Latest News

03Aug

Kiwi Farmer on top of the world

On top of the world
Words by Niamh McCarthy

 

Mike Read has set himself a very impressive mountaineering challenge and Everest is already ticked off the list

Like many of New Zealand’s great explorers and mountaineers, Mike Read definitely has a spirited sense of adventure. His journey to the peak of Everest can probably be traced back to over a decade ago when he went into a local travel agent wanting to book a trip to Nepal. As a 20-year-old Ashburton farm boy, one wonders why he didn’t pick the standard OE trip to Europe, but he admits he had always wanted to go to Nepal. However, on that particular day Mikes’ plans were interrupted by the agent informing him there was a travel advisory in place against visiting Nepal. At that point most of us would have accepted the situation and settled on somewhere less exotic. Mike Read however is not like most of us. He saw a very large map in the travel agents and decided to cover his eyes and pick a spot on the map and travel to that very location. By now everyone in the office was watching the spectacle and Mike remembers the complete silence that fell once he had picked his location. He opened his eyes and saw he had landed on Mongolia, and that’s where he went. And so began Mike’s love affair with travel and venturing into the great unknown.

Mike spent forty days on an overland trip through Mongolia and after that life returned to normal. He spent some years as a successful real estate agent in Christchurch and several years ago he had the opportunity to return to the family farm in Ashburton. The Read family including Mike, parents Kerry and Margaret and brother Steve operate a successful agribusiness growing blackcurrants and arable crops and are about to diversify into apples this season. In 2013 he was sitting on the tractor one day and describes having a moment of enlightenment, “ I just thought to myself that I could be sitting here on this tractor for next fifty years and not go anywhere and I decided I better get out and see a bit of the world…” Obviously not a man to do anything by halves Mike says he started googling options there and then on the tractor and eventually came across Adventure Consultants, a specialised outdoor adventure company taking clients on mountaineering trips. He also discovered the Seven Summit challenge, a mountaineering quest where climbers reach the summit of the highest peak on each of the worlds’ seven continents. Mike was very interested, “I thought to myself that seems a very cool way to get out and see a lot of the world’ he explains. He spent a week training with Adventure Consultants on Fox Glacier focusing on ice climbing and learning about the equipment and techniques and admits himself he took to climbing like a duck to water!

A year later in 2014 Mike was ready for the first of the seven peaks. He travelled with Adventure Consultants to Russia and summited Mt Elburus, officially Europe’s’ highest mountain. Elburus is regarded as one of the “easier” of the seven climbs and is often chosen by climbers as the first step on what is undoubtedly a physically and mentally gruelling challenge. In 2015 he decided on Denali in Alaska as his second summit, as the highest peak in North America Denali posed a massive challenge and isn’t often chosen by climbers in the early stages of the Seven Summit quest due to its severe weather and inaccessibility. In 2016 Mike and a climbing partner spent some time in Africa climbing various mountains and also ticked off summit number three – Mt Kilimanjaro. 2017 saw Mike reaching summit number four; Aconcagua in Argentina and the highest peak outside of the Himalayas. With four peaks done Mike admits he felt confident of his climbing and technical skills but he wanted to see how he would deal with extreme altitude and climbing with oxygen. Climbing Everest is obviously very costly and he didn’t want to make the final commitment to Everest without testing his physical endurance in the harsh conditions that Aconcagua provided. Once he had summited Aconcagua Mike set his mind on Everest - the most challenging and dangerous of the summits and focused on preparing his body and mind for the adventure of a lifetime.

In terms of training Mike concentrated on building up strength in his lungs and legs as those are the key things in getting to the top of any mountain. He spent several days a week running in Mt Somers, dragging tyres around the farm and practising technique on his own purpose built climbing wall at home. He also gained weight in order to offset the weight he would lose in the six weeks spent on Everest, in total Mike lost fifteen kilos during his time on the mountain.

Mike left Ashburton in late March this year to travel to Nepal and get ready to make his summit in the right window of weather in May – the climbing season on Everest is notoriously short due the winds changing and some years there are only a few days when conditions are favourable. He spent two weeks trekking to Base Camp and then several weeks at Base Camp getting his body used to the extreme altitude – making trips further up the mountain and descending again in order to get his lungs acclimatised. “You spend a lot of time sitting around in those weeks but even though you aren’t doing anything your body is working really hard to get used to the altitude.”

