One of the greatest joys is when you achieve your goal, when you reach the top and you know then that all those things that you did to prepare paid off. It’s very addictive because you’ve had that great feeling and you want to feel it again. I’ve climbed to the summit of Everest seven times and each time was unique. It’s a place you want to stay forever, but you can’t.
Initially I thought climbing would be a hobby, not a profession, and after having climbed my first three ‘eight-thousanders’ − Everest, K2 and Kangchenjunga − I had somehow climbed all of the three highest peaks on earth. I thought why not attempt to do all 14, “I’ve done three, there’s only 11 left.” I made the decision and called it Endeavor 8000.
When I completed my Endeavor project, which took 18 years, I came down to the bottom of Annapurna − that’s when the climb is actually over, not on the summit but at the bottom − I was so proud of what I had done because it was a personal journey, nobody told me to do it, it’s something that I wanted to do. All these climbs have taught me that anything that is seemingly impossible or unachievable, if you have the patience and the passion, you can achieve almost anything you set your mind to doing. I can truly say that if you can look back and say, “I lived my dream,” that’s a life well lived.
Timekeeping is critical. For an explorer the watch that you have has to be reliable. It has to be rather indestructible, waterproof, shockproof and easy to use. The planning of the ascent is part of the climb, but the most important for me is the planning of coming down. By knowing what time I need to be back, I know what time I need to leave, and that for me was always midnight; and if I’m not on the summit by then, the rule was that I had to turn around. I was very, very critical about that.
I have a Rolex Explorer II that I received in 1994 when I had climbed three of the 8,000-metre peaks, and I was just then starting to come up with the idea that I wanted to climb all 14. I wore my Explorer II every single day since that moment, on all my climbs, and I still wear it today. When I reached the summit of Annapurna, my last mountain on the list, I was on the summit at exactly 2.00 pm − a moment that I remember specifically − I reached the summit at my perfect time and the watch was with me.
This watch is a reminder of the journey that I went on and it went with me. Every year you get new equipment because it’s innovative, or it’s lighter, or it’s better − this is the one item of equipment that never changed because it is timeless, in the look, in the function, and I never needed to replace it. It’s probably the most important piece of equipment that I had with me on all these climbs.
In many ways, my Explorer II helped me to achieve my goals and also to keep me alive because I based most of my decisions in the mountains on time, and without the time, without the watch, I wouldn’t perhaps be sitting here today.