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Professor Ken Baldwin, Geoff Bartram, Duncan Chessell, Patrick Cullinan, Lincoln Hall, Greg Mortimer, Zac Zaharias, 11 October 2009

MATTHEW HIGGINS: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the National Museum of Australia. My name is Matthew Higgins. I’m one of the senior curators here at NMA, and the Museum is very pleased and proud to be able to participate in the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the first Australian ascent of Mount Everest. It’s been a wonderful relationship between ourselves here and members of the Canberra climbing community, and, in particular, I’d like to pay tribute to Zac Zaharias and Geoff Bartram for the great work they have done for us. It’s been an excellent relationship.

My colleague down in the front here, Adam Blackshaw, and I have worked with them for a numbers of months now, both on the display down in the hall – which I hope you’ve had a chance to see; if you haven’t, have a look at it on your way out – and on this afternoon’s presentation.

We did hope that joining the panel there would be another climber at one point, but he obviously had other plans. His name is Andrew Lock, and I’m sure you know what I’m referring to, because only a week ago he joined that very elite group of climbers: by reaching the summit of Shishapangma, he became the first Australian to climb all 14 8000 metre peaks, and joined a very small group of climbers right around the world to have done that.

So maybe the best way that we can get today underway is with a big round of applause for Andrew Lock and that achievement. [applause]

Now just before I introduce Ken Baldwin, who’s going to be chairing today’s session, can I just point out that we are recording the discussion today with a view to that being available on our website in due course. So when it comes time for people to ask questions, could you please wait until the roving mike gets to you, otherwise you won’t be recorded. Could you please introduce yourself, and if you ask a question, that is taken as your consent to be recorded. So now I’d like to introduce our chair this afternoon. Now, Professor Ken Baldwin from the ANU [The Australian National University], he’s got many titles. He’s Deputy Head of the ANU’s Climate Change Institute; he’s Deputy Director of the Research School of Physics and Engineering, and he’s also Deputy Director, ARC Centre of Excellence for Quantum-Atom Optics.

Now, I’ve got no idea what that last one means, but it sounds pretty important to me. But the most important thing from our point of view today is that Ken is also a mountaineer. He was on the 1978 [Mount] Dunagiri Expedition; he was back in the Himalayas ten years later, and he’s heading over there again next year. So we think we’ve got a wonderful chair this afternoon to bring out the memories and perspectives of the members of our panel. Ken Baldwin, thanks very much.

KEN BALDWIN: Thank you. [applause] Thank you, Matthew, and welcome everybody this afternoon to this celebration of 25 years since the first ascent of Everest by an Australian team. And we’re very fortunate today to have with us on the panel three members of that team. We have Greg Mortimer, Lincoln Hall, and Geoff Bartram. But we also have some other distinguished Himalayan climbers who have been to Everest and to other mountains in the Himalaya and also in the world in the decades since, and indeed, even before that first ascent of Everest back in 1984 by an Australian team.

So it’s my pleasure to be able to moderate this discussion this afternoon. We’ll have questions that we’ll be putting to the panel, and we’ll be also looking to you, the audience, to participate in this discussion later on, so that if you have something that’s burning away inside you that you want to ask some of these Himalayan mountaineers, then there’ll be opportunity for you later in the piece to ask your question.

But let me first introduce our panel members here, starting with Greg here. Greg, of course, was a member of the 1984 expedition and reached the summit of Everest on that occasion. But he’s had a long history of climbing, not only the Himalayas; he was on the earlier expeditions in the ’80s, and, in fact, he became the first Australian to climb K2 in 1990.

But he’s also had a long connection with climbing in the Antarctic and other beautiful parts of the world, and indeed, he established a company, Aurora Expeditions, which runs trips to the Antarctic and other places. So Greg has a very distinguished history of climbing, not just in the Himalaya, but in other parts of the globe.

Then next we have Zac Zaharias. Zac was a member of the 1988 Army Everest Expedition, which placed two climbers on the summit of that particular peak. Zac has been climbing now for many decades, I guess.

He first went to the Himalayas in the early ’80s, and Zac was in the Australian Army and was a driving force of the Australian Army Alpine Club, which ran a whole series of expeditions to the Himalaya which Zac helped organise, and indeed it produced a generation of climbers which culminated [in] and has continued following the ’88 ascent by the Army Alpine team.

Next we have Lincoln Hall. Lincoln, of course, was on the ’84 expedition to Everest. His climbing career started, actually, at the same time as mine, back in ’78 in the Himalaya and the India Himalaya where we went to Dunagiri  together, along with Tim Macartney-Snape, another one of the ’84 Everest team.

And following that experience, Lincoln took that on as his life’s vocation and has been a highly successful climber in the Himalaya and in other places since that time. He is, of course, known to many of you as an author. He wrote White Limbo, which is the story of the 1984 Everest ascent, and I think, one of the finest pieces of mountaineering literature anywhere.

And he’s also written another book recently that you probably know all about, which is Dead Lucky, which is a tale of his experience on Everest when he reached the summit then in 2006, and had a very eventful descent from the summit which you no doubt have all heard about, and maybe would like to hear about a little bit more this afternoon.

Next, another ’84 Everest expeditioner, Geoff Bartram. Now, Geoff is another person who has been in the Himalaya and the other big mountains of the world, particularly the Andes, where he spent a lot of his time.

Geoff started his Himalayan career again in the early ’80s – and indeed, it’s his windsuit that’s on display downstairs with the exhibit just in the foyer – and he of course is,also  like Zac, a Canberra region local. So this area has produced quite a few Himalayan climbers, or at least residents, over a number of decades.

Next, we have Pat Cullinan. Pat, of course, was on the ’88 Army Expedition to Everest, and he was one of the two people who reached the summit in that expedition, the other being Paul Bain. Pat, I think, and Paul have the distinction of being the two people on Earth who have spent the most time above 8000 metres in a row.

They spent nine days at this height on the South Col of Everest immediately leading up to and immediately after their ascent. And to have achieved not only that high altitude endurance and existence record – because the human body virtually decays for every minute you’re above 8000 metres – I think he has the distinction that, even after six days on the South Col, he still had the drive, the motivation, the energy, to reach the summit.

And this is reflected in his background: Pat was also in the armed forces. He was in the SAS [Special Air Services regiment], and led a number of SAS teams to the Himalaya; and he’s well known, of course, for being awarded the distinguished Star of Courage, which is a medal that arose from the fact that he undertook the rescue of a climber who was in deep peril on the summit ridge of Broad Peak a number of years ago.

And then at the end of the table here, we have our final panelist, Duncan Chessell. Duncan himself has been to the summit of Everest twice. He’s been climbing in the Himalayas since the mid-’90s. He has a number of significant ascents to his credit, including the very technically challenging Kusum Kanguru, which is mentioned in the exhibition downstairs.

And he’s made this his life’s vocation as well, so he’s now leading a guided expedition company, not only to the Himalayas, but to other parts of the world, and has introduced many people to the beauties of mountains.

So maybe that’s a good time to lead on to perhaps our first question. So knowing that we have a background of climbers here, all from what you might say is the world’s flattest continent, what you might wonder is, why on earth it is that Australia has such a fine record of climbing in the Himalayas going back to the 1970s.

And, indeed, as Matthew mentioned, Andrew Lock has become distinguished by being just, I believe, the 14th person to have – sorry, the first Australian to have climbed all the 14 8000 metre peaks. But also I think next year he’s planning to go back to Everest, I believe, and attempt Everest without oxygen, which would make him, I believe, the tenth person in the world to have climbed all 14 8000 metre peaks without oxygen.

So, how is it then, that Australia continues to produce Himalayan mountaineers of that standard, given that most of their lives, they were born at or near sea level, and have very little in the way of mountains to practise on?

Maybe I’ll throw this question open to the panel, and maybe that gives them an opportunity to say what interested them in climbing first of all, and what it was that drew them to the world’s great mountains. So maybe, Greg, would you like to start off and give us your opinion as to how this has come about.

GREG MORTIMER: In my case, I’ve been climbing since I was in the Boy Scouts, and so there was just a progression of events which ultimately led me to want to go to the Himalaya, so a fairly natural progression, and I think, in the larger picture, apart from the natural wayward leanings of Australians as a nation – the wanderlust of Australians – there’s a fairly healthy measure of naivete [laughs]. Which, particularly in the ’70s and ’80s, led to, you know, a plethora of really fine expeditions, and to some extent we didn’t know what we were doing, so it was a nice lead-in. [laughs]

KEN BALDWIN: Yes. And, Pat, I know we’ve discussed this, talking before – what are your views, particularly in terms of why the Australian Armed Forces have this particular fascination with being up high in the snowfields of the Himalaya?

PAT CULLINAN: Well, I suppose the Army fascination goes back to the time when General Gration, then a colonel, actually trekked up to Everest Base Camp in about 1974, and he thought that Himalayan climbing, because of all its challenges, for Army brings out all the aspects needed in war. Like leadership above all, but also drive, determination, cooperation, teamwork, detail planning, and so forth. And he, with a couple of interested climbers – and I think Zac was key in this, and so was Jim Truscott – actually formed the Army Alpine Association. And it was quite incredible; from a low base of climbing experience at the time, they were able to actually have a grand vision to climb Everest in 1988. And particularly being from the flattest continent in the world, it’s almost like opposites attract. And with that ten-year vision, basically the Army climbers got together and ended up on Everest in 1988.

But I must say that I had an unusual start to my climbing career. I basically did no climbing as a young person. It was when I got posted to the Special S Service Regiment that I was put in charge of Climbing Troop. I could easily have been put in charge of  Freefall Troop, or Vehicle Manning [?] troop, but it happened to be Climbing Troop.

And I found that all the SAS were better climbers than me, and so I ended up being put on different roping, repelling, climbing courses and so forth. And the Army Alpine group had been moving forward with their grand vision of Everest, and one thing and another, I ended up on the same pathway, and ended up on Everest. But for me, it was just a fabulous opportunity, and a fascinating ride the whole way.


