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Blood Mountain

An Interview with Ed Farrelly
Jamie Bunchuk

Ed Farrelly
Ed Farrelly is, by his own admission, not the sort of person to do anything by halves. Ever since his father – a Scots Guard – introduced him to the fresh hills of Wales and Scotland, Ed has been pushing his own personal limits with a list of high-altitude mountaineering ascents including: Baruntse (7100m), Aconcagua (6962m) and Peak Chapayev (6300m). That’s not to mention a few other adventures of his too, such as rafting the Grand Canyon and competing in the Mongol Rally. In the summer of this year, Ed will be setting off on the #solo2014 expedition to climb Khan Tengri (7010m) on the Kyrgyz-Kazakh-China border. If successful, the expedition will see the 21-year-old become the youngest Briton ever to solo a 7000m+ peak.

We caught up with the Surrey-based student, to ask him about the logistics of going it alone, his ultimate dream journey, and why it’s the motivation behind an expedition – not the record – that counts.

Hi Ed. To begin with, please could you tell us a little bit about your upcoming #solo2014 expedition?

Ed Farrelly: Yep, so I guess where I need to begin is in Kyrgyzstan in 2010. Just before that time I’d come up with an idea to climb Everest – that was my main focus – so everything I was doing revolved around gearing myself up ready for that expedition. So I went to Kyrgyzstan, I went to Nepal and I went South America after which, I was supposed to be heading off to Everest. But I got frostbite in Argentina and unfortunately one of my teammates died on our ascent of Aconcagua. This put all my Everest plans on the back foot and also made me question whether I wanted to continue climbing at all; as you can imagine, it was a pretty serious event to have gone through.

But out of that whole bleak incident I realised that I loved mountaineering – absolutely – and I loved travelling and I loved adventuring and I loved being able to share my experiences. Kyrgyzstan had been the first big expedition I’d ever been on, it was the most interesting country I’d visited because it’s completely off the tourist trail and no one really knows too much about it. Plus, the climbing that’s there is really hardcore and more natural in a way, certainly less commercial, than a lot of Himalayan peak climbing. So in a nut-shell, the expedition I am planning for this summer is to climb Khan Tengri with the intention of becoming the youngest British person to do a solo ascent of a 7000m+ mountain.

So is there something special about Khan Tengri – you obviously do like Kyrgyzstan, it is an amazing country – but is there something specific that attracts you to the peak itself?

The type of expedition that goes on in much of Central Asia is unsupported; it’s unlike the Himalayas where you have sherpas and you have porters. So there’s that added extra element, where everything that’s going on you kind of have to do yourself. Also, the peak looks incredibly spectacular; I mean it’s a classic pointy-topped mountain. I think maybe it’s because I was climbing in the same region when I first started in 2010 and so the area has always had a special thing with me. I don’t really know how to explain it or describe it, but I always looked on Khan Tengri and thought that’s what I want to do; that’s the pinnacle of what I’m hoping to be able to achieve at this specific point in my life.

You’ve never considered climbing Khan Tengri from say, the Kazakh side?

There are three different ways that you can do it. One is from the Kazakh camp, one from the Kyrgyz camp and they are both effectively climbing up the same route, which the North-East ridge of Chapayev onto Khan Tengri itself. On the other side, the south side of the mountain, there’s another camp – although I have never been there. It’s an easier route but it is incredibly dangerous in terms of avalanches. I’ve been expeditioning three times around that area and I would never want to go on the other side. There’s this huge face and every couple of years it avalanches and people die. There’s risk-taking and then there’s just being reckless.

out of that whole bleak incident what I realised was, that I loved mountaineering – absolutely – and I loved travelling and I loved adventuring and I loved being able to share my experiences.
Ed Farrelly
I think what’s important is the motivation behind why you’re doing a trip. Are you doing it for the record? Or are you doing it because you actually want to go on the expedition? That’s why I prefer to define an adventure by what it is, rather than by what people see it as.
With the route you’re going to be taking, what obstacles and dangers are you likely to face during your solo ascent?

Doing something solo always adds a really tough element to the mental side of things as you can’t really discuss anything with anyone else. You’re having to go through the whole emotional process by yourself, having to make all the decisions on your own, about every aspect of the day-to-day logistics. On top of that physically, you’re having to take all of your own food up the mountain and make all your own camps whilst you’re up there. But for me that challenge is something I am looking forward to, as I do like making decision by myself and I do like thinking of things as a personal challenge rather than necessarily operating as part of a team, although that is also cool.

Forgive me as I don’t know that much about the specifics of Khan Tengri; are there fixed lines or will it be more of an Alpine ascent?

There are fixed lines on it, although they are not particularly good. But yeah, it will be a fairly classic fixed line ascent, with sections of alpine climbing off the rope. On Khan Tengri there’re about three or four different crux points with tough sections of mixed rock and ice. The mountain is comparable to something like Ama Dablam, apart from it’s not as well kitted out. It still requires a bit of climbing, rather than literally just pulling yourself up on the rope!

