On the couch with mountaineer legend Andrew Lock

Andrew Lock, mountaineer
Andrew Lock, mountaineer

As the first and only Australian to climb all 14 of the world’s 8000 metre peaks, Andrew Lock has lived more adventure, hardship and near death experiences than most people can imagine.

But why does he do it? Why does anyone take on such a challenge, knowing that they will likely die? We sat down with the mountaineering legend to ask him about his death-defying ascents and what motivates him to keep climbing.

Your CV of ‘firsts’ is pretty impressive, is there one that you are particularly proud of?

Gosh, there were so many really difficult ascents and I’m proud of every climb I undertook, however my first Australian ascent of Annapurna (Annapurna 1) is right up there as one of the best. It is the most dangerous mountain in the world and has a fearsome reputation of one death for every two summits.

On my first attempt, we were avalanched with one dead and three seriously injured.  My second attempt was a mind game, where the mountain threw every hazard at us and most of the team gave up but several of us overcame the dangers and our fear to reach the top. We had to risk assess every single step of the climb, had our hearts in our mouths for two months, and came psychologically shattered.  I was as proud of myself for surviving as I was for actually climbing the mountain.  That was in 2007 and it still hasn’t seen another Australian ascent.  Frankly, I wouldn’t recommend it.

George Mallory climbs mountains "because it’s there" – what or who is your motivation to climb big mountains?  

I suspect we had the same motivation but express it slightly differently. The peaks provide physical and psychological challenges. I want to know if I have the ability and motivation to overcome those challenges.

Of all your ascents, there are sure to be some hairy moments. What was the ‘close call’ that remains most ingrained in your memory?

Unfortunately there were many, but somehow I survived them where many others did not. On one occasion, I fell through a cornice at 8000 metres. I managed to stop myself but was left hanging four vertical kilometres above the glacier below.  Now that makes you hang on!

Then there were the avalanches, crevasse falls, and various other incidents along the way. There’s no doubt I was lucky, time and time again. But I do think that I had a helping hand along the way, perhaps because I was always very respectful of the customs and belief systems in those countries.

Your book, Summit 8000, allows readers to go behind the scenes on your 14 summits of the world’s 8000 metre peaks. Can you give us a teaser as to some of the stories people can read about?

I came onto the 8000 metre climbing scene a few years after Tim McCartney-Snape and Greg Mortimer and I wasn’t a part of a core group of climbing friends like they had. So, for me to climb all those mountains, which took 23 expeditions over 16 years, I had to find partners from around the world or climb solo. Sometimes there was tension and underhandedness by my so called teammates; other times, there was incredible camaraderie with like-minded individuals in the face of exceptional adversity. Always there was great adventure.

For most of my expeditions I climbed without oxygen or Sherpa support and in very small teams of two or three, but I also led commercial teams to the summit of Everest, filmed documentaries for Discovery Channel, climbed in large Army teams, and made solo first Australian ascents.

My climbing partners were generally international as I simply couldn’t find Australians who wanted to climb as regularly as me – in my light-weight style or on the tougher peaks. So, I climbed with some of the very best in the world, including Doug Scott, Voytek Kurtyka and Anatoli Boukreev. My experiences therefore were really diverse.

Overall, the book is a journey of discovery. Firstly, as I found my own inner strength and motivation to keep returning to these mountains where my friends and occasionally teammates perished, and where the mountains themselves sometimes seemed hell bent on stopping me from reaching their summits. Secondly, it is a discovery of the spirituality of the Himalaya and the magnetism that keeps drawing people back, and the wonderful alternative opportunities that life offers if we have the will to both recognise and seize them.

Do you find it hard to adjust back into the “real world” after months of life in harsh and inhospitable environments?

Certainly I used to, but not anymore. After more than 70 expeditions climbing, trekking, touring and adventuring to every continent on earth, I find it quite easy these days. That’s probably because I’m less ‘shocked’ by the cultural changes at each end of the spectrum and also because I love all those cultural experiences.

What food do you most miss while out on big expeditions?

Life can be pretty comfortable on expeditions these days. I confess to taking a coffee plunger to base camp and I always stock up on the local brew. Vegemite is a staple inclusion in my gear list, so with those two things I really don’t miss much.  When I come home I usually gross out on fresh fruit and vegies. And, if the company is right, a glass of Cab Sav... Mmm...

Three most important items in your pack on any expedition?

That’s easy and it hasn’t changed in 20 years:

  1.  My ice axe is my best friend on any climb – with it I can climb up, climb down, self arrest, dig a bivouac, belay other climbers and, most importantly, self rescue!
  2. My Goretex jacket is the first piece of clothing to go into my backpack and I never put it away – it lives in the backpack so that I can’t forget it.
  3. My Swiss Army knife. I never leave home without one (or two).
  4. Coffee plunger. Oh wait, you said three items.

Best place in the world to pitch a tent above 5000 metres?

