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Monday
Apr182016

Into The Wild Meets: Alex Staniforth

We’ve always maintained at Frontier that a big part of travelling is overcoming personal challenges, the satisfaction of fundraising and testing your own mental stamina, possibly for the first time. Someone who exemplifies all of these is Alex Staniforth.

Alex has struggled with and overcome a multitude of his own hurdles in his life on the way to attempting Everest twice alongside a whole host of other such achievements… all before the age of 21.

The endurance athlete, fundraiser, ambassador and motivational speaker, Alex has completed the scaling of many mountains, literally and figuratively. These include climbing Mont Blanc, all 15 of Snowdonia’s 3,000 feet or higher peeks and Switzerland’s highest mountain, The Dom.

An epilepsy sufferer and former victim of bullying with a stammer, Alex knows a thing or two about overcoming obstacles. He was good enough to answer some questions about his fascinating life so far, the answers to which are emotional, motivational and downright interesting.

Where do you find the motivation to continue taking on these kinds of adventures and challenges?

I guess it’s all part of my purpose in life- I know nothing different, and the more obstacles I overcome, the more I know I’m capable of overcoming. My biggest fear is giving up.

How does your Epilepsy hold you back these days, if at all?

I’m very lucky not to have had a seizure for over 10 years. It doesn’t hold me back at all- I could have another one at any point, but I can’t live in fear of something that I cannot control.

After all you’ve done, what would your regard as your best achievement?

To be honest I never see myself as achieving enough. It drives people mad! If I had to choose something on merit, I would probably say just getting myself to the point of attempting Everest in 2014- being adequately prepared in such a short time, and fundraising the whole trip costs off my own back, which so many people told me was impossible. At times it felt it, too.

What is it about your lifestyle which gives you the most satisfaction?

The ability to make a positive difference to other people and the environment at the same time as achieving my own potential and have so many great opportunities. I don’t do things by convention and like how I can confidently follow my own path in life.

Back in 2015, Nepal saw its worst ever earthquake. During which time, Alex and his companions were on their way up Mount Everest. An already dangerous task made harder by the unstable conditions. Devastatingly, three of Alex’s Sherpa colleagues were killed during this earthquake. He himself had to spend two days on the side of the mountain awaiting evacuation.

How has your life changed since your last attempt to climb Everest? Given everything that happened on that expedition.

Quite a lot. Experiencing a disaster of that scale is something that will live with me for the rest of my life. I guess even today I relive the day and wonder why I was spared when so many weren’t. But at the same time it gives an amazing perspective on how fragile life is, and how we should live it to our full potential.

Your book, ‘Icefall’, recounts your expedition to climb Everest in 2015, but was this difficult to write after the earthquakes, avalanches and other dangers that were faced by you and your colleagues on that trip?

It was pretty therapeutic to get it written down to be honest. I like writing anyway and I actually started with the avalanche chapters whilst still fresh in my mind. Certain bits were quite emotional to read back and still send goose-bumps up my arms, even now. The book has a good balance of the serious and shocking stories of the avalanche/earthquake and the light-hearted anecdotes of my adventures too. It’s not really a mountaineering book - anyone can relate to and hopefully be inspired by it.

Once again, Alex showed his unquenchable motivation. After an experience like that, most people wouldn’t want anything more to do with continuing on their course, but no Alex. To him, it meant further motivation, more strive to achieve.

Which challenges stands out to you as the toughest? And which the most enjoyable?

One that really threw me was the 3 Peaks Cycle challenge. Late night crashes, exhaustion, delays, things going wrong, all sorts... and finding the willpower to push through when my 3 day target had gone out the window, was really tough. I mentally lost it. On a personal basis, mental health problems continue to be my biggest daily Everest and it’s a growing problem for many people- we need to speak out. The most enjoyable was probably climbing the Dom in Switzerland... because the pain was over the quickest and the experience of having a mountain entirely to ourselves was an unforgettable one!

Where has been your favourite place to visit from around the world? Either as part of a challenge or otherwise. Somewhere that’s added something extra to why you were there.

I haven’t really been to many places yet to draw a comparison, but I’d still say the Himalayas in Nepal. It’s the people, and the way they have so little but are so happy and give so much. Even after the earthquake last year they were giving us gifts and free food as we descended the valley. The scenery is otherworldly and there’s something for everyone- charity work, trekking, mountaineering and wildlife safaris.  It’s quite cheap to visit too.

What benefits would you say there are in travelling, exploring, seeing and trying new things, seeing places in the world that few people get to see?

There are so many, but mostly it’s being outside of your comfort zone that really allows us to grow as individuals, find our true purpose and live to our full potential. If it’s a rarely visited place, it just adds to the satisfaction and maybe the fascination at how small we are in the world around us.

Given all that Alex has done and all that he intends to do, along with the age he is, he is perfect to give our volunteers insight into the rewards of travel, drive and motivation. He exemplifies many of the qualities we hope our volunteers will exhibit on a Frontier project. We hope people will understand the value of and rewards of hard work, the great advantage there is in seeing the world and achieving goals.

What advice do you have for our volunteers who are looking to travel, fundraise for a trip or experience new things for the first time?

With fundraising, I think the more ownership you have of the trip, the greater the personal reward, so try to be as independent as possible. Consider whether you really need sponsorship to fund the trip? Don’t be afraid to do things on your own, but of course, keep safe. When you may only get one chance to visit a place, I can’t stress enough the importance of doing your research properly. Although, no matter how well you plan something, the true adventure comes when things don’t go to plan- so just go for it!

What’s on the horizon for you next? What upcoming challenges, plans or places are standing out to you?

In the autumn I’ll be trying to climb Cho Oyu, the 6th highest peak in the world, which is in Tibet. Whilst still in the Himalayas, it’s a different culture to Nepal and I’m looking forward to experiencing it. Right now I’m busy promoting my book Icefall and always have my eyes open for challenges. I’m quite into mountain running and there’s some interesting trails in the UK that I’m still to explore too.

Alex has ticked more off his bucket list before his 21st birthday than most people achieve in a lifetime. We whole heartedly encourage you all to follow his lead. The point to take away from this is that people can achieve far more than the initially think, and that achievements only require determination on the part of whoever wants to achieve them.

Keep an eye on Alex’s progress with his next big challenge and on his social media for updates. The book ‘Icefall’, which recounts his last fateful adventure to Everest, is available on Amazon and Kindle, perfect for a wanderlust spring afternoon read.

Follow the journey on www.alexstaniforth.com

Facebook- www.facebook.com/AlexAdversity

Twitter @alex_staniforth

Alex’s book ‘ICEFALL’ now available on Amazon and Kindle

By Guy Bezant - Online Journalism Intern

Frontier runs conservationdevelopmentteaching and adventure travel projects in over 50 countries worldwide - so join us and explore the world!

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