training and preparation she summited one of the most challenging one; North America’s highest peak Denali in June 2015. Continuing her 100% summit success, she climbed Aconcagua in South America on the 2nd of January 2016, the highest mountain in the world outside the Himalayas.

You can read more about the expeditions in this blog.
The Suunto Run Wimbledon 10k
13th October 2016
Picking up a left hip tendonities in May was no fun. First of all, injured for a week I ran a hilly off road half marathon (did well but I was in agony) I had to cancel all upcoming triathlons and running races I had booked in the diary. Luckily cycling saved my sanity over the summer but frankly I couldn't wait to be running again.
I missed those early in morning runs in Richmond Park when I got to see the sun rising. I don’t listen to music anymore, instead I tune in with my surroundings. I missed the feeling when your lungs scream, legs hurt but you're still miles from home and have to push on and I love the endorphine I get when I complete a particularly long or hard run.
When a friend invited me to stay at his place in the Brecon Beacons for a couple of days of hiking, mountain biking and kayaking I jumped at the opportunity. On the last day I decided to head out for a run, just down by the canal and see how the hip feels. Passing the 5km mark I decided to turn back and was pleasantly surprised how relatively easy 10k was after months of no training. (hmmmm it's called fresh legs!) I carried on strengthening the hips the next few weeks but also got back into running. Nothing crazy just the 5-10km training runs.

I was so encouraged by the pain-free runs I signed up to the Suunto Run Wimbledon 10km race on Wimbledon Common on the 8th of October. This race is one of the Preservance Events and the man behind is runner Richard Xerri. (a member of the Wimbledon Hercules Running club, he has a 34min 10k and an impressive 2:46 marathon to his name) His other event, the Salomon Citytrail™ Richmond half marathon was my first ever half back in 2014 and Wimbledon Common being almost at my doorstap, it made sense to participate. Not to race though I promised myself, this would be a “let’s see where my fitness is” training run. Conveniently, my new running shoes didn’t turn up for the event so I ended up wearing an old and completely worn out Nike barefoot shoes. No grip at all, just to make things a little more interesting on the uneven terrain! :)
None of these mattered though. I was wearing a race number and standing on the grass amongst a large group of runners I couldn’t help but smile to myself. It was just after 4pm when the gun went off, unusual late afternoon start time for a running race (the marathon did finish in the dark) and off we went. The paths on Wimbledon Common are so much fun. There’s always a dip or a bump, a narrow path or a trickier section to navigate. The Common stretches out quite big, even though I trained there for years I still got to see some new parts during the race. The small hills suited me and I managed to overtake some men & women but the field, with 10k, half and marathon runners was too big to know where I was. After all, if I finish the race without any injuries/ embarrassing moments that’s a bonus.
Just don’t push it too hard I repeated. My legs were thinking differently. Every time I spotted a runner in front, I had to overtake. That joy of running has returned. Next thing I realised, I had done over 5km then suddenly when I looked at my watch, just over 8.5km. And the strangest thing happened. Running towards the finish line I didn’t want the race to end! I sprinted towards the clock and pressed stop on my watch. 10.55km in 48minutes. Okay, Paula Radcliff can relax I wasn’t going to beat her time but I did well I thought. Went to say hi to a friend at the Up&Running Store who had a stall just by the finish (thanks Ricky for the entry and the massive high five as I crossed the line!) and after a quick chat I changed back into a dry t-shirt, jumped on my hybrid bike and cycled home. I got a text message from a marshall to say I came third. I couldn’t believe it. And I probably shouldn’t have because the next morning I checked the results and found out I in fact was the fastest woman in the 10k race. I won a running race. Out of 68 ladies, I was the fastest and 18th overall. (the fastest man won it in 41minutes)
A couple of days later Richard email me to congratulate and asked me when I was available to collect my prize. I was in Switzerland with work at the time so he kindly agreed to drop it at the event’s partner, Up&Running on Upper Richmond Road.


With store manager Ricky at Up & Running Richmond

The title sponsor Suunto really made an effort. When I opened the box I was speechless. I was presented with Suunto’s latest watch, the beautiful Suunto Spartan Sport Sakura.
I wear Suunto for climbing and mountaineering expeditions (a specialised altimeter watch) and I know they make excellent products so I can’t wait to put the Spartan to the test. And who knows where our next journey will take us....


The Sunnto Spartan Sport
And the winner of the Revolve 6 hour race is…
19th September 2016
Tan lines slowly disappearing from my legs and arms and the Prudential Ride 100 (MILES) behind I needed a new challenge. I googled ‘ endurance cycling race UK’ and the first result was a race called Revolve 24 Brands Hatch in September. Endurance race tick, racing on a famous motorsport circuit tick. I signed up in mid August so four weeks to the race I knew training had to be all about spending hours upon hours in the saddle.

Another member from my cycling thought he would join the madness and signed up to the 6h race too. (and another club member turned up on the day) We drove down the for the 24hour start (we both wanted to hang out in the Paddock too!) Possibly not the best night sleep in a freezing tent but with the first light the sun came out too and the 4.2km circuit started drying up from the mega shower from the previous day & night.



Race started and classic Alex, I couldn’t clip in properly so found myself at the back of the pack before crossing the start line. Couple of laps later I managed to catch up and started overtaking the slower riders. I was pleased when I reached a 6h lady racer, just don’t come last I said to myself.
A lot of people asked me how I spent 6 hours. I guess the secret is to break it into smaller sections and focus on getting to certain points. For example, I only checked my watch for the time. Every hour I would reward myself with a piece of flapjack and energy bite and half an hour a couple of sips of water. When it was time to eat/ drink, I made sure I caught up and overtook the rider in front of me on a good section (uphill mainly) so I could gain a bit of advantage and kick back on the flat (which didn’t last too long).

A couple of things I will always remember:

A guy overtaking me on the inside on Surtees (a short sharp and sweet hill before Pilgrims Drop) and me not happy with that so I raced him to the top. I had to slow down to pick up my water bottle from a marshall that’s when I realised it was the 6 x Olympic Champion Jason Kenny. Where’s a photographer when you need one! ☺

Spending the last 5 -8 laps chatting to a guy who was racing the 24hour event. We talked about everything in life and we laughed, sweated and pushed hard as we crossed the Finish line together feeling ecstatic.

At this point the three of us from the triathlon club had no idea where we finished. You drive round and round the circuit, seeing people, passing them but you never really know who stopped to rest/ fuel(I didn’t, get in!) but we decided to stick around for the prize ceremony. I won the ladies 6-hour race and came 10th overall which I was very pleased for. There were some seriously strong male cyclists there!
Riding for 6 hours, in the sunshine on a circuit which has a phenomenal motor racing history and really experiencing those hills riding Rocket was an experience out of this world. Next year, I’m signing up to the 24hour race either solo or in a team. ( well, there is only one way to test endurance right?)

Super Summer
25th July 2016
E’tape du Tour – Col de la Joux Verte – Mont Ventoux – Alpe D’Huez in a week

As summer was approaching I planned for a different climbing experience but I simply can’t complain.
It all started when my Land Rover broke down half an hour down the M25 as we were driving towards Dover, the gateway of 2.5 weeks of fun in Switzerland in France. As we were being towed back to Wimbledon we wasted no time come up with a plan B.
We rebooked our ferry tickets for the night, had a couple of hours kip in the evening and drove straight down to Grachen in the Swiss Alps (near Zermatt).
My friend did the epic Zermatt ultra marathon and me still having a running injury, I opted for a partial course run which meant we run up (walked / crawled) upto Riffelberg 2585m together. To my friend’s delight, I suggested we rented mountain bikes the following day and boy we had some fun on the trails. You simply can’t get bored of the views of Matterhorn.



Swiss trip quickly over, we drove back to the UK and after a couple of days we were packing up again for a week in France.
Too many highlights to mention but probably the Etape du Tour was one of them. Despite the third climb, Col de La Ramaz was taken out of the route due to landslide, the sportif which started in Megeve and finished in Morzine was fantastic.
We were due to climb Mont Blanc a few days later (on our feet) but bad weather forced us (again) to come up with plan B. Map of France in one hand and accuweather in the other, we decided to head south and check out Mont Ventoux. We felt slightly silly turning up in Bedoin mid week expecting to find accommodation easily, not realising THE Tour was coming through 2 days!

