planeNot how I planned it

“I’m fine – everything’s ok – but there’s something you should know…”

The email, to my wife, was one I never expected to send.

Two weeks after I travelled to Nepal, to climb in the Himalayas, I was lying in a hospital bed in Kathmandu. 

My trip, which I had spent months training for, had come to a premature end.

As so many people have asked me about my experiences, I thought I would take a brief detour from my usual subject matter of pensions, and share some of the highlights – and lowlights – of my time in the Himalayas.


It had all started so well.

I was part of a group of 10 other climbers, 2 guides and a team of Sherpas, who were preparing to climb three summits (reaching up to 22,000 feet), crossing several glaciers and narrow ridges in the process.

I had experience mountaineering when I was younger, so I knew what I was in for, and had spent the last few months training hard and shedding weight, so I was as fit as possible for the challenge.

I couldn’t wait to get away from it all, and immerse myself in a totally different environment and experience.

And right from the start, it was certainly remote.

Here we are, arriving at the start of the trek:


Notice how the runway starts on the very edge of a steep mountain – that is certainly not a landing for the faint-hearted!

Staying in touch with the outside world was going to be tough – there would be no contact with our families until we were back in Kathmandu:


The first week was spent acclimatising. Every day we walked up a very steep 1,000m, which could take four hours and was brutally hard…and then walked back down again. It was a pleasure, but it was mentally tough knowing that after all that effort, at the end of the day we’d be right back where we started.

Still, by the end of the first week I felt super strong, and we were able to gradually continue our climb until we reached basecamp – in preparation for reaching the summit.

As you can see, the scenery was spectacular, although it was almost lunar in its starkness once you started getting higher up:

steve and landscape

…and in reality, it felt much colder than it looks in this picture:

base camp

The experience was enormously intense. When you’re walking for 7-8 hours a day under these solitary conditions, you have lots of thinking time and every emotion and every exchange you have takes on outsized significance. Mental resilience is key.

...and downs 

I was really excited to climb to the summit of Mera Peak, but unfortunately that never happened.

Two weeks in, almost out of nowhere, I was suddenly hit with altitude sickness. I had been to 6,000m four times previously, so I didn’t realise I had to worry.

It felt a bit like being drunk – it was hard to walk straight and I kept on falling over. This made it particularly difficult to descend, as you can imagine, so it was a relief when I was finally evacuated by helicopter:


After a brief stay in hospital in Kathmandu, I returned to the UK.

Decisions, decisions

Although, of course, I wish I could have been there for the full month and reached the mountain summit, overall it was a wonderful experience. People keep on asking me whether I intend to go back, and the truth is I’m not sure. The altitude sickness and final descent was extremely stressful, but I still love climbing mountains, which was the reason I went in the first place.

I’m sure I’ll come to a clear decision at some point in the future.

In the meanwhile, though, it’s back to the real world and to pensions.


Come to think of it…

There is a way to tie my experiences in Nepal back to workplace savings and retirement.

I’ll tell you about that in next week's instalment!

Posted by Steve Butler

Topics: Workplace Savings


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