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Episode 41 Into the story - The #1 podcast to learn English with true stories

Episode 41: Climbing Mount Everest (part 1)

Level: upper-intermediate to advanced
Accent: North American

In 1982, Laurie Skreslet attempted to climb Mount Everest. He shares his thrilling adventure with a team of Canadians and Sherpas, facing dangerous avalanches, the closure of the only route up the mountain, and a life-changing moment.

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[00:00:02.890] – Bree

This is into the Story, the podcast where you learn English with true stories from all over the world, stories that connect us and inspire you to get where you want to go. Hi there. It’s your host, Bree here, and today’s guest is Laurie Skreslet. Laurie is an expert climber and adventurer from Canada. Now, he’s done many amazing things during the 50 years that he’s been climbing mountains, but what he’s most well known for is being on the 1982 expedition to Mount Everest. At that time, a Canadian had never been to the top of the tallest mountain in the world before.


[00:00:55.970] – Laurie Skreslet

So once I started climbing, everything started to shift, and it felt like I was on the right path. Little did I know, there was a group of people forming an expedition to go to Everest.


[00:01:11.990] – Bree

Climbing Mount Everest is difficult and dangerous. Climbers get altitude sickness from low levels of oxygen. The weather is very unpredictable, and there are avalanches. Plus, there’s the notorious Khumbu Icefall, which is a giant glacier that’s constantly moving and breaking and melting. Imagine huge blocks of ice called ice towers that can fall at any moment, and deep, dark cracks or holes in the ice called crevasses. Over the next two episodes, Laurie will tell us this true adventure story of trying to reach the tallest mountain in the world. If you like this episode, will you do me a favor and follow into the story on your podcast app? It’s free, and it means you’ll never miss a new episode. And thanks.


[00:02:12.970] – Bree

Okay, let’s look at five words and expressions that Laurie uses in today’s story. And remember, you have an extended vocabulary list, the transcript and quiz on our website. You’ll see a link in the show notes. Okay, to begin, the verb ignite. So to ignite means you literally ignite a fire. You start a fire. However, figuratively, not literally, figuratively, ignite means to start something, like an idea or a feeling. In today’s story, Laurie uses ignite figuratively, he talks about igniting a passion for climbing. To ignite.


[00:03:03.610] – Bree

Next is the expression, Little did I know. Little did I know means you did not have information about something, but then you discovered or experienced it later. For example, if you started eating a new food and you thought you would hate it, but then you loved it, you could say, little did I know that I would love this food. Or if you thought a test was going to be easy, but then you failed it, you could say, little did I know the test would be so difficult. Little did I know. Next, a diving board. Okay, so firstly, diving is a sport where people jump off a high board into a pool headfirst. So a diving board is the platform you use to jump off into the swimming pool. For example, the boy climbed up the ladder, walked to the edge, and jumped off the diving board into the pool. A diving board.


[00:04:11.410] – Bree

Next, a leap. So a leap, L-E-A-P is used to talk about a big jump. For example, the cat made a leap from the table to the ground below. A leap can also be used to talk about a sudden change. For example, after years of working in the same job, Maria decided to take a leap and start her own business. The mountain climber took a brave leap and reached the summit of the mountain. A leap.


[00:04:49.750] – Bree

And finally, we have two different phrasal verbs that are quite similar to give in and to give up. To give in is to agree to do something that you did not want to do or to surrender. For example, I didn’t want to go to the party, but my friends kept asking me, and I finally gave in. I surrendered. I went to the party. Then to give up means to stop doing something. For example, after weeks of trying to learn how to play the guitar, she felt frustrated and gave up on the idea of becoming a musician. So to give in means to surrender to a person or a situation. And to give up means to quit trying.


[00:05:47.790] – Bree

In the show notes, you have this vocabulary list in case you want to review it. But don’t try too hard to learn and understand every word. Now your job is to sit back, to focus on the story as a whole, and to enjoy. Okay, let’s get into the story.


[00:06:13.440] – Bree

Way before Laurie became the expert climber that he is today, he was searching for adventure. As a young man, he left home, traveled across the Atlantic, through Europe and the Middle East, trying to get to the base of Mount Everest.