At this point our adventure had been missing something… wild camping! Funnily enough, we both slept amazingly and I had absolutely blast riding up Ventoux the following morning.


Starting point in Bedoin. All smiles.

Fans already parked up all the way to the top, their cheering and clapping certainly gave me an extra little boost when needed. Nearing the top the wind picked up, so hard in fact that it blew me off going directly to the summit and forced me to ride around the edge and to the top. My friend failing to bring the car up due to heavy traffic at the bottom, I had to ride back down which due to the crazy wind was pretty eerie at times. Nevertheless, Mont Ventoux lived up to its’ name and I can’t wait to be back one day and ride up on different sides.


Mont Ventoux from the Summit

The weather on Mont Blanc was terrible so we decided to head for Alpe D’Huez for a last adventure of the trip. We found a cool (quite literally) campsite near the starting point and the following morning, in winter gear we headed up the 13.8km route navigating 21 hairpins.


One of the many switchbacks of Alpe D'Huez

I lost my friend at turn 13 if I remember well but after making it to the top and having turned around, he was still on his bike pushing it up hard so decided to turn around and summit with him again in the glorious sunshine.
What a finale to an incredible week, France you did not disappoint!
8 days at the High Altitude Training Centre, Iten
24th February 2016
We were half way through our 13km morning run on the dirt road when we met a group of Kenyans running the opposite way, on this section up the hill. They looked strong, determined and focused. I looked at my watch; we’ve only covered 5km and the sun was beating down already. It was day 5 of our 8-day stay at the High Altitude Training Club (HATC) in Iten, Kenya and thank god our body finally started adjusting to the altitude. Life in London seemed like a million miles away…
I was very jealous when my friend booked his trip last year but I had my eyes on a different price; it was all about getting myself up and down Aconcagua safe. However, a couple of days before his departure I felt the sudden urge to join him. This must have been my craziest last minute idea but four days later we were on our way to Iten.
After three flights and a long car journey we arrived at the training camp on a Friday night. Dinner had been already served for the athletes so we were told to wait in a different restaurant and quickly a plate of beef stew and pancakes turned up. We were shown to our room after food, a basic twin bed bedroom (sports camp style- neighbours both side) net around the bed and a small but clean bathroom with shower. It was after 10pm and the whole site was quiet so we quickly unpacked and settled in after a 27-hour journey.




The alarm went off at 6am the following morning but nothing could stop us from going out on the first run. We decided to stick to the dirt road running parallel to the main road to Eldoret, which was recommended by the security guard. We soon realised this was another “highway” and we were constantly covered by clay coloured dirt as motorcyclists, cars and trucks passed us. Must admit, this 7km run was pretty tough; heart was throbbing through our chest and lungs were pretty much at their capacity. It’s not just the long journey to this beautiful part of the world that take its’ toll but the 2500m elevation combined with never ending and rolling hills.



We survived though and turned up for breakfast. My mate decided to head back on the road after lunch meanwhile I opted for a swim at the club’s 25m pool. I was genuinely looking forward to get some swimming training done, until the top of my toes touched the water. It was frekkin’ cold! With a full swimming cap and goggles on it was too late to pretend I only came down to chill out by the poolside so had to brave the freezing cold water and get on with the swim training.



Besides the pool, HATC also has a large gym and a separate stretch area where exercise classes take place three times a week. Breakfast, lunch and dinner served on site for the hungry athletes and you can munch on freshly baked rolls with jam in the afternoon.

We heard there was a half marathon happening in Eldoret on Sunday so after a pre-breakfast run and some food we headed out to watch the Kenyans flying over a 3km lap seven times in about 63minutes in the punishing heat. To say they are fast is an understatement. They are bloody fast. We noticed apart from their height, their body shape was very similar. Lean overall, strong shoulders, straight bag, high knees and heels, thin but muscly legs. Some landing on their heels, some forefoot runners and a lot of drive coming from the arms. Their feet barely touched the ground and we had to listen and watch carefully to hear them running. We were so inspired by the race, after lunch we went out on another run trying to copy their moves. With not much success. ☺ At least I managed to get another swim session in that afternoon!








Monday was business as usual. We ran to the Keiro View point where we spent a good hour waiting for and photographing the sun rising over the Rift Valley. Such a beautiful sight and an enriching experience.



We ran back to HATC for breakfast and had a nice long sleep (Kenyan style!) Before lunch we squeezed in a spin session and stretching then after lunch my friend explored the old athletics track and went back to the pool for my usual 1km arctic swim.

My mate insisted we should go back to the old track Tuesday morning so we headed out onto the dirt road after a rather delicious avocado& egg breakfast. The sun was already up and strong around 9.30am as we watched the elites (Team GB, Turkish athletic team, pro Kenyans) training. Carefully waited until breakfast was digested and decided it was our time to test out the track. While he was roaming around 400 meters I opted for stairs running up & down the stadium and when the track was much quieter I ventured onto it too. There was something very authentic, old school and real about this place.






After lunch it was relax then gym time; more spinning and more running! Since it was pancake Tuesday, we treated ourselves to a meal in the club next door with a glass of red (purely for medicinal purposes..)

Wednesday was our half way point and we had already built up strength, felt much better on the hills and our bodies adapted to the high altitude. It was the day we did a 13km run before breakfast. Lovely quiet path, running past schools, children shouting “HihowareyouIamfiiiiine!” and some beautiful farmlands.



We had some rest after breakfast then lunch then my friend had a sport massage by a guy called Hillary (or brutal but very good Hilary) who apparently massed the likes of Mo. If it’s good enough for Mo! I gymmed it with the usual hour long rolling hills spin bike ride which was followed by a 1km swim in the still bloody cold pool. The HATC dinner was fish so we thought we’d treat ourselves to a meal next door (and while we were there somehow two glasses of wine appeared on our table, mystery).

Thursday ended up being half a rest day because when we got to the old running track in the morning and got an old truck tyre out to pull it, the heavens opened and everyone run for shelter. It didn’t look like it was going to stop se we headed back to HATC and called it a morning. Tim had a one on one session with a Kenyan coach and at 5pm we joined some HATC runners on their 5pm leg stretcher. There was a older guy John who was in a pretty good nick and an America girl with a 2:28 marathon to her name. We were surrounded by amazing athletes and super human beings, motivation and inspirations was always around.

We had a fab Friday morning run to a nearby pond. We found this part of Kenya being wonderfully lush!




Instead of relaxing after brekkie we decided to hail a matatu (Kenyan taxi= old minibus for about 6 people that fit it an least double that) then we got off at the junctions and hopped on a motorbike towards the Giraffe Park. The place has 15 giraffes and was opened about 15 years ago to save animals from around the world. We were told that due to the sheer size of the site, it can certainly accommodate a lot more giraffes. They are well looked after whilst ensuring a wild but safe environment. Visitors entry fee (5000 Kenyan schillings) pay for the vet to fly over in case of emergency or clearing traps. Not having time in our schedule to do a safari, we were so pleased to have the opportunity to visit that fantastic place.





Since the end of the trip was sadly in sight, we ran down to the new track late afternoon to have some fun sessions. We were the only runners there at the time and with the sun setting in the background we pulled in some fast 100m lap times although Bolt has nothing to worry about.





The big day has arrived, our last full day at the HATC. After breakfast we waited for our Kenyan pacer Ruben by the gate who turned up at 9am clearly very hungry and thirsty. Found out he ad already done 20km that morning. Ruben very kindly agreed to run with two mazungos to the stunning Torok waterfalls, with our favourite driver Jeff following. I was the support crew for the first 10km giving the boys water and feeding them then joined the last 8km to the falls. As soon as we got there about 15 children turned up showing us the way through the farms and bushed to the viewpoint. Words can’t describe what an incredible site laid in front of us. The Rift Valley, a 6000km long trench that runs through from north to south of Kenya. We only had a tiny part of it in front of us but what a magical view.



After some pictures we headed back to the training camp and to top the day I had my last spinning and swimming sessions. The afternoon was spent by the poolside already making plans of when we’d return.



We departed for home on Sunday with wet eyes and big smiles after saying goodbye to all the wonderful people we met and looked after us while we stayed at the HATC. It’s been almost a week since we left but there hasn’t been a moment I didn’t wish we were still there. I think I left a piece of my heart in Iten..

