Local Philanthropist Mike Deane Climbs Everest Basecamp with WaterAid Canada
There are some adventures that are designed to push boundaries, break through the limits and barriers of the mind, and change a person's perspective on the world around us.
For Surrey local wanderer and philanthropic soul Mike Deane, his trek up to Everest Base Camp with Water Aid was just one experience. The mental and physical stamina that one must have to complete a trek like this is no easy feat, but that didn't stop Mike from charging ahead with this trip and making many plans for new adventures in the future. He shares his story with us below.
If you were writing a biography about your life, what aspects would you be most proud of?
Definitely the work that I’ve been doing with WaterAid Canada. It was a huge life turnaround for me. I wasn’t in the greatest place about 4 years ago and when I started doing this in October of 2014 it's just been an amazing experience to be able to raise $10000 and go to Nepal and see some of the things that I’ve seen and gain a greater, wider perspective of the entire world.
Was there a specific moment that made you fall in love with travel and the great outdoors? If so, what was it?
Traveling in general, was not necessarily something I grew up with. The only travel we ever did was spending every summer in Montreal—thats where my mom is from—so I grew up isolated from my entire family and summers I’d spend with my cousins and what not. My first actual travel experience being on my own was when I was 22. I had packed up and moved to the UK for a year. me and a backpack— there was a point where I was homeless— I had no place to actually live— but I still had my guitar. So there I am on a train from oxford to Liverpool and I've got nothing but a huge bag and guitar [Mike laughs]. Since then, I’ve been all over the US, I’ve done the whole concert merch gigs thing, and you know, get to hang out with some amazing people who’ve inspired me to be who I am today.
Only a few of us are lucky enough to see something as majestic as Mount Everest in person. How did seeing it up close resonate with you?
When you see it you realize you’re seeing the roof of the world; the highest peak—something that very few people could ever hope to get to the top of—and still even very few people get to see [in person] the peak itself. It just shows you a greater perspective, you know, your place in the world. We’re really not that much compared to the earth and it really helped me connect to the earth in a more real way. There [are] so many different peaks. The entire scenery is amazing. Every day you’re seeing a different terrain. You have nine days to get to the base camp. [The first 2 days] are acclimatization days where you start, you wake up, maybe have coffee or tea or lunch and then you come back down. Travel high sleep low. That’s what really helps you adjust to the altitude. Your blood/oxygen levels start to drop, which can bring up some issues in certain types of people, myself included. I was affected most with migraines.
Would you ever climb it again? Would you ever attempt the full ascent up Everest?
I have absolute plans to go back to Nepal. Whether or not I go to Everest Base Camp remains to be seen. Every major peak has its own camp, and there are other ones I want to go to. Seeing dozens of major peaks in Nepal, there’s one [peak] in particular I want to go back to, called Amedablum—the translation means Mother’s Necklace—its a very distinct-looking peak. Apparently, it's a very similar shape to the Matter Horn in the Alps; very unique.
I don't know if I’d ever attempt a full ascent up Everest but I would love to be able to go to Base Camp 1. It's a particular height, just below 6000 [feet in] elevation and it's quite pricey to even attempt to get to Base Camp 1. There’s quite a few more, but it's one of the most if not the most dangerous parts because you’re crossing the Ice glaciers. If you've ever seen any of the movies [about Everest] you’ll see [some harrowing parts about] Base Camp 1. It’s pretty scary, but it would be really cool to just [see] that next step. There are 10000+ people that go through the Nepal trekking camps every year, but Base Camp 1 is that next level. That would be something that would be really appealing to me in terms of mountaineering goals. Peaks and things not so much; I don’t have any experience so I wouldn’t start that big.
How did you train for the journey?
A lot of the training that I did was essentially just walking. The biggest thing was not necessarily being in great shape, but being able to go and walk for hours at a time, so I would just strap my running shoes on [and go]. Sometimes it would just be me leaving my home and walking the streets of Surrey. A couple hours later I would realize ‘Oh hey! I’ve logged 18km!’ That was a particularly long day, and I did a little damage to my foot on that one. I really like doing the Grouse Grind, I like the steepness. There a couple points during the trek where you are dealing with just about that level of steepness for almost that long.
So was it more gradual then? I mean the Grouse Grind is what, 2km?
I think it's about 2 miles, so 3-3.5 km; it's just that the grouse grind is straight up. You’re gaining something like 3000 feet of elevation. In the Himalayas, every 2 meters you’re going up in elevation, you go down one. The terrain is [not as consistent]. The first day we were going, the terrain was actually more down than up. When you fly into the airport, you’re at a higher elevation than when you sleep the first night. Then the climbing halfway through Day 2 is when it really starts to go and then there are some steep climbs near Namshay Bazaar which is the biggest settlement in the Himalayas—I wouldn’t be surprised if there are about a 1000 people there and there are only like 7000 people in the entire region—so it’s their essential trading hub and [everyone usually passes through here] either just before or just after and because you’re going back down you experience it both ways.