[00:06:36.600] – Laurie Skreslet

I ran away from home when I was 16 because I didn’t find what was going on in school interesting in the least and all the stuff they were getting me to learn. I didn’t see any application for it. I wanted to see what’s going on in the world. So I got this idea that I think I’ll try to get to the base of Mount Everest. So I left home, got my passport, and I was on my way. And I hitchhiked across Europe, the Middle East, till I got to Pakistan. And I was going into Afghanistan to get towards Everest. And I got robbed on the Afghan border. And so I had no money. I had my passport. I sold a liter of blood. I got 7 bucks for it. And then I used that money to get food. And I hitchhiked 1000 miles to Karachi, the capital of Pakistan, and then I worked my way back to North America.


[00:07:32.530] – Bree

Laurie had tried and failed to reach the base of Mount Everest. Then, at 21 years old, he joined a program called Outward Bound. Now, Outward Bound began in World War II to prepare sailors for the very difficult life at sea. And later, it became an outdoor program.


[00:07:54.570] – Laurie Skreslet

And I went and took my Outward Bound course in the Colorado Outward Bound Mountain School. And it was there that I realized I had some ability in the mountains. The themes, the values, the morals of the people who were instructors, it ignited something in me. So once I started climbing, everything started to shift and it felt like I was on the right path. And I found I had a talent for climbing. Everest, I put it out of my mind and I just started working on my ice climbing skills, my rock climbing skills, my mountaineering skills. And little did I know there was a group of people forming an expedition to go to Everest. And that’s when I applied and was accepted and joined the Everest expedition two years prior to departure.


[00:08:53.260] – Bree

The next two years were busy. Laurie and the team worked together to get the money and prepare all the supplies necessary for their trip. And then in the summer of 1982, they were finally ready to start climbing Mount Everest. There were 21 Canadians and 30 local Sherpas at Base Camp, ready to go.


[00:09:19.620] – Laurie Skreslet

We commenced to finding our way through the first big challenge of the climb, which was to get through an area where the glacier comes down. It’s called the Khumbu Icefall and it’s all broken up and there’s thousands of crevasses and seracs —pillars of ice— and the glacier is moving about a meter a day, so it’s constantly changing every day. And then early one morning, an avalanche came off the west ridge of Everest, and it buried five of our members. We were able to rescue two of our members, dig them out, but three men, we couldn’t find them. And after searching and searching, we found the body of one of the three men.


[00:10:00.660] – Bree

During the avalanche, three Sherpas died, but they only found one of their bodies. Laurie and the team worked together to bring the body down from the mountain. To get down to Base Camp, the climbers have to use a network of ladder bridges that they’ve put in place to cross the icefall. Picture a ladder horizontally set across a crevasse. Remember, a crevasse is a deep crack in the ice, so the ladder is used like a bridge. Now, understandably, most of the team was eager to get back down to Base Camp, but Laurie decides to wait for the last man coming down the mountain.


[00:10:42.640] – Laurie Skreslet

So I said to my friend, no, I’m going to stay behind and wait till the last guy gets off because I didn’t feel terrified. And he said, you’re crazy. And then he headed down. So I waited for the last guy, helped them get through. And then as the last guy was crossing, I was going to come behind him. He got caught in the middle of a bridge because the fixed rope on the side was tangled with his pack and he couldn’t get it undone. So I crawled out on the bridge without my pack on. I got it unattached, and he turned briefly and a snow stake sticking out of the pack hit me in the face and knocked me off balance, and I fell off the ladder and went into a crevasse. Luckily, I hit an ice block that was blocking the route, but I landed on my side and I broke three ribs on my right side, but I was balanced on this ice block, so they lowered a rope to me and pulled me out. And I had two men help me down because I couldn’t move. I was in terrible pain and they taped me up and threw me in a tent, and that’s where I was for two weeks, trying to recuperate.


[00:11:54.260] – Bree

Laurie has some broken ribs from the fall, and his leader has told him that he needs to hike into the city to get an X-ray and check how he’s healing. After two weeks of hiking into the city and back again, he’s feeling strong and ready to climb the mountain. But when he arrives back to Base Camp, he gets some bad news: the leader has closed the Khumbu Icefall, the only route up the mountain.