And the smile is back on the face
26th January 2016
By now I’ve learnt that after each expedition I need to give my body some time to recover. Usually I am so shattered from the climb and lack of food on the mountain that once I’ve landed and sorted out my gear, washed my expedition clothes I hit the bed and sleep for days. It’s not just the muscles that need healing time, but usually the blistered feet, cold hands and wind swept skin too. I also noticed spending days on hard terrain carrying weight somehow aggravates my teeth and this time I ended up in the emergency dentist’s chair with an infection on my gum the day after I got back. Two weeks on antibiotics and painkillers can also make you feel pretty tired and dizzy so I wanted to be extra careful easing back into exercising.

Probably took me a good week after getting back from Aconcagua to start eating properly again, which is not unusual at all. You live on cardboard food for long enough for your body to forget what real food tasted like. I am also aware that having suffered with anorexia and bulimia when I was young, I have to look after myself even when the thought of eating my favourite food makes me sick. BUT it’s all temporarily and I call it ‘post-expedition trauma on the body’. I know it will pass and getting back to my general routine of exercising and eating healthy food three times a day will help me to build up appetite again.

I threw myself back into exercising, starting with a short run 10 days after getting home and a double spin class a few days later. Having just recovered from a hamstring injury, I thought a ‘building it up again’ approach is sensible. (until you start getting messages about going out for 100+km bike rides!) I was pleased to see that my favourite swimming pool was still there where I had left it a month ago ☺ and with a half ironman distance triathlon booked in the diary, I’m very keen to work on the techniques in the pool to cause less embarrassments for my parents when they try to photograph their daughter getting (crawling) out of the lake with the last pink swim cap on this May.

What I love most about this easing back into exercises period is that there are no rules. Do you fancy just swimming this week or if the weather is crap attend spin classes? How far to run, flat or hills? Who cares! There will be times soon, closer to the triathlon event when I have to be disciplined and follow a more strict training routine but as for now I just want to go out and enjoy whatever I do.



With this in mind, when my friend Tim and I were chatting about running last week, we decided to head to Richmond Park with our off-road shoes on. That run on Sunday, must have been the most pleasurable run I’ve ever done. The freedom of taking any trails, roaming past giant stags, the “come on let’s push our heart rate up a bit” on the hills and the stunning, stunning views in Richmond Park were just what the doctor ordered.
I encourage anyone to put a pair of running shoes on and go out to discover. Because there’s so much more to running..
Aconcagua
12th January 2016
The noise of the tent’s cheap nylon wildly flapping right by my head woke up me. Weather forecast was right; it has been a windy night at Camp Colera, 6000m. I am buried deep into my sleeping bag, it is warm and cosy. I check my watch, 10 minutes after 4am. If we want to give the summit a shot, and this is our one and only chance, I have to move my body, unzip the bag and start getting ready.
I turn around to wake up my guide, the two of us and our bags squeezed into this tiny tent but at the moment our accommodation keeps us out of the elements and I’m grateful for it. Mauricio gets up and starts boiling water with the melted snow whilst I half zip the bag and lift myself up to seated position. Everything is within an arm-length away so I start packing the rucksack with essential summit and survival gear. I am going to be wearing all my clothes I brought up to this camp but will have to carry glacier glasses, goggles, another hat, another pair of gloves with me. One litre of hot juice and a thermos of hot tea along with some gels, candy and energy bars is all I’ll be eating in the next 10-15hours. But hearing the sound of the wind and feeling it on my shivering body now outside the sleeping bag, I am not at all convinced it is a good day to leave the tent and attack the summit. My guide opens the front door of the tent and peaks out. I can see a number of people outside fully dressed but “Nobody has left yet” he assures me.

We arrived at Camp Colera the day before, on the 1st of January 2016. There was another large team, an Argentinian company getting there the same day as us and we spotted a few more other tents. Where are all the other teams?


(Picture: sunsets from the Plaza Argentinas 4200m Base Camp were incredible)

Day 1, December 22 National Park entrance to Pampa de Lenas 2800m
Mauricio my guide and I were dropped off by the National Park entrance this morning and after a quick stamp on my permit and chit chat with the ranger we grabbed our numbered rubbish bags and set off on an easy hike through the Vacas valley. It was a hot day but had to cover up due to the strength of the sun and the dust. The scenery didn't change much..hills rolling in the far distance on both sides, moor to fill up the space between the path and the hills and a trail of dust floating along the route. They call it the “rustic” side, I see why. It was a monotone walk until we hit a river crossing.. My guide walked up and down not finding anywhere to cross, I spotted a large rock upstream, dropped my bag and flew onto the rock. Chucked my poles across and with another Cirque du Soleil movement I was on the other side. Sometimes little excitements can make your day, well, no doubt there will be more thrilling moments waiting ahead of us..

Day 4, 25 December Base Camp Plaza Argentinas 4200m
Arriving at Base Camp yesterday was a relief. It means the dusty days are over from now on we must wear double/triple boots and crampons heading up.
Having a day off on Christmas Day is great but there's not an awful lot do around here. It’s only my guide and me at the local company’s tent in BC at the moment, which is actually nice, certainly quiet. After breakfast I hiked back to the camp entrance with a gift box from my friend Nick. I was really excited to see what this surprise parcel contained! When I grabbed the box I could hear Nick's voice telling me to stop faffing with the wrapping paper! Whilst listening to cheesy xmas tunes on my Ipod, I picked up the first prezzie from the top; a xmas card with a very lovely message. It melted my heart and was quite close to welling up when I picked up the print outs underneath, full of funny stories and jokes. And buried under the paper I found not one but at least 30 little funny gifts from a mini bottle of JD, party crackers, mini playing cards to Christmas scratch cards (would have been nice to win..) all carefully sticky taped and placed like a jigsaw puzzle (oh I got some of those as well) so every item would stay in place. (Thanks Nick!) After consuming everything in the box that was made of chocolate, I had a little read in the sun (One man’s Everest by Kenton Cool, awesome read!) and asked my guide if he fancied a little stroll. He said it was a day off and he wanted to rest so I filled up my water bottle and hiked up to the snow line towards Camp 1. Took it very easy and only ascended a hundred vertical meters, better play it safe on my own. Stayed up there for a bit to take some photos and headed back to BC for lunch thinking this is all going to get hard from here.


(Pictures: the penitentes used to be over 3m tall)

Day 8, 29 December Camp 1
“Morning guys, breakfast time” I heard the familiar voice. Opened my eyes and was about to unzip my tent door when I realised the call wasn’t for me. It was someone who guided me up another mountain a year ago. My breakfast was much less appetising than their scrambled eggs from the frying pen. I had camping food for breakfast and dinner since leaving BC until we get to BC on the other side. According to the weather updates we received today, summit day (when the wind is less than 75km/h) has moved forward and is now on the 1st or the 2nd. Very windy already, don’t remember wearing my big down jacket in the tent even in Antarctica! Big day tomorrow, moving to Camp 3.


(Picture 1&2: Camp1, 3: lunch break on the way to Camp 3)

Day 10, 31 December Camp 3

We moved to Camp 3 yesterday skipping carrying. Windy doesn't quite describe the journey; we hiked like a brunch of drunks heading home from the pub on a Friday night. We eventually made it to camp and felt really good so Mauri and I made a plan to go up to Camp Colera to acclimatise today. We are moving there tomorrow to hopefully make the most of the only weather day on the 2nd, we haven't received the weather forecast yet but the other teams are doing the same. Very much doubt I'll be able to stay up till midnight tonight so Happy New Year to all! ☺


(Picture: Camp 3 from up and above)


“Have you got everything you need from inside?” asked my guide. We had to collapse the tent before leaving for the summit; the wind took 19 tents in previous season from this camp. We couldn’t risk loosing our only shelter.
Around 6.45am we set off. It was still dark but we didn’t need a headlamp, with some luck daylight would break shortly and the sun would come up and warm our backs. We headed up towards Rocas Blancas (White Rocks) where we decided to have a quick break then moved towards Black Rocks. Reaching the Independencia hut at 6380m was a huge relief; I knew we’d have a long break there. I crawled into the roofless wobbly hut pushing my backpack inside and sat on a pillar and leaned back. This is tough I thought and we were sooo far from the top. Must have rested there for a good 20minutes or even more when we decided to push on. Fitted our crampons on and continued our long climb. By now we met at least 6-8 people who turned around, they were from the Argentinian company. No sign of anyone else on the mountain.


