Adrian Hayes is a man with the constant call of the wild ringing in his ears. The British explorer and record-breaker has traversed the planet’s most extreme and harsh environments, scaled some of the most dangerous and highest peaks and lived to tell the tale back here in Dubai, a place he has called home since 1995.
A former officer in the British Army, Hayes’ achievements read like an excerpt from the Guinness Book of Records, which isn’t surprising as he’s featured in it twice. He has climbed Mount Everest, trekked to the South and North Poles and, closer to home, he completed a 44-day, 1,600km journey by foot (and camel) across the Arabian desert’s Empty Quarter. The 54-year-old intrepid explorer and motivational speaker is now packing his bags for yet another exhilarating expedition. On June 15, Hayes and his team will begin to scale K2, the second tallest mountain on earth located in the Himalayas. At 8,611 metres, it’s just 200 metres shy of Everest.
But this expedition has a tinge of sadness and could be Hayes’ most mentally and physically challenging climb yet. In June 2013, the explorer and his team attempted to climb K2, and headed to the Karakorum Range in Pakistan after months of training, but their plans were tragically curtailed when father and son climbers from New Zealand, Marty and Denali Schmidt, were killed when an avalanche wiped out their camp.
Speaking ahead of his return to K2, we find the adventurer philosophical about the dangers and risks involved in following his passions yet undeterred by the events of last year. ‘Unfortunately tragedies are part and parcel of high-altitude mountaineering but, even so, when it happens with climbers you’ve been with for a few weeks and got to know well, it brings the reality home.’
While Hayes and his team aborted their expedition on receiving the news of the avalanche, he admits retreating wasn’t easy. ‘I felt pretty devastated to be honest when the majority decision to abort any further summit attempts was made. At that stage we didn’t know what had happened to the Schmidts and it was hard for me to understand or accept the what, whys and hows of it all. When we found out two days later about the avalanche that killed the Schmidts, it all made tragic sense.’
The mountaineer and his international ten-man team are taking no chances and intensive training is in full flow. ‘I am apprehensive and cautious about the upcoming attempt but hopeful that the lessons of last year can be heeded for this. There is a nervousness and I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t, but it keeps you on your toes. You’re going out into nature and you have to really respect it.’
While taking on some of the biggest physical and mental endeavours requires depth of strength, Hayes admits there’s something very individualistic about climbing that keeps him going. ‘All sorts of things run through my mind, there’s an element about climbing that is very selfish, but it feels necessary.’
Hayes has two teenage children, Alex, 16, and Charlotte, 13, and admits leaving his family to take on a potentially fatal feat does affect him deeply. Speaking on a previous occasion after his return from his first K2 attempt, he said: ‘When I used to wave my children goodbye at Dubai airport to leave for an expedition, it would be all smiles, hugs and laughter. Yet as soon as they were out of sight I would sit down in a quiet corner in tears, full of remorse and guilt. Only after a few minutes would I pull myself together, move on and, as harsh as it sounds, put them out of my mind completely to focus on the upcoming challenge.’
The record-breaking adventurer is part of an exclusive club – he’s one of only 18 humans to have ever successfully conquered the three poles (North Pole, South Pole and Everest). And he counts walking to the North Pole among his most difficult challenges. ‘It is unfathomable for anyone reading this to understand the sheer brutality involved in pulling a 130kg sled for up to 20 hours every day for 50 days in temperatures down to -60C.’
Pushing himself to extremes on every trip and expedition, surely the combination of military training and a steely determination can only get the explorer so far, we venture. When you’re surrounded by snow and ice for as far as the eye can see, how do you deal with the emotional toll? ‘Pain is temporary, it may last an hour, a week, a month but sooner or later it will subside. I’ve set a goal, prepared for months or years for it and am responsible for a lot of people. Unless one is physically injured or sick, quitting doesn’t even enter the mindset. It’s simply grin and bear it.’
While living in Dubai might not seem like a very adventurous place, Hayes says he has a network of fellow explorers in the city who he is connected to and while we might not all be following in his footsteps, the explorer reckons there are certainly some things about living in Dubai that can help us all get a little more adventurous.
‘The sporting facilities in Dubai are second to none and thus the ability to get really fit is high. Plus we are close the mountains of UAE and Oman – the place is actually excellent for mountain training. Above all, though, Dubai does have a “can do” attitude, which rubs off on everyone who lives here.’
K2 expedition June 15-August 15. For more information on Adrian Hayes’ K2 challenge, check out www.adrianhayes.com, or follow him on Facebook and Twitter for updates and photos.
Keep tabs on UAE-based explorers
Miettenen, originally from Finland, has succesasfully climbed the Seven Summits (the highest mountain on every continent). He is also a motivational speaker.
www.sevensummits.ae (050 728 9679)
Suzanne Al Houby
Al Houby became the first Arab woman to climb Mount Everest in 2011. She has also scaled Aconcagua, Mount Vinson and Toubkal. Of Palestinian originally, Al Houby lives in Dubai where she founded adventure travel company Rahhalah.
www.rahhalah.com (04 447 2166)
Samra, 35, is the first Egyptian and youngest Arab to climb Mount Everest. He was also the first Egyptian to complete the Seven Summits. On an adventure of a different kind, last year he won the AXE Apollo Space Academy competition to fly into space.