KEN BALDWIN: And Duncan …

DUNCAN CHESSELL:  – I think the other thing is that we’ve got a fantastic training ground in New Zealand. I mean, New Zealand – if you can climb well in New Zealand, in those alpine conditions … it’s [an] extremely dangerous place to climb. The weather changes incredibly fast. You can learn all of the skills very close to home, so we sort of do have our own alpine training ground in our own backyard. I hope there’s no Kiwis in the audience there [laughs]. Yes, it certainly is a fantastic place to learn, and I think it then, naturally, sort of points you towards the Himalayas, and as we’ve got no actual climbing in Australia, it makes all these people … You get a bit of a taste for it in New Zealand, which is what happened to me, and then you come back to Australia, and you can’t exercise any of your frustrations in Australia, so you’ve got to plan something, and, well, you go to the Himalayas, and that’s the next step.

KEN BALDWIN: Geoff, you’ve had quite a lot of experience climbing in other parts of the world. How do you compare the motivation that Duncan’s talked about – to want to go somewhere else – with the areas you’ve been to?

GEOFF BARTRAM: Getting back to the first question, I suppose … I mean, it is obviously the closest range after New Zealand to Australia. I reckon we owe a fair bit to people like Warwick Deacock and to Goronwy Price and Christine Gee, who started trekking into the Himalaya well before we started climbing there, and therefore fostered that interest in the Himalaya rather than fostering it in trekking in the Amazon, for example, so we all became Amazon explorers. But for me personally, I spent eight years prior to starting climbing, working out of Alice Springs in the desert area; and while people might think, ‘What’s that got to do with it?’, I’m actually fascinated with places – and I think maybe Australians are in general – places where you’ve got a huge view and a big sky.

And for me that transfer was not difficult at all. I mean, one’s up and one’s flat, but they’ve both got huge views and huge skies. So to get to the second part of your question, I wasn’t actually, in my sort of 12 years of active climbing, as attracted to the Himalayas as I was to the Andes. And in part, that was because the Andes was far more spontaneous climbing.

I mean, you could just get your mates together, and you didn’t have to tell anyone where you were going. There’s no forms to fill in, there were no record books. You didn’t know whether you did a first ascent or a second ascent, or [if] it had ever been climbed before. And if I’ve got a second?

This bloke here – probably the most memorable climb I ever did was with this bloke here, Peter Gessells. And we were both guides in Bolivia at the time, and we had a few days off after a group, and we were down in La Paz having pastries and coffee, as we did very often, and we said, ‘What are you going to do the next couple days?’

And we said, ‘Why don’t we go off and climb the west face of Potosi?’ And Potosi was six hours from Ata [?] Peak, just outside of La Paz. So it took us about ten minutes to pack the gear, and then another ten minutes to organise a taxi, and ‘What are we going to take for food? Well, let’s get a cooked chook [chicken], and we’ll get a few bread rolls and we’ll find water on the face, and we won’t take a tent, and we won’t take a stake, and we’ll just go.’

Well, it’s a beautiful 1500 metre face, that one, at about sustained 55 to 60 degrees, and it was incredibly memorable, because we’re two blokes, we just got out of the taxi, you know. And so from probably, seriously, four hours from having the last coffee, we were on the face. And we climbed through that day, and we got into this bergschrund [crevasse] at night, and it was just absolutely fantastic, you know? We were there with the cooked chook … [laughter] and we’re in this bergschrund, and the sun had set over Lake Titicaca, so the whole of Lake Titicaca was golden. You could see out to the Atacama [Desert]. You could almost see the Chilean coast, I reckon. And for me, it doesn’t get better than that for climbing, you know? And we came down. We popped out through the cornice the next day, went down. No one knew we’d been there. We don’t know whether we’d done a new route, and I thought that was fantastic. That’s … To me, that epitomised kind of the freedom of the hills, I reckon.

KEN BALDWIN: Yes. And Lincoln, you’re a local boy, in a sense, and in fact, I remember when you were at university, you were one of the early rock climbing pioneers on some of the climbs in the ACT [Australian Capital Territory]. I was out there yesterday, in fact, and did a route that you put up, I think, about 1974 called ‘Deep Space’ up at Honeysuckle Crag. So what was it that motivated you at an early age to go out and start climbing, and then what drew you to the bigger mountains?

LINCOLN HALL: Well, I don’t know so much ‘motivated’, as I was invited to go rock climbing with a school friend, Ralph Pickering, whom I knew from primary school, and a visiting climber who – well, a teacher who’d been teaching at Horsham [in Victoria], and therefore couldn’t help but find out about [Mount] Arapiles, so he became a climber, came to Canberra, and was looking for people to go climbing with. And I’d done a lot of gymnastics when I was really young. My sister was in the national squad, and I couldn’t really see the point of it in terms of competition; but once I was invited to go rock climbing, I actually had the strength and the suppleness and found it to be [an] incredibly engaging activity. I mean, once you go from this to that, it’s a whole different ball game.

And what I still remember is the intensity of the experience of stepping onto the vertical world. And of course as you become more comfortable with that, you go to the next level to keep the buzz. Till you die. And then that doesn’t work. [laughter]

KEN BALDWIN: So you just keep coming back. So, Zac, from your perspective – and you’ve trekked and climbed in the big mountains – in fact, you’re going back to Everest next year I believe, in April. So what is it that keeps you coming back, and what is it that really got you going in the first place?

ZAC ZAHARIAS: What got me going … Like Greg, I grew up in suburban Melbourne, which is flat as a tack in the south-eastern suburbs. And I really loved the outdoors, and I really loved that sense of adventure. I didn’t have much of an avenue apart from Scouts growing up. When I joined the Army and went to Duntroon [the Royal Military College of Australia] as a cadet between 1974 and 1977, two things really got me climbing. The first one was, I remember buying a book written by [Sir Chris] Bonington on the South-west Face – the first ascent of the South-west Face of Everest. And it had these double-page colour plate photographs. Now this may sound a bit odd in the age of multimedia and colour and whatever, but back then it was one of the first books that were produced that had these fantastic photos that you almost felt like you were in the mountains. I thought, ‘I’ve got to go there.’ That really inspired me.

And the second thing, of course, that occurred: as Pat mentioned, the creation of the Army Alpine Association – this colonel, sort of giving us this vision and this way here. It’s almost like an invitation: ‘if you want to take this challenge, here’s an opportunity that we’ll set up for you to go and climb’.

So those two things really captured my imagination. And I went off to New Zealand in 1977 and did a climbing course with a whole bunch of military friends who were about the same age. And it was a real shock to me, the course. I was absolutely scared out of my life. And so scared I said, ‘I’m not going climbing again’. So I took a bus, and did a tour of the South Island [laughter] and ended up after a week at Mount Cook again. I thought, ‘Shit, I’ve got another two weeks left. What am I going to do now?’ And then gently somebody said, ‘Oh, why don’t you come up to Tasman Glacier.’ ‘All right,’ I said, ‘I don’t want to climb. I’m scared.’ But bit by bit I got over my fear. And then I really just got captured by mountaineering, and really being high. I think, as Geoff said, that whole notion of big sky, being able to look out a hundred kilometres. It’s really quite peaceful, the serenity of it, the inner calm that you get from climbing. And that’s what keeps grabbing me, and why I want to keep going back to the mountains.

KEN BALDWIN: So given that we already start off with this inherent disadvantage of living mainly at sea level, and maybe not having a lot of high mountains to train in, what would you say as a group would be the methodology that you use? To first of all not only physically prepare yourself for the big mountains, but also mentally to get yourself out of the space of suburbia and the flat country and all the rest of it. To put yourself in the picture of where you are at the sharp end on the ridge at 8000 metres, having to deal with all the things that the mountain will throw at you. And given that it’s a somewhat liberating experience living in Australia – we don’t have to think about that on a daily basis – is there something to do with this, as I think Greg alluded to, naivete that allows you to approach the mental side of climbing a little bit more without the baggage of history or the baggage of other examples around you. Can you maybe … Would you like to elaborate on that, Pat, and then maybe Lincoln?

PAT CULLINAN: My own view is that it’s important that you do your apprenticeship, to get yourself right physically and mentally, to know that you even attempt the … example, Everest in the first place. Now in the Army Alpine Association’s case, we did do a number of lesser peaks in New Zealand and then in the Himalayas. And I think that gave us all a big confidence level that we could actually then attempt something higher. And once again I think in the Army’s case, when we actually climbed Broad Peak – eight of the team getting to the top of Broad Peak, when only two other Australians had ever been to the top of 8000 metre peaks, which were Tim Macartney-Snape and Greg Mortimer in their very fine climb – but what the Broad Peak did for us was, it overcame a psychological barrier that we knew within ourselves, and now Everest was possible.

Taking into account the fact that we were climbing all those mountains in a time before the commercial side of mountaineering came to the fore – in other words, we had to set up all the ropes and ladders and everything else ourselves, so we never knew whether or not we could actually get to the top … It was like a grand final. You had to win it. And I think it was doing your apprenticeship that enabled us to overcome different psychological challenges on our way to the top.

KEN BALDWIN: Lincoln, what are your views on that?

LINCOLN HALL: That was very good, Pat. I finished my little notes there. [laughter] I’d like to … I often disagree with Greg, but I actually don’t think it was naivete; I think it was a blank canvas that we faced then. And I think that in terms of preparation, I think our expedition to Dunagiri  back in 1978 was extraordinary. We wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for Ken, because Ken’s disgustingly organised. [laughter] And we had all these wax boxes painted with white, with codes. And we spent hours and hours putting together five-day and four-day and three-day ration packs. So when you got to base camp, all you had to do was find the right wax box with a number on it, if you could find it. Anyway, it was a big expedition. There were 16 of us. We’d had three seasons in New Zealand. I know Geoff had already been climbing in the Andes by then. But I mean, it was a very exciting expedition. And it was of that Rum Doodle type expedition, where there’s lots of people.

But I think that was a great experience, but I actually realised that when you’ve only got four to six climbers, everybody gets more climbing done, and more making decisions, and more making their own decisions. And so I think that actually there’s perhaps too much method in that large expedition structure.

