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In this world of great achievements, it’s a real treat to read about Kiwis making a name for themselves on the world stage, against adversity and with attitude. Lydia Brady is one of New Zealand’s top mountaineers and adventurers, and the first woman to ascend Everest without oxygen. In Going Up is Easy, she tells the story of many of her great climbs including the ascent of Mt Everest, giving us a wonderful insight into the world above 8,000m.
One of Lydia’s earlier experiences is hair-raising, as she attempted the climb to Kedernath Dome in India in 1987. Exhausted after days on the mountain and in bad weather, Lydia and fellow climber Jon Muir were swept away by no less than 3 avalanches in a row. Reading how the soft whoosh surprised her and carried her away makes you fearful as you imagine yourself in that situation. Struggling to stay upright and dog paddling to keep her head above the surface, Lydia didn’t know which way was up when she was buried. The pair survived, but they knew they’d used up most of their 9 lives on that trip.
There are risks in mountaineering, but the payoffs are huge. For some people it’s the challenge they can’t find in their everyday life, and for others it’s the sport of it, the connection with the earth and life, and the views that keep them going. Lydia talks of the gap between being a strong, confident and clear-thinking mountaineer and being dead as very small. At altitude you do not always think your best or clearest, so climbing high needs both mental and physical strength, so you know when to go on and when to turn back.
The day-to-day experience is also a memorable part of the journey, not just the success of ascent. Living on what you can carry, making friends, laughing and enjoying the trip, mountaineering can be an addictive pastime. Expect the unexpected too: imagine sitting in a tent high in the mountains, crowding with your mates in a tent telling stories when you hear a ripping sound and a massive dagger-like icicle pierces the tent from a cliff above, missing someone’s head by 3cm. Lydia and the team slept with helmets on that night.
Lydia’s ascent of Everest is a great read, she climbed up on her own and without oxygen, sticking to her plan of rest and rehydration on the way, but unable to take photos at the top because her camera had frozen – this was back in 1988. She allowed herself ten minutes at the top, viewing the various Himalayan peaks around and below her, and keeping her balance in the strong wind.
Lydia also bravely addresses the feelings she had on returning to the wider world’s disbelief that she had actually climbed Everest at all, coming from media as well as those in her own climbing group which included respected New Zealand mountaineer Rob Hall. It took time to prove that she had indeed completed the ascent, but there was more than a few years of disillusionment for Lydia in between.
As one of a group of aspiring mountaineers on a beginner Snowcraft course, I was lucky enough to hear Lydia speak last year. Lydia was leading a technical climbing course based in the same Mt Ruapehu lodge and was very generous in sparing her evening to chat to us about what life was like as a professional mountain guide. Her stories were magnetic and jaw-dropping; covering danger, rescues, medical mishaps, and daring adventure.
I’m pleased to see that even more adventures are covered in Going Up is Easy. I highly recommend it as a great read for anyone, it’ll give you a good injection of inspiration, motivation and encouragement for whatever you aim to achieve.
Reviewed by Amie Lightbourne
Going Up is Easy
by Lydia Bradey, with Laurence Fearnley
Published by Penguin Books (NZ)