Meet Jonathan Farnsworth, engineer, mountaineer

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Today we'd like to introduce you to Jonathan Farnsworth, a Software Engineer in Nottingham, UK.  Jonathan joined us in 2008 as part of the 3SP acquisition, where he worked part-time while working on his PhD.  Shortly after the acquisition, Jonathan finished his thesis and became a full-time engineer on the Barracuda SSL VPN.

Jonathan is a work hard – play hard kind of guy.  He loves travelling, scuba diving, skiing, and climbing.  He's recently had an epic climbing adventure in Kashmir, known as Exploratory High Altitude Mountaineering.  This type of mountaineering takes the adventurer above 4,000m/13,000ft to places where no one has been before.  This is thrilling sport, combining Jonathan's love of a physical challenge with his quest for paths yet undiscovered.    Here's the story, direct from Jonathan.

This was my first venture into exploratory mountaineering, and there are a number of pre-requisites to get there.  For example, I had to have previous experience at 6,000m/20,000ft, and to get onto a 6,000m mountain you have to have done a 4,000m mountain and have the necessary skills.

Climbing has been a progression from hiking, which I started when I was in high school.  As I developed more skills and confidence, I started doing multiday hiking, then winter hiking, then scrambling.  In 2010 I took a mountaineering seminar on Mt Rainier, Washington.  This is where we covered all the skills for climbing big mountains: rope-work, crevasse rescue techniques, self-arrest, and snow camping.  In 2012 I was able to put these skills into practice on Denali/Mt McKinley, North America’s highest mountain at 6,194m/20,320ft.  It took 14 days to reach the summit – that’s actually a pretty quick time – and 3 days to return.

This high-altitude exploratory climb in Kashmir took us to the summit of 2 previously unclimbed peaks.  We were also about 100m/300ft from the summit of a third mountain but decided it was too dangerous to continue.  There are no maps to follow, no trails, no crevasse markers and no-one knows the way.  You do some reconnaissance hikes from base camp to work out the best way of getting to the top and then give it a go.

The whole trip took 25 days.  We flew from London to Delhi and then the next day we flew into Kashmir.  We stayed there for 2 days acclimatizing before starting the trek.  It took us 14 days to hike to our base camp, which was at 5,000m/17,000ft, it was only about 60/70 miles but we had to acclimatize to the altitude.  From the base camp we could climb to the summits in a day – a long day.  On a summit day we’d wake at 2 or 3am have some breakfast and head out. We’d get back to camp about 12 hours later, exhausted.

There were a couple of times when I didn't think we would make it.  For starters, we almost missed our plane leaving London!  We made it with barely 2 minutes to spare.  The biggest concern was that I got sick on day 4 … a normal fever and a bit of Delhi belly is a lot worse at 13,000ft in a tent.   We stayed an extra day at that camp but I wasn’t improving, so we had to return to the nearest town, where I spent the afternoon in hospital.  My resting heart-rate was 116 and my O2 saturation down at 87%.  It was looking grim.  We spent another 2 days in the town, which was still at a reasonable altitude so at least we were still acclimatizing.  Then we started on the trek again, needing to make up 4 days so that we stood a decent chance of making a summit.  We skipped a couple of rest days and we hiked a few miles extra each day and we ended up at our base camp a day later than originally scheduled.  This gave us 6 days at base camp before the trek out.  From base camp we were really lucky and managed to climb our first mountain within 2 days. We had a rest day and then tried a second mountain, but had to turn back just short of the summit. Then after another rest day we managed our second summit.

Some people have asked how we motivated ourselves to keep going.  The thought that each step we took was a step to somewhere that no one had been to before was very motivating, also there was the elation of standing on the summit.  But it was also a stunning location; we could look North down our valley and see snow-capped peaks of the Karakoram.  Getting to a ridge and seeing a valley that very few if anyone has ever seen before was exhilarating.  But it also takes discipline, not just motivation.  When you're out there, you start remembering how fatigued you are and how heavy your backpack is, (although you’ve stripped out everything unnecessary, at that height it still feels heavy.)  You do start feeling miserable; you take 3 steps and then need to catch your breath.  It’s also kind of lonely, although there were 5 of us on a rope, you spend most of the time 10m/30ft from anyone else.  You start dreaming about what meal you want when you get off the mountain, running water, clean underwear, a real bathroom and an actual bed.

You also think about what you miss the most while you are out there, and for me that would be my family.  It's tough to be away from them, especially when you take on a dangerous task in a remote region for many weeks.  In both Alaska and Kashmir we didn’t have cell signal, but in Alaska we had a sat-phone so I was able to call my wife on our anniversary and when we summited.  But in Kashmir they don’t allow sat-phones so I was dark for the whole time.  Another thing I missed a lot was running water.  It’s amazing when you come back to civilization and you can just turn a tap on to get water out!  So motivation, discipline, focus .. These are all important in this kind of climb.

It takes several years to physically and mentally prepare for a climb like this, because of all of the required training.  However you also have the mundane work of physical fitness and building muscle memory on basic tasks.  There’s a group of us in the Nottingham office that go for a run at lunch time which is really helpful. I also swim and cycle regularly.  I’d walk the dog with weights on my ankles and a backpack, and I’d try and go hiking and climbing whenever I could fit it in.  Then there’s rope work practice: you need to be able to do all your rope work without thinking and with big gloves on, because the lack of oxygen can really affect you.  That's where the muscle memory kicks in.  What takes a few seconds at sea-level can take a couple of minutes at 6000m.  There's also the fun task of adding a few extra pounds of body weight as you inevitably lose weight on these expeditions.

There are still a lot of unclimbed mountains. I’d like to do some in Greenland, and climbing Everest would be awesome, but first I might go for a quieter 8,000m peak like Shishapanga.  Wherever it is I would like lots of snow, since the snow-line in Kashmir was at 5,000m and I really missed it.

If you would like to have your own climbing adventure, you should go for it.  It’s tough both physically and mentally but the rewards are worth it.  You get to go and see places that are well and truly off the beaten track.  There’s also levels to suit most people.  If you’re already comfortable in the hills you can sign up on a course to climb something like Mt Rainier or Mt Adams.  Or get yourself on a mountaineering seminar and if you enjoy it take it from there.  Oh and buy a copy of Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills.

For more pictures of Jonathan's adventure, see our Pinterest board here.

If you'd like to connect with Jonathan, you can find him on Google+ at google.com/+JonathanFarnsworth81

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