What was your first great outdoor experience?
I was about 14, hillwalking in the Lake District with my friend. We headed out to the tiny village of Kentmere and walked to the reservoir, hidden in the middle of nowhere in a valley with peaks all around. The tranquillity of the location had a profound effect on me and opened my mind up to all sorts of possibilities of things I could discover on my own home turf.
Your new book, Icefall, recounts your two attempts to climb Everest, both of which were thwarted by avalanches. What did these experiences teach you?
Well, we sadly lost three of our team in the earthquake and avalanche last year. It taught me that no matter how hard we work or how much we give, life owes us nothing and dreams can come crashing down at any moment, so we have to live every day to the best of our ability. But most of all, that dreams can be replaced – lives cannot.
You took on six different ultra-endurance challenges in the run-up to your second Everest attempt. Which was the most difficult?
Probably the 3 Peaks Cycle challenge. It was late autumn and it was just utterly bonkers – it involved cycling 440 miles and walking the UK’s three highest mountains in between, unsupported and alone. On the first day I had a bad crash and knocked myself out. I remember arriving at YHA Ambleside rather haggard with a bloody knee having cycled 160 miles – the lasagne and garlic bread had never tasted so good! Those four days were among the most mentally demanding of my life, plagued with punctures, delays and more logistical problems. I remember running up Ben Nevis at 10pm alone in cycling gear, buried in thick fog, with only a Snickers bar for dinner. You just have to keep on pushing!
What excites you most about your new ambassador role with YHA?
To be an ambassador for such a well-known and established organisation like YHA is a huge honour for me, especially at such a young age. With my passion for the outdoors and inspiring others to achieve their own ‘Everest in life’, I’m extremely excited to be helping YHA reach out to more young people and make a difference, as I am already a huge fan of the work it does. I’m really looking forward to all the exciting things we can achieve together within the YHA community.
Bear Grylls is an inspiration of yours and has endorsed your book. You’re 20 years old, so around half his age – what would you like to be doing when you’re 40?
Hopefully what I’m doing now! Pushing my limits in the outdoors and being able to use my experiences to raise money for good causes and inspire others to overcome adversity and get outdoors.
What’s in the travel diary for the rest of 2016?
I’m walking the Skye Trail in a few weeks, so looking forward to exploring a part of Scotland I’ve never been to. Then there’s a potential world record attempt, involving lots of mountains. And in the autumn I’m off to the Himalayas again for another expedition – it’s not Everest, but it’s a similar challenge and being kept under wraps for now!
Do you have a favourite YHA?
There are so many hostels to explore, but so far I’d probably say Pen-y-Pass. I love how it’s quite isolated so you can get away from the stresses of daily life. If you go out the front door you can get straight onto the full Snowdon range, and if you go out the back door you’re exploring the Glyderau mountains! It’s a perfect location, and the staff and restaurant are superb too.
Finally, where are your top three outdoor spots in England and Wales?
A hard question! One of them would have to be Buttermere in the Lake District, it’s absolutely serene and beautiful. And the Kentmere Round walk near Windermere has a special place in my heart, as does the summit of Foel Fras in the Carneddau mountains in North Wales.
Alex’s new book, Icefall, is out now, published by Coventry House alexstaniforth.com
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