[00:12:22.660] – Laurie Skreslet

When I made it back to Base Camp, the icefall was closed. The expedition leader had shut everything down because it was too dangerous to go through the icefall. So a small group of them had headed up. They’d sealed themselves up there, and they were going to try to go to the top. Well, I’d realized when I went to the hospital that I hadn’t come all the way to the other side of the planet to sit safely in Base camp while the main team climbed the mountain. That wasn’t my role. I was supposed to be up there with them. Not because I want to get to the summit, but I wanted to contribute and pack my backpack up with batteries, mail for the other members that were up there. And I headed off to go through the icefall. And when the expedition leader heard that I wasn’t adhering to his order, he ordered none of the sherpas to follow me past a certain point. And when I got to that two sherpas did accompany me. And then they said goodbye, and they were crying because they thought I was going to die trying to get through the icefall on my own.


[00:13:20.970] – Laurie Skreslet

I did reach a place where I couldn’t get around how the icefall had shifted. The crevasses had opened up because it’s moving a meter a day. So I looked for an hour to find my way around it, and there was no way. I really looked hard. And then I accepted the fact that that wasn’t going to happen. 


[00:13:38.780] – Bree

As if the Kumbu Icefall isn’t terrifying enough, Laurie was trying to cross it alone.


[00:13:45.750] – Laurie Skreslet

So reluctantly, I turned around and started heading down to Base Camp. And when I left Canada a couple of days before leaving, I was interviewed on television and I was asked for the reasons why I was going. One of them was, it was an honor to go to the highest mountain in the world. It had always been something I had aspired to since I was a child. I’d learned how to give my best working as an instructor at Outward Bound and climbing. But I wanted to see if I could give more than my best every day. So I’m heading down, and about ten minutes of descending, I hear a voice that goes, was that your best effort? And I thought and I went, well, yeah, I keep descending. And then five minutes later, I hear the voice go, Was that more than your best? And I stopped because the answer was, no more than my best would have been to try something, but not just turn around, because it looked like it was blocked.


[00:14:52.400] – Laurie Skreslet

And I turned around and I headed back up again. I took my pack off. I tied it with a rope to me. I looked at the plastic rope that went across. I clipped a carabiner into it with a sling that went to my waist. I used some climbing rope and put a couple of extra anchors in and left enough rope that would allow me to get to the other side so that if I didn’t make it, at least I thought I could prevent myself from going all the way down on the crevasse. There was nobody around to help me, so I had to have the right tools to be able to climb back up the rope. And then I crawled out to the end of the broken bridge, and it was just like a diving board.


[00:15:35.360] – Bree

Laurie is standing on the edge of the ladder, and it feels like a diving board going up and down. He has a rope around his waist, an anchor set in the ice. He calculates that he has a fifty-fifty chance of making it to the other side of the crevasse or falling deep down into the dark hole beneath him. And then he jumps.


[00:16:04.230] – Laurie Skreslet

And I got my right arm on the edge, but I couldn’t get my right leg on, so I made it across, but I’m hanging right on the lip. And I kept trying to swing my right leg up to hook the lip so I could pull my body up. I was able to just barely hook my toe up and with my toe, use my boot to pull my foot up a little higher, a little higher. And then eventually, with all my strength, I rolled over the lip and then rolled 360 degrees and lay on my back with my eyes closed. My heart was beating three times normal. And that’s where I lie for about 60 seconds. And then when I opened my eyes, it was a different world that I was looking at. I looked around and the colors were more intense. And the ice crystals all were fracturing the sunlight that was coming down. It was like I woke up in a magical world and it was like, this is a different reality. And of course it was, because had I not made the leap across, well, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to even try for the summit.


[00:17:17.550] – Laurie Skreslet

At that moment, I realized I’d created a new reality by not giving in, by giving more than my best. And as I breathed that in deeply, I got this sense it wasn’t a voice or anything. I got this sense that as long as you keep doing more than your best each day, it’s all going to work out.


[00:17:41.270] – Bree

Laurie will now get the opportunity to reach the top of Mount Everest, and we’re going to hear that story in part two. One thing that I kept thinking as he was telling this story was that the mountain feels like a really dangerous place, almost like an enemy to be defeated. So I asked him, was he terrified? Did Everest feel like an enemy?