Aside from the physical demands of making the ascent Mike believes the right mental frame of mind is key to a successful summit especially when one considers the scary statistics of the climb. Historically one in fourteen climbers don’t return from Everest, although the odds are better these days with state of the art weather forecasting and modern equipment utilised on the mountain. This century alone over 200 climbers have perished on the mountain and there were 6 confirmed deaths this season. Mike himself participated in the emergency rescue of a very injured Sherpa and on another occasion discovered a climber who had been abandoned by his team and was lying frozen to death in an open tent. It’s definitely not an expedition for the faint hearted. Did he ever want to turn back? “no, never” he replies with certainty, “sometimes the hardest thing is just taking the next step as if you stand too long and think about what you are doing you can freak yourself out and panic.”

On Sunday May 14th Mike and his fellow climbers left Base Camp in an attempt for the summit. They were accompanied by several Sherpas and also western guides. Five days later they were in the upper reaches of the mountain at the final camp before summit, Mike describes it as “an extremely inhospitable place”. Often referred to as the Death Zone the upper reaches of Everest aren’t designed for human habitation and the body starts to shut down all unnecessary functions and concentrates on staying warm and breathing. Appetite is supressed, coordination is reduced and brain function is slowed making it a very dangerous place to be. Mike and the team rested for a few hours and started their final ascent at 9pm at night, there were about eighty other climbers making the climb that night but Mike and his team (including Mikes’ Sherpa Pimba) were the first to make the summit of Everest at 4:05 am on May 19th. According to Mike it was a euphoric feeling and he made the most of it for awhile but was always conscious of having to make the descent back down. “Of course we spent time up there taking it in and enjoying the moment but I was still aware that I had to be switched on for that last descent back to Base Camp and that’s when many accidents happen.”

Now back working on the family farm Mike jokes he is enjoying the flat land and proper home cooking. He has two further peaks to scale before he has conquered the Seven Summits. Both remaining mountains pose different challenges, Puncak Jaya in Papua New Guinea is located next to a gold mine with some very unwelcoming local tribes and Mount Vinson in Antarctica is obviously very cold and inaccessible. For now he is content farming and helping his parents and brother Steve who according to Mike “takes care of business while I go gallivanting around the world.” Does he have any short-term travel plans? “I think I should try a beach holiday!” However, he admits the challenge of finishing the remaining two summits is hard to resist “I’ll see what happens next year, maybe watch this space…”

 

 

Like many of New Zealand’s great explorers and mountaineers, Mike Read definitely has a spirited sense of adventure. His journey to the peak of Everest can probably be traced back to over a decade ago when he went into a local travel agent wanting to book a trip to Nepal. As a 20-year-old Ashburton farm boy, one wonders why he didn’t pick the standard OE trip to Europe, but he admits he had always wanted to go to Nepal. However, on that particular day Mikes’ plans were interrupted by the agent informing him there was a travel advisory in place against visiting Nepal. At that point most of us would have accepted the situation and settled on somewhere less exotic. Mike Read however is not like most of us. He saw a very large map in the travel agents and decided to cover his eyes and pick a spot on the map and travel to that very location. By now everyone in the office was watching the spectacle and Mike remembers the complete silence that fell once he had picked his location. He opened his eyes and saw he had landed on Mongolia, and that’s where he went. And so began Mike’s love affair with travel and venturing into the great unknown.


Mike spent forty days on an overland trip through Mongolia and after that life returned to normal. He spent some years as a successful real estate agent in Christchurch and several years ago he had the opportunity to return to the family farm in Ashburton. The Read family including Mike, parents Kerry and Margaret and brother Steve operate a successful agribusiness growing blackcurrants and arable crops and are about to diversify into apples this season. In 2013 he was sitting on the tractor one day and describes having a moment of enlightenment, “ I just thought to myself that I could be sitting here on this tractor for the next fifty years and not go anywhere and I decided I better get out and see a bit of the world…” Obviously not a man to do anything by halves Mike says he started googling options there and then on the tractor and eventually came across Adventure Consultants, a specialised outdoor adventure company taking clients on mountaineering trips. He also discovered the Seven Summit challenge, a mountaineering quest where climbers reach the summit of the highest peak on each of the worlds’ seven continents. Mike was very interested, “I thought to myself that seems a very cool way to get out and see a lot of the world,” he explains. He spent a week training with Adventure Consultants on Fox Glacier focusing on ice climbing and learning about the equipment and techniques and admits himself he took to climbing like a duck to water!


