From The Ocean To Mountain Peaks – Q&A With The Tempest Two | Part 2
Two years ago, James Whittle and Tom Caulfield were ordinary men, working 9-5 jobs, training to keep in shape and enjoying socialising at the weekend. One day, they jokingly said to each other that they should do something meaningful and challenging, something to break up the daily grind. This seed grew into the idea of rowing across the Atlantic Ocean unaided. Having never rowed a day in their lives, the challenge wasn’t just about surviving the journey, it was about learning a whole new discipline from scratch. 3,000 miles and 54 days later the pair had completed something extraordinary, unleashing a lust for adventure with a different perspective of life. This daring duo are Living Proof that each of us can make the impossible happen.
We sat down with James and Tom from the Tempest Two to learn more about their latest expedition, they took on the White Mountain.
Q. You had some troubles on the climb of Gran Paradiso when you hit the wall, can you walk us through what happened, your emotions and how you overcame this hurdle?
A. Gran Paradiso was a big learning for us. We had bought some lunch the day before to eat during the summit attempt, but stupidly left it at the bottom in the rush to leave at 5am. We managed to reach the summit without too much trouble, but on the way down we both completely ran out of energy. The last 4 hours of the descent were incredibly tough, as we tried to battle exhaustion and dehydration. When we reached the refuge hut at the bottom, we collapsed in bed immediately. Rookie error!
Q. Walk us through the main challenges you experienced on the climb?
A. As we had never climbed, we were unsure how we would deal with things like altitude. Even though we knew it would be a tough trip, we hugely underestimated just how tough. The biggest challenges we faced were:
Altitude: It was fascinating to see the impact of altitude. This was the highest we had ever been, at the altitude we were climbing, the oxygen is drastically reduced. The simplest of tasks soon becomes exhausting and you have to really concentrate on moving efficiently. We even had issues sleeping at altitude, as our pulse was racing trying to force the limited oxygen around our bodies. We were lucky not to get any serious altitude sickness (as many do), but headaches were pretty common throughout.
DOMS: After climbing Gran Paradiso, our legs were totally shot. We both had the worst muscle soreness we had ever had and we had to face into Mont Blanc the morning after. This was pretty painful, climbing and scaling rock with legs full of lead!
Crevasse: With about 1 hour remaining to the summit of Mont Blanc, we were halted by a newly formed crevasse. We had to hop over it, then immediately up a chute, in order to carry on. We met 4 climbers at this point who cancelled their climb here and decided to head back down.
Exposure: The exposure is significant and we were totally susceptible to the wind and cold up there. It is a balance of clothing and multiple layers to stay warm and protected. The snow and ice was whipping off the hill into our faces and our water was freezing inside the bottles in our bag.
Q. What was the most enjoyable part of the climb?
A. Day one of the Mont Blanc climb was a good day. The first few hours from the valley floor was a bit of a slog (usually in climbing season, a train which takes climbers from the valley to a starting point halfway up the mountain is running, but as we were the last climbers of the season it was shut, so we had to start in the valley). But when we reached what is considered the most dangerous part of the climb, things got interesting. We had to scale the Couloir De Gouter (aptly named by locals as ‘The Couloir of Death’), an exposed rock-face which was prone to rockfall and had been the location of a number of climbing deaths over the years. The 2 hour climb was fantastic, as we carefully made our way up the jagged face, every now and again looking behind us to see the near vertical landscape below.
Q. What helped you to keep focused on the challenge ahead?
A. I think the fact we take on these challenges as a pair is a big advantage. Throughout any tough times, we have one-another to rely on and boost spirits. We tend to be pretty open and honest with each other, we don’t try and hide it if we are finding it tough. It definitely helps also to keep some dialogue going inside your own head, reminding yourself why you are putting yourself through it and what that feeling will be like once you make it to the top. There were certainly times when we would have done anything to just sit down and have a rest, but we had to push on and keep the feet moving.
Q. Did you ever want to turn around and head back down the mountain?
A. Yes, plenty of times! The thought is always there, but there is no way we would have succumbed to them. It would have taken an injury or for conditions to have changed drastically for us to have turned around and headed back down.
Q. You awoke day two with the news that a big storm was approaching. How did this affect you and what forced you to get out and climb in the extreme weather?
A. It was slightly unnerving to hear the news on the weather, but we simply had to adapt our strategy. We opted for an earlier start on the Summit day to get ahead of the weather and had to push hard to keep our pace high. We ended up climbing at around 4am into the darkness, with a huge wind trying to blow us down the mountain, which was less than ideal. The usual Summit day climb from the Gouter Hut is around 5/6 hours, it took us 3, so we didn’t hang around.
Q. Did the isolation on the mountain affect your motivation?
A. Not really, it was actually quite empowering. In the peak season the mountain is full of climbers, which is something we wanted to avoid entirely. We saw less than 10 climbers on our attempt, most of whom were coming back down. If you are surrounded by people in that environment, it can take some of the magic and awe away.
Q. What emotions did you feel as you reached The White Mountain’s Summit?
A. Sheer relief! As you can see on the video, we barely smile when we reach the top, it was more of a ‘Thank God!’ kind of moment! Once we caught our breath though, it was spectacular. We were the only people on the Summit, which is a rarity and something we will never forget.
Q. How do you both work as a team, do you bounce off each other to help motivate each other?
A. We definitely give each other an extra 10%. Knowing that your mate is going through the same thing as you and you are responsible for making it up to the top as well, gives an extra boost when things get tough. We are pretty light-hearted and manage to find the funny side in almost every situation, which helps keep morale high.
Q. How did your LifeProof cases help on the journey, both in training and during the climb?
A. They just make life so much easier. For us, taking photos on our phones is pretty important and knowing that it can sit in our pockets completely protected from the cold, rain, snow or whatever is thrown at us is huge. Our phones have not got a scratch on them and they have crossed the Atlantic and summited a mountain in temperatures as cold as -10 C. That in itself is astonishing, considering we use them the entire time.
LifeProof cases available for iPhone 7 now:
Q. Did you use any apps to help with training or climbing?
A. We both track our exercise via a fitness band called Reign, made by Jaybird. We also use Wahoo fitness to keep track of our bike rides and runs which is a great tool to have. Other than that, social apps are pretty important for us, so we can document our adventures in real-time, giving people a good insight into what its like to take on some of these trips.
Q. If you were to climb the mountain again, what would you do differently?
A. We would probably be stricter on packing, as our bags were heavier than they needed to be. Also, we definitely wouldn’t forget our lunch again, we learned that lesson the hard way!
Q. What advice would you give to someone looking to begin high altitude mountaineering?
A. Use a guide. The fact that so many novices climb mountains without a guide, is one of the main reasons there are so many deaths in the Alps. There is nothing less extreme in being guided and you are going to learn so much more from that person that you ever could on your own. Respect the mountain and take the necessary precautions to stay safe.
Q. This question will be on everyone’s tongues after hearing about your inspirational accomplishments, but what is next for The Tempest Two?
A. We now have a few months back in the UK which is nice but we are planning 2017 as we speak. There is going to be a big one next year, we cannot give too much away at this stage! Follow us to keep up to date and you will find out soon.
That’s a wrap of the story of The Tempest Two climbing Mont Blanc. Stay tuned for more news on the next adventure.
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