But I think once you’ve been on an expedition, like Zac … When I came down off Dunagiri with frozen toes and Tim and I – we were on this huge summit ridge, and we could hear this buzzing and we had this pain in our back and we thought it was because we were so exhausted, and then we realised it was actually a lightning storm that we were in the middle of. I mean, this was horrendous. And as soon as we got off that mountain, I thought, ‘Shit, I’m never going to do that again’. Of course, I was wrong. But once you’ve been on an expedition like that, in terms of preparation, the first thing that you do is you turn a big switch in your head. And from that, you’ve got the summit in your mind. And then you just do all this stuff you have to do in terms of preparation and all the paperwork. And it’s all very boring, and it only gets un-boring when you get to base camp.

KEN BALDWIN: Greg, would you like to follow that up?

GREG MORTIMER: It’s already been said amongst us, but I don’t think we can underestimate the importance of New Zealand close at hand. Just to restate that. It’s such a wonderful, wonderful range, of course. And Australians have the slight advantage of that it was going over there to it, and that there were other things beyond it to focus on. And it’s such a volatile place to learn alpine skills. You know, for an Australian rock climber to go and all of a sudden be faced with steep ice and snow and dodgy rock at Mount Cook is a very, very fine and perilous training ground.

KEN BALDWIN: And indeed a lot of Australian climbers in the early days came to grief there.

GREG MORTIMER: Mmh, indeed.

KEN BALDWIN: And there was a considerable amount of soul searching going on back in ’70s, I remember. And I think the climbing … The schools in New Zealand that were established and that took over some of the roles of introducing raw young Australians to the mountains have actually played a really important role in that.

LINCOLN HALL: I do think there’s another thing that needs to be overlooked – no, doesn’t need to be overlooked, has been overlooked – is that the New Zealanders, they’re very tough. It’s no mistake that [Edmund] Hillary ended up on the top of Everest. It really is, as Duncan has said, an extraordinary training – well, it’s more than a training ground, it’s some of the toughest conditions you’re going to get in the world in terms of storms happening with no notice, and people dying because of that. But I actually worked out that the Kiwis are actually too tough for their own good. So that’s why they didn’t really have Himalayan success. I mean, we were having Himalayan successes, but they weren’t. Because I remember Tim and I bivvied [bivouacked] on the west ridge of [Mount] Cook on a full moon night and in a crevasse, and we had a sleeping bag. We just took that. And what the New Zealanders would do is they take a duvet. [laughter] You know. So they’re going to be cold. You know, they tough it out. And you can do that in New Zealand, but you can’t do it in the Himalayas. You really have to look after yourself. You have to pander yourself. And that’s the part that I like most about expeditions, is pandering myself. [laughter]

KEN BALDWIN: We won’t go completely there. So, I want to bring in Duncan at this stage, because Duncan is introducing a whole new generation of people to the big mountains through his guided expeditions, and this is something that’s been introduced gradually over the years since, I guess, the mid-’90s or thereabouts. And this has meant that the climbing experience for many people is now possible, which it wasn’t before, because of the pressures of modern life – the fact that it’s actually not easy to get away for a period of time and do all your own little box marking and all the stuff that Lincoln mentioned; so to be able to go on a guided trip is actually opening up the world of climbing for a lot of people in the big mountains.

But at the same time it’s changing the big mountains that they’re in. So maybe, Duncan, you could talk a little bit about that and the evolution of commercial climbing in the Himalaya.

DUNCAN CHESSELL: Yes, I guess, like in the business world, outsourcing has become pretty big, so people look at outsourcing or short-circuiting the experience that they will need to enable them to get high, and so they can effectively … I guess, people would typically go and do a climbing course in New Zealand, and then they’ll do a number of other peaks in the Himalayas. But they don’t need to go there for a month ahead to organise all the boxes; they don’t necessarily need to have built all the relationships with the Sherpas; they don’t need to have built up the years of experience to be ready to do it. They can go along for the ride, if you like.

But it doesn’t negate the fact that they’ve still got to have the physical ability and, I think – something you touched on earlier – the mental strength to push through to climbing the big mountains. And a lot of people tend to go … Some of the people you see on the mountains will expect to be able to buy their way to the top, but then when they’re actually faced with the reality of it, they come up short.

And they figure they’ve trained and they’ve trained and they’ve trained for it, but they haven’t necessarily got the experience; and so you do see a lot of people failing on the big mountains – on Everest, and some of the bigger mountains – who physically are quite able to do it fitness-wise. They’ve probably got the skills, but it’s the experience of knowing how to look after themselves at altitude.

So, I mean, we constantly have a problem with trying to get people to do more experience. People want to really head up high very quickly, and so we’re trying to temper that by getting them to have that apprenticeship where people have to have done a number of other things before, mentally, they’re prepared to give it a go and to get through.

But it does enable a lot of people who would otherwise never be able to go have that mountain experience, have that big sky, and I think it’s a viable … I think it’s an important part of Himalayan climbing these days, that there is services available that people can hire to look after them in a reasonably safe fashion.

I think, what happens though, is you end up with people who … Sometimes expeditions will take people who don’t necessarily have even a hope in hell of getting to the top, and they just take them for the money – people who don’t have enough experience; and I think it’s important that if you’re running a good commercial trip, that you at least look for those prerequisites.

KEN BALDWIN: And, of course, it must be said that guided climbing has been in existence ever since the start of climbing itself – in the early days in the Alps, when the British first really made this into a sport, rather than a way of getting from A to B. The guides they used were all local residents in the French and other European Alps, and guiding was really an element right from the early days of climbing. But I think that there is, if you like, an evolutionary difference here, is there not, Duncan – so that in the Alps, guides would often be climbing in areas they grew up in. They would be obviously, you know, fit and experienced the way you are, but they would climb to an altitude which is within reasonable limits from somebody who lived in that part of the world.

Is guiding in the Himalayas different yet again, simply because the altitude means that not only are the clients operating at their limits, but the guides are operating even closer to their limits than they would have been in the Alps or in other guided regions in the world?

DUNCAN CHESSELL: Yes, absolutely. I mean, there’s not that many people who can guide at high altitude. It is actually very tough. I mean, we rely almost completely on the Sherpas, there’s no two ways about it. I’m there as the expedition leader; you would summit with the clients, you might be the sweeper, but you’ve got to have a really strong team of Sherpas with you to carry out successful extreme high-altitude guiding. Yes, you’re just not … Any of those sorts of large expeditions require a massive team of people anyway. It’s not necessarily about one person guiding a team of 12 or 20 people, it’s got to be a massive team to support that.

KEN BALDWIN: Yes, exactly. And this actually brings us back to another …

GEOFF BARTRAM: Can I say something there?

KEN BALDWIN: Yeah, sure, Geoff.

GEOFF BARTRAM: You know, I guided for ten years, so it would be very self-righteous of me, or – especially me – to say that it’s the wrong thing to do in the Himalaya, but I suppose what you alluded to there was that the alpine guides in the Alps, and we in South America, were basically guiding alpine style. And what I would lament greatly in the Himalaya [would be] if mountains like Mount Everest were assaulted and insulted by just having armies of people tramp their way to the top. One of the problems, of course, is that the media focuses on such things as Mount Everest, and from a mountaineering perspective another climb up the standard route – while from an individual’s point of view is still a fantastic achievement – it’s not a mountaineering achievement at all.

And you know, I mean, there would be young Australians off all around the world climbing things that from a mountaineering perspective are far more important than Mount Everest will ever be from a standard route, but [they] don’t get that sort of recognition. So yes, I think it’s … From my point of view, again … I probably guided hundreds of mountains, and because you were doing it alpine style and today we’re climbing Mountain A and then tomorrow we’ll have a go at Mountain B and the next day Mountain C, the success on any one summit was not necessarily where all your eggs were.

Now when you go to the Himalaya and guide, success, I would have thought, is measured absolutely by getting to the summit. And as Greg talked at our dinner the other night, the success of an expedition … Sure, getting to the summit’s very important, but it’s all those other things that make an expedition incredibly successful, and part of it is those experiences with other people.

So, yes, I guess I just feel that from a guide’s point of view, it’s not only … I always thought it was important not only to get people to the top, because that’s what it was obviously there for; but … Guides, like all people in the mountains, I think, develop a spiritualism about mountains and mountaineering, and I thought it was very important as a guide to at least make your clients aware that maybe the mountain doesn’t have the spirit, but if you don’t have one when you’re there, you won’t be comfortable and necessarily safe there.

KEN BALDWIN: And I think that’s true, in general, that people who come suddenly to the mountains because they have an ambition to climb, and they want to get to the top of Everest, or whatever, they don’t necessarily have that spirit developed over many years of being in the outdoors, and so the guide’s responsibility is even greater in that instance. Indeed, Pat and Zac, you would have had similar situations with the soldiers that you were leading on expeditions; in some sense you were guides, and indeed on one of the expeditions, the ’88 Bicentennial Everest Expedition, you didn’t have any Sherpas there to assist you. So, maybe we could hear a little bit of perspective from Pat and Zac and …

PAT CULLINAN: Yes, in fact, just on that: I went to the 50th anniversary of the first ascent of Everest in Kathmandu, and the grandson of Tensing Norgay, the first person to climb Everest with Hillary, got up in front of everybody, including Sir Edmund Hillary, and he made the comment that 90 per cent of all success on Everest has been on the back of Sherpas. And I’ve got to say that, in 1988 – when we looked back on our team climb I felt a real buzz, the fact that we were part of that ten per cent. You could actually argue that the ten per cent is really the real story of Everest.

Now, Everest does have many strands, and when we went along there – and in going back to 1984 as well, and a number of other, subsequent climbs – because there were no ropes, there were no ladders … We were the first to actually get to base camp in our 1988 climb, but it was a real challenge, where you had to totally rely on yourself and you couldn’t outsource decisions to anybody else, like expert Sherpas or guides or whatever.

And I think that was part of the real satisfaction of the challenge; that everything depended on your own team’s resources and abilities. And if there were any weak links in the team … A big team doesn’t make things safer, by the way. It doesn’t make things easier; it can actually make things a lot harder. You have a  lot more interpersonal rivalries and problems, and all the rest.

I’m not in favour of these guided expeditions at all, because I actually believe that when you’re on the mountain, you should be competent in your own right, and be competent to help others should the need arise. Now I’ve probably gone around in a bit of a circle there, Ken.

