He’s had hair raising expeditions to summits all over the world, but over the past two years, Australia’s most successful mountaineer Andrew Lock has taken up less frightening activities — like the Sydney to Hobart yacht race.
For the man who made a habit of hanging out in the death zone, that means a big change of pace.
The 52-year-old master of thin air is in Katoomba on Sunday to talk about his new book Summit 8000, detailing his 16-year journey to climb all 14 of the world’s 8000 [metre] mountains.
“I’d always intended to retire from high altitude after I finished climbing all the 8000ers because it is so dangerous and I’d lost so many friends over the years,” he told The Gazette.
“But it was such a passion that I kept looking for new challenges ... on my last climb in 2012 I became quite affected by altitude sickness and had to descend and I had to accept that I’m not as strong as I used to be.”
Lock said in recent years popular peaks like Everest had become so commercialised that “there’s almost no room for private, independent climbers like me who don’t use Sherpas or oxygen [and] with all those crowds getting carried up the mountain, it just isn’t as much fun as it used to be”.
He said he sacrificed “relationships, finances, career” to climb those peaks but says those “choices” were necessary. “Had I had kids, I’d have stopped climbing. But I didn’t.”
And he hasn’t let the tragic side of mountaineering get him down.
“We all play that game with our eyes wide open so it would be hypocritical not to accept the consequences that sometimes follow.”
The former Canberra public servant was inspired to climb in his early 20s after seeing a slideshow by the first Australians to climb Mt Everest, Greg Mortimer and Tim Macartney-Snape. He had already developed a love for the outdoors as a child through the Scouts movement.
He said “a few times I questioned the worth of what I was doing. Particularly after friends had been killed or I found myself climbing with people I didn’t like or respect”. But he said those doubts were dissipated by “the absolute joy” of the sport.
Having transitioned from the extreme environment of high altitude back to a normal home life, he works now as a motivational speaker and is involved in charity work as an ambassador for Scouts Australia, the Sir David Martin Foundation and the Australian Himalayan Foundation which works on conservation, education and health programs across Nepal, Bhutan and India.
And while he is Australia’s most successful climber, he is often described as the least known. When he finished climbing all the 8000-plus metre mountains, the man who inspired him to start climbing, Greg Mortimer, likened the achievement to “winning at 14 Olympics”.
“That was high praise indeed, coming from one of the original Australian icons of high altitude mountaineering. But I’ve climbed for the love of it. I didn’t seek a high profile. I’m actually the only person in the British Commonwealth to have climbed all the 8000ers. I’m still waiting for those gold medals,” he added laughing.
Andrew Lock will talk at The Carrington Hotel this Sunday, August 10 from 5.30pm. Tickets can be booked through the Summit Gear website [www.summitgear.com.au] or via the Katoomba shop on 4782 3018. His book Summit 8000 is published by Melbourne University Publishing and is in stores now.