Aussie married couple summit Everest

By Brad Jackson 7 November 2013
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This married couple have survived cancer and now they’ve survived the climb up the world’s highest mountain. Read about their journey here.


IN 2008, EVEREST HIT us hard. We returned to Sydney battered and bruised, physically and mentally. On the summit push that year, at camp two, my lungs had filled with fluid and my breathing became increasingly laboured as I waited and foolishly hoped to get better.

The result was a harrowing descent through the icefall with the aid of two Sherpas and full oxygen. Losing consciousness on arrival at base camp, I was fortunate to have the good doctors of the Himalayan Rescue Association spend the night with me – but it was still another four or five days until I fully recovered.

My wife Sandy –  who was behind the rest of the team and with a Sherpa with whom she could not communicate – got completely burnt out on the way to camp four while climbing the upper half of the Lhotse face. This was our second 8000 m expedition without success and we started to wonder if we had the right stuff to tackle the Himalaya’s highest peaks.

It was only a chance encounter with some fellow aspiring Everest climbers, midway through 2009, that we firmly made the decision to climb again – but this time we would be more prepared. We learnt many lessons in 2008 and returned to Nepal in 2010, not only a lot stronger, but smarter.



We returned, tackling the problem on how we would reach the summit on three fronts: spiritual, physical and mental. Paying homage to the mountain gods, Sandy declared no more ‘funny business’ on the mountain.

As the weeks progressed I tried to find loopholes in this rather draconian ruling, but Sandy was firm throughout. Sleeping in not one, but two, sleeping bags also proved to be an incredibly effective chastity belt. The mind though does wonder, when tent-bound for days on end but I had to I found solace in music and podcasts. No mile high club on this expedition.

Physically, we knew we had to be stronger; it wasn’t enough to be average. Average might get you through the icefall to camp two, but is not enough for the upper slopes.

Sandy broke her foot fives months prior to the expedition. I was stuck on oil rigs for the first two months of 2010, but we still managed to get in shape. Joe Bonnington taught us new methods of training involving crossfit and tabata principles to increase strength, endurance and cardio-vascular output.

Sandy was relegated to swimming and upper body work and then as her foot partially healed did a lot of cycling. I spent lunchtimes while on an oil rig helideck in Thailand (which I non-affectionately dubbed the frying pan) training.  An important addition to our physical training was to keep training at base camp. We did all the acclimatisation hikes when possible; we kept active – no more prolonged stays at base camp. We had to conserve energy but we also wanted to condition our bodies as much as possible to exercising at altitude.

To help us prepare mentally for another attempt, we dropped down and climbed some smaller peaks. We needed a few wins after failing to summit the big mountains. We needed to know that feeling of obtaining a summit, without weeks of acclimatising.

Another huge bonus was meeting up with our fellow climbers Darren, Pete and Steve in Sydney. A chance meeting at a very cool gear shop in Manly meant we were able to join an Australian/South African expedition. We were able to train and prepare with our prospective team mates prior to arriving in Kathmandu.

Finally, Sandy had the exceptional backing and support of the guys from Bowel Cancer Australia (BCA). Sandy lost much of her bowel to cancer 10 years ago. She swore it would never get the better of her and as a result started in the world of mountaineering.

Sandy is now an ambassador for BCA and helps spread the message of awareness and hope, Awareness, that bowel cancer can inflict women and men, young and old. And hope for those who have been cruelly affected, for if bowel cancer is caught and treated soon enough, life could lead you to the lofty heights of the Himalayas.