Nepali Times
In her grandfather’s footsteps


HEIGHTS OF HAPPINESS: Serena Brocklebank on Chomolungma last month and her grandfather in Tibet in 1933.

When Serena Brocklebank, 39 was growing up she heard stories about her grandfather Tom Brocklebank's 1933 attempt to climb Mount Everest.

She had no interest at that time to climb Everest or any other mountain. However, some years as a climbing instructor and after some serious high altitude training in Latin America, Serena was hooked.

"The idea to attempt Everest came to me in 1999 when I was reading my grandfather's book and realised I was unusually obsessed with Everest," says Serena. Her grandfather was 24 when he was a member of the 1933 Everest expedition from the north side. The team reached within 300m of the summit before being turned back by storms.

In 2004, Serena followed her father's footsteps on Chomolungma from the north side. And just like in 1933, her team was stopped by storms. The expedition was called off and it was only later she learnt that seven people from other expeditions had died on the mountain in the storm.

But Chomolungma was never out of Serena's mind. "If something gets under your skin, its hard to let go," she says with a twinkle in her eyes. In 2005, Serena was posted to the British Embassy in Kathmandu and she started planning her second attempt, this time from the south side. "Having followed Tom Brocklebank on the north, I knew that Tenzing Norgay and Hillary were on to something on the south side," she says.

In April, while Kathmandu was in the throes of pro-democracy protests, Serena was at base camp on the Khumbu Glacier and after initial problems acclimatised well. She started from the South Col at 9:20 PM on 17 May with Pasang Nuru Sherpa of Pangboche. They made such good progress that by 3.30 AM they were already on the South Summit despite deep snow. "In fact, we had to slow down because they didn't want to be on top while it was still dark," Serena recalls.
When she reached the Hillary Step at 4AM, the batteries in Serena's torch went out. But they kept going up, grabbing a whole bunch of ropes from previous expeditions for guidance and safety. Dawn was breaking when Serena and Pasang Nuru stepped on the summit at 5.08 AM, and from the top they looked out at the curvature of the earth and the silhouette of Makalu.

"I was overwhelmed, deeply thrilled in a 8,848m kind of way," says Serena, who credits Pasang Nuru for helping her get up so fast. "The odds are always against you, but in my case it was the power of disbelief that motivated me to not give up," Serena says, explaining how she was aware of the possibility that they might not make it all the way up.

The descent was slow because they were both very tired. They had been on their feet for 12 hours when they got back down to the South Col. The weather turned nasty soon after and four of her teammates had frostbite and had to be evacuated by helicopter.

Serena has another two years to go in her diplomatic assignment in Kathmandu. Can there be anything after Chomolungma? Yes. Serena's eyes are now set on Ama Dablam, the elegant mountain that stands like a centinel above Tengboche. She adds: "I would like my mountaineering interest to be not all about Everest."

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)