(Picture: Aconcagua shadow on summit morning)

There’s a long dragging path up towards La Cueva (The Cave) at 6650m. All I remember is that we passed two guys, one looked like a guide and one a client and they were going no further. Every step was heavy footed and with every breath I had access to less and less oxygen. It would be so easy to stop and call it a day, but we made it this far in these conditions with all the crap I had to go through. I am not going to stop. I turned all my anger into energy and kept pushing on. It was an eternity but we finally got to the Cave. We had another long rest here, around 3pm. This is where we met an Argentinian guide and his client, the very few who summited that day. My guide had a chat with him and I also congratulated but when I sat down and turn around I could hardly believe my eyes. The sharp and snowy peaks of the Andes all laid at my feet. I was higher than all these majestic mountains (except one of course behind me) How very beautiful. Grabbed my camera to take some photos when Mauricio asked me to get the move on. We were quite late now and the snowstorm was lurking around the peak.
“One more push Ale, just one more push and we are on the top”
“Let’s go Mauri and get the job done”
This last section, weirdly, reminded me of most of the Denali climb. A snowy and steep face requiring attention and focus but I truly enjoyed this section. I was right behind my guide the whole time buzzing about the prospect of reaching the summit of Aconcagua. And at 5.15pm local time, we did reach the summit of this incredible place. 6962m. The 360 degree view from the top was splendid. The winds were high so we didn’t stay there for long, summit pictures, hugs and patting on the shoulder. We MADE IT!


(Picture 1: Summit 5.15pm 2nd of January 2016, 2: view from the top, weather's closing in, 3: mules carrying expedition load, 4: last day, walking off the mountain)
An honest confession about injury
04th October 2015
Just reaching mile 9. Easy-peasy so far. It is a beautiful morning; crispy air, sun shining and I’m still buzzing from racing the Ironman 70.3 in Zell Am See, Austria the week before.
I’m back in the UK for about five days, already run a half marathon distance training two days before this race so I know legs are doing all right.
I want to beat my previous half marathon times, 2 hours. Even if I just come in at 1h 59 minutes. Don’t care, I want to know that I can do it before rolling down the summer season shutter. This is the Richmond half marathon and I'm loving every minute of it.

Hang on.. there’s something wrong.. Why is my pelvis in so much pain? How do I stop it? Well, I can’t so I carry on. Soon the pain is in my right groin too moving towards the leg. And very soon, my right leg feels very heavy. I do a body check and realise it’s a pain I never experienced before. But I’m doing so well in this race and the mile signs disappear one after another. Only a few to go anyway so I keep on running!


[Sunday 6 September 2015 , Richmond half marathon]

I’m on crutches for days after the half marathon, but it was worth it I tell everyone! I did it in 1h 46min, I’d do it again! Ahh the pain? I’m sure it will go.
Three weeks later the physio tells me I have torn my hamstring and my quad muscles at a number of places. She digs her elbow deep into the tear and goes in deeper when I moan loudly. I’m in agony.

4 weeks today since the race where I injured myself. 4 weeks of constant pain, hamstring and glute strengthening, guessing, hoping (and hopping) and waiting.
The first week was bearable because I didn’t realise how bad the injury was.
Second week it hit home. It was now clear another week would pass without cycling or running.
And the third week, well, it was hell. My body and mind were longing after a decent workout but I knew deep inside I’d only make things worse. I had tears in my eyes every time I got on the bus passing happy cyclists and runners. Another lovely and dry day, instead of riding my bike to work I’m sat on the bus. I told myself it was the last week to travel to work on public transport because I have to. Sadly it wasn’t.

The main battle however is to convince myself that it is OK to take some time off. I’ve had a busy summer for sure and since I have over two months till the Aconcagua expedition I know I can build up the muscles again. But why am I in this gloomy, dark place?
Body is suffering too. Having taken all the adrenalin and endorphin away, it's happy when we exercise in the bedroom or go for a swim but I can hear it talking to me.. "is that all you're going to do to me" and my brain joins in "are we seriously going to bed without feeling completely exhausted physically?" So I try to smash my lap times in the swimming pool. It doesn't satisfy me as much as probably the Ham Lake swim race would have earlier today (enjoyed being a support crew though) but it takes the edge off and keeps me focused.

I wanted to share my story with you because there must be others out there who experienced the injury blues. You’re certainly not the only one! One thing is certain, it will pass. May take longer than we think but if we ever want to do a PB, get back on the bike we need to wait it out. And make sure what we do in the meantime is helping the recovery. So here’s a list of how I’m surviving ☺

- books - take it to work with me every day. Since the injury I’ve read eight to be precise and every single one gave me something. A running book gave ideas, a good crime was entertaining. Anything to temporary forget about the injury right?
- friends – spent so much time training for various things in the last two years but luckily a couple of friends stuck with me during the rough times. I thoroughly enjoy my extra time now I can spend with great people and write to my family more often.
- exercises: a good friend of mine once told me when I had the IT band problem that I should focus on things I CAN do. How true. What’s the point of pulling myself down into this deep, bottomless crevasse when I can still do things? And I don’t have to think hard; my swimming certainly needs improving so I go to the pool twice a week. And I religiously do the hamstring and glute strengthening.. Found a youtube video called – ‘How to get Victoria Angels legs’ I pick the exercises I can do and crack on with it. If it works for the ‘Angels’ will do for me I convince myself hah!
- experiment with healthy recipes: I had no time to be creative in the kitchen during the hard core training period. Now I have time to play around with ingredients. Make a healthy dish you haven’t tried before or a cheeky chocolate brownie with no sugar, you’ll love it. Note to self, don’t burn the house down.
- plan a race/ event WELL ahead: having something coming up can give you such a boost during the recovery. Ok you may not be able to go out and do your usual morning run but you can concentrate on some core work? Upper body strengthening? Everything helps and you’ll be surprised how much your fitness will improve when you’re fully recovered. It also helps mentally to focus on and look forward to.


If you want to drop me a line and share you story or have any tips how to conquer the injury blues feel free to drop me a line.
Ironman 70.3 Zell am See 29 Aug
02nd September 2015
Registering for a half ironman without any previous triathlon experience and the lack of ability to swim might have been a silly thing to do but I actually quite enjoy the thrill of throwing myself into the completely unknown. Opportunities to challenge our bodies in various events are everywhere, just need to click on that registration button.
Must admit there was another reason I fancied taking part in the Zell Am See 70.3 Ironman on Saturday 29 August. I hadn’t seen my family for almost a year and a half and this race weekend provided a perfect excuse to get the family together in a lovely chalet in the Austrian Alps.
Since I started the ‘7 summits’ project in April last year, my life had been revolving around the mountains; making money to pay for the expeditions, training, climbing, repeat. To test my legs I did two half marathons earlier this year, surely the next step is to swim 2km, cycle 90km and run a half marathon in one go ☺

Training for the 70.3 has been rather interesting and eventful. First job was to learn how to swim. I managed to squeeze in two coached sessions with a swimming instructor in an 18m indoor pool before heading off to Denali where I spent almost the entire month of June.
Thomas asked me to show him my front crawl then when I swam back he said; ok we’re going to have to start from scratch. We had another two sessions after the climb then he said I was ready for a 90m outdoor pool, the famous Tooting Lido. Looking back not sure I was! ☺
First session was a disaster. My wetsuit didn’t fit properly and I had a mild panic attack in the pool. Everything was alien. Next time I felt a bit more confident so I signed up to do a swim relay race with the Wimbledon Windmilers at Ham Lake. Trust me when I say I had no idea the reason I was so slow because I was literally crawling in the water like a dog with my legs instead of kicking from the hips. Not to worry, I learnt that from a youtube video a week before the half Ironman (copying the guy from the video laying on my flatmate’s exercise pad). Bring on the 2km lake swim.

I knew cycling 90km wouldn’t be an issue; after having tackled the hills of the Etape du Tour, Surrey and commuting to Richmond through the park on the hybrid, a flat bike course in Austria was going to be a piece of cake. Until I found out the bike course was rated 3/5 Ironman standards. Oh even better, loving the mountains don’t we Rocket!