[00:18:10.110] – Laurie Skreslet

Everest didn’t feel like an enemy to me at all. One of the Canadians who walked off, seven left the expedition in the middle after the deaths. One of them said that it feels like I’m in Vietnam without a rifle. He felt defenseless in a very dangerous situation. I never felt that way. If I could take one thing from my experience here on this mountain, when the expedition is over, it would be to have just a part of that spirit that sherpas have, where they draw energy from the mountain. When they eat food, they always put a bit of food on the ground to the spirit of the mountain. And when they’re drinking their tea, they spill a bit of tea on the ground for pachamama from other earth. And I thought if I could just have a bit of that when I left, then I would feel like this expedition has been a success.


[00:19:02.570] – Bree

Laurie’s deep respect for the power of mountains is clear, and that respect is the reason that he continues climbing today. Next time on into the story, we will hear part two. Will this group of climbers reach their goal and put the first Canadian on the summit of Mount Everest? I really hope that you love today’s story. And if you want to show your love, then please share this podcast with your English learning friends. You just press that share button. It’s usually at the top of your app. And thanks. Okay, until next time. I hope that you have a good time or at least a good story to share.

Quote of the episode

“I turned around and started heading down to Base Camp… But I wanted to see if I could give more than my best every day.”
– Laurie Skreslet

Words & expressions mentioned

To start something, either literally by starting a fire or figuratively by sparking an idea or feeling, as Laurie discusses igniting a passion for climbing.

Expresses discovering or experiencing something unexpectedly, often referring to unexpected consequences.

It’s a platform used for jumping off into a pool, commonly used in the sport of diving.

 A leap, refers to a big jump or a sudden change, such as a mountain climber taking a brave leap to reach the summit.

 It means to agree or surrender to something you didn’t want to do, while “to give up” means to stop doing something or quit trying.

Other wonderful words & expressions in the episode

(appear in chronological order)

A crevasse is a deep crack or gap in a glacier or ice sheet. Example: “The mountaineer carefully crossed the crevasse using a rope and harness.” 

To run away from home means to leave your house without permission, usually because of problems or conflicts with your family. Example: “After having an argument with his parents, Tom decided to run away from home and stay with a friend for a few days.”

To hitchhike means to travel by getting free rides in vehicles from drivers who are going in the same direction. Example: “When Sarah’s car broke down on the highway, she had no other choice but to hitchhike to get to the nearest town.”

To shift means to move or change position. Example: “I had to shift my chair to make more space at the table”.

Bucks refer to money. Example: “He earned a lot of bucks from his summer job.”

To put something out of your mind means to intentionally stop thinking about it or forget it. Example: “After the exam, I tried to put it out of my mind and enjoy my weekend.”

A ladder is a device with steps or rungs used for climbing up or down. Example: “I used a ladder to reach the top shelf in the library.”

To get tangled means to become twisted in something. Example: “The kite got tangled in the tree branches.”

A pack is another name for backpack, which is a bag carried on the back, often used for carrying personal belongings. Example: “She carried her food and tent in her pack.”

To be knocked off balance means to lose stability or equilibrium due to an external force, while to lose balance means to no longer maintain stability on one’s own. Example: “The strong wind knocked me off balance, and I fell.”

Reluctantly means to do something unwillingly or with hesitation. Example: “She reluctantly agreed to go to the party even though she didn’t feel like it.”

To head somewhere means to go or move in a particular direction. Example: “We decided to head to the beach to enjoy the sunny weather.”

A carabiner is a metal loop with a spring-loaded gate used to quickly and securely attach things, like in climbing or camping. Example: “The climber attached the rope to his harness using a carabiner.”

A fifty-fifty chance means an equal probability of something happening or not happening. Example: “There’s a fifty-fifty chance of rain tomorrow, so you might want to take an umbrella.”

To walk off means to leave a place by walking away from it. Example: “After a heated argument, she couldn’t handle it anymore and decided to walk off.”

Listening Exercise

Laurie Skreslet posing in front of his house with Everest 1982 expedition sticker 

About the storyteller

Laurie posing Everest 82 expedition sticker

Laurie Skreslet is a really cool Canadian climber who has done some amazing stuff. He’s climbed really tall mountains around the world. Skreslet loves being outside and encourages others to try new adventures. Through motivational speaking, he inspires others with his stories about how he never gave up, even when things got tough. He also helps out by raising money for important causes, like cancer research and helping kids who need support. Skreslet is a true hero and his adventures and kindness inspire people all over the world.

Book an expedition or a motivational talk through his page: laurieskreslet.ca

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