Ant Middleton On Accepting Death During Mount Everest Adventure
What do you get when you mix a dedicated extreme adventurer with the highest mountain in the world? A disaster, apparently.
That's how Ant Middleton put it anyway, when he revealed how he had come to terms with 'becoming part of the mountain' during his climb up Everest.
The TV tough guy was also willing to sacrifice a couple of toes on the way - seriously, that's what he said.
But this was no joking matter. The father-of-five had a tricky battle on his hands; he was caught in a storm on his descent, ran out of oxygen at one point, and helplessly watched as a Sherpa guide died right in front of him.
Speaking to LADbible, Ant explained that the expedition took five and a half weeks to complete earlier this year - beginning on 2 April, and reaching the summit on 14 May - and the only advice he could give was 'be careful what you wish for'.
He said: "I didn't think in my mind, 'I want it to be the perfect weather and I want to go to the top and touch the summit,' and it be all sunny and [then I'd] come back down. It was the unknown that drew me to that mountain, so I went there wanting to experience the full force of Everest.
"And all I can say is, having come out of the other end, be careful what you wish for - because I got exactly what I wished for and more, to a point when I was like, 'Have I bitten off more than I can chew?'"
As the team reached the summit they were hit by a storm which caused them to be held up for hours waiting for a safe opportunity to continue moving.
"Everything that Everest could have thrown at us, it did. I was very fortunate that I came out of the other end with my life," Ant explained.
"So, again, going back to being careful what you wish for - I wanted that at the highest order and when it came to me, trust me, I was backtracking. But I was in the moment and I had to get out of it.
"Some people just ran out of oxygen and one of the people that I went past was a Sherpa.
"I saw that he had no oxygen and then just by his reaction, telling me that he wanted to go to sleep, that he didn't want to move, I knew that he had gone way past that stage of trying to save himself and he had gone into that stage of his body shutting down.
"There was no way we were going to drag him off the mountain because obviously we're suffering ourselves.
"When I tried to pull him [the Sherpa] down, he shrugged my arm off, told me that he was sleeping, and I remember looking behind shouting to him 'you need to move you're going to die', and he just told me he was sleeping.
"He curled up in a ball and I knew that that was it for him. I knew that he wouldn't come off the mountain, he wouldn't make it down.
"It's quite strange, quite surreal because I remember sucking my oxygen mask and that's when I ran out of oxygen myself so I went into a stage of right, I need to now sort myself out before I die and just get myself off the mountain as quick as possible.
"It's amazing how vulnerable you are in the death zone - hence why it's called the death zone."
Leaving the Sherpa behind, Ant explained,was particularly troubling.
"It's always difficult," he said. "You think to yourself, 'Right, could I have done more?' But 15 or 20 people walked past him that day and you know, it was such a state of panic up there. People were getting blown off the mountain - it went to the stage where we got split up from my cameraman.
"You need to just keep moving. That's what they say, when it goes completely wrong like that, the main survival skill is to keep moving. The moment you stop - I did stop, I had to stop - I was stuck in one position for over two hours, nearly three hours just waiting. I was going into that state myself.
"I thought, 'I'm quite comfortable here,' but I wasn't. I was actually freezing and was actually going into that state."
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What Ant saw on his climb isn't too dissimilar to what he has been through during his service in the armed forces and he feels that prepared him in some ways for the experience.
He continued: "The dead bodies didn't bother me, I've dealt with death from a young age when my father passed away. Then I've buried friends from the SBS [Special Boat Service] and the Marines... I've been to way too many funerals, so death doesn't really bother me.
"I look at their bodies and I think, 'Wow, you're willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to do what you love doing,' and that's how, especially when I went past people on Everest, I was just thinking, 'Nearly got there, buddy.'
"You can't give anything more to something you're so dedicated to do than your life. I was almost walking along giving them a pat on the back, rather than going, 'Oh fucking hell, there's another dead body.'
"But it does give you a wake-up call, you do think 'that could be me' and you're not worried. I wasn't scared about that - I thought to myself, 'If I become part of the mountain, [then] I become part of the mountain.'"
And there were moments when Ant thought he was going to give up, especially when he got cold feet - literally.
He explained: "I remember thinking to myself, 'I'm done, I am not getting off this mountain.' And there was nothing I could do, I had a talk to myself - it was four or five seconds of pure, sheer panic.
"Then I'd just go back to 'practice what you preach', and you take control of yourself, take control of your mind - you've got to get off this mountain, you've got a wife and children at home - you need to move.
"And it's weird because I've never felt like that before in my life where I thought, 'This is it, I'm done.'
"I remember going from Camp Four to the summit, it must have been a quarter of the way up and my feet were absolutely freezing to the point where it felt like someone had a bit of string around the base of my toes and the toes were gone.
"I said to Ed [cameraman] 'my feet' and he said, 'If that's the case you need to turn around.' Even in my head I was like, 'Listen, I'm willing to sacrifice a couple of toes to get to the top.' It's bizarre what your mind goes through.
"I get it when people get summit fever and how dangerous it can be. I'm not reckless, don't get me wrong. I'm very calculated in what I do, believe it or not. I like to put myself out there but I know the dangers, I know the risks.
"I like to think I've experienced knocking on death's door multiple times. This was a completely different knocking on death's door. I couldn't have imagined coming back saying a storm stopped me from going up or the weather stopped me or my feet were cold.
"If someone said that to me, they were near the top and had cold feet I'd be asking, 'What's wrong with you? Get a grip of yourself.' That's what I was thinking to myself: 'I cannot go down there, I'd rather go down there with no toes.'
"I was literally so lucky to get off that mountain. So lucky to have used one of my lives. I thought, 'Fucking hell, everything I dread' - because I do dread my children growing up without a dad."
When it comes to his kids, Ant has tried to keep his Everest expedition on the DL - which meant that there was no time for any R&R when he returned, even though he'd lost two stone.
He explained: "I'm a full-time dad, I'm a husband, I can't just get back and think about myself. I've thought about myself for the last [few] months or weeks to get the job done. Now I need to think about my children and my wife.
"I've got so much to do, so my relaxation is normally my kids hanging off me, knowing that I'm back, them all jumping in bed with me.
"I've got a baby sleeping on my face, I've got a baby attached to my bloody ankle, I've got my son that wants to use me as a human climbing frame and my wife that wants to spend time with me. The moment I'm sat around twiddling my thumbs, that's when I normally get in trouble."
But which job has tested him the most? His military career, his ascent to Everest or being a dad?
"When you're a dad you don't know what's around the corner, for me even being away for two months and coming back seeing my son walk and my daughters are potty trained and I'm just like, 'When did that happen?'
"So I think being a dad always keeps you on your toes and for me it's the greatest job out there - it gives me the drive and the determination and passion to allow me to put 100 percent into my work so that I can succeed for them, give them options in life and the best upbringing that I never had.
"Getting that right all the time is definitely the hardest thing - it only takes you to miss something or have something misinterpreted and you're seen as not prioritising your family and it can have a knock-on effect. Being a father is definitely the hardest thing.
"I like to think I'm a pretty cool dad but I'm probably not, you know. All dads that think they're cool, aren't. Don't mess with dad, don't mess with my cubs. The SAS stuff will follow."
SAS hero Ant Middleton embarks on his toughest challenge with the ultimate test of human strength and endurance as he attempts to reach Everest's summit. Extreme Everest with Ant Middleton, in association with Berocca, airs on Sunday 11 November (9pm), Channel 4. #NoDayTooTough
Featured Image Credit: Supplied
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