So far so good preparation wise except that during the previous two half marathons I ran, I couldn’t break 2 hours on fresh legs. I was careful not to combine all three disciples in the training but had to get the legs used to the run after the bike. As often as I could I dropped the bike as soon as I got home after work, changed shoes and headed out for a run. I’ve been building up the running distance very carefully since I had the pain in my knee (which turned out to be an IT band related issue) What would happen on race day though I had no idea and it was approaching pretty fast…

We left London at 5pm after work on Wednesday and arrived at a ‘luxury campsite’ (these two words shouldn’t be used together, you still sleep in your own pop up tent..) at 3pm on Thursday. My parents arrived on Friday and we all moved into a lovely Austrian style hous. Went back to the transition area Friday afternoon to leave Rocket there and sort out the transition bags. I wouldn’t see the bike and the bags until the following morning before the race.
We had early dinner that day and a reasonably early night, the alarm went off at 4am.

We dropped the cars at the nearest official car park and made our way to the start. Said bye to my family and walked into the bike transition area around 5.30am.
It was still pitch dark but the football field size area was lit up. Enjoy the cool and fresh morning air I thought, soon it would be over 30C. Went to check my bike tyres and the transitions bags before putting on my wetsuit. Decided not to warm up in the lake, didn’t fancy standing around cold and drenched until the 6.45am start.



Entered the lake of Zell am See with hundreds of other women and suddenly excitement took over, there’s no turning back now.
Our wave had a false start, which didn’t help the nervous first timers including myself. We were stopped at the first buoy and sent back to the start. After the sound of the horn off we went again. Since our wave was now slightly delayed the following wave of men quickly caught up with us and the fistfight started. Just when I finally got my technique and breathing right, someone either grabbed my ankles or kicked me in the ribs or the face. Every now and then I tilted my head slightly back to see if there were any more pink cap swimmers behind me and luckily there were; good sign, I wasn’t last! When I exited the water I heard my dad shouting my name so I threw a big smile and a wave to him and started running down the transition lane unzipping my wetsuit.



Grabbed my bag, dried my feet and jumped into the bike shoes. Rocket was where I left him and soon we were on our way to ride the 90.1km bike course.
The first 20km were glorious. Smooth and wide roads, every cyclists dream. As much as I enjoyed the buzz of the swim start and cheering of the crowd, it was great to get on the road with Rocket and do what we love. After 20km I could see some triathlon bikes slowing down slightly, sign of the first serious incline. Sometimes I had to remind myself I was racing; the forest, waterfalls, mountains surrounding me made this course a dream place to cycle. Challenging, tough in the heat but extremely enjoyable. When we cycled past some beautiful Bavarian houses along the route, locals were out on their balcony and street cheering us on. After the first dink station which I thought was the top of the hill a guy cycled past me and said: “let the party begin”. Looked up and saw what he meant. This is where the steep section started! By now I saw both men and women walking with their bikes but the challenge was too sweet, Etape du Tour again!
I could hear my heart pounding and feel sweat drops running down my tights.. Then suddenly, a guy broke the sound of the cyclists heavy breathing by the road shouted in every language he could speak that there were 50meters until downhill! We were at 1280m and the only way was down, beautiful let’s flush those legs!
I mentioned in previous blogs that my descending is far from perfect and I still find cornering scary and fast cyclists shooting by me forcing me off my racing lane. The more I do it the more confidence I gained and I realised I was far less stiff on the bike this time. Until an ambulance roomed past me and around the next bend I saw a poor female triathlete was being pulled out of the drop just after a 90 degree corner. It must have hurt because her arms and shoulder were already in bandage. Very unfortunate, it can happen to anyone and I hope she’s ok and recovered. Despite the fact Rocket is not a tri bike we thoroughly enjoyed the next section, a stretch of flat roads where I managed to push a little bit more. It was such a lifting moment when I shot past my friend and parents, all cheering and shouting encouraging and sweet things. Put a huge smile on my face and was ready to tackle the last 20km or so.
Looking back at the bike section, I don’t think I could have put much more into it with Rocket, we both raced with everything we had. My strength on the bike was most noticeable on the hills where I kept overtaking not just single but groups of athletes at once and hardly felt it.

I was almost looking forward to getting off the bike (I must try chamois cream one day!) change shoes and start the run. Again my best friend and family were there to cheer me on which gave me a huge amount of boost. That was the beginning of the 21km run but I knew they would all be there at the finish.
Lack of experience in triathlons was showing now, wasn’t sure just how hard I could push myself. Last thing I wanted was to burn myself and not being able to finish after a long day of racing. I didn’t want to have a running watch so kept comparing my pace to other runners. A girl called Mel left the transition area just before I did so I thought I could stick to her. The run course was hot but stunning. The path followed the lake then curved into Zell am See then out back onto the path to the other side of the lake then all the way back, and the same route one more time.



Lost Mel the second time at the turn around point, time to find a slightly faster runner. At no point I felt weak but picking up the pace could have been a mistake. I ended up running a time I did at the previous two half marathons, definitely room for improvement but I was pleased for not stopping once. The crowd went crazy every time someone turned onto the finish line; for about 200 meters people shouting and screaming both sides. My friend spotted me just before and I gave him a fist pump wave and mom and dad were up near the finish taking pictures and me screaming how much they loved me from the top of their voice.



What an incredible day.
This race also marked the end of a fantastic summer filled with great challenges. From next week I’ll start training for the Aconcagua climb (Dec 15 - Jan 16) and who knows, might just accidentally register for another half Ironman ;)

Prudential Ride London 100
07th August 2015
Exactly a year ago, I was watching those crazy cyclists shooting past the gallery in Wimbledon village in the pouring rain. I thought they were mad. Doing a 100 mile bike ride on a day like that? What’s the big fuss?
I’m talking about the Prudential Ride London Surrey 100. Those of you who don’t know why this route is so special, very simple. This event is a lasting legacy of the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic games. Amateur riders like myself get to cycle on closed roads (no cars, no traffic, no lights), same road as the professionals for a hundred miles from central London to Surrey and back.
I’ve just found my registration form, applied for a place at the end of August last year. I hadn’t even had a road bike back then so no idea what I was thinking. Anyway, didn’t get a place through the ballot and my charity b-eat weren’t involved so I gave up on the idea. Until I got an email from the organisers in March, during a holiday to say there was a charity looking for riders. The amount I had to raise did seem realistic and after all it’s for a good cause so I hit the register button. With the help of my amazing friends I managed to hit the required target by June so all I had to was keep my fingers crossed for good weather.
This event was always going to be a fun, getting more miles in the legs sort of ride. After having climbed Denali successfully in June, finishing stage 19 of the Tour de France in July, all I was hoping was to cross the Ride 100 finish sign and not to come last. I’ve never cycled this distance before so I couldn’t even give an idea to my friends when I’d be crossing certain points!
There were over 25,000 riders gathering on Sunday the 7th of August at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Despite being there on my own, the atmosphere as we were edging towards the start line was fantastic. Last bike check (too late Alex too bloody late!) and at 7.10am I rolled out with hundreds of others from my pen, blue M.
Straight away after the start I realised adjusting my right shoe cleats the night before and not practising to clip in was a rockie mistake and had to ride 2.5 miles with my left foot clipped in, right desperately trying to get itself into place. Magic moment after a sweaty start, both clipped in I was back in the game. Quite a bizarre experience cycling past places like Knightsbridge, Selfridges where on a usual day you can hardly move from the traffic yet last Sunday it was just us, cyclists on the road pedalling fast and loving every minute.
At mile 20 we were in Richmond Park, I looked at my watch and I did an hour. This point I was really hoping that the field would thin out and I could ride at my own pace but I’m sure all the other 25,000 cyclists thought the same. Cycling through the park was fantastic, it’s where I train quite a bit (both cycling and running) and I ride through it almost every day to work.
Next thing I knew we were getting into the beautiful countryside Surrey; cute villages, sheep munching away on nearby hills, some smooth, some not so smooth roads. After a couple of hours of riding, I was excited to get to the real hills and tackle them.
Leith Hill was first which I found quite easy and actually enjoyable, Surrey’s highest point. The descent, as I mentioned in my Etape du Tour blog was going to be a challenge especially surrounded by so many (so and fast) riders. The opposite happened and I was flying downhill. Didn’t tense up, no teeth gritting no handlebar crunching. Couldn’t wait to arrive at the bottom of Box Hill, where I had my very first sportive last year, ‘Legs if steel’. I’ve been back a few times since and loved it. It’s such a stunning ride up on resurfaced roads and four hairpins. No back pain this point and I felt very strong.
Shouted at one of the marshals asking where the next feed station was (hadn't stopped for a break at this point) and found out there was a water station coming up, food was a lot further ahead. Did a water bottle check, all fine so I carried on.
Of course I missed the third and last feed station. I didn’t really want to stop anyway but how very typical! At mile 82 both water bottles were empty so I stopped briefly to fill one up with water, other with electrolytes, quick pee and back on the road.
Psychologically I knew the rest of the ride was going to be even more fun as we were getting close to Kingston, again roads I know quite well. I particularly enjoyed cycling through Raynes Park and Wimbledon (right past my flat) then up Wimbledon Hill, down Parkside then Putney. I was psyched as my american buddies say!
Crossing Putney Bridge meant one thing; the finish was at touching distance. This is when I looked at my wristwatch and thought I might be able to come under 5h 30mins. No malfunctions, punctures or excruciating back pain so I decided to give it a big last push and pedalled as fast as I could down by the Thames.
I remember cycling for about 10minutes thinking why it suddenly got a bit hard. No one came past me for a while and it felt like I was pulling a ton behind me. I turned back and saw about six seven drafting behind me. Then finally a guy pulls up next to me and thanks me for the speedy ride and apologised for the ‘train’.
It wasn’t a race I kept telling myself, don’t get upset instead I felt quite flattered!
Finishing at The Mall was just epic. I looked at my watch and knew I did a decent time. I called my friend Nick who was going to pick me up, he hadn’t even left Wimbledon thinking I was going to be another couple of hours, told him not to venture into central London and twenty minutes later I was on the tube on my way home with Rocket and the a finisher medal.
Later that day (after some pizza of course) found out I did it in 5:19:47 which I think places me in the top 10% of the women. If I’m lucky enough to ride it again next my goal is to come under 5hours and have as much fun as I did.
I would like to say a big thank you to all my friends who chipped in, you made it possible for me to get to start line. Love you guys, you were in my heart and thoughts all day.
Alex
X


