Project Cordillera: So Spike, you’re an adventurer and mountaineer, and have worked in the adventure scene for years now – how did you get into it all?
I grew up on the edge of Dartmoor, known as the last great wilderness in southern Britain. I learnt to navigate there by doing “Letterboxing” with my parents, learnt to hike across it with the Ten Tors Challenge, learnt to rock climb up the granite tors with some friends, and to have a real adventure up there with the Scouts.
At university I joined the Officer Training Corps, the reserve Army for students. In addition to training in ranges and wild parts of Britain with them, I undertook a series of expeditions to destinations like Kenya and the Yukon in NW Canada. These taught me how to travel very far from the beaten track self sufficiently.
PC: What first attracted you to climbing and mountain climbing? And what do you see as your greatest achievement so far in mountaineering?
SR: My grandfather was a mountaineer in the 1930s, when it was done in hobnailed boots and with hawser ropes. He pioneered many new routes. My mother was a geography teacher and both of my parents worked in Nepal after they retired, which inspired me. It was wonderful to visit them there and get up into the High Himalayas.
I have undertaken numerous expeditions now but I would say my biggest mountaineering achievement is leading a successful expedition to Afghanistan and Tajikistan. We trekked in the Wakhan Corridor – a very peaceful part of Afghanistan – over passes higher than Mont Blanc. Then in Tajikistan we summited many unclimbed peaks, some 5,800m in height. We did this independently, as there was no organisation like Project Cordillera
in this area.
PC: As you know, Project Cordillera is a social enterprise supporting local youth with outdoor education in the Andes of Peru. The idea is that our expeditions share the power of exploration, to the benefit of remote marginalised communities and forward-thinking adventure-seekers. What is it about this concept that attracts you?
SR: Social enterprise which engages fully with local communities is vital, particularly in the remote mountain environment. All too often young people in the developing world think they need to move to big cities for success. However there is a great deal that these young people can achieve by taking adventurous visitors into the mountain, whilst passing on local knowledge and traditions.
PC: Project Cordillera’s model also supports local economies and protects the environment – are these issues you have come across on your adventures? If so, do you have examples of how you’ve managed them?
SR: The first successful ascent of Mount Everest would not have been possible without the support of the local Sherpas. Local engagement means that visitors get far more out of their journey by meeting people who know the area well, whilst it can be very useful for local business. If money goes to local groups to further develop sustainable tourism, instead of the shareholders of large multinational travel companies, the money goes a lot further.
In addition to supporting local economies it is vital that visitors do not damage the beautiful mountain environment they have come to experience. Rubbish and human waste need to be carefully managed as they can leave a terrible lasting legacy. For the final project of my university degree, BA hon Design for Industry, I developed a mountain hut. The Stratus hut can be deployed pre-assembled by helicopter, thereby reducing construction costs and enabling it to be easily brought into areas where it is needed. The hut features an incinerating toilet, which eliminates the unpleasant long-drop toilets, and as it is all powered by wind and solar energy it has zero-emissions.
PC: What is it about mountains that’s special for you? From all the places to explore, what’s unique about mountainous environments?
SR: I currently live in central London and it is wonderful to escape from the traffic and other chaos to remote wilderness, especially the mountains to climb. There is something magical about summiting a peak after a long technical ascent, especially if it is rarely climbed, but to me you have only successfully climbed a mountain when you return to your spouse or partner, or when you sit down in a pub (whichever is a bigger priority for you!)
The angular beauty of a group of mountain peaks can simply be enjoyed visually, but they also hold a huge selection of climbing and trekking routes weaving deep within them. I see those routes as an invitation to climb up the valley floor and explore.
PC: What’s the next big adventure for you Spike?
SR: I am doing my International Mountain Leader summer assessment in August in the Pyrenees Mountains on the French-Spanish border. This is a wonderful scheme which is internationally recognised. Peru and Argentina are the first to countries outside Europe to join the scheme fully and train up their own nationals to lead people through the mountains safely.
After the assessment I have an expedition planned. I cannot yet reveal details except that I am intending to cross a continent. More details will be appearing on my website
Spike Reid is a photographer, adventurer, public speaker and designer. In 2008, with two friends, Spike won the first-ever Land Rover/Royal Geographical Society ‘Go Beyond’ bursary, and spent seven months circumnavigating the globe along the line of 50° north, investigating the human impact of climate change. He has worked for Royal Geographical Society and organised and led an independent climbing and trekking expeditions.
Photos provided by Spike Reid.
Feeling inspired by Spike? Perhaps a climb or trek in Peru is calling you this summer. Take a look at Project Cordillera’s incredible opportunities on our website.