Attitude and Altitude – Tori James
Report from 400th anniversary community lecture – 4 May 2016
‘I had no idea I was someone who could climb Everest.’ Tori James held the audience in the palm of her hand as she shared the highs and lows of her quest to become the first Welsh woman to reach the summit of Everest.
As someone who has always loved the outdoors, Tori enjoyed the challenges of the Duke of Edinburgh Scheme at school. Whilst at University she went on an expedition to Iceland with the British Exploring Society and secured an administrative job with them on her return working in the beautiful surroundings of the Royal Geographical Society.
With a team of girl friends from the RGS, Tori attended an open day for the Polar Race to the magnetic north pole. As she was pouring herself a cup of coffee on arrival, a fellow participant, assuming she as a member of the catering staff, asked her for more milk for his tea. Spurred on by his prejudice, Tori and her friends became the first all-female team to complete the challenge finishing 6th overall despite facing severe sleep deprivation and experiencing hallucinations on the way.
Tori’s thoughts turned to her next challenge and her boyfriend suggested that they climb Everest. Unsure that she was capable of such a feat, she initially agreed to go as far as Camp 3 from where her boyfriend would continue to the summit. Tori described how she see-sawed between excitement and fear of failure as she battled with the decision on whether she should make an attempt on the summit herself. Tori’s training coach and nutritionist asked her ‘Can you see yourself on the summit of Everest’. Her reply of ‘Yes, but…’ was interrupted as that was all he needed to know. He believed if you can visualise yourself doing something, then you can make it happen. It is a philosophy Tori herself now adopts.
The task of raising sponsorship began – £54,000 was required per person. This was a challenge in itself and the final funds were only raised a few weeks before they departed for Nepal. Tori reflected on the qualities required for any challenge – passion, planning and perseverance.
At the same time the arduous training for the expedition began in earnest. In training Tori explained the benefits of ‘Fail first and fail early’; as two of their team members didn’t reach the summit during their training climb on Cho Oyu, the world’s sixth highest peak. The lessons learned about the dangers of altitude sickness were invaluable for their attempt on Everest.
Finally after years of planning the time came to face the ultimate climbing challenge. After a 10 day walk to Everest Base Camp, the team spent a month and half adjusting to the altitude by continually going from Base Camp to Camp 1 and back again, then Base Camp to Camp 2 and back again. During this time the team worked hard to minimise the risks that can never be eradicated in such an environment. One lost a toe to frost bite and on one occasion Tori suffered Cheyne-Stokes respiration when she stopped breathing due to the onset of altitude sickness.
On the 17 May, 2007 the team began their attempt on the summit, only for Tori to become very ill at Camp 2 and have to abort her climb. Plagued by doubt, Tori described how she became her own coach and challenged herself to make a further attempt. A few weeks later Tori arrived at Camp 4 and entered the ‘death zone’ at 7950m. Accompanied by Amy Winehouse on her MP3 player Tori traversed the perilous knife edge ridge separating Nepal and Tibet where a single wrong foot could easily end in tragedy. On reaching the summit Tori described the relief that she felt and the stunning views she was able to enjoy for the 40 minutes she spent on the top of the world.
Tori’s inspirational lecture ended with her words ringing in the audience’s ears ‘Everyone can achieve more than they think they can.’