[the look on my face when I saw my finishing time..]
Stage 19, L’Etape du Tour Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne to La Toussuire, Sunday 19 July
21st July 2015
When I read the big yellow sign by the side of the road saying “Even Contador’s legs are hurting” I had to chuckle. This was one of the motivational messages the Etape du Tour organisers came up with to get the riders push through the 6.5 - 10% climbs.

In numbers:
140km
4,609 meters of climbs
4 challenging mountains
15,000 riders

As you will see on Friday the 24th of July when the Tour de France riders race there, this is a stunning but brutal stage in the French Alps. Did I know this when I bought a ticket in January? Nope. ☺

I also didn’t know how much time I could spend in France après the Denali climb when I started arranging flights etc so decided to keep it a short flying trip.
At 5.30am on Saturday bike in the box, gels piled in my hold luggage and with a friend, we headed to Gatwick to fly to Geneva. Things went pretty smoothly until we got into heavy traffic in the rental car on our way to the race village at the finish line in La Toussuire but fear not we tucked into our pre-made power pasta dish my friend made the night before. Getting to village was quite exciting; we had to drive up the last hill I was going to do the day after on bike. Surely it’s a different route up?!
Just when we got there and parked the car, heavens opened and started chucking down. Still had to register, get my race pack and put the bike together and once we were sorted we didn’t hang around for too long, still had a 40min ride to find the chalet I booked. I was quite restless that night and only slept a couple of hours but Sunday morning I felt fresh like a daisy!

My starting time was 7.56am but wanted to make sure I was there as early as I could to find a decent spot in the pen. Thought the organisers did a great job letting 15,000 cyclists safely through the start!
There wasn’t much time to warm up the legs before Col de Chaussy, almost straight into (well up on) hill number one, a 15.4km climb with average gradient at 6.3%. Despite a lower back pain which developed half way up I really enjoyed the first challenge and couldn’t wait for the sprint, this also meant first climb and descent out of the way. Riding downhill felt it was never going to end but I guess if you cycle up a hill there’s only one way down!
After a 30km flat-ish part the route started curling up again, through cute little villages first. I asked for the time from a fellow rider who admitted he came back the third time to conquer Col du Glandon and Col de la Crox de Fer, the two peaks latter at 2067m. This was also roughly the time when rain was due but somehow the temperature was getting higher and the sky bluer. It was obvious then we were going to have a fab day. It helped mentally as I prepared for rain and wet roads (the weather forecast predicted heavy rain and thunderstorms even a day before!) I needed to think positively as my back was giving me a pretty hard time during this climb. I had no chance but to get off the bike and stretch my back, jump back on the bike and continue up the hill. I started seeing riders walking by the side of the road with their machines and I knew I would only do that if I was really very desperate. And then suddenly, about 5km from the top my bike felt as light as a feather, back pain gone and legs went into racing mode. I got to the top of both Glandon and Crox de Fer sprinting on the climb overtaking bunch of riders. Absolutely loved it.


rolling into the feed station, top of Col de Crox de Fer 2067m

A very long and technical downhill followed where I am not very confident (always something to improve on) but managed it without falling off the side or riding into others in one of the millions of hairpins.
We had another climb to push up to called Col Mollard, at the top fresh bottled water was waiting for the half cooked and thirsty riders. I grabbed my GPS from the front of the bike and went to fill up my water bottles, not wanting to waste time I got back in the sadly and continued riding, another descent. I heard a cracking noise and when I looked down at the handlebar about 10 minutes later I noticed I forgot to put my tracker back. Oh, so that was perhaps the crunchy noise, oops!! This downhill section went past the chalet I stayed at, must admit I was rather tempted to stop and run in to pick up some painkillers!
Still going downhill, arms stiff, toes numb I knew the next section would be the route we drove on out and into Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne. Windy, technical, scary but stunningly beautiful.. I was pleased to see the 50KM to FINISH sign along with other messages like ‘What is 1km in a lifetime” or “Men play rugby, gods cycle”.
And here we go, the last climb. 18km long, from S-J-d-M to La Toussuire, physically and mentally challenging. Weirdly, my legs were feeling great, it was my back that was giving me grief.
At the bottom of this climb I decided to break it down into 6 stops so I can get off the bike and stretch but ended up stopping once or twice only. When I spotted the sign for 3km to the finish, like a madwoman I started sprinting, it just felt natural and amazing to finish strong.
In 2012 Froome famously attacked Wiggins on this climb, well 'attack' is how the media described it, Froome was clearly the stronger climber.
Having done one stage of the Tour, hats off to the Tour riders!



Pasta party was next on the menu before driving back to the chalet where we cracked open a bottle of champagne, went out for late dinner and crashed in bed after 1am. Flew back the following morning, wish I stayed for a few more days to watch the pros!

My friend asked me straight after the ride if I would do it again. Ask me in a week I said, and I will say yes!
Climbing Denali / Mt. McKinley, la Preparation
01st July 2015
In January this year I knew I had to make up my mind and decide which company I wanted to climb with and book it as all groups were filling up quickly. I had four months to train, which seemed long at the time.

To keep myself busy in the meantime I entered various half marathons and a 10K to keep the legs warm. My enthusiasm for running was tested in early February when I started developing pain in my right knee.



It was a typical runner’s mistake: doing a 10km pb one day and “accidently” running a half marathon distance training two days later. My glutes said no. After battling through the races in March, April and May with an excruciating pain I finally gave in and went to see a physio. He confirmed it was IT band related problem and had to work on strengthening the glutes. And strictly no running. I couldn’t possible cancel the half marathon in Geneva could I?! I was doing lots of exercises leading up to the Swiss trip but you never know how much progress you’ve done until the run. It wasn’t my greatest half marathon (a sluggish 2h00) but the pain under the knee was still there the whole time and suffered with diarrhoea on race morning. One thing motivated me though, once the run was over I was heading down to Zermatt to spend a couple of days training (carrying an 18kg backpack 4-6hours every day) in the Alps. After the trip I knew I had a lot more glute strengthening and stretching to do and couldn’t let this injury jeopardising the Denali climb.

