Lydia Bradey - Starting from the Bottom


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Lydia Bradey is a truly remarkable New Zealander. Don’t know her story? Watch Frank Film and be inspired. #NZOnAir

31 years after she made the record books, Lydia Bradey can still recall every detail of her historic climb to the top of the world.

In Frank Film’s latest episode in its Changing South series, Bradey remembers arriving at the South Col, a few hundred metres below the 8848m summit of Mt Everest, and wondering if she had enough energy to complete her ascent.

“I knew I had enough energy to get to the summit  … and from where I was to get straight down, but what I didn’t know was if I had enough to link it all up, to come down from the summit, where the most technical climbing is.”

Turns out she did have enough reserve in the tank, not literally though. Bradey’s ascent of Everest was achieved without supplementary oxygen, a world-first for a female and by a New Zealander of any gender.

The Christchurch-born climber says “it starts getting really hard to breathe without oxygen at around 8400m.”

Recalling the final 100 vertical metres to the top, Bradey says “the feeling of fear crept up as I moved up the hill. People say what did you feel when you got to the summit? I felt relief, I could turn around and go down again.”

Bradey spent the night, alone, at the south summit, an experience she describes as “fascinating, terrifying and amazing.”

Other climbers on Everest that day were not so fortunate. Two Czechoslovakian mountaineers she had become close to, perished while attempting another route.

Bradey, along with fellow New Zealanders Rob Hall, Gary Ball and Bill Atkinson were in the Himalaya on a Czech-Kiwi expedition.

The three, male climbers had made their own, unsuccessful ascent of Everest days earlier. Bradey had returned to Base Camp on her own to see out inclement weather, but returned to make a solo attempt once it had improved.

Eventually arriving back in Kathmandu from her historic climb, Bradey discovered her New Zealand teammates were disputing her ascent, with claims she may have hallucinated and couldn’t have summited.

Bradey says in order to appease Nepalese authorities, she couldn’t publicly defend herself at the time as she did not have a permit for the route she took. Bradey adds that Hall and Ball had also taken a route they did not have a permit for in their attempt, but that was overlooked by media covering the fracas.

The ensuing fallout made headlines around the world and divided the climbing community in New Zealand.

Like Bradey, Mountain Guide, Charlie Hobbs, says he believes the male climbers were “pipped at the post and probably didn’t feel so good.”

However, Hobbs doesn’t want to “speak ill of old friends who are no longer here to speak for themselves.”

Gary Ball and Rob Hall died in separate climbing tragedies in the Himalaya in the 1990s.

Bradey’s ascent was eventually officially recognised and she has gone on to forge a hugely successful career as a mountain and ski touring guide.

A remarkable life for a woman who describes herself as a once “clunky and clumsy” kiwi kid, so traumatised at the thought of competing in school sports days that she would end up “stressed and vomiting.”

Her message to young people today - don’t think you have to start at the top.

“It’s really important for young people to see that people who excel in different areas of the world, often start from a lower point .. they don’t start as heroes.”