KEN BALDWIN: That’s all right. And Zac, maybe you could add your two bob’s worth to that experience, and then Lincoln?

ZAC ZACHARIAS: I totally agree with Pat. For me, the ’88 Everest expedition and the way we went up the South Col without Sherpas was extraordinary. I think we probably were naive; until we got there and did it, we didn’t realise how extraordinarily difficult it was. And we got just enormous respect out of that for the Sherpas and what they actually do for most other expeditions. It was taking us six days to carry one oxygen bottle to the South Col, and we needed about 16 bottles up there to support enough summit bids to go to the top. So one person a six-day round trip to carry one oxygen bottle, and it was hard work. The sexy part of climbing is being up at the front leading the route; but the other 95 per cent of the team were all mules.

And even to get to that point, we put in four kilometres of fixed rope and 40 ladders for the ice wall; now we carried those ladders on our backs. We’ve got photos of westerners carrying ladders, which is a pretty unusual thing to see. And they’re horrible things to carry when the wind’s blowing and you’re getting blown off your feet, and they’re swinging around, and they get jammed into a bit of ice.

So we learned a lot about the logistics of mountaineering. And there were some pretty tough moments on that trip; there were a lot of arguments. People wanted to stop: ‘This is crazy.’ ‘Let’s go and get some Sherpas and climb the mountain.’ So we’re having all these philosophical arguments going on the whole climb.

But beyond all that we persevered and we did it, and I think out of that we all grew so much more. And the experience itself was so much richer having done it that way, as opposed to somebody who probably has done two or three years of minimal climbing, all the logistics is put in the way, and the path is open to the summit, as long as you can put one foot after the other.

And I’m not trying to diminish the experience of somebody who’s been to the summit that way, because it still is extraordinary. But when you’ve planned it yourself – six years in the making, raised all the money, had all the fights for blood, sweat and tears, the dysfunctional expedition; people wouldn’t talk to each other for five years [laughter] – you realise that’s part of life’s rich tapestry, and you’ve had that great experience, and we’re so much richer for it. [applause]

KEN BALDWIN: I can certainly attest to that, having arrived at base camp at Everest and just seeing how gaunt and thin you guys were. You really were completely drained. Also, you were off in little groups some of you. Lincoln? [laughter]

LINCOLN HALL: Just regarding the Sherpas – some of my best friends are Sherpas, some of my best friends are women. But the thing about Sherpas is that in the modern era, yes, Sherpas are indispensable. On the expedition in 2006 that I was on – having said four to six is the best number – our expedition was 60 people, half of which were Sherpas and Tibetans. Actually, it was a really good trip, but that’s beside the point. But I think that, what probably quite a lot of people in the room don’t understand or appreciate,  – just haven’t been exposed to – is what happened after the first half-dozen 8000 metre peaks were climbed.

People like Doug Scott and Alex Lowe – well, Alex Lowe wasn’t quite that era. But there was a whole lot of hardcore British mountaineering going on and European mountaineering going on, and these Polish people with impossible names you can’t pronounce, who were climbing really hard routes and they weren’t climbing with Sherpas. They weren’t exposing Sherpas. They had Sherpas at base camp running the kitchen and the mess tent.

I think I agree with Duncan that it’s certainly the case that when you’re guiding, you certainly need all the help you can get; because you’ve got relatively novice climbers who haven’t had to dig deep into themselves to save their own lives. And it’s only when you do that you know you can do that. And so, as a guide, you really have to be able to pull your clients back with a big safety margin, and the Sherpas are essential to that.

And there’s a lot of hardcore mountaineering that is still going on. It’s one of these names that I can’t pronounce – Vladimir Babov [?] I think it is, who tried to climb the North Face of Lhotse solo and he turned back. He came back a year or a season later and climbed it. He’s an extraordinary climber.

And those things happen, but we don’t hear about them when the Sherpas aren’t involved. There is so much that goes on in the mountaineering world. The only time you hear about it, in the broad sense, is when it’s Everest. Or when someone dies.

DUNCAN CHESSELL: I think it’s also that you value your achievements and it’s how you value them as well. If you’re a purist climber who’s born and bred by climbing in New Zealand and alpine style is the only thing that is worth living for, then clipping into a jumar [an ascender] on any fixed line is absolutely not okay. Clipping a bolt, clipping an anchor in someone else’s place is not okay, if you’re an absolute purist. We keep getting back to Everest, and we get to the sacrificial routes on mountains – on Ama Dablam on Everest and on many of the mountains of the world, there’s the standard route, which is usually fixed with rope from top to bottom. And it’s done so so that you can actually get people up there who haven’t been climbing for 15 years, but have been climbing for five, or three, or not very long.

There’s nothing stopping people from going and doing the route that Greg and Tim did on the North Face of Everest, or doing the Kangshung Face. If you’re a pure alpinist, you could quite easily argue that from a climber’s perspective, there’s only been four Australians that have climbed Mount Everest – two here. The rest of us have all just piggybacked on the big, the standard routes and just battered it and fixed it to death, and we’ve not really climbed it in the purist sense at all.

PAT CULLINAN: Who were the four?

DUNCAN CHESSELL: It would be Greg and Tim, and then there were two in ’88, who didn’t use the fixed …

PAT CULLINAN: But they used oxygen?

DUNCAN CHESSELL: They used oxygen.

KEN BALDWIN: And they didn’t pop backwards on a pogo stick either. There are different elements of purity here.

DUNCAN CHESSELL: I suppose it’s really just about saying, how do you choose to challenge the mountains. Sometimes when I look back at being … I was really very much an alpine climber in New Zealand and climbed all the 3000 metre peaks, and was really into that for a long time. It sort of pisses you off a bit when people climb Everest who haven’t got the same level of skills and experience as you. It’s certainly … I see both sides of it though.

LINCOLN HALL: If I could just add to Duncan, I agree with that. I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am with mountaineering, particularly climbing big mountains, without those big expeditions. For me, it was part of that preparation of working part of a large team and getting to really understand mountaineering, particularly the logistics of climbing. And in contrast, my last two 8000 metre peaks I’ve climbed, they were both fairly standard routes on what I wouldn’t call very difficult [or typical?] mountains, but I did them pretty well on my own, from very high, from 7000 metres, in both cases doing it solo. And I couldn’t have done that without the background that I had and those miles and kilometres I had in the large teams.

So for me, as Duncan said,I think a lot of it is about how you choose to climb; it is very personal, and we all do have different levels of ability. And the pathway to take us to where we want to go is a matter of our own choosing.

GEOFF BARTRAM: One thing about paths of your own choosing – Greg Child is one of the world’s great mountaineers, and he had a few years of not reaching a summit. He set himself some really, really challenging goals and had extraordinary experiences, and amazing escapes from death because he and his climbing partners were just attempting these extraordinary things. And really, the luck was against him, and he was getting a bit bitter about it almost. And finally, when he summited, I think perhaps with Greg, on K2, he felt fulfilled again; but he couldn’t bring himself round to climb easy mountains just so he could tick a summit. That’s pure mountaineering, is not ticking the summit as your number one priority.

KEN BALDWIN: So, we’ve had a good opportunity here for some of our experienced Himalayan climbers to bare their souls a little bit, but you might want to probe a little bit further and ask some other questions. So, now is a good opportunity to think of something that you’d like to hear about that you haven’t already heard about. Maybe we can start over here with this gentleman.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Before we leave elitism …

KEN BALDWIN: Just wait. The mike’s going.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Before we leave elitism and fragile egos, perhaps draw a parallel with oceaneering, that there’s many ways of enjoying a wave. You can do it on a jet ski; you can be towed in; you can ride a surfboard; you can do Walter Bonatti; or you can do Chris Bonington. Could any of you comment on the dangers you are often forced into, or you force others into? With this concept that’s just reared its head in the last 15 minutes of elitism and a bit of ego fragility or jealousy or resentment that someone else is doing what you did, purer.

I don’t know, because I’m a very broad person who reacts with a lot of wilderness in many, many different ways. And I’ve come across this at Collaroy, when I couldn’t get a wave on a surfboard, so I went and got my surf ski and got some great waves, but, oh boy, you could have cut the atmosphere with a knife. I very quickly got out of the water and disappeared and became anonymous.

Do you get forced into situations that maybe you shouldn’t be in, or you force others into situations because of this syndrome?

KEN BALDWIN: Who’d like to start? Zac?

ZAC ZACHARIAS: Just from my personal perspective, I’d say, no way. People always compete. There’s a bit of jockeying, and you can’t deny that there’s competition amongst people. But I think the mountains, because of the risk, bring you to reality pretty quickly. So, in the end, really you’re doing it for yourself and your friends, those around you. You set the challenges; I certainly set the challenges around our capabilities. We often will push ourselves into situations because we really want the summit.

I’ve been on the edge on a number of expeditions – and, particularly, summiting Dhaulagiri at 9.30 at night stands out in my mind – where we’re on the edge of, basically, survival. And we got ourselves out of there.

At the end of the day, I think the reality is you’re doing it because you deeply want it, and you’re feeling it, and that’s what you want. And the rest is haze; it disappears into the background. So, I don’t think that’s really a driving force.


GREG MORTIMER: I don’t think you can deny that mountaineering is a deeply egocentric activity. And big-mountain mountaineering requires sense of self and egocentricity. I think a very nice thing about Australia’s short history of mountaineering is it has been free of egoism. There’s been a lovely sense of admiration between a small group of people who like to go from Australia to the big mountains. And that’s maybe not the case in Europe where the commercial pressures of professional mountaineering are stronger and the forces at work are stronger. We’ve escaped that, I think, in Australia.


DUNCAN CHESSELL: I’ve got two comments. In Britain, in Scotland, for instance, it’s very competitive, the mountaineering there, with private climbs, not so much commercially at all. It’s all about how hard did you climb, did you solo it, how quickly did you do it. And a little bit of that element in New Zealand, as well. Not so outwardly in New Zealand. New Zealand’s quite interesting, it’s the opposite. It’s almost the less you say, the more you are. It’s completely the opposite to what people do in Europe.

