The day my life changed - I achieved my life's ambition at 53 when I climbed Everest

16th April 2010 at 01:00
It was altitude with attitude for a PE teacher - who says she would do it all again

I probably climbed Everest because it's there. There are so many beautiful hills, mountains - I call them all hills - to climb. But I wanted to climb Everest.

I was 53: the oldest British woman to have reached the top of Everest. I had no idea - I only found out later, when I got to Kathmandu and checked my emails. To be honest, I don't like the idea of being old.

I have climbed hills all my life. I had a colleague from school, Neil Taylor, who I was doing quite a lot of climbing with. Six or seven years ago I turned to him and said: "Hey, I think we should climb Everest," thinking he would say: "Don't be stupid." But he wanted to do it.

I have been a PE teacher since 1976 and my passion is outdoor exploration. I have taken pupils to China, Kenya, Peru and Nepal. Every other year we would go on long-haul expeditions, and every other year do something to prepare for Everest. We built up a CV of mountain experience. We climbed higher and higher to make sure we could cope at altitude. We climbed more technical mountains to make sure we could cope with ice.

I had to apply for 10 weeks' unpaid leave. You spend the first six weeks on Everest going up and down, up and down, just to acclimatise. I probably climbed Everest several times before I reached the summit.

Then you go 1,000m below base camp to get lots of oxygen-rich air and eat and drink healthily to make sure you are fit for the summit bid.

I reached the summit at 5.30am on May 20 last year. It was amazing. There were all these 8,000m peaks just below us; we could see 360 degrees of Himalayan peaks all around. I expected it to be crowded, but my sherpa, Mingma, and I had 10 minutes alone.

Even though you are on oxygen up there, it isn't enough. You can't think straight. Apparently, I was saying: "Oh wow, this is amazing. I'm so excited." I probably was. But I can't remember it.

All the time above 8,000m your body is dying. It doesn't like being there. So they don't let you stay on the summit long. I was there for 10 or 15 minutes.

By the time you get back to base camp, you have spent a week in the same clothes. But the first thing I did was contemplate my achievement. They give you a bit of a party but you are shell-shocked. You can't believe you have done it.

Also, Neil had to turn back before the summit. He had a severe chest infection, later diagnosed as pneumonia. He was absolutely devastated, so I didn't feel I could really celebrate. But, Everest being Everest, you can't guarantee success. A lot of it is luck: I was lucky with my health, lucky with the weather, lucky I had a really good sherpa to look after me.

It's very difficult coming back to school. Doing something as amazing as that, it's really hard to acclimatise to a normal way of life. I'm desperate to do more climbing, more travelling. People say you get these things out of your system, but you never do: the more you do something, the more you want to do it. If somebody said: "Pack your bags, you can go again," I would do it.

Climbing Everest is self-indulgent. It's something to make you feel good. So we wanted to raise #163;8,850 for the British Heart Foundation: #163;1 for each metre of Everest. We still have #163;700 to raise.

Now I want to encourage people to live their dreams, however old they are. Kids think they have got all their life ahead of them. They don't think they have got to get on with it, grab everything that comes their way. That's what I'm telling them.

This summer, I'm taking 12 pupils to climb Kilimanjaro. Then I will have been on the highest points of two continents. When I come back, I will have to give serious thought to where I go next.

Amanda Richmond was talking to Adi Bloom. To donate to her British Heart Foundation fundraising page, go to http:original.justgiving.comeverest09.

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