But there were fun times too during the training.. The Ironman 70.3 Austria is fast approaching (end of August 2015) so I knew it was time to upgrade my road bike and invest in something a wee lighter. When I read about the BMC teammachine I felt I found the one but when I tested it at the local Evans shop I fell in love!
Having had old and rusty second hand bikes in the past to get me from A to B I found myself flying on these two wheels. Her name is 'Rocket' and it was only fair to enter a sportive in April - Wiggle Ups and Downs (you guessed, a hilly course with approx 4000ft elevation in the Surrey Hills and North Downs). Got a silver awards and found out I was the 3rd fastest woman.



For my 31st birthday in May, I decided to head up to Scotland and do some more weight carrying training in the Highlands. My love of Scotland meant it was the perfect getaway! Once back from Scotland, I purely focused on cycling (to and from work on the hybrid and longer rides on 'Rocket') and carrying a heavy backpack in the evening.
This is probably the best time to mention, that as a result of the Dailymail website article about my photography and climbing project featured on their website on 19 Feb ( if you haven’t read it: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/travel_news/article-2959818/Beautiful-climber-tackles-world-s-dangerous-mountain-peaks-captures-spectacular-landscapes.html ) I finally had the guts to write to local business with my story and sponsorship. To my surprise I had many responses but most of the companies had already spent their allocated funds. I was very excited when I heard that independent estate agent Robert Holmes, Park Accounts and private GP and consultant medical practice Alexander House were keen to get on board! All I had to do before the trip was to arrange their logos embroided on my jackets, buy last minute munchies, say goodbyes and get myself mentally ready… and the next thing I realised I was off to the States!
Climbing Denali/ McKinley 9-23 June, la Expedition
30th June 2015
The highest mountain in North America with a summit elevation of 20,320 feet/ 6,186m, Denali or Mt McKinley in Alaska was going to be my highest mountain of the 7 summits. It is the third most prominent peak after Everest and Aconcagua (lowest point to summit) from the Kahiltna Base Camp it’s 13,000 vertical feet and 18 miles to the summit.
Denali, as the indigenous people named it, means ‘the high one’ or ‘the great one’. Even the Russians named it ‘big’ while they owned Alaska.
In 1896 a gold prospector named it McKinley after president William McKinley.

Most of my teammates on Vinson had climbed Denali, many said they found it harder than Everest. Some of the reasons why Denali is so brutal:
- extreme weather
- high altitude
- crevasses
- heavy load carrying

Our team was due to leave for Base Camp on Tuesday the 9th but due to snowing and clouds at BC didn’t get out of Talkeetna until Thursday evening. We didn’t expect to fly out that day; it was raining heavily when we were loading the two small otter planes. Despite being two days behind schedule already and having read about the low summit rates and unsuccessful teams we were still very keen to get going!

I could write a novel about what happened next but here are some extracts from from my trip notes. .

"Monday 15 June, 7.44pm, 11,000’, Day 5 on the mountain
Finally at Base Camp Friday evening! After landing we established our camp site (although we only stayed for the night) and had dinner in the mid tent. Felt like a kid when I crawled into my sleeping bag! We didn’t leave till 10am in the morning; backpack full, sled full, snowshoes on and left for Camp 1 at 7,800ft.


(building camp at Camp 1, 7,800ft)

(view of Mt. McKinley from our cosy tent at Camp 1)

Saturday was ‘carry’ day, which meant we took half of our gear (group gear, food, personal lunch and high altitude clothes) to just below 11,000ft camp. You have to negotiate Ski Hill first, which looks intimidating from Camp 1. These are HOT glacier travel days and what I noticed is that our team (6 climbers + 2 guides in 2 rope teams of 4) somehow doesn’t like to be left behind and our guides have the urge to catch up with other teams on the mountain. As much fun as it sounds, I don’t want to burn out during the first couple of days…
We moved up to 11,000’ camp on Sunday passing our cashed gear marching up the mountain in our snowshoes. When I removed my boots I found the biggest and nastiest looking blood blister I’ve seen (new boots plus snowshoes without risers!) Not good but didn’t panic.
Had it popped this morning and swapped snowshoes with the main guide so picking up cache and hiking back up the hill to Camp 2 felt like walking on soft cushions! ☺
"


(snack break)

(the ugly beast popped and treated)

Tuesday – carry and cache at 13,500’


(snack break around Windy Corner)

Wednesday – move to 14,200’


(drying socks and gloves.. learnt my lesson after Vinson not to dry socks on my bear tummy.. things can get stinky..)

"Thursday 18 June, 6.35pm, 14,200’, Day 8 on the mountain (or is it?!)
We had a relatively easy day today; a two hour round trip first thing in the morning to collect cache we left below two days ago. After the yammy egg& bacon breakfast I decided it was time to go for a walk on my own. This is the only camp site where you can walk around and meet people from other teams without the danger of falling into a crevasse. Headed up to the rangers quarter where they update the weather board and had a quick chat with one of the guys working there. Superb feeling walking around freely without being roped to someone!


(weather board at the entrance of the rangers' tent)

The other reason I wanted to get away from our tents was because almost all my teammates had mobiles with them and believe or not, at 14,200 feet they had phone signal! We were asked not to bring our mobiles but seemingly I was the only one who read that section of the notes. It’s not a big deal of course, but when you’re on an expedition the last thing you want to hear is your teammate chatting to their family/ girlfriend/ wife... it takes away the whole beauty of ‘wilderness expedition’ and it is hugely distractive.
I love it at 14 camp though. The views are just breathtaking; I can see Mt Hunter and Mt Foraker in the distance. Sometimes they have clouds wrapped around them other times you can admire both mountains glowing and alive in dawn. It’s white everywhere except where it’s shiny light blue, a sign for open crevasse, and the sky changes every second. Photographer’s paradise! Until of course you turn around and look at Motorcycle Hill and the fixed line section where climbers are a size of a dot. We’re going up there tomorrow to carry so an early night is a must.


(Foraker from my tent at 14 camp)

(Foraker in the middle of the "night".. I knew it was worth getting out of the tent for a pee)

(practising opening and closing the ascender with one thumb only on our day off)

Saturday 20 June, REST DAY at 14,200 Day 10 on the mountain
I’m in my warm sleeping bag as I’m writing this, listening to music and the watching the snow building up on our tent walls.. Despite the good and positive weather forecast, the camp had a lot of snow yesterday and scary looking low clouds moved in. In three words, total white out.


(Foraker was playing hide and seek today!)

Carried to 16,200’ yesterday starting on Motorcycle Hill followed by some juicy 45 degree walls. As always, we were marching up after other teams as if it was a competition. The cold didn’t help either, had to put my mitts on during the first break (well, I spent the entire 5 minute break trying to peel off my fleece gloves and force my numb hands into the mittens) and kept them on until the sun hit the bottom of the fixed lines where we stopped again to put our helmet on. As soon as I attached my ascender to the fixed line, I was in my element again!


(some of the group gear)

(bottom of the fixed lines)

(back at 14,200' camp I asked one of my tent mates to join me for a photoshoot)

Glad we’re having a “day off” today, needed. The weather is not ideal but not bad enough to stop us so fingers crossed we’ll move tomorrow. The plan is to pick up our cache on the way and carry everything up to the last camp also known as the high camp at 17,200. From there, it’s a return ticket to the top!
"
Climbing Denali / Mt. McKinley la Summit and Death March
29th June 2015
"Monday 22 June SUMMITED!!!! Day ‘who knows and counts anymore’ on the mountain
We moved to High Camp 17,200’ yesterday.. as I suspected the fixed lines were my favourite parts and boy we had two long sections of them. The move goes like this; attach your heather with an unlocking carabiner to the fixed line and click your ascender behind. Now all you have to do is move up slowly; placing your feet slightly outwards and with every other step push the ascender further up on the fixed rope. When you get to the picket (where a new fixed line is installed) stop climbing and shout ‘aaaanchoooooooor’ (=anchor) or ‘staaaaapp’ (=stop) so all your team members can hear you’re about to get off the fixed line you were climbing on. You unclick your unclocking carabiner first, place it on the next rope, unclick the ascender and secure it on the rope then shout ‘cliiiiiiiiiiiiiiimb’ or ‘gooooooo’ signalling you’re ready to continue to climb. It’s quite vital so your team mates are aware (as they also have to stop every time someone has to anchor) I found that not everyone on my team did this so you had to watch the person in front (on a 45 degree slope with a tall and heavy backpack plus helmet& sun cap blocking your vision it is not easy) and if the team rope suddenly pulls you back, it means the person behind forgot to shout and about to anchor.
"


(that tiny snowy bit, right from the middle is 17,200' camp from the distance)


(not the best place to get your GoPro out but couldn't resist)


(after the first long fixed line section things got even more fun!)