So, in New Zealand, it’s all about going and climbing that grade six ice route, coming back to the hut, and then someone saying, ‘What did you guys do?’ ‘Oh, we just had a good climb.’ That’s it. [laughter]

But in terms of … I was involved in ’95 with the first Australian ascent of Makalu, and I went along as one of the team members there. And it was led by a fellow from Sydney who was very driven to make the first Australian ascent. It mattered more to him to make the first Australian ascent than anything else. And one of his mountaineering rivals was coming in a week later, with Rob Hall and some other people who were going to clean it up. And he pushed himself so hard, he summited after 18 hours out and collapsed and died on the descent, or fell off and died on the descent.

So, ego certainly pushes us to do things that, taking a step back at it, you wouldn’t normally put yourself in those situations.


PAT CULLINAN: I think also that when you’re young and extremely fit, the human psyche is such that you want to take on a challenge. Now, if you’re a high jumper, you’d want to jump maybe higher than anybody else; or a sprinter, sprint faster than anybody else; or a mountaineer, it’s only natural that you tend to actually go for Everest. Certainly, that was my psyche at the time. But there is also an enormous satisfaction part about it. Because I remember when Paul Bain and me were all getting ready for our summit climb, and it was quite magic in many ways that we had no idea whether we could climb it or not; whether, in fact, we’d even be alive the next day or not, although we want to live just as much as anybody else.

But this was the one opportunity whereby we could give it 100 percent effort, everything that we had, and everything that we’d planned for and everybody else had planned for, for quite a number of years, to try to see whether or not we could achieve it or not. And to me, I don’t know where the ’88 climb rates on the big totem pole of things. It rates somewhere, no doubt, but that doesn’t matter.

I think all of us, when we look back, we’re proud of the fact that we, when we could, take on a real challenge and succeed against the odds. Now, I’m not sure if that’s ego, or what it is, but it certainly just seemed like a good idea at the time. [laughter]

KEN BALDWIN: I think it’s certainly true to say that there are a couple of things, or many things actually, that attract climbers to the mountains. One is the mountains themselves, but also it’s the people that go with you. And if ego plays too great a role, then no one will want to go with you, or you won’t want to go with them. So, that’s I think a moderating factor in all of this. Are there any other questions that you’d like to ask of the panel? Yes, over here? If you’ll bring the mike down.

GREG MORTIMER: This will be a question for Zac?

KEN BALDWIN: Here’s danger, Zac. [laughter]

AUDIENCE MEMBER: So, I want to declare I’m married to one of these people. My name is Janet Gahan. I understood there were three people who summited in Everest 1998 expedition, is that correct?


PAT CULLINAN: John Muir, as well.

JANET GAHAN: My question is about resilience in society, basically. When you guys started climbing, I think society had a good measure of resilience in the population. Part of my job is to see that people these days don’t have a lot of resilience. I think going back to Boy Scouts – and when you mentioned Boy Scouts I saw a lot of people nodding heads, and I learned to climb through my association with Girl Guides and Sea Rangers. I think what that took us into was resilience, and I keep wondering whether resilience is starting to be a lack in our society.

You look at the number of people who object to the fact that people are going walking on Kokoda and prepared to challenge themselves. I just thought I’d throw it as an open comment and ask your questions.

KEN BALDWIN: So what was the question?

JANET GAHAN: About whether you think resilience is starting to drop off in our normal society and people. About actually wanting to give themselves a challenge. People don’t seem to – you know, someone shouts at them at work, and they start to put in a stress claim. Whereas I can’t imagine any –

ZAC ZACHARIAS: You’re saying, is that mirrored in the mountaineering that’s not happening anymore?

GREG MORTIMER: In society in general?

JANET GAHAN: Possibly. Yeah, just as a general comment. Because you guys all jumped into mountaineering and took it on, and I don’t know that that’s out and out happening. Do you think there’s succession planning, for want of a better word, happening in the younger age groups? Do you see younger groups of people coming through and wanting to go climbing? Or do you think that’s now off the radar? Or because expeditions are no longer a fact for them, that people tend to go off and just do one-offs? That resilience that we start to learn when we give ourselves challenges, I don’t think it’s happening anymore. I don’t know.

LINCOLN HALL: Well, I think that what’s happened is that Australian climbers have been smart enough to focus on rock climbing, and there’s certainly plenty of world-class Australian rock climbers. Whereas back when most of us here started climbing, we were rock climbing, and then we’d go to New Zealand, and then we’d come back here, and … depending on the season and so on. But now there’s a lot of climbers who are just happy rock climbing. All this stuff with doing this to your fingers is just nonsense, and of course it is. And I never had an ambition of climbing Everest initially, but there’s people like Michael Rheinberger, who when he was setting off on his seventh attempt to climb Everest at age 53, said, ‘This is now or never.’ And it was both. I mean, he didn’t come back.

And there was resilience, I mean, there’s resilience there, and you don’t always see it, and I think what happens with guided climbing – not that I’ve guided at a high level, but often people … It’s funny, you’re either in the category where you find you can do more that you think you can, or you’re in the opposite category, where you think you’re able to do it, and you can’t.

So I actually don’t think there’s any generalisations that you can make. It’s just that there’s a lot more people who play computer games. I think that’s why there’s … [laughter]


GREG MORTIMER: As far as younger generation coming through, several years ago  my son, all of a sudden, at the end of his teenage years, got up off the couch and started going climbing. [laughter] Much to my dismay. It was a wondrous day. And he’s now impassioned. He’s in Arapiles at the moment climbing as we speak on [??], or something like that, so yes, I think that’s naturally evolving.

In the broadest picture, where you were asking, ‘Is our society more cotton-wooled?’ And I think that most of us would say yes, that our society is increasingly rule-bound and cotton-wooled, and those young things that want to take risks have to jump through more hoops to do so.

And I have a very fine example of that, because earlier this year, I took a friend of mine and his 12-year-old son out onto the Three Sisters. And we got busted, [laughter] because it’s illegal to climb on the Three Sisters now, and for a bunch of silly reasons. It’s bloody nonsense, really. And we got a $300 fine, which I’ve got proudly on our mantelpiece at home. [laughter]

LINCOLN HALL: If I could just add – I think if you scratch the surface, people who are doing tough things today – really tough climbs and rock climbs or mountaineering, or whatever it may be, surfing – I think you need that same level of resilience and capacity to achieve what you’re doing. In fact, if anything I’ve observed in 35 years I’ve been climbing is, the standards are getting higher and higher for those who are doing it. So there’s no doubt what people are climbing now is just extraordinary. We wouldn’t have even contemplated it 30 years ago.

But having said that, I have also been involved in a lot with youth over 35 years, particularly in the military, taking them on various adventures, and I think the thing I’ve noticed that’s changed is that we just turned up and did something. We’d go to New Zealand and go climbing. We’d sort of bumble along and learn as we went. So it was much more experienced-based. And we did a lot of it, and we learnt through the school of hard knocks.

I think what’s changing now is that people are almost expecting to do a course or pay your money, and people have their hand held, so a lot of that self-reliance, which is what I did climbing for – just to get away from it all, and be on my own with a bunch of mates, and just whatever happens … and if you get to the top of the mountain, absolutely fantastic; if you don’t, well, we had a great trip anyway. I think that’s lost a bit in our society, a sense of just taking control of your own destiny and not too worried about if you succeed or not, but just giving it a go without having somebody putting a stamp on your head to say you’re competent.

KEN BALDWIN: Question down the front here.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Could the panel kindly give some highlights and details of the role of women in your 25 years of Himalayan climbing? That would be great. [laughter]

KEN BALDWIN: Well, I guess there’s a number of people that the panel members know personally in the regard. Who’d like to comment?

GREG MORTIMER: Of Australian women?


GREG MORTIMER: I certainly climbed with some, and guided with some, women in South America who were amazing, remarkable, given … I mean their power-to-weight was phenomenal. They were only 50 kilos, but could carry at least that weight and were everything – had all the risk-taking ability of any man I ever climbed with. But for Australian climbers, there are obviously some names like Brigitte Muir and others that these guys probably know a lot better than I do.

LINCOLN HALL: Vera Wong and Robin McClelland, and Sue Fear. I think women are – I mean, mountaineering really is an egotistical and stupid activity, really, in terms of … And so I think women are smart enough to not do that. [laughter]

And there are … there are women who climb as hard as men, which – and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be like that. And I remember when I was first climbing, and I was really sort of annoyed that I’d chosen an activity that didn’t have any women in it. By the time it had women in it, I was off in the mountains, where there were no women, so anyway … But there’s more to life than women. So, I think that’s the role … There hasn’t been a very strong role amongst Australian women in terms of climbing, but there’s certainly been some world-class rock climbers, where there is safety.

GEOFF BARTRAM: And in other countries women have got together and formed women’s expeditions, like the Americans with the famous two T-shirt slogans, ‘A woman’s place is on the top’ and ‘A woman’s place is on the face’; and both of those did phenomenal routes, one on Annapurna 1, and one on Ama Dablam, with – I think they had male Sherpas, but they certainly had all women climbers.

PAT CULLINAN: But if you take Sue Fear – who tragically died on a mountain, Manaslu, a couple years ago – but like, she not only had climbed Everest, but had climbed five 8000 metre peaks; and when she climbed so much in the Indian sub-continent and all that, she had clear goals, and she wasn’t going to allow the male-dominated Indian subcontinent to affect her dreams and goals in the slightest way. So it was extraordinary what she did. And of course, Brigitte Muir, already mentioned; I mean she was the first woman in Australia to climb the seven peaks. And we did open our climb in 1988 to women, but I don’t think any applied, did they, Zac, if I recall?

ZAC ZACHARIAS: Not climbers, but we certainly each had a number in the team, including … I think Jill’s here tonight, too, as on our ’88 expedition … Hi, Jill, at the back there. So they certainly have played a big role in mountaineering in Australia, but I think the reality is that it’s a men’s game. Ninety per cent of mountaineering even now – it’s one of the few sports, I think, where men still dominate in terms of sheer numbers. Whereas rock climbing, I think, is changed, with equal in participation or close to equal participation.

KEN BALDWIN: Well, I think you find if you go climbing in Europe, there are a large number of women who climb alpine, alpinism in Europe, and that is a big difference to Australia, I think.

