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Ski Club of Manchester — Squash Falconer’s AGM Talk

Reporter: Andrew Walker

How I (and my knickers) got to the top of the world.

Squash is not normal. On her own admission her brain is wired unconventionally. And the name. Her 15 month old sister couldn’t say Louise, but managed to say peas, which became squashy peas, which became squash, which stuck. Obviously. And people remember a name like that.

Not regarding herself as an academic but nonetheless leaving school with a number of exams under her belt, Squash took herself off to Les Arcs for a ski season and, tantalised by views of Mont Blanc, thought it would be a cool thing to climb it, which she eventually did, although there were a few diversions on the way. The first was Aconcagua in Argentina, nearly 7,000 metres high and the highest mountain in the Americas, and with her team she made it to the top.

On her return, after passing her motorbike test, she put aside her dream of going biking to the South of France in order to climb Mustagata (7509m) in China. However, after the tedious scree descent of Aconcagua she wasn’t interested in walking down, so they took skis and snowboards for the descent.

Mustagata is a remote mountain, there is a lot of equipment to carry, and the beast of burden of choice there is the camel. All was going very well on the ascent, but the weather deteriorated and they were still 200m from the summit when they reached turn-round time, which is the deadline you set for yourself for going back. Failure to do so can have serious consequences. Although turning back was hard, Squash knew that a key measure of success is how alive you are after the event. In those terms the expedition, even without the conquest, was a success.

For those for whom walking down mountains is a chore, the obvious next step was to take up paragliding, which in Squash’s view was a much cooler way to descend.

One year after Mustagata Squash joined an expedition to climb Cho Oyu, at 8188m the world’s sixth highest mountain, and this time her preferred mode of descent was a bumboard (so much lighter than skis or a snowboard), thus making her the world’s highest ever bumboarder. After this, Squash believed she had reached both her physical and mental limit. This was compounded by having had her first really big scare, when she got her foot caught in an old rope while abseiling down a vertical ice fall just below the summit, and ended up dangling upside-down, slipping in and out of consciousness and unable to help herself. Fortunately one of her team managed to extricate her, but the seriousness of the situation was brought home the next day when an experienced guide climbing alone died in the same place, having also got caught in the rope.

Leaving the mountain, one of the team members suggested to Squash that she was strong enough to climb Everest. Although she dismissed the idea the seed was sown, but in the meantime she had other plans, primarily being to motorbike to Mont Blanc, climb to the summit, and then paraglide down, which she thought was the best idea ever. Several people questioned her plans, but…

It’s not good to listen to other people.

She found a willing conspirator, but having no money managed to blag her way to getting loans of a motorbike from BMW, a lightweight paraglider from Ozone, and a video camera from the BBC, telling each of them that the others had committed.

The plan was successfully executed, albeit on the third attempt, but the icing on the cake was discovering that she was the first British woman to successfully paraglide from the summit of Mont Blanc. She admitted that she wasn’t sure could pull it off, but doing this trip made her think anything was possible, and her thoughts returned to Everest.

She more or less committed herself in a BBC local radio interview during which she heard herself saying that she would like to summit Everest and maybe even fly back down again. Having done so, she headed to Pokhara in Nepal for months of intensive paragliding training in terrain as close as possible to the real thing. Climbing equipment is bulky, but…

If your Knickers are right, then your day goes right.

Thus Squash, for a 60 day expedition to Everest, took 60 pairs of knickers, and brought them all home again.

She played a short video of her expedition, and how she and her knickers got on, sufficient to put me off ever even thinking about such a feat but giving me great admiration for those who do.

That day, 100 people attempted the summit, but in light of deteriorating weather conditions most turned back. Fewer than 10 summitted. One died. Squash reached the summit, but because of bad weather managed to turn on the camera for only a brief period at the top.

On the way down she did try to paraglide from the South Col but adverse conditions prevented it.Summing up on how she climbed Everest, she stressed the importance of having the right team and the right people. She has been guided by constantly considering the question of what’s to lose and what’s the worst that can happen, and whether she is prepared to live the rest of her life that way. That, and having the right pair of knickers.

The talk was followed by a Q&A session.

Visit Squash’s website Squash Falconer for more information about her adventures.

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