The first Belgian expedition to the Mount Everest in 8 years was ready for take-off on the 25th of march. Sofie Lenaerts and Paul Hegge have taken on the enormous challenge to climb the top of the world with passion, courage and resilience. As proud sponsor of the expedition we followed the adventure from up-close and we spoke with Sofie and Paul about how they experienced this unique climb.
The Mount Everest is with its 8848 meters the highest mountain on earth. It is a part of the Himalayas and is located on the international border between Nepal and Tibet. The first Belgian expedition reached the top in 1990 and was followed by 12 other successful Belgian expeditions since then. Since 2007, no Belgian team could reach the top. It’s been more than one year since somebody could reach the top due to dangerous avalanches and heavy earthquakes. A thorough preparation is thus crucial for this tremendous challenge:
Sofie Lenaerts: “My partner climbed Mount Everest in 2007 and stood with me during the entire preparations. We had to be prepared to perfection and that demands a daily effort. This was sometimes mentally and physically gruelling, because once you start the expedition, you want to encounter as little problems as possible.”
Paul Hegge: “The physical preparation was intense, especially the last 4 months before departure. I often trained 2 times a day. In total I spend 2.500 km on my mountainbike and 1.100 km on my cross-trainer, swam 65 km and walked 550 km with a loaded backpack. On top of that, I climbed cliffs and ice walls for more than 40 hours. Mentally, it is important to learn your climb by hear by reading about it or watching movies. You image all sorts of scenarios and the way you hope to deal with them.”
After a climb of more than 60 days, Sofie and Paul reached their ultimate goal at the 22nd of May. Both adventurers where tested more than once, because the highest mountain of the world can’t be tamed by just everybody.
Paul: “During the ‘topdays’ of the climb you are mainly just preoccupied with yourself and your surroundings. Climbing is the only sport I know where you on the one hand are fully focused on yourself to use your optimally use your energy and on the other hand you use all your senses to scan your environment to survive. In the camps however you engage with the other climbers in only to feel less weary.”
Sofie: “It’s an intense journey where you often get in contact with your fellow climbers. You share your experience, information about the routes, weather, dangers, other camps, … with the other people on the mountain. Climbing is an individual challenge, but at the same time you are always surrounded by your fellow climbers and Sherpa. You are literally all cramped together, everybody in very small tents with all your material. Having fun is therefore utmost important.”
You can be trained and prepared, but climbing the Mount Everest is a remarkable challenge. Sofie reached the top with a broken rib. But also the uncertainty of reaching your goal is a great mental challenge.
Sofie: “I realised upfront that it would be a huge physical challenge. I was however more curious and excited then scared. This meant that I was more relaxed during the climb and I could enjoy it even more. It was only when I started the last snow slope, I began to really physically suffer. I concentrated me on the number of breaths I needed for taking one step. Climbing mountains initially is a mental challenge, not so much a physical one.”
Paul: “The greatest mental challenge is waiting … waiting for the right moment to start climbing. You spend most of your time waiting in your tent, constantly ravaged by the wind while temperature rarely climbs above freezing point. The weariness, but more important the uncertainty whether you will have the chance to climb the top, is difficult to bear after 5 weeks. You often question yourself: ‘what in god name am I doing?’. But the adventure is seasoned with unforgettable moments. A visit to a toilet at 7.800 meters, with an abyss of 2.000 m deep right at your feet for example. A very exciting balancing act!”
With remarkable perseverance, thoughtful courage and an extraordinary physical and mental strength, Sofie and Paul succeeded in climbing toward the top of the world.
Sofie: “First I didn’t realise I made it to the top. I sat down, started to look around and realised I had no emotions at all … then I said to myself: ‘do you realise where you are standing? You are standing on the top of the world!’ Then came the tears. I can’t describe it, but that moment is so intense that I still get emotional. I called my partner, who has also stood there 9 years ago. A very exceptional moment.”
Paul: “Actually, I still don’t fully realise it. The top itself was not so special for me, but the way up and coming down was. The sun rose two hours before we reached the top: a unique moment! You are standing above the clouds, a steel-blue sky and you can see the curving earth, the mountain tops surrounding you and the sun coming up. A powerful experience. The top was terribly cold, about -30°C. I stayed there for only about 10 minutes. I was focusing on the descent, where most of the victims fall. But I’ve incredibly enjoyed it, with extraordinary sights, very dangerous but great to do.”
It’s been two months now since the adventure for Sofie and Paul. Their courage and perseverance is an inspiration for every entrepreneur!
Sofie: “The climbing of Mount Everest was a dream coming true. Climbing is in my blood for 13 years. For my partner and I it is a real passion. In the meanwhile, we have added new mountains to our list in the near future.”
Paul: “From time to time I realise today what I have achieved, but the daily life consumes you in a heartbeat. At home, my kids have started with the exams and the can use some help. I was immediately thrown back to reality. As a kid, I had two dreams: running an Olympic distance marathon and climbing Mount Everest. Running the marathon will be difficult since I have bad knees, but realising one of your twee dreams isn’t bad at all!”