PAT CULLINAN: I was just referring to women for the 1988 climbing: Jill was at the base camp and did a brilliant job, I think outlasting quite a number of the males who left a bit earlier because they were overcome by the whole thing, and Jill was there from start to finish.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Some Australian women have survived the most difficult routes of all in mountaineering, in fact, in having kids, and often having to continue a family relationship with young children, very young children who no longer have a male role model in their parents. And I don’t think we should underestimate the huge support and reality of that situation even in an ego-driven sport like mountaineering.

PAT CULLINAN: I think that’s a terribly important point, because I know myself, my wife Sharon – I mean, it was terribly important that she was supportive, because that actually allows you to climb and not be worried about your other half, basically. So I think the support of your other half cannot be underestimated.

DUNCAN CHESSELL: I think that – sorry.


DUNCAN CHESSELL: I just think that someone who marries a climber, is different from someone who is married and then becomes a climber; because if you marry a climber, you sort of know what you’re getting, whereas if you take up climbing after you’re married, you’ve sort of cheated, I reckon. Because you know, your husband could die, and maybe that’s the best thing. There’s a famous quote about bigamy is one husband too many; so is monogamy. That’s beside the point. [laughter]

KEN BALDWIN: While you’re thinking about that, well, we’ve got another question here. [laughter]

PAT CULLINAN: That was deep. Okay.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Our climbing, and indeed our mountaineering, has gone where people have learnt from those above them all the time. Somebody’s doing something a little harder. You go and watch them do it or go and try to do it, and that became an apprenticeship system. Now all of a sudden we seem to have swapped a lot more across to the idea that you may or may not be a rock climber in Australia. You then go over to Alpine Guides or whoever and do a course and then strike out from there without actually having, as you guys have all said, done the apprenticeship, done the mileage up through the climbs that many of you have done.

My question is, is there any real succession planning happening in mountaineering? For example, I won’t say the Brains Trust, maybe the Lungs Trust that we have here … Is there any planned taking of promising climbers and not necessarily climbing with them but sitting down and talking to them about philosophies and work with, and potential planning out of their future; the same as happens with every other ego-driven athlete, whether they’re doing laps at Bathurst this weekend, whether they’re out on a football field or whatever.

The ego doesn’t worry me, but I look at all these others and they have wonderful things set in place in their sports to say, ‘This is the next generation, let’s develop them properly’. What are you guys doing?

KEN BALDWIN: I guess you could ask the question, is there any planning in mountaineering?

LINCOLN HALL: Well, can I just answer that about the planning, because I think that Andrew Lock has climbed the 14,000-ers because I think Tim and Greg did a post-’84 slideshow in Wagga. Is that right? That inspired Andrew to be. That’s the succession planning for mountaineering, really.

KEN BALDWIN: Such as it is.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: It was a dare in a pub.

GREG MORTIMER: But you are right. I think for younger climbers, especially with the focus as it is on the Himalaya, I think it gets harder and harder. Because, obviously it’s hard for us to get sponsorship – very, very hard for us to get sponsorship – but it’s harder for the second and the third and the fifth and 25th to get sponsorship. And to go on these big Himalayan expeditions is never cheap. In fact, I think, proportionally I think the cost has ballooned, I would think. Your peak fee now is, for Everest, what, $50,000?

ZAC ZACHARIAS: I think $60,000.

GREG MORTIMER: When we went it was $5000. So you’re talking about a huge investment. For young climbers I think it must be getting more and more difficult to see it possible to go to. As far as I know there’s no … We are in a country where mountaineering is still a real minority sport. The only way you’ll get media coverage really is if it’s a disaster or a near-disaster, really, or if it’s on something huge. You can’t compare it to somewhere like Europe where like bicycle racing, it’s a majority sport, really those sorts of things.

DUNCAN CHESSELL: If I can add: certainly my role in the Army Alpine Association, I’ve been on 14, 15 expeditions to the Himalaya. I think I led about nine, a lot of them through the club structure. I think a club structure like that … And maybe it’s a bit unique in Australia. Certainly in the ’70s and ’80s there were a lot more university-type mountaineering clubs, and I know Tim and Lincoln got their careers started through the annual mountaineering club. Of course, Ken was a member of that as well.

I think certainly in the early days, the club structure was very important in providing that sort of apprenticeship process for mountaineers. And I always made a point of taking young, inexperienced climbers on an expedition. Even on the base of getting up to camp one or camp two gave them such a great start.

And many of them came back later on, on subsequent expeditions, as very strong climbers. Brian Lawson is a very good example. It was 1997 Dhaulagiri expedition – young, fit, capable guy. First major mountain, he got within 400 metres of the summit. Then he summitted next four expeditions that he went on. He made the summit of an 8000 metre peak.

So that certainly occurred through that club structure, but I think sadly, what’s happened is the club structure, not just in mountaineering, across Australia has died – bushwalking, cross country skiing, mountaineering.

If you go to a club meeting in Canberra, there’s rarely anybody under the age of 40 at those meetings. I think there’s a big societal change. It’s not necessarily because we don’t want to, or we’re not trying to, encourage younger people. I think there has been a shift in society to buying adventure as opposed to creating adventure through a bit of passion and vision and just want. We’re doing our best, but it is a changing society.

ZAC ZACHARIAS: We’re probably seeing in New Zealand, a real problem is that there’s not many people out there doing their own climbing anymore. They go on courses, they go on guided climbs. [At] the New Zealand Mountain Guide Association, which I’m a member of, there isn’t as many people to pick from … they don’t have the experience of the previous generation. People are buying their adventures. It’s definitely a problem. But the club structure still is reasonably strong in New Zealand, and for Australians, having a mountaineering club in Australia is sort of a bit of strange thing really. Australians are better off to join the Canterbury Mountaineering Club or the New Zealand Alpine Club. And there are club trips that have been organised to go overseas.

I think that’s probably the pathway and that we should really possibly look at … The New Zealanders have got the mountains and if we want to be part of that, that’s the best structure that’s in place. And there is club trips; there are a lot of local club trips in New Zealand, also further afield, that are organised.

KEN BALDWIN: Greg, and then Lincoln.

GREG MORTIMER: I think, somewhat sadly, we’ve never had an Australian Mountaineering Association.

PAT CULLINAN: We tried, we tried.

GREG MORTIMER: We tried several goes at it but just never got far. That’s maybe what you’re heading towards in your thought as well, a little sad perhaps. At the same time, the maverick streak and the disparate nature of Australian mountaineering has been a great strength to it in the shorter term. [laughter]

KEN BALDWIN: Right, I think so too.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: I know where you’re coming from. It’s an interesting point. I’m just wondering whether there’s any formality to be followed on. I did my first climb at 13, and I did my first New Zealand season at 16. It was just, the guys were all going to New Zealand in the summertime and why not come along? You sort of wandered off then and you just end up tied on the end of a rope. There wasn’t much difference apart from the fact that the distance was slightly different and whatever else. I said, ‘Oh yes. I’ll do that’. At that age, you don’t see it as an issue or a problem. [unintelligible]

If there was a problem [unintelligible], ‘Oh really.’ It doesn’t seem to happen anymore. There seems to be people who get to a standard if you need that rock climbed at all. I notice that New Zealand Alpine Guides is now even advertising courses saying, ‘And if you[‘ve] never even done any rock climbing, come along for a day and a half beforehand and we’ll give you the basics of rope work first, and then we’ll fling you into a technical mountaineering course.’

It’s sort of like you’re an individual [unintelligible] instead of being part of a team that then moves on and progresses. I was just wondering whether there was a structure for putting teams together.

LINCOLN HALL: Well, I think that with the New Zealand thing, when I did a course – and I guess many of us here did, in probably 1976 or something – already there was a course for people who’d done rock climbing. That was then. A few – a month or so back, I spoke to the New Zealand – sorry, the Melbourne chapter of the New Zealand Alpine Club and they weren’t all over 40. In fact I’d say 80 per cent were younger than that.

They’re coming back from climbing all over the world, [Mount] Elbrus, [indecipherable, another mountain] and things like that. It was years ago now but I spoke to 1500 – I think one of the Melbourne clubs, I can’t remember which club it was. Anyway, it was 1500 people in that mountaineering club.

I think really, Victoria is really the spawning area. That’s where there’s so much more. Victoria’s like this yattle [?] of Australia in terms of intensity of people doing outdoor stuff. I think we’re a little bit in a blind spot here in thinking that it’s not going on.

KEN BALDWIN: There’s a question down the front and there’s one at back.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: From my appreciation of what’s been said, it seems clear to me that’s there’s no consistent aim in mountaineering. That in itself presents a problem for the layman to understand. But having said that, what intrigues me is, no one’s mentioned or touched upon risk analysis.

GEOFF BARTRAM: What’s that?

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Risk analysis. [laughter]

GEOFF BARTRAM: Oh, sorry. I’ll say the question again: what’s that?

AUDIENCE MEMBER: In many activities these days, even if they’re deemed to be slightly risky, a methodology has to be adopted to satisfy people who believe there is an inherent danger. And then once that’s overcome, the expedition or whatever, the activity, takes place. Let’s assume the risk analysis is done. What I’m interested to know is by whom it is done for such an expedition, a mountaineering expedition, and what deference is paid to it.

PAT CULLINAN: You have to do it at an individual level.

GEOFF BARTRAM: Can I answer that? On the 1984 expedition, Greg was my climbing partner. And I have climbed probably as much as most of these guys here, but I very quickly realised that I was on a Himalayan climbing holiday, and Greg was here to climb Mount Everest. And probably a large part of the difference between us was that he was willing … His level of risk-taking was far greater than mine. So I think, just as Lincoln said, we did take risk in it. There’s no way that any of us had a death wish. But it’s just that perhaps in mountaineering, and only in mountaineering, we were willing to take greater risks that the average punter. But I wouldn’t take that in ocean racing, for example. Or any other high-risk sports.

So I suppose that risk analysis … And I think we probably analysed the risk, but in part it was because we were incredibly comfortable in that environment. As I say, within that, there was a tremendous range of risk, both aversion and embracing of risk. Most of us probably had fairly similar ability, I reckon. But we certainly didn’t in commitment and risk ability. Does that answer it at all?

