Some of my favourite expedition memories come from the six weeks I spent on the frozen Arctic Ocean. Rarely have I laughed so much. And much of that laughter came from the preposterous, magnificent, ludicrous adventures of Paul Ramsden.
I haven’t linked to Paul’s website because he doesn’t have one. Nor is he on Twitter or Facebook. He’s not even a “professional adventurer, author and motivational speaker”. Paul works in Health and Safety.
And yet Paul has won the much-coveted and admired Piolet d’Or climbing award (twice, no less) for his ascent of these beauties:
I wanted to talk to him for Grand Adventures to ask him about fitting grand adventure in around a normal life, a busy job, and a non-adventurous family.
Alastair: as you are so gloriously absent from the internet, could you give us a quick resumé of your adventures?
Paul: that’s hard! I’ve done one a year for ever… I guess the two Piolet d’Or climbs are the most well-known. Certainly the second of those, in India was the best I’ll ever do. It was hard, but enjoyable. I got to lie down every night. It was absolutely brilliant!
I’ve been lucky to do a lot of climbs in the Himalayas, and they’ve tended to succeed. Most hard climbs in the Himalayas fail.
Alastair: Why do you think yours have succeeded?
Paul: I’m going to sound a bit old here, a bit Zen, a bit Yoda. But most people climbing in the Himalayas rush. They stress. Alpine climbing is all about speed. In the Himalayas you need to relax, and just be slow and consistent. People also treat mountains like an enemy that needs to be “beaten”. But you can’t beat a mountain. They don’t care. So relax. I love being on the mountains so I want to take as much time up there as I can manage.
Alastair: How much time do you get to climb each year?
Paul: I do one expedition a year, every year. I go away for a month. I can’t justify a long holiday on my own, but I can delude myself that an expedition is useful, will make me a better person! (laughing).
Alastair: Is it hard for you to get away for a month each year?
Paul: It’s really hard. I’m busy. It’s hard to find the time to get fit. I get a lot of heartache from the family, I’m in bad books for a while, my daughter sulks for about two weeks before I go away. It’s selfish, a huge disturbance. My wife has to work much harder when I’m away. The most important thing is that I get the dates in the diary, maybe a year in advance. It’s then non-negotiable – if I get work offers or party invites I can then say “sorry, I’ll be in India.”
It’s a bit brutal. There’s no compromise.
It’s massively important to set those dates otherwise it would be much easier just not to bother. So it’s hard. I’ve learned to be a bit of a bastard. To not think too much about it otherwise I’d get too guilty!
But on the other hand, these are things I just have to do. And my family understand that. I’m a nicer person for it. (laughing)
Alastair: Don’t worry – I know how you feel. The compulsion of feeling you “have” to do these things are strong! Why then didn’t you just become a professional full-time climber?
Paul: Because you still don’t spend all your time doing what you want to do. If you’re a guide you climb what your clients want to climb. If you get sponsors then they’ll want you to do stuff. I did apply to be a guide once, but I got turned down! (laughing) I was annoyed at the time but it was a great moment, with hindsight.
Also, you want to be a rounded person in life. It’s really important to have more than one thing in your life.
Alastair: Which, I guess, is also a good argument when explaining to people why you feel you have to go and do these adventures?
Alastair: How do you choose your climbs?
Paul: I’m lucky, because I climb with Mick [Fowler: Assistant Director, Shares and Assets Valuation at HMRC / climbing legend. Also has no website.] who is really famous. People always send him ideas and photos. So we’ll be in the pub and he’ll pull out some photos and we’ll think “that looks fun”. And off we go again.
On Google Earth you can “fly in” to the mountains and study them. You can also look how they change with the seasons and the time. You see where catches the sun and where is in shadow, so you can now know a lot about the climb in advance. The downside of this is that the sense of exploring decreases a little. But we can squeeze a lot more adventure into our short time away now.
Alastair: Who was it that said, “time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted?”
Paul: “Time spent on Google Earth is seldom wasted.” Actually, make that “A fuck-load of time on Google Earth is seldom wasted.”
Mick prints out all these views on his printer at home and off we go. It works great, except for the time when we were in the Tien Shan and a baggage mule fell over in a lake, soaked all our maps and all the colours ran! It’s quite interesting then to spend a month in the mountains without any map at all!
Alastair: My final question. The aim of Adventure1000 is to inspire people to action, and show them that you don’t need a lot of time or money to do these things. I’m working on a figure of £1000 as being enough for a decent adventure…
Paul: …that was always my working-figure for an expedition. Scrape together a grand and we could do something good. The expedition where I won my first Piolet d’Or cost me 850 quid.
Alastair: That’s brilliant! So if I gave you £1000, what would you go and do?
Paul: I’d go climbing illegally in China – it’s the permits that cost so much. Or I’d go somewhere you don’t really need permits, like Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan.
There you have it: you don’t need a lot of money to have a grand adventure. You don’t need to be a professional adventurer. You don’t even need to be on Twitter. You just need to do it.
My new book, Grand Adventures, is out now.
It’s designed to help you dream big, plan quick, then go explore.
The book contains interviews and expertise from around 100 adventurers, plus masses of great photos to get you excited.
I would be extremely grateful if you bought a copy here today!
Thank you so much!