Project 314 – Blog #1: How did I get here?

April 12, 2023

Jake Meyer

Client Accounts' Director

Day 1
Kathmandu

I’m currently sitting in my hotel room in Kathmandu, having arrived in Nepal 24 hours ago, and getting ready to take an internal flight to the East tomorrow. This is the last change that I’ll have with proper wifi until I get to basecamp, when I’ll be able to start using our satellite modem to send back some updates and hopefully a few pictures.

It’s been 18 years since I was last in Kathmandu – but strangely I’ve never actually climbed in Nepal – as my Everest trip in 2005 was done from the North, so we spent our time high up on the Tibetan plateau. Nepal is obviously such a global mecca for climbers and trekkers alike, so I’m really excited to start experiencing some classic ‘tea-house’ trekking.

I’ve been deliberately circumspect about overtly sharing my plans for this year – not making any grand proclamations on social media, and even family members have only really gotten full sight of my plans in the last couple of months. As a project it’s only really come together in the last few months – which compared to most of my previous expeditions has been very short notice

Project 314 is an attempt to climb the 3rd, 1st and 4th highest mountains back-to-back, and in that order. Kanchenjunga (8586m), Everest (8848m) and Lhotse (8516m). The project has morphed over the last few months and strangely has its origins in a failed plan.

At the start of 2020, I’d just signed my biggest ever sponsorship deal – for an attempt to climb the highest mountain in all 50 countries in Europe in only 50 days. That had been over a year in specific planning and had been a dream for over 15 years. Naturally, with the effects of Covid in Spring 2020, we rightly put the expedition on hold for 12 months.

A year came and went, and of course 2021 was no different. Whilst fortunately the vaccine had been widely rolled out, the project relied on super swift and smooth transiting between countries and as much freedom of movement as possible. Even in the summer of 2021, this was taking too much of a chance. The sponsors were amazing, and loyally stuck by the project for yet another year.

Whilst the threat and impact from Coronavirus thankfully had subsided by the start of 2022, and life was starting to return to normal, no-one (or at least not many people) predicted that the hostilities between Russia and Ukraine would erupt into open warfare in Europe (please excuse both the gross over and under-simplification of geopolitics here). Given that my European project would have included climbing in both Ukraine and a significant portion in Russia, and was focused on trying to demonstrate the connectedness of Europe – my trip became completely untenable on many levels. Naturally, the fact that the war got in the way of my adventurous holiday is utterly insignificant in comparison to the reality of the horror that it has brought to so many people.

Graphic showing Phase 1 of Project 314 - the journey to and climbing of Kanchanjunga

Phase 1 of Project 314

I came to the conclusion that whilst I still want to do my Europe trip, there was no guarantee when circumstance would allow, and so I wanted to find an alternative expedition for 2023. Whilst it hopefully goes without saying, I’m going to say it anyway – I obviously hope that there can be a cessation to hostilities as soon as possible, and that peace and reconciliation can be allowed to begin.

I mulled over various alternative options for some time, before coming back to a much broader life goal that I have had for many years. That is to try and climb the highest mountain in every country in the world. I’m very aware that to complete that is probably unrealistic, at least if I aim for the starts I might land on the moon. This ‘background’ project has taken me to 39 country highpoints (and counting) – some large, challenging and impressive; some small, straight-forward and inconsequential – however all of them have been adventures in their own rights, and for me that’s part of the attraction of adventuring… you’re never quite sure where your adventures will take you. From the obvious ones like Everest and K2 (Nepal, China and Pakistan between them) to the slightly less impressive but still great fun ones like Mt Hillaby in Barbados, Kneiff in Luxembourg and a random patch of desert in Kuwait, each one has been memorable for its own reasons.

Given that I was coming up on 5 years since my last trip to a big mountain, and that I also have a professional links to India (we have an office there), I thought of Kanchenjunga. ‘Kanch’ is the third highest mountain in the world and straddles the border between Nepal and India (highest in India, and second highest in Nepal). I’ll go into more detail about the history of Kanch in other posts, but I knew that this mountain would represent a great adventure and would be a significant undertaking on its own.

However I also recognised that it’s extremely rare that I’d get the opportunity to go off for an ‘extended’ holiday for both domestic and professional reasons, so if I was taking this time away, I might be able to make more of the opportunity.

It used to be that climbing a single 8000m peak in a season/year was considered an incredible achievement; but in the last few years we’ve seen a real rise in ‘double-header’ 8000m peak trips becoming more common-place, as well as a number of climbers really starting to push the envelope in terms of how many peaks they can climb in a season. This might also represent a step-up in terms of challenge for me personally. Back on K2 in 2018, I’d never felt so strong, and I’d also got to nearly 8000m on Broad Peak only a week before. In terms of personal challenge – could I do two 8000ers back-to-back?

Might I even be able to do three?

Graphic showing Phase 2 of Project 314 - the journey to and climbing of Everest and Lohtse

Phase 2 of Project 314

Initially I looked at Kanch, Lhotse and Makalu – the 3rd, 4th and 5th highest (just gently working my way down the world’s highest mountain’s list I suppose!), however the more that I looked at Lhotse, the more that a realised that attempting Lhotse would take me within a stone’s throw of a mountain that has played a huge part in my life.

For 17 and a half years, whenever someone asked me if I’d ever be interested in climbing Everest again, I said “Nah… I’m all good – plenty of other hills in the world”. It’s a bit like asking someone if they’d like to repeat their A-levels – sure, a worthwhile challenge at the time, but you’ve got through it and moved on – time for new challenges.

However, Everest and Lhotse are arguably just two peaks on the main mountain massif, and they don’t just share the same basecamp – they share all of the same camps all the way to the top. When you arrive in Camp 4 at around 7950m at the South Col, it’s turn left for Everest and right for Lhotse. If I found myself in the top camp there preparing to go up Lhotse, would I constantly be looking north to its bigger neighbour, wondering what those last 900m to the top of the world are really like from the Nepalese side?

I was extremely proud to have climbed the North ridge route on Everest in 2005, which was walking in the footsteps of the original Everest pioneers such as George Mallory and Andrew Irvine in the 1920s, however I have no personal experience of the south and all of its own unique history.

I’ve met so many people over the years who’ve proudly told me that they’ve been to Everest basecamp (on the south), and therefore we shared something. Whilst I could reference all the places they’d been to, villages they’d stayed in and sights that they’d seen – it was never from personal experience. Rather ironically, it made me feel rather like a fraud – as if I’d climbed a different mountain.

Now naturally, that’s also part of the beauty of mountaineering: that taking different routes can give you such different experiences that they might as well be completely different mountains. This is perhaps part of my own internal justification into wanting to experience Everest from the south. On top of that, I was also very conscious that 29th May 2023 is going to be a special anniversary of the first (confirmed!) ascent of Everest – 70 years since Tenzing Norgay and Ed Hillary reached the top of the highest mountain in the world. Coincidently, both 1953 and 2023 are British Coronation years – so there is a certain amount of serendipity in that too.

I should point out that this stage on the trip, that Everest and Lhotse are phase two of the expedition – and I’m acutely aware that I may be exhausted after Kanch (I’m not such a youngster anymore!) – so we’ll just have to see what we see. The important thing is that thankfully due to the generous support of a number of different sponsors and supporters, I have been able to raise enough to get a permit for Everest, as well as the others.

My sincere thanks go to Fleetcor, Bremont, Mountain Hardwear, London Wall Partners and of course IDG for their generous and invaluable support.

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