KEN BALDWIN: So Greg, maybe you should –

GEOFF BARTRAM: We didn’t formally …

KEN BALDWIN:  – have the right of reply to that little comment. [laughter]

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Not precisely, if it’s a team effort.

GEOFF BARTRAM: Well, I don’t know whether that’s even true. I mean sure, you are a team, but it’s a very loosely-knit team. In our case we were. But I’d say we actively sought to be a loosely-knit team. I mean, I was on the 1988 Bicentennial Expedition, and I withdrew – excuse me, Zac – I withdrew when the Army came in, because I didn’t want to be on a big team. But that was simply me. And I didn’t want the security of that big team, I loved the insecurity of a small team.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: If it’s an assault on an objective, then it’s a team goal. And the effort goes to place that person in position. Surely there must be a shared risk. What I’m driving at is, if someone’s responsible for it, what deference is paid to that insight?

GEOFF BARTRAM: I guess in our case there was never, ever … If I had have chosen to turn around because I thought the risk was too great, I had absolute confidence that these guys wouldn’t bag me about it. That would have just been, ‘Oh well, that’s how it is.’ So in our case, all those decisions were made on a very personal level, but with tremendous support from this other group of loosely-knit friends, I suppose. Does that make any sense?


GREG MORTIMER: I think mountaineering is now a broader church; there’s a far greater variety of people and activities going on with it. And as Geoff has just said, in our case in ’84 – and Lincoln said as well – these were individual assessments of risk. And a small team like that can do thus, it has the luxury of being able to do that. One of the fascinating things about commercial mountaineering for me, is best encapsulated in John Krakauer’s writings in Into Thin Air, after that horrible disaster on Everest, where he said that at some point in a guided expedition, no matter the skill of the client, the client is going to subvert their responsibilities to the guide.

I think that’s inherent in guided mountaineering: at some point, no matter how bloody good you are, you’re going to hand over risk analysis to who’s in charge. So there’s a great big spectrum of risk analysis there.

ZAC ZACHARIAS: If I could jump in too, because I’ve actually done a formal risk assessment on mountaineering. And again through, I guess, the second expedition I lead to Everest in 2001. And that’s something I was required to do because the organisation demanded it, because that’s the way most organisations are going now. The interesting thing out of it I think I found is that I didn’t learn anything new in doing that risk assessment. It completed the formality of what the risks were and how we’re going to manage them. But I think the thing it really highlighted to me though was that, firstly in mountaineers … because climbers live with the risk and their actions, they can control the risk to a certain point; because they are in control of it to a great extent, they’re responsible for it, they have ownership of the risk, unlike a lot of things we do in society. So to my mind, climbers … The real strength of mountaineering in those risk assessments, they’re actually individual capability and the capacity of the climber.

So, collectively those climbers who do have a discussion at some point in time, and in that discussion everybody agrees, effectively … It’s all about supporting each other. And the choices that we make are different. Some people choose within that sort of team structure to stick their necks out in a way that is extraordinary, and take risks beyond what others would choose. And others choose not to. In fact I’ve had people on my climbing team that chose not to climb at all, even though that’s what they intended to do; they’ve stayed at base camp.

So it becomes a matter of personal … I guess what I’m trying to say, it’s a real personal choice. But in the end everybody mutually supports each other. And that’s the strength of managing the risk on the mountain.

GEOFF BARTRAM: And I reckon the basis of all our risk analysis is, we’re supreme optimists. If someone got this formally and said to you, ‘One in three people on blah blah mountain die’. you’d say, ‘Yeah, but it’s going to be that other bloke over there, it won’t be me.’ [laughter]

KEN BALDWIN: Maybe we should have the final word from Pat, who takes risk analysis to heart, both in his role as an SAS commander but also through his other professional engagement where risk analysis is part of what you do.

PAT CULLINAN: Well, I suppose – and also backing up a bit of what Zac was talking about – in today’s world, more and more you’ve got to be able to produce a written risk assessment. That you analyse every possible risk, which is obviously impossible, and you’ve come up with a residual risk rating, or whatever. Whereas back in 1988 we didn’t do things like that. But I think the key point is, and the same with all other expeditions and everyone on this table, we were always every bit as interested in living as no doubt everybody in this room is. I’ve always thought that the greatest aid to safety is having experienced subject matter experts, for want of a better term, in the dangerous situation in the first place. So in other words, if you’ve got climbers who are part of a team, who know each other well, who are happy to climb with each other, who have that experience and knowledge, and confidence to actually start aiming for something; that is great safety in itself.

And often when you look back on your own slides of, for example, 1988 or no doubt 1984, we’re not climbing in T-shirts and shorts or anything. You’ll see that everybody’s properly outfitted, they’ve got the right climbing harnesses, carabiners, ropes, and everything else. And they’re climbing as per a sensible set of procedures. So I think safety has always been there, and I think Zac’s point is very valid that after he did that comprehensive risk management plan for 2001, he didn’t find that there was anything there that he wouldn’t have done had he not been required to write something in a document. So I think it’s always been there.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: [unintelligible]/I’m not access, but we’re talking about vulnerability …

KEN BALDWIN: Let’s have a question from up the back there.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: … There’s responsibility from outside the team, outside the camp.

KEN BALDWIN: Thank you.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: I actually have a comment for the gentleman down there who was discussing the lack of a groundswell with mountaineering/climbing, but then I also have a question. I learned to climb in Britain; I was there for seven years and then I came home. I’ve discovered on my return to Australia that the climbing/mountaineering clubs tend to be university-based here. And as I can trad-lead, I used to have a rack, I used to do all sorts of things … But because I don’t have a degree, I can’t join the club.


AUDIENCE MEMBER: Mm-hmm. Now until you address access and equity issues in climbing/mountaineering, how are you going to promote the sport?

PAT CULLINAN: Join the Sydney Rock Climbing Club.

ZAC ZACHARIAS: Or join the Canberra Climbers Association. I’m the president, by the way. [laughter] So we do actually have a bit of recruiting here.


ZAC ZACHARIAS: In fact, we created the club because the only club was a university-based club and of course they’ve got their rules. So there is now an avenue in Canberra for you to come along.


ZAC ZACHARIAS: I’ve got an application for you in my back pocket.

KEN BALDWIN: $15 just to join.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: But I do have a question.  It’s all been a little bit serious, and I loved the chooks story. Now I think that what differentiates Australian climbers/mountaineers is our laconic-ness, our sense of humour, and our ability to have fun in the mountains. So could I please have a humorous story from the panel? [laughter; applause]

GEOFF BARTRAM: I reckon you did right there. You’ve hit a big nail on the head there, that, dammit, we’re our own worst enemies. And in a sense, I’m sticking it up the Himalaya here, I know. But as soon as you start to involve the media, and you’re looking for sponsorship, you’ve got to make something media-newsworthy. And there’s this absolute fascination that every climber that goes off there is on the edge. Every time we come off a summit, it’s in a blinding blizzard off the edge. Well, that’s bullshit. Most of us wander down, it’s great.

Most of your mountaineering, you come back down to camp, a lovely, sunny afternoon. You sit around with your mates and you have a cup of tea and you talk about the climb and it’s wonderful.

But the media doesn’t want to hear that stuff, do they? And so we’re our own worst enemies. We’ve promoted, we’ve allowed that to become an integral part of mountaineering: the danger, ‘I nearly lost this’, and ‘I was bloody nearly a goner that time’, you know?

And I don’t know how we get around that. Well, I know how you get around it. You go to the Andes, and you wander off with your mate and a cooked chooks [unintelligible]. And you don’t have to tell anyone that you did it, and really, you don’t care whether anyone knows you did it. That’s where I reckon it lays. Sorry.

KEN BALDWIN: Other humorous anecdotes. Did the chook enjoy it? That’s what I want to know. [laughter]

[inaudible comment from audience]

PAT CULLINAN: He is a funny story.

LINCOLN HALL: I have a supporting story in that many years ago I was trying to do a boulder problem at Mount Arapiles, to incredible frustration. So instead I went off and climbed quite a difficult route that I’d climbed many times before, but I did it without a rope. And I felt very satisfied by that, and I kept it to myself. And then a few days later, I went to Arapiles for a week or two, and I told my climbing mate that I had soloed this climb. And then suddenly the magic had gone, because I’d shared it. Because then suddenly the fact that, ‘Look, I’ve done this’ is different from, ‘I’ve done this’.

And that’s not funny, but you’re laughing anyway. [laughter]

KEN BALDWIN: No, it’s a story.

ZAC ZACHARIAS: I’ll jump in with a story on one of my expeditions, my first expedition to Dhaulagiri. One of the things we always do is take a couple of home brew kits along. And the expedition doctor’s job is to sterilise two plastic barrels at base camp and make sure there’s a lovely home brew after six weeks of mountaineering to enjoy the success or otherwise at the end. Anyway, I noticed during this expedition that – the doctor set this all up, it was in a tent, in the cook tent – and I noticed that during the expedition the Sherpas were a particularly happy bunch of people. [laughter]

Anyway, it came the end of the expedition to crack open the two barrels; the head Sherpa came up to me and said, ‘Zac, bad news, terrible news.’ I said, ‘What’s that? What’s happened?’ He said, ‘Oh, we have leakage in one of the barrels.’ [laughter] He said, ‘Good news, the other barrel’s okay.’ So I suddenly put two and two together and worked out why they were so happy.

LINCOLN HALL: I’ve got another very brief humorous story. In 1994, we drove into the base camp, which was 20 kilometres from the base of the mountain, and we had our advance base camp where we spent 60 days halfway up there. So we were ten kilometres from base camp, and back at base camp were various Chinese officials and truck drivers and liaison officers and that kind of thing. And there was also an American team on the North Ridge. And the Chinese liaison officers were talking to each other.

And the Australian liaison officer told the American liaison officer that the Australians had no hope of reaching the summit because they didn’t eat meat and they didn’t drink whiskey. [laughter]

LINCOLN HALL: No chook. [inaudible comment from audience]

AUDIENCE MEMBER: I’m sorry, we’re still on the stories, are we?

KEN BALDWIN: Duncan might have one as well. Duncan? Or Pat. Go on, Pat.