A year later in 2014 Mike was ready for the first of the seven peaks. He travelled with Adventure Consultants to Russia and summited Mt Elburus, officially Europe’s’ highest mountain. Elburus is regarded as one of the “easier” of the seven climbs and is often chosen by climbers as the first step on what is undoubtedly a physically and mentally gruelling challenge. In 2015 he decided on Denali in Alaska as his second summit, as the highest peak in North America Denali posed a massive challenge and isn’t often chosen by climbers in the early stages of the Seven Summit quest due to its severe weather and inaccessibility. In 2016 Mike and a climbing partner spent some time in Africa climbing various mountains and also ticked off summit number three—Mt Kilimanjaro. With three peaks done Mike admits he felt confident of his climbing and technical skills but he wanted to see how he would deal with extreme altitude and climbing with oxygen. Climbing Everest is obviously very costly and he didn’t want to make the final commitment to Everest without testing his physical endurance in the harsh conditions that Aconcagua provided. The year 2017 saw Mike reaching summit number four: Aconcagua in Argentina and the highest peak outside of the Himalayas. Once he had summited Aconcagua Mike set his mind on Everest—the most challenging and dangerous of the summits and focused on preparing his body and mind for the adventure of a lifetime.


In terms of training Mike concentrated on building up strength in his lungs and legs as those are the key things in getting to the top of any mountain. He spent several days a week running up Mt Somers, dragging tyres around the farm and practising technique on his own purpose built climbing wall at home. He also gained weight in order to offset the weight he would lose in the six weeks spent on Everest, in total Mike lost fifteen kilos during his time on the mountain.


Mike left Ashburton in late March this year to travel to Nepal and get ready to make his summit in the right window of weather in May—the climbing season on Everest is notoriously short due to the winds changing and some years there are only a few days when conditions are favourable. He spent two weeks trekking to Base Camp and then several weeks at Base Camp getting his body used to the extreme altitude—making trips further up the mountain and descending again in order to get his lungs acclimatised. “You spend a lot of time sitting around in those weeks but even though you aren’t doing anything your body is working really hard to get used to the altitude.”


Aside from the physical demands of making the ascent Mike believes the right mental frame of mind is key to a successful summit especially when one considers the scary statistics of the climb. Historically one in fourteen climbers don’t return from Everest, although the odds are better these days with state of the art weather forecasting and modern equipment utilised on the mountain. This century alone over 200 climbers have perished on the mountain and there were six confirmed deaths this season. Mike himself participated in the emergency rescue of a very injured Sherpa and on another occasion discovered a climber who had been abandoned by his team and was lying frozen to death in an open tent. It’s definitely not an expedition for the faint hearted. Did he ever want to turn back? “no, never” he replies with certainty, “sometimes the hardest thing is just taking the next step as if you stand too long and think about what you are doing you can freak yourself out and panic.”


On Sunday May 14th Mike and his fellow climbers left Base Camp in an attempt for the summit. They were accompanied by several Sherpas and also western guides. Five days later they were in the upper reaches of the mountain at the final camp before summit, Mike describes it as “an extremely inhospitable place”. Often referred to as the Death Zone the upper reaches of Everest aren’t designed for human habitation and the body starts to shut down all unnecessary functions and concentrates on staying warm and breathing. Appetite is supressed, coordination is reduced and brain function is slowed making it a very dangerous place to be. Mike and the team rested for a few hours and started their final ascent at 9pm at night, there were about eighty other climbers making the climb that night but Mike and his team (including Mikes’ Sherpa Pimba) were the first to make the summit of Everest at 4:05 am on May 19th. According to Mike it was a euphoric feeling and he made the most of it for awhile but was always conscious of having to make the descent back down. “Of course we spent time up there taking it in and enjoying the moment but I was still aware that I had to be switched on for that last descent back to Base Camp and that’s when many accidents happen.”


Now back working on the family farm, Mike jokes he is enjoying the flat land and proper home cooking. He has two further peaks to scale before he has conquered the Seven Summits. Both remaining mountains pose different challenges, Puncak Jaya in Papua New Guinea is located next to a gold mine with some very unwelcoming local tribes and Mount Vinson in Antarctica is obviously very cold and inaccessible. For now he is content farming and helping his parents and brother Steve who according to Mike “takes care of business while I go gallivanting around the world.” Does he have any short-term travel plans? “I think I should try a beach holiday!” However, he admits the challenge of finishing the remaining two summits is hard to resist “I’ll see what happens next year, maybe watch this space…”

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