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Climbing the World's Lowest Point to its Highest

Cycling to Mount EverestIt was by chance that Pauline Sanderson came to bike across eight countries and climb the tallest mountain in the world.

The lawyer-turned-explorer happened to receive a flier in the mail: "It had this very tiny bicyclist against the huge backdrop of a Pakistani mountain," she said of the advertisement EverestMax had sent her. It was love at first sight.

After putting her job on hold for six months, renting out the house, and getting a bank loan, Pauline, 40 years old at the time, was determined to be on that trip.

It was hardly her first trip abroad. Her husband, Phil, had started an outdoor-training school for Westerners in Nepal, where they'd lived for four years. And the adventure-hungry duo had been to other parts of Asia and Africa too.

Pauline left Phil for four months to complete the first part of the journey — a separation that she said was difficult — but the two were reunited at Mount Everest, and became the first British married couple to reach the summit.

On the rest of the journey, Pauline, four other bikers, and two supporting team members (who drove the van and provides sustenance) set off from Heathrow to Jordan to begin a six-month journey from the world's lowest point to its highest: the Dead Sea (elevation -1,388 feet) to Everest's summit (29,029 feet). Before scaling the mountain, the crew biked almost 5,000 miles across Jordan, Iran, Pakistan, and Tibet.

Pauline vividly details her journey in a new book, The World's Longest Climb; 50% of all profits from its sales go to the charities SOS Children’s Villages and Practical Action.

Pauline didn't tell her mother about the mountain. It was, after all, the only mountain Mom had expressly forbidden her to climb. She told her she'd be climbing a Mount "Evelier," a fib her team loyally maintained through the journey.

Objectively, she said, the scariest part of the journey should have been crossing the Iran-Pakistan border — 300 miles of bandit territory. "They ended up giving us an armed guard all the way across Pakistan," she said. Fortunately, there were no surprises. 

Everest was an entirely different beast, and that was when she experienced the scariest moment of her trip: For about a minute, her oxygen tank stopped working. At first she thought she hadn't taken enough air with her, but then she realized the pipe had twisted. Phil came to the rescue. "It probably took a minute between me getting his attention and him being with me," she said. "It felt like such a long minute."

Other scary moments: passing the dead. Even though she'd been warned about the corpses, Pauline still felt shock when she caught her rope on a dead man's foot as she scaled Everest. "This guy is 100% dead, and I'm walking right past him because he’s doing the same thing I was," she recalled, adding that five people had died just days before their climb.

"We actually went up in ignorance. When we came down we were told ignorance is bliss," she said. 

--Avni Nijhawan / photo: DRichard Walters

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