PAT CULLINAN: Actually, I was going to tell the Dasai dunny. This was back in 1986, and there was a great big Korean expedition who were with us climbing K2. We were on Broad Peak. And they’d actually constructed this huge toilet that was used, obviously, by the 450 porters and a lot more. Some of our people used it as well. This was an incredible, beautifully constructed wooden structure where you’d go up to the top and sit on top and do your business. And one of our team members, Mick Pizette, we told him, ‘Oh, yes, the toilet’s up there. You can’t miss it.’ Well, he didn’t realise that you went up to the top. He’d always open the door and go underneath. [laughter]

Anyway, one day we were having a discussion in the tent. We were heaping praise on the Koreans for this fantastic toilet. And he’d been up there a few times and in the end he said, ‘God, you’re a dirty lot of bastards! That’s the worst, filthiest thing I’ve ever been in.’ [laughter]

And we’re all saying, ‘Well, it looks pretty good to us. I don’t know what you’re whingeing about.’ Another whinge, you know. And it was only later on we found he was always opening the door and going underneath and we were always going up to the top. [laughter]

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Dawn Robert. I have a question for the panel. We’ve been discussing that there’s certainly been an increase in the opportunities for people to go to the Himalayas through guiding expeditions. And certainly in the height of the climbing season at base camp Everest, we see the huge amounts of teams that are there now. I just wondered if the panel could comment on how this has impacted on the environment and if you’ve noted sort of changes over the last 20 years. And what are some of the things we can do about protecting these pristine areas with the incredible increase in the amount of people that are now going there, and of course the amount of equipment and other things that are brought in?

So your experience around this area, and what can we do to protect these areas in the future. Thanks.

DUNCAN CHESSELL: I guess to give you some numbers on, say, climbers on Everest and that sort of thing, you’ll have these days up to 400, possibly even 500 people, climbing Mount Everest to the summit each year. That’s probably going to equate to about 1000 people or 1500 attempting it; about a couple of thousand Sherpas employed. So while it might be interesting to focus on the negative side of what is the impact to the environment, there’s also the positive impact to the Sherpa’s salaries, the money that it brings in to that whole community and that area that would otherwise be very underdeveloped.

There also goes hand in hand with, say the Everest region, you’re looking at 25,000 trekkers a year go there, largely with this fascination of climbing Mount Everest, and climbers climbing Mount Everest and that sort of thing.

I think there is certainly an impact in the Everest Valley on the Nepal side. Perhaps more so from trekking than anything else. But there’s also progress. There’s schools, there’s hospitals, there’s a whole lot of great things for the people.

When Hillary first went there in ’53, you look at the photographs of Namche Bazaar, and there was a couple of small huts and that was it. Whereas now it’s a vastly different place. So I tend to look at the positives of it as well.

LINCOLN HALL: If I could just add, too: again, my first expedition was in the early ’80s, and I’m still actively climbing the big mountains. As Duncan said, there is a huge impact, and it’s a growing impact on the big mountains, which does place a lot of environmental pressure. And it is a very delicate, fragile ecosystem. But I think the climbers individually, expeditions and, I think, the nations that have these mountains, are making greater efforts to manage it. Some of the changes that I’ve certainly noticed is when I was in Cho Uyo a few years ago, we actually were taking barrels into base camp on a glacier, and they were the pooh barrels; and then they were sealed up, put on a yak, and actually carried out. Whereas, in the past, people would’ve just … It would have ended up in a crevasse.

So that’s coming from climbers, themselves. And I’ve got to say, commercial operators are becoming more and more conscious about being responsible. On my 2001 Everest expedition – there’s another example – I was very conscious about oxygen bottles, taking them on the mountain. I placed a bounty of 20 US dollars on an empty bottle off the mountain, and the Sherpas, of course, saw that as another source of income. So, by placing a value on the empty oxygen cylinder, it meant that they came off the mountain as opposed to just being dumped there.

So I think both small actions and also actions by expeditions and nations … I’m not saying, ‘The problem’s going away, it’s not a problem’, but I think we’re all conscious of it, we all want to take responsibility for preserving that wonderful environment that we get so much pleasure from.

PAT CULLINAN: In 2006, on the Tibetan side of Everest, there was actually a garbage truck. It wasn’t one of those ones that lift up your bin. It had a bunch of Tibetans throwing up bags of rubbish and driving them off somewhere. I don’t know where they drove them to.

GEOFF BARTRAM: Somewhere lower down the river, I think. [laughter]

PAT CULLINAN: Yes, probably. That’s right, out of sight, out of mind. But, I think, actually, even though we’re all talking mountaineering here, it’s … Both those places, Nepal and Tibet, are very poor countries, and really, the Everest area and the climbing areas, are the wealthy parts of Nepal, apart from Kathmandu. And there are so many issues in terms of … that are not solvable, because there are no resources to do that. There’s not enough money to have proper health services, proper education, and so if you really want to make a difference, you can get involved with the Australian Himalayan Foundation. We actually had a very big, fantastically successful fundraising event just last Friday. So it’s a lot that can be done, and it just needs people who want to do it to get out there and do it.

GEOFF BARTRAM: And I think, Dawn, there have been very positive things done since. The 25, 30 years ago that I started going to Nepal … For example, in the Khumbu now … Like 25 years ago, it was very difficult to find a virgin rock, whereas, now, there are toilets throughout the Khumbu region. I mean, you don’t find crap on the side of the track like you used to. The doctor on our ’84 expedition started a fund recently to put porters’ shelters in at the points where those poor buggers used to drop your bag off and then they would disappear for the night somewhere to sleep. You didn’t quite know where. They’ve now got permanent shelters where they can not only shelter more comfortably, but it’s a safety issue as well.

Reafforestation in the Khumbu area is probably heaps better than it was 30 years ago, and that’s in part because, I guess, tourism both helped to denude it in the first place, but then put pressure on the local government to reafforest it. And the other thing probably is … And, you know, when I first went in the Khumbu, everyone burnt wood. Every trekking group; no one carried kerosene. Everyone carries kerosene now.

So, I think there are positive things, and most of those things have come, I reckon, from the tourism industry themselves, and hopefully that’s the way it should be, you know. That’s not only the way it should be, that’s the way it will be, that people who go on treks demand the operator does this stuff. You know, they demand that the porters have good shoes and good clothing, and that they don’t burn wood, and they don’t crap under every rock, and all those sorts of things.

I reckon that’s sort of the answer to it really, because governments in those countries won’t necessarily make the changes. It’s very remote areas that a centralised government in Dehli or Kathmandu doesn’t have a clue what’s going on at Lobuche or Zanskar, or Kia for that matter.

GREG MORTIMER: I agree with everything Geoff says, but regulations have been there for years and years, ever since I’ve been in the Himalayas anyway, and the care of porters was … It was a hard life for them. Slips, trips, and falls was part of their daily life, you might say. But I know all the expeditions that I’ve been on, we’d always have an expedition doctor, and every day the doctor would actually see what he could do for the porters, and sometimes even go into the villages and help them. Particularly, 1988 was a classic. We had, as it turned out, five doctors on the expedition. They even did a leg amputation of a Sherpa who had been in enormous pain for years and years. A couple of the doctors also went up into neighbouring villages where the villagers would suffer from goitre, due to lack of iodine, and they actually instructed the head man of the different villages how to actually counter the iodine deficiency and left supplies of iodine and instructions with them.

So, I think, care of the porters and Sherpas has often relied very much on teams, and what they do for them as much as it did on regulations.

KEN BALDWIN: We’ve traversed quite a bit of ground this afternoon, and we’ll probably draw things to a close very soon. We’ve got one other question up the back.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: It’s not a question, but I’m so glad you brought up the porter issue, and just looking at this title, ‘Australians Achievement in the Himalaya in the Last 25 Years’, I guess I’d like to briefly just pay tribute to Jim Duff, who was your colleague in ’84, for setting up the International Porter Protection Group to highlight one of those important issues, particularly for trekkers, less so than mountaineers in the Himalayas. So, it’s great to hear you mentioning it at the end of your talk.

KEN BALDWIN: Good, well, if there are no further burning questions, then we might draw things to a close now. I’m sure that if you wanted to stay on afterwards, and come down and talk to the climbers themselves, you’d be most welcome. But let’s mark this great occasion, 25 years since the first Australian ascent of Everest back in 1984, with a round of applause for Everest mountaineers from Australia both past, present, and future. Thank you. [applause]

GEOFF BARTRAM: Can I just say one thing? I’d like to thank the Museum for giving us a chance to show our wares, as it were, and I think they’ve done a fantastic job of that climbing camp down there [indicates display]. I’d also like to mention that in part this has been put together, from our point of view, to give a vehicle for the Australian Himalayan Foundation, which was formed by some people from our expedition to give something back. It’s the kind of opportunity that we just ….. That was the last question that was asked, about giving something back to the Himalaya. We held a fundraising dinner on Friday night and probably quite a few of you were there, and we raised $17,000 for good work in the Himalaya; all sorts of work, but mostly teacher training and health issues, and that sort of thing.

The Museum staff might want to close their ears to this just now, but we’re having a bit of a … At the end of this there’ll be a slight car boot sale out there, and we’ve got signed copies of Lincoln’s Dead Lucky, and we also have this wonderful T-shirt that I am now modelling.

PAT CULLINAN: And matching underpants. [laughter]

GEOFF BARTRAM: Which was made for – as a celebration for this event, and all those proceeds, of course, will go to the Australian Himalayan Foundation, and therefore get back into Nepal, India and Bhutan, and wherever. So please look for Lincoln down below, and John – where is John? – who’s the T-shirt man, if you’re at all interested. And thanks again to all the people from the Museum for putting it on. [applause]

PAT CULLINAN: Can I just make one final little point? That is, in New Zealand about three weeks ago, they had a survey to identify who the greatest living New Zealander was, and they voted that Sir Edmund Hillary was the greatest living New Zealander. [laughter] Which was quite interesting, and I thought about this for a while, after being amused, but I thought that actually, when you look at the work of the Australian Himalayan Foundation and what’s happening in Nepal,  his spirit certainly does live on in Nepal and well beyond. [applause]

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Date published: 01 January 2018

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