Anywhere above 5000 metres is spectacular, but Camp 4 on K2’s Abruzzi Ridge at about 7900 metres is unbelievable. Extraordinary views over Broad Peak, the Gasherbrums, Golden Throne and much of the Karakoram range. Exquisite, but savage beauty makes humans pale into insignificance. Of course, it’s also quite chilly so one night is enough.

What is your advice to keen trekkers looking to take the next step into mountaineering?

You must decide if you want to be a climber or a guided client. They are completely different. If you really want to learn to climb, then do it the traditional way. Learn to rock climb (outdoors), do an alpine skills course and build your skills and experience. It takes years. Don’t rush it, enjoy it. If you just want to be guided up a mountain somewhere, that’s fine, but don’t make the mistake afterwards of thinking you are a climber. Keep employing guides unless you want to go through the process of learning to climb self-sufficiently. This is the only way to stay alive.

View current expeditions with Andrew Lock.

Mountaineering, on the couch, Andrew Lock

Comment (1)

David Coorey

It's crazy that Andrew is hardly known outside of mountaineering circles in Australia!

last year
Your comment will be visible after the administrator's approval.

b i u quote

Save Comment
Join Newsletter
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/ADS.jpg' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="Adventures South"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>Adventure South</div>
Adventure South NZ is unrivalled in their geographic coverage, originality and overall quality of adventures holidays in New Zealand. Choose from walking, cycling, winter or multi-activity holidays, on either the North or South Island.
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/AWH.jpg' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="Australian Walking Holidays"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>Australian Walking Holidays</div>
Australian Walking Holidays specialises in small group guided walking adventures. Since 1982 we have been guiding small groups of travellers on Australia's finest walks across our tropical, coastal or red centre landscapes.
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/GCT.jpg' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="Great Canadian Trails"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>Great Canadian Trails</div>
Great Canadian Trails specialises in active holidays in Canada. With both guided and supported self-guided options available, our unique itineraries draw upon some of Canada's most inspiring parks, trails and landscapes from coast to coast.
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/HUM.jpg' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="Humac Challenge"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>Huma Charity Challenge</div>
Huma enables those with adventurous spirits to challenge themselves and make a difference for a cause close to their heart. Travel, fundraise and meet life-long friends on one of Huma's meaningful and unique challenges around the world.
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/WB.jpg?v2' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="Walkers’ Britain"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>Walkers' Britain</div>
Walkers' Britain (formerly Sherpa Expeditions) have specialised in walking and cycling trips in the United Kingdom and Europe since 1973. Explore iconic trails and destinations on a self guided or small group active holiday with Walkers' Britain.
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/WB.jpg?v2' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="Walkers’ Britain"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>Walkers' Britain</div>
Walkers' Britain (formerly Sherpa Expeditions) have specialised in walking and cycling trips in the United Kingdom and Europe since 1973. Explore iconic trails and destinations on a self guided or small group active holiday with Walkers' Britain.
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/TAS.jpg' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="Tasmania Expeditions"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>Tasmanian Expeditions</div>
Tasmanian Expeditions is the most experienced operator of treks and adventure travel holidays in Tasmania. We own and operate the most comprehensive range of adventure holidays available across Tasmania's varied landscapes.
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/UTX-new.jpg' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="Utracks"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>UTracks</div>
UTracks are the active European holiday specialists. Whether you prefer cycling or walking, 2-star or 4-star, small groups or self guided, land, river or sea – UTracks can help you to explore Europe exactly the way you want.
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/WYA.jpg' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="World Expeditions Schools"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>World Expeditions Schools</div>
World Expeditions Schools is our specialist division dedicated to organising tailor made overseas school group adventures. Specialists in Service Learning projects, choose from more destinations than any other school group provider.
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/YOM.jpg' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="Yomads"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>Yomads</div>
Yomads offers adventures for the 20s and 30s on six continents. Designed as a way to bring young and likeminded travellers together, Yomads caters to those interested in lightly structured and active trips that allow freedom to roam and explore.
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/ACT.jpg' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="Australian Cycle Tours"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>Australian Cycle Tours</div>
Australian Cycle Tours specialises in high quality self guided and guided cycling experiences in a selection of the most beautiful regions in Australia.
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/WEX.jpg' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="World Expeditions"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>World Expeditions</div>
The pioneers of original, worldwide adventure travel holidays since 1975
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/TJX.jpg' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="Trail Journeys"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>Trail Journeys</div>
Self-guided cycling experts on New Zealand's Otago Rail Trail and more
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/BMAC.jpg' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="Blue Mountains Adventure Company"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>Blue Mountains Adventure Company</div>
The original Blue Mountains canyoning, hiking, climbing and abseiling experts
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/GWNZ.jpg' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="Great Walks of New Zealand"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>Great Walks of New Zealand</div>
Explore New Zealand's most spectacular wilderness regions with the self-guided hiking experts
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/NAA.jpg' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="North America Active"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>North America Active</div>
USA Canada hiking & cycling tour specialists, choose from self-guided or guided trips