Father, inspirer, mountaineer. Jeff Smith has recently returned from the highest point on Earth—the top of Mt. Everest—a personal journey that took him nearly three years to accomplish. At the age of 53 he’s proved that no challenge is too daunting and age is just a number. The Londoner who resides in Wales took Dragon along for the journey, in the form of our MountaineerX sunglasses, so we wanted to help tell his story.
So here’s Jeff Smith, Everest climber, in his words.
I’ve never been prouder. This is a different level. Everest was multiple times harder than anything I’ve ever done in my life.
Apart from my kids and family—from a sport perspective—it’s moved into the best thing I’ve ever done.
The view was just magnificent.
I was away for 60-plus days. Just being away from home and living in a tent for 60-odd days is insane. For me, it’s insane.
I’m from London, I had never slept in tent in my life. Until I went to Kilimanjaro with [my daughter] Chloe in 2010 and we slept on the mountain. I was 47.
[That was a] phenomenal thing for me to experience. But to take it from 2010 [at Kilimanjaro] to doing 8,848 [meters] two weeks ago is mind blowing. I don’t think it’s settled in yet. I think I’m coping with it, but to be honest, it’s so big.
I haven’t actually absorbed it yet. I took my guide out to dinner last week and he said, “I told you it would change your life.” I’ve been home for a week and it definitely has. I just feel brilliant.
I feel like the future and the landscape ahead of me is so positive. I feel really—not blessed—but very fortunate I’ve been able to get the win.
There’s so much that goes on with it. I mean, I saw people dead. I saw all kinds of things. I was avalanched twice. There were people around us getting frostbite. Some really scary things. All those things mixing into the melting pot; life changing, absolutely.
The chances of failing, there’s a lot of them. To get to the top and come back without frostbite and without any injury of sorts, I just feel really lucky.
I’m absolutely overwhelmed with the response from my friends and my family. It’s been phenomenal.
I think social media has played a big part. People send in videos—people I’ve never met, Stateside and all over the place. It’s literally mind blowing. Without being silly about it; I’m not a personality. I’m not a celebrity. I’m just a 53 year old dad with a couple of girls who has gone out and done a cool thing, But I never anticipated getting all the kind comments. They’ve been fantastic.
On his attempt in 2014:
I wanted to climb Everest; I felt like I had the potential. I went in 2014; I had done a few mountains and you know what, I felt like I was ready for Everest. I was 50 in 2014 and I need to do something as a bit of a headline. I could climb Everest and if I’m successful, that’s great for Jeff Smith. But what benefit will come out of that?
So I said, you know what, I’m going to go and climb Everest and raise an amount of money for a cancer charity in the UK for kids with cancer. It’s called Teenage Cancer Trust. So TCT became my charity of choice. On reflection, I did the right thing, but at the time it was a bit daunting and potentially foolhardy because I was 50 and I wanted to raise 50 grand. With some amazing help from amazing people we ended up raising 60 thousand pounds. Really happy with that. It was fantastic.
The whole thing was great, except I didn’t get to put a foot on the mountain because unfortunately there was a massive icefall which killed 16 sherpas. They closed the mountain, nobody climbed that year and I came home. I could have come home depressed but I came home reenergized.
On his reason in 2017:
This trip, you know what, I put myself under immense pressure. I’m a competitive bastard and I wouldn’t be satisfied with anything less than 60 grand. Rather than do that I opted to do something slightly different and make an impact. “How about we go see loads of schools?”
What we do is teach [kids] and tell them about Everest, how high it is, about frostbite, altitude and danger and all that kind of stuff.
I didn’t really know what I was doing [laughs] We went round I did a slideshow presentation and the Deputy Headmaster said that’s the best talk we’ve ever had. He said just that, and I thought I’ve absolutely nailed this. I went to my second school in Manchester and…. died a death. I absolutely got slaughtered. [laughs] The slideshow as very much based around being interactive and to cheer and all that kind of stuff. The ones in Manchester are different kids and annihilated me. We came away thinking, “Oh my god, that was terrible.” [laughs]
The whole idea is to inspire kids to work hard and whatever their dreams are, to follow them. And to prepare and put the work in behind the scenes. In my opinion, whatever you’re going to do, if you work hard at it, you can do anything. I hope as a 53 year old man, I can show that literally if you believe it, you can do it.
Now we have the opportunity to go back [to the schools]. It kind of cements what we’re saying in the beginning. If you’re determined and strong you can do anything. Never give up, you know? It was tough journey for me. It wasn’t easy. It was the toughest thing I’ve ever done. There were times when I was doubting my ability. You just have to dig deep and it came to fruition.
My dream is that long term, I affect some of their lives in some sort of small way. If I achieve that, mission accomplished.
On getting into mountaineering:
[My daughter Chloe] decided she wanted to climb Kilimanjaro. I researched it, but under 18 you need a guardian (ed. note: she was 15), so I said I’ll come with you. We managed to go and do it in a very haphazard way, I must say. We trained really hard… I summited Kili wearing a snowboarding jacket. [laughs] It was very poor preparation. So I was very much a rookie.
I loved it. You know what, I want to do anther mountain. So I went to Russia and did [Mt. Elbrus] over there. There were 20-something people doing it and me and this other lad were the only two who summited. Conditions were quite abysmal but I’m quite determined and a stubborn bastard. I said I’m not giving up.
So I progressed from there. I ended up going to Denali, which was brilliant. Loved it. Denali is quite a tough one, it’s renowned. Kili is more of a trek and Elbrus isn’t really tough and after Denali I felt like I was in the realm of being taken seriously as a mountaineer.
It gives me adrenaline and keeps me strong and gives me a reason to train. When you hit your 50s, it’s very easy to hit the donuts and put your feet up. Every year I put something in place to do. Once I have a goal, I’ll do what it takes to train hard. I’m very dedicated.
I then went to Manaslu which is an 8,000 meter peak in the Himalayas. I just grew into it really. Once I’d done Manaslu, I thought I could do Everest. But not in a cocky way.
My guide who I’d climbed with twice before said pay me when you get back. Which is a big commitment on his part. I could have died and he’d have no money, which would be rubbish. But he’s a very philanthropic lad and he said, “It’ll change your life. Train hard, summit, and come. We’ll worry about the money when we come back.” I’m very lucky guy to be at the right place at the right time.
On the future:
I’m also going try and do a mountain called Cho Oyu in the Himalaya. It’s a relatively—I shouldn’t be cocky about this—but relatively easy 8,000 meter peak. I’ve already got two mountains that are probably tougher and a bit more difficult. It’ll give me a challenge but won’t be as dangerous and it’ll still be a great mountain.
I genuinely love the mountains. I might go and do a mountain called the matterhorn in Switzerland which is beautiful. I kind of want to expand my mountaineering career.
Also, I want to help people who want to climb these mountains. To be honest, there was lots of stuff that I experienced on Everest that nobody told me about. I didn’t expect that. I’d like to do some sort of a book or guide or something that helps people who want to do these big mountains. Even if it’s from a psychological standpoint. I think the fact that I’m 53 and did it isn’t a testament to my physical ability but very much a testament to my mental ability.
On his Dragon MountaineerX:
Genuinely, they were great. I took them with me. I had some Julbos I’d used before, and I’m a really honest guy. The Julbos make me look like a dork. Yours make me look like less of a dork. [laughs] So I loved yours and they work super well. And I genuinely fell in love with them. I said, “I’m just wearing these to the top.”
For more on Jeff’s accomplishments and future adventures, follow their Instagram account.
For more on the MountaineerX, check them out here.