Geordie Stewart conquered Everest while he was studying at St Andrews. Having graduated, and become the youngest person to reach the highest summits on all seven continents, here he tells us more about how life at St Andrews and the friendships he forged whilst at University helped him achieve his goals.
Aged 17, despite no climbing experience, I read a book about Everest and decided I wanted to climb the Seven Summits – the highest mountain on every continent.
Prior to starting at St Andrews, I had reached the highest point in Europe, Africa and South America. My naïve optimism and ambition had thankfully aligned successfully.
In my first year I booked to climb Denali in Alaska, a famously demanding and unpredictable mountain. To prepare for the sled-pulling requirements of Denali, I rigged up my harness to the front of a small wooden sled and got friends to sit on the back while I dragged them up and down West Sands. For them this entailed the relatively simple task of staying still, putting on a set of headphones and enjoying the view of the Auld Toon as I toiled away up front. Unsurprisingly I got some very odd looks from locals who, however accustomed they were to erratic student behaviour, had probably not witnessed this sort of thing before.
Sisu is a concept at the core of Finnish culture and roughly translates as grit, perseverance and resilience. It is the strength within all of us to push beyond our comfort zones and endure when the situation dictates. We all have sisu but do not always require it.
Sisu was turning around 150m from the summit of Everest aged 21 when I realised, as a relatively inexperienced and young climber, it wasn’t safe for me to make the top and descend alone.
Sisu was the psychological battle I had in my own mind when I returned to the UK having not summited but got so close. It was trying to battle with the decisions I had made and trying to use that failure as motivation to continue with this ambition.
After successfully reaching the summit of Vinson (Antarctica) and Carstensz Pyramid (Australasia), I returned to Everest in 2011 sponsored by St Andrews. I reached the summit and became the Youngest Brit to climb the Seven Summits and the Youngest Scot to climb Everest.
It was one of those very special moments that I never thought would materialise after years of fluctuating emotions and whimsical ambition. I unfurled a University of St Andrews 600th Anniversary banner, a proud moment as a third generation student at our wonderful university.
I spent over an hour on top of the world with my wonderful Sherpa and had a surreal satellite phone conversation with my parents before heading back down again.
The years of looking for sponsors, of ignoring the doubters and making sacrifices thankfully came to a successful conclusion. Those four years were about searching for sisu at different times for different reasons. It was as much the mental struggle away from the mountains as it was the physical hardship in the thin air of high altitude. Through amazing friendship and support by the University, my dream became a reality.
You can read more about Geordie’s journey in ‘In Search of Sisu: A Path to Contentment via the Highest Point on Every Continent’, available via his website, www.geordiestewart.co.uk
It records Geordie’s record-breaking journey and has been endorsed by Bear Grylls, Sir Ranulph Fiennes and Professor Louise Richardson.
“I will always remember the moment I learned that Geordie Stewart had successfully reached the summit of Everest. It was an extraordinary achievement from an exceptional young man, and St Andrews rejoiced in his success.
“In Search of Sisu is a blisteringly honest account of what it took to make it to the top. Inspiring and surprising by turn, each page bears testimony to Geordie’s courage, determination and resilience.”
Professor Louise Richardson, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford
(Previously Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of St Andrews)