What pushed your limits most?
The most difficult thing for me was having two migraines throughout the entire trip. Dealing with those and getting through those—whether or not they were because of the altitude—I’m not certain. When I was about two days before Base Camp they measured my blood oxygen levels, and I was in the range where I should have been ok, but I was a complete mess, you know, I was trying to get out of my bed just to go to the bathroom and I was in this very awkward, semi-fetal walking position trying to stay on my feet and I made it [Mike laughs], I made it back to bed, took a couple pills, fell asleep, and woke up right as rain so I think it was more of whatever [normally] causes a migraine as opposed to the altitude. A weakened immune system as a result of the altitude is always going to make it worse, though. We were all kind of sick. You see the difference with the porters; some of them were just in bare feet going about like it was nothing. It was quite impressive to see the ones in the bare feet.
For our group, we had our one guy Maski who was just absolutely an amazing person. They call the main guide of the group a CEO: Chief Experience Officer. [Maski] was named the CEO of the Year twice including 2015, and I see no reason why he wouldn't be again. Actually, he was supposed to come to an event in Canada in Toronto in the SkyDome and he couldn't get his visa because the year before one the people [on the trek] didn’t come back. But you know, you talk to this guy and that just isn't who he is. He's turned down jobs in other countries all over the world because that’s his home and he's a very spiritual person. Besides him, we had an assistant guide, Suneel, and it was actually his first time going to Evert Base Camp which was so awesome. He had worked with his brother in the past, so that’s why [Maski] hired him. Then we had 4 porters going with us as sort of an assistant guide, basically [just] to learn. As an employee there, you start as a porter and if you're willing to and take the steps to learn English you will progress to the next levels; Assistant Guide, then Guide, then CEO. It’s really cool to see that side of the Economy and how they progress in their work.
Who have been major influencers for you? Is there anyone you’d consider to be a mentor?
Specific people that really inspire me… hmmm. Well, I tend to draw inspiration from anyone that's surrounded me in life. I wouldn't necessarily say I’m easily inspired but when I see people blazing their own trails and trying new things and going through the struggle, that's what inspires me to improve myself. So ya, I draw inspiration from everybody.
I think for a lot of my life I’ve never really had that guiding direction from somebody that [has seen and done things]. I think one of the reasons why I had done this trip was not to gain the inspiration, but to [be able to] inspire those around me. Doing something that people view as this very large accomplishment; just a guy going about my things. If I can do this, why can’t the next person sitting across from me do this, why can’t the person down the hall do this too. That’s what I wanted to do. People want change but they don't want to change themselves, and it's those that are willing to go through the struggle and deal with these things; those are the people that I keep close to me. I was trying to be the influencer for others; turning the table and making sure others are engaged in something greater and bigger in their lives.
What advice would you give to someone who was thinking of making the same journey as you?
Do it, don't just think about it. Everything in life gets stopped by just thinking about it. Actually starting to take action and going out and doing something, that's when the magic happens. You don't have to be in elite shape to do it, you just have to be in good shape. If you do the occasional sport, you can do the grouse grind, climb the chief or up the sea to sky, you’re going to be fine for Base Camp. It’s a long journey, it’s a long time, which means there’s lots of time for rest. You go as fast or slow as you want to and you’re not going to be alone. I [also] wouldn’t recommend going alone. Especially to help the local economy, you know, hire the guides, go with a group and you’re going to bond with people you would have never met otherwise. I was a group of ten people and met nine amazing, super cool people.
What other expeditions do you coming up for WaterAid?
I haven't confirmed, but I am looking ahead two years from now at doing another mountain and a similar trek up Mount Kilimanjaro, and to the peak for this one. It’s actually a couple hundred feet higher than Everest Base Camp. These are [WaterAid's] bucket list adventures. It’s a series of 5 trips; Everest Base Camp was the second. This year, it’s a water travel based trip through Africa, through the Zambesi River if I'm not mistaken. Next year, it’s Kilimanjaro, and the year after I believe it's a cycling trip through Southeast Asia, [paritcularly] Singapore, Thailand, and Cambodia, although I may avoid that one due to my severe peanut allergy [Mike Laughs]. Southeast Asia would not be good for me cause of that. Because of that, it helped put me more on the board for Kilimanjaro, it’s just a matter of funding and doing the fundraising for WaterAid.
How do you fundraise for WaterAid?
My preferred method of fundraising has always been hosting events. I’ve put together--in the last three or four years--4 live shows, getting venues, and I know enough people and support local bands that I absolutely adore that I know would be willing to play these shows, and then it's about getting a good chunk of the ticket sales. I’ve done a couple of BBQs, silent auctions, bake sales. We even had a Child cook off once [Mike laughs] cause who doesn't like chill? Come on! My buddy even made a Deer Chili, which was a crowd favorite.
For more information and how you can help support WaterAid's cause, click here.
All photos: Mike Deane
Copyright Rose Huet 2017