(second fixed line section)

We arrived at 17,200 feet pretty broken. I remember sitting down on my backback waiting for our guides to find us a safe spot to build camp. Some teams move into other teams (who already left of course) camp sites, not us. New campsite at every Camp meant grabbing the shovels, stomping the snow, more digging, setting up tents and the midi, building ice walls. No rest for the wicked! Same happened this time.
So there I was sat on my backpack, huge smile on my face for making it to the highest camp on the mountain but I was seriously low on energy. Waiting for our guides to come back, next minute I realised I was half asleep sliding off the sled. Looked up and around, my teammates were already marking our campsite so I got up, pulled my belongings to their and started with the stomping. Due to the lower oxygen level, at the camp everything felt harder and took longer. If one person doesn't contribute (or not as much as others) to establishing camp, it takes even longer. It wasn't my place to tell anyone off for being lazy, as our guides said at the beginning, everyone will have bad days..
By the time tents were up, soup was almost ready and to my complete surprise, I was hungry! This is unusual for me in high altitude but I thought better eat more than nothing. After dinner we were told that there was a chance we would head to the summit the following day but we'll see in the morning.
I didn't like that. Being quite anal when it comes to organising and planning, I like to know what to prepare for. Needless to say I didn't sleep that night. We were woken at 6.15am and heard our guides telling the other tent to get ready, we were going for the summit!
My body just wanted to stay in the tent, sleep and sleep. I didn't want to be the last to get ready so got out of bed, shoved down some breakfast, had my waterbottles filled up (one with water, the other with my favourite tea - strawberry & vanilla) and got myself ready.
Like every morning, you had to guess what the weather was going to be like so I had longjohns + soft shell climbing pants and wore a long sleeve merino wool baselayer with a fleece top and a thin jacket. We all had to pack survival kits (thermos, sleeping bag, sleeping mat) and our warmest down pants, down jacket and expedition mitts.
Rolled out of camp around 9.30am, the last but one team.


I am not fan of long boring hills but this is what was awaiting, it's called the Autobahn. I knew there will be fixed lines near the top (only for protection so clip in and out this time, didn't use the ascender) but it was going to be hard work.


(the route out of 17,200' camp went all the way to the top rocks)

Once negotiated this lengthy section we had a quick break, the guides checked if everyone was doing well, forced some munchies and water down and carried on.

The next thing I remember is when we got to The Football Field. One giant hill to climb but we could see the summit ridge from here!


(it's called the...... 'Big Hill' of course!)

We regrouped here, last break before the summit - we were told. I felt great, probably thanks to vanilla GU I wolfed down earlier, as a non coffee drinker it did give me the boost I needed!

We took off and soon met the other teams who were heading off the summit. I said my congrats to them but secretly wishing it was us. About 3/4 up 'Big Hill' our guide turned around and said: "Guys, there are clouds and possibly storm coming in, if we don't make it to the top in 20minutes we'll have to turn around." A serious kick up the arse, exactly what we needed, we changed into higher gear and literally flew up. NO WAY I would turn around near the summit!
We made it to the top at 6pm, sky still blue and everyone in great spirit.

There's something euphoric, emotional and satisfying being on the summit. You simply forget about all your pain, the knots in your back&shoulder from the heavy pack, the unwashed hair, the blister feet and soon on. The feeling is pure and indescribable.



(for HUNGARY & GREAT BRITAIN)


(for my sponsors and family who supported me every step of the way)


(carrying some special and personal items to the top)


(my backpack carried more than it was designed for, never let me down)


(in North America, you can't get any higher!)


(view from the summit, looking back the summit ridge)

We got back to High Camp after 11pm. I am exhausted! Just had some dinner and sleeping bag calling!

The following pictures were taken from the summit descent back to High Camp.







"Tuesday 23 & Wednesday 24 June 'March of the climbers'
For once during the expedition, we were treated to a well deserved lie-in and was woken up by our guides around 9am, time to get up. At that point we thought we would take the descend in 2 sections; head down to 11'000 camp from High Camp, sleep for a while then carry on to Base Camp where a plane was supposedly coming in just for us. It didn't quite happen that way.
We had a small break at 14,200' camp where we dug out the rest of the group and personal gear we left there, had some dinner and carried on. When we left visibility was bad but when we got around Windy Corner I could hardly see the person in front of me. We kept going until a deep and throbbing sound when we all stopped to turn. Our guides were shouting keep going from the back, it was no place to wait and see what the sound was but we all knew, an avalanche or rock fall. We skipped the break at the Polo Field and arrived back at the top of Motorcyle Hill where we stopped briefly. Going down this hill I noticed how much the snow conditions and terrain have changed since we were last there; crevasses got even larger and snow became mushy. Difficult going down in crampons and still carrying a heavy bag.
Upon arrival at 11,000ft we grabbed everything we buried there a week before, loaded our sleds, packed away the crampons and hello snowshoes again!



(ready to crack on!)

All I remember from here on is that I was thinking.. someone is going to break an ankle. The end, it was the teeth on my right snowshoe, just disappeared and due to lack of grip and nearly flew. One of our guides very kindly gave me his but at that point I couldn't care and would have walked (run) in my boots.
After skiing down Ski Hill, to 7,800ft Camp 1, we pulled over to have a break. Everyone was sat on their sleds munching on leftover lunch. Looked at my watch, 3am. We had been walking since 11am the day before and it looked like we weren't going to stop for long!

This was the point when I though finding my shuffle and playing some songs would probably get me through the next 4-5 hours to Base Camp. It was still in my sports bra where I left it on the summit day (we were not allowed to listen to music on the way up from this point so I kept it there the whole time to save battery life for the rainy days..)


(stunning views and light around 5am that morning)


(snowshoes..love & hate relationship)

The last hill to climb before arriving at Base Camp is called Heartbreak Hill, for a good reason. By the time we got to the bottom of it I had an out of body experience, fatigue kicked in but I still stayed strong. No point moaning now about the pace or why we didn't stop to sleep way earlier. Just head down and bring home the bacon.

The first sight of Base Camp was the icing on the cake. We had an incredible trip, no weather days, perfect summit, healthy team, exciting descent and now back at Base Camp. There were 2 or 3 teams there waiting for their flights already so we got in the queue. About 3 more hours waiting (too excited to sleep!) when a BC staff came up to our guides to let us know we were the next to fly out.







We dragged out tired bodies, group gear, backpacks and sleds down to the plane and boarded. Nobody said a thing but we all felt the same way. "
Climbing Mt. McKinley/ Denali Afterthoughts..
28th June 2015
To sum up the whole trip would take me as much time as writing the trip notes, by now the reader must be Denali-ed out so I'll keep this short message and sweet.
I knew when I signed up for this trip that I had to train harder than ever before, have a positive attitude on the mountain and dig deep when needed. I left London thinking, am I going to be back in 3 weeks? Or 4? Am I going to summit? There are no answers as you can never ever predict what happens during the Denali expedition. My blood blister could have gone worse stopping me to get higher (thanks to my fab guide, he looked after me and the blister so well for about a week every morning), altitude or my heart condition could have broken my dream to summit or weather could have stopped us all (as it did to many teams). Experienced neither of these and I feel incredibly fortunate.
Yes climbing with 7 men and sharing a tent with 2 for 2 weeks was challenging but again I am lucky to say I had a great team with 2 very strong and experienced guides. There were low points and hard times but I shall learn from these and remember the good moments only.

This trip, my 4th of the '7 summits' was also self funded but my amazing sponsors made it possible for me to book the next - Aconcagua in December.
It's not just the fund they helped me with, but they gave me a huge mental boost before I left. Every time I looked down and saw their logos on my jacket or packed and re-packed the banner I knew they were there with me in spirit.
My boss Chris at Canvas Gallery for letting me follow my dream and keep my position at the gallery, Robin, Lesley and Helen at Alexander House Wimbledon, Chris at Park Accounts, everyone at Robert Holmes, my family and my dearest friends - this summit was for you and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for believing in me, your generous support and unconditional love.

Alex
xx