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Climb Every Mountain


With Natasha McElwaine

Looking at the world’s highest summit and then surveying the scene below Everest, managing director NATASHA McELWAINE felt like she was looking down on her business and knew exactly what had to be done when she returned to work.

Natasha, who owns and manages McElwaine Hunter Valley, said this trip of a lifetime made her look at all aspects of her life differently and she returned full of great ideas and plans for her own and her business’ future.

Five years ago Natasha and a friend planned to trek to Everest Base Camp together. They were in the middle of training for their trip when Natasha found out she was having a baby. Her friend continued the training and completed the trek and Natasha promised herself she would still make it to Everest one day.

It's all about the journey

Best-selling author and founder of the American Wellness Project, Greg Anderson said, “Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it”. This message rang true for Natasha, who said the time leading up to getting on the plane to Kathmandu was almost more important than the actual trek itself because of what she learnt about herself and her business.

“My major learning was to be focused. Everybody has the power to achieve what they want in life,” she explained.

Still, the day Natasha had been planning for came in May this year when she made it to the Base Camp after seven days of trekking from Luksa, Nepal, with her male guide, Shelka.
“I wasn’t quite sure why I felt the need to do this, but I never lost the desire to reach my goal. There are a lot more easily accessible places to go - and less dangerous things to do - to satisfy the travel bug!”

Natasha trekked for eight hours each day over difficult terrain and in wildly fluctuating weather, where the days were 25 degrees and the nights dropped to -20, to make it to her destination.
“The prayer flags that surround Everest Base Camp at 5364m flapped before me in gale-force winds. To say I was overwhelmed is an understatement!”

Common Ground

Giving herself some time to catch her breath at Everest Base Camp and bask in the knowledge that she had achieved her goal, Natasha met people from around the world and laughed about it being “one of the busiest places on earth”.

“Not only is the beauty astounding but the many tributes to those who have tried and failed to reach the Summit is a sobering reminder of the power of nature and the sacrifices made by courageous Nepali guides and their trusty yaks in our quest for personal glory,” Natasha said.

Thinking her journey to Base Camp would take longer, Natasha had allowed another five days. Wanting to push herself further, Natasha and Shelka took on two additional climbs from the camp to Kata Patthar (5550m) and Island Peak (5250m). These climbs drove her beyond what she thought she was capable of.
“Those two climbs pushed me physically to the edge, and emotionally they were pretty tough. It really pushes you outside your comfort zone,” she explained.

“Sitting on the peak [of Kata Patthar] at dawn, we watched the sun’s first rays touch the very top of Mount Everest. I can only describe this as a truly magic moment.”
Knowing her life was dependent on following her 21-year-old guide, who spoke broken English, put everything into perspective for Natasha and made her see her goals very clearly.
“If I got sick, I was pretty much stuck there.
This was no five-star holiday,” she laughed.

Training and Preparation

So how do you train to climb a mountain that has defeated so many before you? Before starting her three weekly sessions with a personal trainer, the highest peak Natasha had climbed was a hill on her 300-acre property.

Fitting in sprint training and swimming around running a business, being mum to Oliver (who just turned four) and caring for her mother who had a stroke a year ago, Natasha said she thought she could have been fitter before embarking on her trip. However, she achieved her goal of getting to Base Camp quicker than she had planned and before a group of 22 year olds who started at the same time.

“It’s more that altitude that’s the killer. They were fit but were two days behind me because they were struggling with the altitude.”
Everest’s Summit is only half a day’s walk on the map, but takes two months to get there from Base Camp because of the difficulties associated with climbing at such heights.

Change in outlook

Commenting that Nepal was a land of dramatic contrasts between “breathtaking beauty” and people who were “desperately poor, yet so willing to share with a foreigner what little they have,” Natasha said the country’s unemployment rate of 47 per cent was very evident.

“I learnt to be humble and appreciate what I have. We fill our lives up with lots of stuff, but when you see how others in third-world countries live you realise you don’t need it.”

Natasha returned home from Everest exhausted but fulfilled, with a head full of plans and the knowledge she had gained from pushing herself so far and facing her fear of being alone.
“It was about empowerment, about knowing the extent of my physical and mental stamina, about appreciating what we have and the sacrifices others make on our behalf and, perhaps most importantly, about how vital to our emotional wellbeing it is to give back in return for all we have."

And from a business perspective, Natasha is fired up to market McElwaine Hunter Valley more effectively. “This trip has opened me up to do other things. Now I plan differently for my business in focusing on the key areas. It is such an essential tool to step outside your business,” she said, adding she has put the second highest mountain, K2, on her to do list next.


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