Before joining Telstra, I’d made tv commercials for companies like Coca Cola, worked with major Hollywood stars like Mel Gibson, Tom Cruise, Jodie Foster and James Coburn, I’d been the CEO of a national television channel, directed an internationally released feature film and even practiced as a lawyer. But perhaps the highest point (literally) of my career was when Telstra sent me to Mount Everest for three months!
It was in 2008 when the then GMD of Telstra Media, Justin Milne, told me that BigPond would be sponsoring the first mother/daughter attempt to reach the lofty goal of summiting the highest peak on all seven continents. In climbing circles this is known as the Seven Summits. The women, Cheryl and Nikki Bart, had already climbed Mt Kilimanjaro (Africa), Mt Elbrus (Europe), Denali (North America), Aconcagua (South America), Vinson Massif (Antarctica) and Mt Kosciuszko. All that was left was the big one. Everest.
Of course what good would a sponsorship be without media coverage. And not just an article in the newspapers weeks after the event. Not just photos from Kathmandu of the intrepid adventurers safely back in their hotel. No. We had to have live footage of the climb. We had to have BigPond plastered all over the news reports the night of the summit (presuming they survived). We had to have a phone call from the top of the world. That’s all.
And how were we to get all this footage and commentary and photos and media? Well, we had to have someone on the ground ( and I use that term loosely) didn’t we. And who best to be that person than someone who could shoot video, edit on a laptop, upload vision via a satellite system, write articles, climb mountains and survive months on end in freezing conditions and deadly low levels of oxygen. A suicide mission if ever there was one (the Everest death rate is around 5%).
But I volunteered.
My wife was not happy.
My children were not happy.
My insurance broker was delighted.
And of course, my boss promised that such bravery and commitment to the firm would not go unrewarded.
So I started assembling the gear that I would need. 12 video cameras. Three still cameras. Five mobiles including two satellite phones. Two laptops. A satellite base station. And more feathered clothing than any person should ever be exposed to. (Of course, the feathers were inside the jackets, not outside, but still…)
And I trained. Boy, did I train. Now usually I’m the sort of guy who, if I don’t get a parking space directly outside the Restaurant, will turn around, go home and order pizza delivery. But now I had to run up hills. Wearing backpacks. Full of bottles of water! I had to do sit-ups and push-ups and “hold-ups” (that’s what you yell out to the personal trainer when they are so far ahead of you that they’re out of sight).
And then I got on the plane and flew a long, long way.
Which was nothing compared to the journey from Kathmandu to the foothills of Everest, which was an even longer, long, long way.
Which paled into insignificance when compared to the trek (read schlepp) from Lukla to the Khumbu Ice Fall where we made our base camp, at nearly 6,000 metres above sea level.
I remember sea level. That’s where all the oxygen lives.
And that’s where I lived for almost three months. It was frustratingly close to the summit that I was denied because it was as high as I could go and still do my job.
While the women made their weekly ascents, each time higher and higher, always returning to the base camp, I wrote, shot, edited and posted all the footage, reports and photos via satellite to a dedicated website.
Constantly eating chocolate but constantly loosing weight, because at that altitude your body is fighting just to stay alive. And our blood oxygen levels fell to a state which would have mandated admission into an Intensive Care Unit in any civilized hospital.
What was I thinking? Cold doesn’t even come close to describing the temperature. And comfortable? I’ll give you a hint. Those one centimetre thick neoprene mattresses don’t do jack. And as for clothing? I didn’t take my grade million down jacket off for months, day or night.
But what a place! What a view! What an experience!
The women summited and survived the top. All the channels carried my footage from the mountain that night, including international channels, and our stories appeared in all major newspapers across the country. Every photo emblazoned with a BigPond logo, every piece of video sporting a BigPond bug.
Successful? You could say that.
High point in a Telstra career? Without a doubt.
Financial reward upon returning? Some experiences are priceless.
But it’s only at a company as large and diverse as Telstra that something like that could happen. And I’m proud to have done it.