Thanks To Laser Eye Surgery Optometrist Emma And Her Husband Could Enjoy The View From Mount Ararat Properly
There are millions of words written about mountain climbing; but none seem able to sum up this unique challenge – culminating in reaching a distant summit and then returning exhausted but exhilarated safely to base camp.
The Scottish-American naturalist and preservationist John Muir explained the experience that most of us can barely imagine with the words: “doubly happy, however, is the man to whom lofty mountain tops are within reach.”
At the end of the 19th century John Muir was confidently able to be gender specific when he spoke those words. However, today he would also have included female climbers in his sentiments.
One such woman who is doubly happy to have mountain tops within her reach, is optometrist, Emma Brandon, who recently returned to her desk at the London Vision Clinic after climbing Mount Ararat in Turkey.
“I just really enjoy the thrill of getting to the top of something”, she explained. “There is nothing quite like being at the top of a mountain – a huge achievement, together with a sense of humbleness. You feel very small and insignificant.”
Perhaps, like me, although the name Mount Ararat conjured up biblical pictures of the final landing place of Noah and his ark, I knew nothing else about this snow-capped dormant volcanic cone in Turkey on the borders of Iran, Armenia and Azerbaijan.
At 5,137 meters high (16,854 feet), Mount Ararat is almost the same height as Mount Kilimanjaro but Emma has no ambition to climb the more ‘commercial’ Tanzanian summit.
“I think Ararat is much more beautiful and remote and exciting”, she said.
But all that excitement and rugged beauty is not for the faint hearted.“On the mountain, we both said to each other that we couldn’t imagine what the experience would have been like with glasses or contacts…”
Emma and Raph, her husband of eighteen months, are both super fit and Emma already had the Three Peaks Challenge and the glacial Mount Athabaska in the Rockies under her belt before their trip to Turkey.
As the lead strength and conditioning coach for the English Institute of Sport working with several Olympic athletes, Raph was ideally qualified to put together their training schedule which included cardiovascular work (Emma is a keen runner) alongside specific gym exercises and hiking with back packs in rugged terrain.
“I had imagined that the biggest challenge on the mountain would be altitude sickness”, said Emma, “but in fact, for me, it was thermo-regulation – maintaining a comfortable body temperature.
“It’s so exposed that one minute it might feel warm and the next it is literally freezing. The wind will come across and everything will change in a second.”
Despite being well equipped and even wearing loads of layers, Emma struggled with the extreme temperatures on the mountain.
Conditions at base camp were very basic – no running water, no toilets and just some canvas for protection and rough boulders for a pillow. This together with the eerie sound of howling wolves made sleep near impossible.
“I wore two pairs of thermal long johns, two additional thermal undergarments, two fleeces, two pairs of thermal socks, a hat and my sleeping bag but I was still cold”, said Emma.
“You can’t sleep, but you don’t care because of all the adrenaline!”
“One of the big lessons you learn about climbing is handling the basics of life – it is crucially important to keep warm and dry and to have enough food and water – you have got to carry everything with you.”
Another basic requirement is to be able to see clearly and have the ability to enjoy the spectacular views in order to store the memories that will last a lifetime.
It is five years since Emma had her extreme short sightedness corrected and her husband is also a London Vision Clinic patient.
“On the mountain, we both said to each other that we couldn’t imagine what the experience would have been like with glasses or contacts – the views on the way up were absolutely stunning – we couldn’t imagine not being able to enjoy them properly.”
Like most London Vision Clinic patients, Emma admits that now – on a daily basis – she totally takes her post Lasik clear vision for granted; however on the mountain she appreciated it anew.
“The last climb started at 2 am– it was pitch dark, imagine fumbling round in a tent for contact lenses. Arguably you could use extended wear contact lenses and just leave them in, but they would get really uncomfortable after a while. There are also hygiene risks because you can’t wash your hands.
“Anyway, for me and the prescription I used to have, daily lenses wouldn’t have fixed the problem”, Emma added. “I would have struggled a lot – it would have been a massive disadvantage.”
Emma and Raph, together with their Kurdish guide and four other climbers spent four days on the mountain. They made the summit just as bad weather was drawing in.
“How long you get to stay at the top depends on the weather and in this case there was driving snow and poor visibility – we literally had to begin the descent almost immediately or it would have been too dangerous.”
The freezing conditions and a bitter wind chill factor at the summit caused their eyelashes to freeze and strands of Emma’s hair to literally snap off; but nothing could overshadow their intense joy and massive sense of achievement.
The couple is already thinking about their next challenge.
“Mont Blanc is the current favourite” says Emma who also admits to dreaming of one day conquering the more technically challenging Matterhorn.
To quote the Australian born rock climber, Greg Child, “somewhere between the bottom and the summit is the answer to the mystery why we climb” – which could explain why this puzzling issue can only be truly understood by someone who has climbed a mountain.