Halfway up Mount Vinson, the highest peak in Antarctica, Claire Kennedy pauses: For a fraction of what I paid to be here, I could be in the Seychelles with a private chef. For the last five days, the corporate tax partner at Bennett Jones LLP has been lugging around 50 pounds of gear and food, all while sleeping in a two-person tent, bundled in a Canada Goose jacket and using a funnel to pee into an opaque Nalgene bottle. This is not your average vacation.
A year earlier, in January 2015, Kennedy registered for the expedition with True Patriot Love, a group that funds and organizes programs for Canadian veterans. Kennedy was one of 15 Canadian civilians who would make the trek with a team of eight former soldiers and five guides. She paid a $50,000 registration fee, which covered the cost for her and 50 percent of one of the veteran’s trips. Each civilian also had to fundraise $60,000, but Kennedy brought in over $120,000. “I had a huge amount of support from my colleagues.”
Before the trip, she completed a half-week training camp in the Canadian Rockies, where the team learned how to don crampons (ice-walking shoe attachments) and rescue someone from a crevasse. Kennedy also spent a year fitting in workouts and long hikes over the hills of Hoggs Hollow (with dumbbells in her backpack) between a busy practice and two kids at home.
On the mountain, exhausted and cold, Kennedy was forced to slow down her thought process and address one task at a time. Everything, from doing up a zipper to manoeuvring an ice axe, took intense focus. Muddled thoughts would only waste time. “Up there,” she says, “slow is smooth and smooth is fast.” It’s a mindfulness technique she’s been able to bring back home into her practice.
On the final day of ascending, Kennedy’s body started to shut down. She turned around, short of the summit, and waited at the closest campsite with a few others from her group. “I have absolutely no regrets. I’d proven enough to myself already.”
Kennedy was both humbled and strengthened by the adventure. “You look out at the landscape and think: I am nothing in this space. I have no power here,” she says. “If Mother Nature wants to do this” — she flicks her hand — “you’re done.”
Thinking of climbing Mount Vinson? Here’s what you need to know:
The cost: To start, registration is $50,000. But also prepare to fundraise at least $60,000 and dish out as much as $15,000 for flights, evacuation insurance and gear, including merino-wool long underwear and an ice axe.
The training: You’ll need to train hard for more than a year to prepare your body for the exhaustion that comes with mountaineering. To train properly, Kennedy suggests hiring a personal trainer who can design an intensive custom plan.
Personal safety: “I never felt in mortal danger,” says Kennedy. Her sense of security came from the expert guides who lead the expedition. But there are some threats: sunburn (snow is a great reflector), frostbite and the occasional avalanche warning.
This story is from our Summer 2017 issue.
Photo courtesy of Kristian Bogner