In an interview you did with my colleague Orla O’Muiri early last year, you stated that you were strongly against climbing mountains for the records. But this current expedition is labelled as a ‘world record attempt’. Has there been a change in your opinion over the year?

No. This is a really tough one, but as you can imagine – in the position that I’m in – if I’m going to be able to go climbing mountains, then there will always have to be a level of sacrifice. Normally people aren’t going to sponsor things if there’s not an element to it that’s a bit different, or a ‘world record,’ or whatever it is. There’s not really been a change in my attitude, it’s just a compromise to be able to do the expedition. Also, this has actually been a goal of mine for longer than – for instance – when I was chatting for Orla. I think most adventurers would agree with me that compromise is something that has to take place to get an expedition of the ground.

I think what’s more important is the motivation behind why you’re doing a trip. Are you doing it for the record? Or are you doing it because you actually want to go on the expedition? That’s why I prefer to define an adventure by what it is, rather than by what people see it as. I know that this sounds really bad, but I think it can be quite easy to end up falling into the ‘I’m going on an expedition because it’s what everyone else has done and it’s going to get me into the paper and blah blah blah’. I’ve been in a situation where I’ve almost died, I’ve had frostbite and from it all I know exactly what my motivations are and what drives me and it’s not the record. I know that all sounds rather wishy-washy but I think that’s my standpoint.

Fair comment. Does it annoy you though if the press pick up on the wrong end of the stick? There’s an article on your website from a paper that missed the point that you’re attempting a solo expedition, claiming you were heading off to break a world record for being the youngest person ever to climb a 7000m+ peak, which is obviously wrong.

Yeah, it really annoys me but at the same time it is completely understandable. I know that article went awry and I had asked for a proof read and they said ‘no, we don’t do proof reads.’ I ended up sending them an email afterwards saying: ‘bet you wish you’d given me a proof read now; that piece is factually incorrect.’ That’s not the first time it’s happened either. I did an article on my last expedition to Kyrgyzstan in 2012 and I did the interview in-country before the expedition had finished, but the journalist ended the article with the line ‘Two days after we spoke to Ed he successfully completed his climb. Now all he has to do is get back down’. But I never summited, because of bad weather. So it’s not the first time that’s happened, but it is quite frustrating every time it does.

What do you think would be a solution to stopping these sort of wild situations, where the story gets out of control – false world record claims on one hand, and over-exaggerating journalists on the other? Do you have an opinion on how checks and balances could be put in place?

It is a really tough situation. For instance, going back to the Everest example, every year there is someone doing Everest where ‘thousands of people have died’ and it’s the most difficult mountain that there’s ever been to climb. Obviously – as anyone into their climbing will know – this is not true. I think there’s always going to be that debate between what is truly adventurous and what’s an easier story for the press to sell. I don’t know. I’m not sure there is an answer, at least not in the near future. I guess it’s about educating journalists about what’s out there and what people are doing and being able to know the difference between something that’s truly adventurous and something that isn’t.

Returning home, when you’re not on expedition what does your day to day life consist of?

I’m a full time student at the SOAS, the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. My everyday schedule is a student one: I wake up – sometimes not the earliest, maybe around 10 o’clock – then I will head into university, get my work done, come back, maybe go for a run and general do that day-in and day-out. Every weekend I try to fit in some climbing down in Tonbridge, around there. I am not a full time adventurer, I’m not a full time mountaineer. I’m just balancing my time. But what I do enjoy about the student life is that I do get a lot of time off over the holiday period, which I try to fill with more adventurous activities. In essence, what I’m trying to do is turn something that is more than a hobby – but not quite full time – turn that into something more. I guess I’ve got three years to try and make that happen before university finishes. We’ll see if I’m capable!

Have you got a dream expedition? Can be on a mountain, can be off a mountain. Basically, if you had unlimited funds and unlimited time what would you try to do?

I would like to do something like an around the world trip. It could be cycling or driving, but then stopping off on route at some of the mountains that I’m really interested in climbing. There would be a couple in Central Asia, a few in the Himalaya then I’d carry on round, go to Alaska and do some mountains there, and then head to South America and do a few more. I’m not sure how realistic this would all be. But yeah, a kind of a mishmash of a bunch of all different disciplines. I’ve also recently learnt to paraglide, which I think is quite an interesting element that in the future I see incorporated into what I do, as para-alpinism, which would be cool. I’ve been thinking of perhaps attempting Ama Dablam and paragliding off the top off that. Maybe a little while down the line – if I felt like I’d be doing it for the right reasons – I would contemplate organising something like paragliding off the top of Everest. That wouldn’t be a commercial trip, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing it just yet. But in five years, who knows?

Ed is sponsored By Rab and Edelrid. For more information about his upcoming #solo2014 expedition, please visit: