October 31, 2021

The Call to Adventure Podcast - Episode 16 - Alex Staniforth

Discover how Alex Staniforth is leading the charge for achieving wellbeing through adventure
Podcast Guest
Alex Staniforth

Alex Staniforth has battled anxiety, disordered eating, depression, bullying and even avalanches to get to where he is, a trailblazer for achieving mental wellbeing through being outdoors.

At just 26, he is already a record-breaking adventurer and ultra-endurance athlete, with a fair few achievements under his belt. Having endured both the 2014 avalanche in Nepal and the earthquake in 2015 whilst attempting an Everest summit, completed the National 3 Peaks by foot in just 9 days and taken on countless other runs, summits and adventures, Alex is a force of nature.

It is the force of actual nature however, that has taken him to where he is now, founder of Mind Over Mountain. Mind Over Mountains is a charity that helps restore people’s mental wellbeing through the outdoors, mindfulness and “walking and talking.” We dig in to Alex’s mental and physical highs and lows over the last few years and how the “Natural Health Service” came to be his knight in shining armour.

If you want to join a Mind Over Mountains event, find out more or learn how you can support them, you can visit their website here - https://mindovermountains.org.uk

Show Notes

  • Quickfire questions
  • Mark Beaumont (cyclist)
  • Who is Alex Staniforth?
  • How did Alex become an ultra adventurer?
  • Why did Alex decide to climb Mount Everest?
  • Alex's advice for corporate sponsorships
  • How much does it cost to climb Mount Everest?
  • What is it like to climb Mount Everest?
  • What was it like after trying it the second time?
  • Jim Davidson
  • Is climbing mountains an ego thing?
  • Book - Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar
  • Feeling fulfilment with your accomplishments
  • How to get out of depression without constantly going after the next biggest goal
  • What’s the goal of Mind Over Mountains?
  • What plans does Alex have for people that are getting involved with Mind Over Mountains?
  • Is stigma around mental health challenges changing?
  • What are some misconceptions about mental health and anxiety?
  • Has Alex tried any forms of meditation or mindfulness?
  • How to support Mind Over Mountains

Full Transcript

George Beesley  0:26

Hey, it's George and welcome to the call to adventure podcast. We are on a mission to help create happier people and a healthier planet. So let's get after it.

Alex Staniforth  0:00

We were just about 6000 meters. And that day was one of the bad days. I was so knackered that I didn't actually feel the earthquake. I didn't feel the ground shaking. I just heard this massive crack above my head

George Beesley  0:40

Hello, and welcome to another episode of the call to adventure podcast with me George Beesley. I hope you're all well listeners and watchers. Today we're chatting with Alex Stanforth, a record breaking young adventurer, motivational keynote speaker, ultra insurance enthusiast, author and mental health activist Alex knows a thing or two about overcoming adversity having experienced the two biggest consecutive disasters in Mount Everest history, including the 2015 Nepal earthquake which trapped him on the mountain for two days in July 2017 He became the fastest person ever to claim all 100 UK countertops and won the Pride of Britain fundraiser of the year. In 2020. He ran the national three peaks challenge covering 452 miles in just nine days and 12 hours having suffered with mental health challenges to as a teenager he co founded mind over mountains a mental health charity to help others restore mental well being naturally through outdoor experiences. So looking forward to this one. It's been a little while alex and I've been trying to connect for some time. So looking forward to getting into it. Alex really pumped to have you on Great to be here. Let's kick off with some quick fire questions. So we've got a few of these just light hearted quick fire so first one what is Alex Tanner fourth favorite cheese?

Alex Staniforth  2:05

Oh god I tried to avoid cheese nowadays and have a lot of dairy but it would have to be an intel from Switzerland but lots of different types Yeah, that's a very hard hard one to choose from.

George Beesley  2:17

What is behind the avoiding dairy is it just kind of health reasons ethical stuff

Alex Staniforth  2:22

on the pescatarian I've been the same for about four years now and generally just tried to reduce dairy I find it really affects my skin. So mostly health reasons but generally try to avoid as many animal products so they can but really enjoy fish and have you know have the occasional cheese sometimes hard to avoid these things. So

George Beesley  2:43

I think I actually saw a picture of you on Instagram today enjoying a fish and chips and that looked very good was that

Alex Staniforth  2:49

today? That was actually last night so I cycled on a an easy ride down to the nearest kind of beach and onside she's about a 30 mile round trip for me. And yeah has this chips on the beach show fish and chips is probably my my guilty pleasure. And yeah, I would probably struggle to give up that but it's definitely been a staple of my challenges as well.

George Beesley  3:08

That was the most incredible segue that I could have ever imagined the next question was what's your guilty pleasure? But now we know it's fish and chips

Alex Staniforth  3:16

let me you know sorry to throw I think my real probably guilty pleasure because there's nothing wrong with fish and chips is probably cake I mean I just have a massive Sweet Tooth I don't drink so you know for me my my alcohol is probably coffee and cake and yeah just can't get enough but it kind of combines pretty well with adventure as well.

George Beesley  3:34

What cake do you normally go for a year Victoria Spanish man or platforms Gatto.

Alex Staniforth  3:39

K for me is got to be indulgent. I mean victorious Burns is just too plain and simple. I don't see the point of putting fruit in cake. But I think one of my favorites is probably carrot cake. Or it's got to be something very very indulgent. So maybe something like a kind of hot chocolate cake with cream or something anything with chocolate or toffee or anything like that in really, it's got to be a big portion and dry cake should be illegal. Dry cake is just is a crime. So anything with anything that's indulgent and you get a big portion, not some dried out piece in a COVID chain coffee shop and that will do me fine.

George Beesley  4:15

Yeah, yeah, I'm on board there. What is your superpower? ALEKS of

Alex Staniforth  4:21

God sounds very vain to answer this one. But I think overcoming adversity, you know, always finding a way to to overcome challenges is what I do best. Yeah, it's

George Beesley  4:30

a it's a tricky one to answer but Becker, normal co host in lieu of her being today. I wanted to put a question out so yeah, we've done two about who's your hero slash role model.

Alex Staniforth  4:45

I have a few in various areas of my life. But I think one I'll mention is one of my one of my good friends, Jeff Smith, who he climbed Everest couple years ago and he he was the inspiration behind a lot of my charity. work, you know, he really got me thinking creatively. And on my recent challenge and my free peeks, you know, he really did help me break down the barriers to really believe in myself. So I think I say, Jeff, but if you're if you're thinking of a public figure, Mark Beaumont for cyclists, his achievements are just mind blowing and constantly encouraged me to push that bar even higher. And he's just such a down to earth guy as well.

George Beesley  5:21

It's pretty phenomenal. When you see how quickly he's cycling and how many miles he's putting on the clock like to go around the world in. I can't remember how many days it was, but it was absolutely astronomical. Just incredible.

Alex Staniforth  5:35

Yeah. 78 days, I think it was and that inspired me to take on my Well, it was meant to be a 24 hour bike ride from home to Edinburgh in Scotland, which would have been about would have been about freedom. 10 miles, I didn't quite do it in 24 hours. But when Mark was doing that mileage every day, I mean, what excuse that I have so definitely agree with that.

George Beesley  5:59

I mean, here's a bit of a machine. I saw him doing the North Coast 500 Bike packing route, and they were with the guys from GCN. And he was just taking it easy, whatever it was 150 miles a day and just literally like freezing it so yeah, an absolute monster. Who would you want to be stranded on a desert island with

Alex Staniforth  6:21

crikey as an introvert I'd want to be on my own, to be honest, but I had to be with anybody. Probably. Probably Bear Grylls, there has been a big inspiration of mine. And for obvious reasons he'd be the best person to have. Yeah, it's

George Beesley  6:33

interesting. One of the old ones that we used to have was, for the quickfire questions, Bear Grylls or Ray Mears. But I think we know who you'd go with now. Awesome. Well, that's the quick fire out the way. So let's just jump on to your adventures and your journey into adventure. So can you just give us a quick bit of intro? Because you're from Chester, right? Just up the road? I'm Instructure

Alex Staniforth  6:55

Ah, yeah, not far at all. Yes. So I'm from a village in Chester and castle. And I was brought up, you know, on the edge of Delamere forest, very lucky to be brought up in the countryside. But about two years ago, I moved up into South Lakes and Kendall. So I've been up here now for a while, yeah, since March 2019. And just to be around by the mountains, but was brought up in a really beautiful part of the world that I think definitely introduced me to, to nature and, and just loving being out in green space, some pretty early HBS.

George Beesley  7:23

So how did you go from that, to getting into this kind of more adventure type stuff like wanting to climb Everest, and you've done a few other peaks and ultra stuff? Like what what was the transition?

Alex Staniforth  7:36

I think it's interesting, because last last weekend, actually went back home for the day. And while I was there, I went on a run around the forest, which is where I used to run and train all the time as a kid, and, and, you know, fairly recently, and I use that forest for, you know, marathon training for every training. And I just got so bored. And it's not to be ungrateful, but it just reminds me of how lucky I am now to be in the Lake District where I'm just completely spoilt for choice. But you only know what you've got. And at the time, I was from a young age, I think I'd always been interested in wildlife. My grandma really got me interested in that. And she was very passionate about conservation, and given that to help. And so I think from from a fairly young age, I was always walking on dogs with my dad and my mom, and we went on holiday to north Wales in the caravan, and never do anything physically challenging. You know, my parents weren't adventurous search. My dad was a marathon runner. So he kind of got me into running when I was about fifth 1516. But really, I was quite content, just cycling around the forest and just being in nature. You know, that's where I found I found my escape. But I think really, it was, it was all part of a challenging journey. When I was about nine years old, I had epilepsy, which only had a few seizures, you know, it was pretty mild form. But that brought lots of challenges along with it, like having a stammer which I've had ever since I've been able to speak. I've never known life without that, badly bullied all the way through school, and Jayati panic attacks, low self confidence, no self esteem, and started school I hated sport, you know, I was that one that came last at sports day and just refuse to take part in things. And yeah, pretty much the opposite of where I am now. But I think finding the outdoors kind of is what started to reverse that journey, because it's where I finally found my feet. And there's quite a few events involved with that. But I think it was probably 2010 When I was on holiday in Turkey, and had this urge to try something called paragliding. Now on the spectrum, you're looking at a pretty extreme sport, you know, it wasn't like I just started running straight away. I had this urge to throw myself offer a 7000 foot mountain and I don't quite know what transpired that but I think it was it was just this sense of being fed up with constantly being held back by doubt and bullies and anxieties and just all these challenges I had as a child and and that decision changed my life because I never been so scared in my life. But hang in there free like a bird. I felt this confidence This belonging that I never had before. And once you once you change that mindset, you know, you really do change your whole direction, because I wanted to find the next challenge, you know, I realized that I didn't get to choose the challenges I had, but I could choose how I responded to them. And from then on, I just kept on trying more outdoor sports kept pushing that bar higher and higher, higher, and just finally found somewhere where I felt that maybe different were fitted in where I could prove myself and prove all the bodies wrong. So that obviously became a pretty long journey with lots of factors. But I think it was that childhood adversity and finding a way to fight back through the outdoors that ultimately has brought me to where I am today. You know, it's been about overcoming personal challenges through outdoor challenges. And, and now I'm very lucky to use that journey to help people overcome their challenges as

George Beesley  10:46

well. So it's quite a long way to go from start from your paragliding and opening up the world of the outdoors realizing that you want to do some more adventurous stuff to climbing Everest. So how did that come about? Where you decided, yeah, I'm going to climb Everest. And obviously, you had a pretty testing time. What's the story there?

Alex Staniforth  11:07

Yeah, it's kind of a long story as as you'd expect with these things. But along with that journey, I was then invited Hill walk in that was in the lakes with my friend, Tom and his family, and something I've never really done before. I mean, I've been to Ben Nevis with my dad, and that had a real lasting impression on me have this fascination with mountains and just this excitement, this childhood excitement of climate have to be somewhat of a help. And ironically, on Ben Nevis, we have never actually reached the top of that one either because of the snow conditions. But on that walk with the latest dress, I remember, I remember at some point that day asking the question, Where is Mount Everest, and I'd never seen anything like it. But the hills and the lakes just completely blew my mind. And it kind of inspire curiosity, you know, to start questioning all these doubts and limits that I put on myself, and that the bullies and society put on me, I came home once on Google, then just, you know, started to research Everest and became completely fascinated. I remember the kind of goosebump excitement that I felt reading about this thing and realizing that mere mortals had climbed it. And at that point, I had made this commitment to myself that one day, I was going to get there. I wanted that more than anything. And could I really do this? I guess the answer was, I could, but I would never have have imagined that four years later, I've actually been at Everest base camp, about to make my first attempt from actually having that goal. I then wanted to start putting the steps in place, you know, I started contacting with climbers, learning how they got there, and how I could follow in their footsteps. I booked myself on a rock climbing day with an instructor who was based in Kazakh. And he climbed Everest four times called Tim modell, and met him for a day climbing and probably drove him crazy with questions. But I just wanted to meet one of these mere mortals that had have climbed Everest to be like them. And I guess from that point, I started to make a plan, the steps, the peaks, I need to climb, what I need to do to get there. But at this point, it was kind of a long term goal, you know, a climb Mont Blanc in 2012, when I was 17, that was my first kind of biggest peak. But that was only half the height of Everest, well, just over. So I guess I was consciously moving towards it. But at the same time, I was, you know, doing doing my GCSEs I was working in a pub, washing pots, I was gonna have to raise 35,000 pounds of sponsorship to make it happen. And then I got injured. So all of a sudden, I couldn't run, I couldn't cycle. And for about a year, I've been really focused on, you know, on running as a way of challenging myself and, and lots of stuff has been happening in my life. But all of a sudden, that was just taken away from me. You know, I lost that focus, I lost that kind of running goal and performance. And that's when I started to sink into it, you know, and it, you know, I'm eating disorder, bulimia. And that was kind of triggered by this injury, where suddenly I'd lost exercise, I'd lost that kind of coping strategy. And I kind of tried to take control of my diet instead. But that being high achiever were very perfectionist mindsets, obviously wasn't going to be sustainable, and was probably the most unhealthy thing I could have done, because it became very obsessive. And yeah, I was probably in the lowest place I've ever been. And being told I, you know, I'm ever trained properly again, let alone trying to climb the world size peak. But I never realized at the time that that was actually probably the biggest push to actually commitment to actually making the goal a reality. Because dreams are only dreams until you actually make a deadline until you set the date. Otherwise, life is going to get in the way. And so at the end of that year, but 2012 I kind of set the dates, and that's what turn that dream into a goal. Because I said I realized that if I could climb Everest in 2014, I'd be the second youngest Brit. And that would give me a massive advantage in fundraising. I 18 months to climb a 7000 meter peak to jump those next big hoops. But in the state of depression, I read this book by Bear Grylls and how he broke his back just 18 months before he climbed Everest at 23 gave me the hope that although I was injured, I was washing pots in my local pub, I was doing my levels, I was somehow going to get there. But what I needed was that purpose, I needed something to get out of bed in the morning. And setting that date was ultimately that that step. So I've been radical, I wouldn't recommend that approach. But that is kind of what took me to Everest. And I spent a year focusing on fundraising, which is all through corporate sponsorship, which was kind of a full time job in itself. I spent that whole year, emailing companies must have approached over 1000 companies across the UK, trying to get them to invest in, you know, in my dream, my parents said that was a lot of money for a holiday. But you know, they weren't going to send me a check, I was going to have to find a way or make one. And basically, in 2014, with a few weeks to spare, I'd got the money together, I've been out to Nepal on a 7000 meter peak, and Mira peak and currency in 2013. And I got a place on an expedition to go out in March 2014. So that's kind of the convoluted journey to Everest really, from kind of four years. And when I look back, I would have done things differently. But you can only act on what you know, at the time. And that was, for me, kind of the proof of what was possible with commitment. And Everest was my was my life for a year because it had to be, you know, every single minute had to count.

George Beesley  16:37

What advice would you give for people who are looking for corporate sponsorships from what you've learned? Oh, God,

Alex Staniforth  16:42

it really was a numbers game. But I started out when I was younger, you know, speaking to other other climbers like me that I've come from a pretty average background, you know, not wealthy parents, that had to find a way to make one. And they were the only proof that I had that this was possible. But I learned from them, I learned what that process involves. And it basically involves, you know, having a pitch, having a product that a company wants to be part of. But I had a mentor quite early Uncle Chris, who interesting, you know, now in the charity, we set that up in partnership, which is really cool how that's evolved over the years. But back then Chris taught me everything I needed to know around business sponsorship and, and marketing, and just how to overcome all these barriers in my mind, because that was the biggest barrier was my own self belief. But the best advice I could give is, what he gave me is that, you know, shy bands get no sweets, if in doubt, just ask. And if you don't ask you don't get. So that's definitely one thing. But also, you have to find a way to stand out, you've got to have a USP, because everything has to come back to what's in it for them. The truth is, they don't really care about you, or what you want, or why you want this, they only care about what your expedition or challenge can bring to them. And that was one thing I learned from him. The other climate says you've really got to be as professional as you can in your approach. And every single day, I asked myself, will this get me to Everest? The process was simply a case of every single thing I did. If it wasn't going to get me to Everest, it didn't happen. Because I needed to every minute, every minute had to count every contact, every email could be a sponsor. So unless you're willing to give that level of commitment, then, you know, the chances are going to be against you really,

George Beesley  18:22

and how much roughly does it cost to climb Everest?

Alex Staniforth  18:25

I mean, this was six, seven years ago. So things have probably changed. I mean, that was before Brexit. The time to get on to get on Tim's expedition. And just to say Tim had a very good ship, you know, he had a fully supported professionally organized expedition with fantastic Sherpa support. It wasn't cutting corners, because we've heard in the news around all these cheapest missions or take people that have no experience. I want to be on Tim's team, because I think I felt that he would give me the best chance he was charging about $45,000 at the time, but then you have to factor in kit. You know, I was sponsored by Marmot. So I got the best house that you get at a much cheaper rate. But realistically, you're looking at sort of five to 6000 pounds, just the kit, then there's a training. You know, if you're not already a seasoned mountaineer, then you've got to get some big peaks under your belt first. So currency, you know, you're looking at sort of 7000 pounds, and then all the training insurance flights you're probably looking in, in the region of kind of maybe $70,000 minimum. So yeah, it's not cheap, but there's cheaper ways of doing it. But then you have to really question the ethics and the safety of the team that you're on the mountain with. And Tim's ethos was always around, not making yourself a liability to others, you know, being self competent, which is what I was I wanted to be part of,

George Beesley  19:42

yeah, we've all read a lot about many climbers on Everest who are not so I think that's the definitely the right approach to take. So what was it actually like, then you you get to Everest, you fly into Katmandu, and then I didn't know do you fly to Lukla and then what happens? From there,

Alex Staniforth  20:00

yeah, well you spend a few days in the puzzle posts on the chaos of Katmandu, which is always great fun. Then you fly out to the cloud, which is a tiny airstrip in the mountains. It's famously known as one of the world's most dangerous airports, it's always quite interesting flying into there. Once you get into there, you've got about a three week trek for us to Basecamp. We go a bit slower than other teams, because we want to have more acclimatization time, climbing a few high passes on the way. And just taking our time, you know, you don't want to arrive Knakal at Basecamp is you've got a big peak to climb. So we get to Basecamp after about three weeks, and you kind of they're really it's kind of a month, or maybe even five weeks, which is a long time, you know, that's your home in the mountain. But before we even got there the first time, and this was 2014 when I was 18. A huge avalanche had killed 16 Climate Sherpas in the icefall. So the biggest disaster in Everest history at the time, you know, we had no choice but to back up and go home. So that obviously didn't quite go to plan. Now, we couldn't really complain, we were going home safely to our families. But it was a bit of a kick in the teeth, you know, after all that commitment and sacrifice and fundraise and just gone just like that. So then I was naive enough and young enough to assume that, you know, the harder I work, the luckier I get. This is something I hadn't trained for. But the harsh reality of mountaineering and life and also COVID is that it doesn't give a damn how hard you've worked. You know, sometimes these things happen. And I think success is actually about how you deal with those things, rather than reaching the top. So I had to regroup and took another year of fundraising and training went back to Everest in 2015. So another year stronger. But this time, things only went worse. So 2015 We were just coming out to camp one for the first time. We left Basecamp nearly hours one morning of the 25th of April. And we were just blow camp one when the earthquake hit Nepal. So yeah, I mean, we were just about 6000 meters. And that day was one of the bad days, I was so knackered that I didn't actually feel the earthquake, I didn't feel the ground shaking. I just heard this massive crack above my head, the sound of ice breaking off the mountain. And yeah, for the first time in my life thinking, This is it, you know, 19 it's game over, as we got hit by this big blaster powder. Luckily, you know, we escaped pretty much unharmed we just got hit by this Big Freeze and cold death and blast and, and the debris, the ice never came. But then we were trapped on the mountain for two days. 6000 meters at camp on the route down to base camp had gone, the toll could be there for a week, we've only got food for a day or two at most. And every half an hour, you've got aftershocks and avalanches hitting us on both sides. So we're no idea that actually, we've been in the safest place of all, because two days later, we flew down to Basecamp by helicopter and found that it was like a plane crash, you know, Basecamp had just had just got done been hit by a much bigger avalanche show. We'd actually been in the safest place of all.

George Beesley  23:02

God, that must have been a horrifying, just like on the mountain with all the chaos going on. So that was that was attempt to have you got your eyes set on doing it again. Or if you just kind of parked it now you thinking third time lucky? Or? Or have you got your eyes set on something else?

Alex Staniforth  23:22

I get asked this a lot. And there's no fear of going back. You know, I was incredibly lucky to to be where I was. I mean, we lost three of our team at Basecamp. You know, had we not left Basecamp I wouldn't be speaking to you now, most likely. But we can't, can't let this thing grow on us. You know, it's taught me that an awful lot, you engage about how unpredictable how volatile life is and why it's so important to live with purpose. The drive that I had to climb Everest has kind of faded. And not from that because I hadn't fully intended to go back the following year. But I went off to try and climb the sixth highest peak in the world chill were you in Tibet, which was an amazing mountain amazing expedition with great people. And once again, didn't summit got to about 7200 meters and then and then the altitude got me. But on that trip, I had a bit of a a turning point when I had this moment looking at Everest in the distance and just thinking, what's the point? You know, what, what's this all about? Am I really making my biggest difference? And just this feeling of closure that I had nothing left to prove, you know, the trauma that we experienced, you know, I've seen Basecamp just like a plane crash, you know, and the death and destruction hasn't put me off because it just shows you how unpredictable life is. But it's more a case of I just don't want it enough and I'm not willing to sacrifice enough. And it opened up so many other opportunities, you know, that inspired me to do challenges close to home and since since then, since finding that I've been able to find those challenges and make a bigger difference in the UK. I'm not able to and I've not really had the time to and I'm too young to say never, but it's just not yet You know, maybe one day, but I think I'd like to see the ethics change at Everest. We've heard a lot about this in recent years and every season that have the same calling, or the same magic that it used to have, and I would love to see that come back before I went back really? So depends if my mom's listening as well. So I had to be careful what I say.

George Beesley  25:18

I think you and I both Yeah, it certainly has a reputation for a reason. It's really, really interesting. Actually. I actually just got it here and spoke to this guy, Jim Davidson on another episode of our podcast. Oh, yeah. You know,

Alex Staniforth  25:34

Jim. Yeah, Jim's a great friend. We were both put up account one. And I didn't chat too much during the trip. But yeah, Jim's are inspiring guy. I think we both were there both years on the trot, actually. But yeah, a lot of time for Jim.

George Beesley  25:48

Yeah. Yeah, he's a great guy really interesting, speaks a lot about resilience, which will, which we'll get onto very cool. Interesting how you feel like the pool is not there anymore. And it felt like it was you had that kind of realization that what have I got to prove? Do you think that climbing mountains is always an ego thing? And like, Yeah, I'll leave it at that.

Alex Staniforth  26:13

I certainly can be. I think, for me for a while the draw was a sense of having something to prove, but to myself, as well, as two of us, you know, I've been brought up and grown up feeling worthless feeling never good enough. I think we all deal with that at times. And so Everis for me was the ultimate nothing could could get higher than that. But I think what I learnt on 2016 on shoyu was actually, that was a real kind of endless, unattainable process, because it's the same with wealth, you know, we're getting nice cars and nice houses. And all the things that we want as a, as this measure of success is you always want more. And when you climb Everest, a lot of the people that I know I've done it, I've gone on there, they've had this massive gap in their lives, because they can't find anything to fill that gap, you know, they need something else, something bigger and bigger. And that's why adventures and challenges are always looking to do something more, something harder, and I'm still, I'm still doing that. But if you don't enjoy the journey, then it becomes a pretty, pretty pointless thing for me, because you're never satisfied. Even if you reach the top, I've seen guys come back and they just completely lost. And I think that's what it is about trying to prove something, then it's not sustainable. And you're never going to actually feel like you're going to get that you just never read reach the top. And I realized that young ages I'm really quite grateful for I think there is a lot of ego and Everest, I think in mountains in general. Generally, people that are there that are willing to sacrifice so much and risk so much generally have something going on that they're dealing with, you know, they have the demons, which we all have. But I think Everest attracts certain characters myself being, you know, being, you know, one of those that Gemini has dealt with something major or is struggling the things not all the time, but there's a lot of egos that come through in those environments. And I think you have to also watch out for ego because it can be very dangerous, and being able to control that and to be there for the right reasons. So I've definitely witness and experience that. But I wouldn't say ego is everybody, I think it's just something that is very common in those environments and, and sport in general, really, because most normal people wouldn't go to crime and 8000 meter peak, you know, spend all this money to risk their lives. So yeah, it's an interesting question, but it definitely, definitely exists.

George Beesley  28:23

That's a really interesting point about as soon as you accomplish one thing, then it can feel a little bit empty. And then you're straight on to the next one. And you see it a lot with Yeah, professional sports men and women, like whether it's Serena Williams winning Wimbledon again, and then as soon as that finishes, then what do you do? And I think it's, it's quite common, there was also Tyson fury, the heavyweight champ he, I think struggles with it as well. And then when you have something to work for, then everything's kind of fine, because you find your purpose, but then you then you do that. And then what happens if unless there's a bigger mountain to climb, you're kind of on this endless rat wheel of trying to feel fulfilled by just doing something slightly bigger. Or you can choose not to play that game by saying, Well, it's my kind of happiness and self worth isn't tied up in the things that I achieve in life. There's a really good book, I'm trying to remember what it's called. It's I think it's called Happy or happiness, maybe happier, by tal Ben Shahar. His name is something similar to that. And he talks all about that. So he's a happiness researcher. And I think he opens the book with somebody who just like, there's maybe even him, wins the World badminton championship and thinks like, as soon as I win it, I'm gonna feel happy, I'm going to feel accomplished. I'm going to have done what I need to do in this life. And then I can just rest on that and just live out the rest of my life being like, I did what I wanted to do. And then he does it and of course, the next day, he feels completely empty. So escaping the wheel of accomplishment is fascinating. And I think something that we All wrestle, right? We need to find something bigger by either staying on the rat, finding a bigger mountain to climb, or taking a step back and saying maybe life and my self worth and happiness isn't reliant on things that I achieve in my life.

Alex Staniforth  30:16

definitely agree. And I think what you just described around the apartment didn't get that sense of contentment, I think is unrealistic. And it's sort of a shock shock for people, especially in business and wealth when people suddenly get the job they dream of, and then there's like, what's next? You got to enjoy the journey. And to me, it's about having a bigger, why having a bigger mountain behind it something that we can't reach. And that's when I realized that Everest was just a step on that journey. I mean, don't get me wrong, I'd love to go back and look to summit and that magic still gets me somewhere, there's still something in there. But it's not everything. Because as a founder, so many, much more rewarding opportunities without Everest. And after, after the expedition, I mean, I really sank back into depression and eating disorder again, you know, I was in an even lower place, because I didn't think there was life without the mountain. But fortunately, I was able to find that the very much was,

George Beesley  31:08

you mentioned that initially, you kind of were pulled out of your depression with this new goal. But then after you finished Everest, and then you and then you fell back into it, I'm just thinking, I'm sure people, some people listening will be thinking that they're in that slump? How do they get out of it? If it's not having a big goal? Is it just luck? Or time? Or is there something else that can kind of force the bringing yourself out of that?

Alex Staniforth  31:34

I think you have to be patient. And at the time with every star member, my friend Rich really helped me because I was in this guilt mindset of why then why not me. And this is in regards to the guys on our team who sadly died. And I was just didn't really know where I wanted to be or where I was, you know, I didn't want to be average, I just felt lost. And I think in that time, it was rich, given me a bit of tough love, basically saying, those guys wouldn't care if it was you, you know, you've got to grow from this. You just got to grow from it. And I was like, how on earth did I do that? But it was true. You know, we can't dwell on the this the what do the what could have because life isn't going that way. And that's when I switch the arrows to kind of focus on what difference can I make? How could I turn this into something positive rather than Oh, poor me. And that was difficult, for sure. But I think having that new positive focus, gave me my life and energy back. And it wasn't, you know, it wasn't easy. I look here, I had my family around me to support me through that. And originally what I did, at the end of 2015, was I went back in the lakes, I worked for a hostel for just for two or three months. And that change of scenery, being in my happy place in the Lake District, surrounded by the mountains, was very much a big part of that process. Just that kind of healing. You know, being surrounded by nature, and writing my first book icefall was really, really therapeutic because I think just putting things down on paper helped me to process the trauma of it all. So I think really, it was just about focusing on something positive is that was the only way, you know, to turn it into something, something positive. And I think I look back at it now. And it's a story I tell nearly every day. And I'm fine to do that. Now. It's got easier with time. But yeah, you just have to grow from it. Really?

George Beesley  33:18

Yeah. So let's talk about those. There's other things that you've kind of done since that you've been drawn to So you started co founded mind ever mountains, and we've kind of touched on it a bit. But how did that kind of come about? And what's the goal there?

Alex Staniforth  33:33

Well, I guess the charity came about that. I've always done my challenges for charity and raise money. And my biggest one was climb the UK in 2017 that was raising money for your minds, which is the leading mental health charity for young people. I think the reason behind that was it took when it came to my own struggles with depression. And with eating disorder, it took me longer to get an appointment for the bulimia than it did to cycle walk and run 5000 miles around the UK. Now, in that time, I was always very lucky that I was able to almost self medicate through through running through challenges that gave me that purpose back but I wouldn't have everybody else you know, what about the people at afford the free the gap. And so I guess I wanted to give people the same access to the outdoors and the experiences that I'd had. But combining that with coaching and mentoring like Chris and the people that have been a part of my journey since I started this so it kind of came off the back of that climb that UK challenge when I wanted to make a difference close to home. And there was a company called adventurer uncovered who wanted to do an event around the benefits of nature for mental health. And they brought me in as a bit of an ambassador and being a bit of a perfectionist I've kind of took over and wanted to make it something much bigger. But it was combining hillwalking with coaching mindfulness, inspirational speakers and counseling, and then just trying to create that safe space to walk and talk. So we kind of have this vision of bringing all these things together so that it was actually like really lasting meaningful change rather than just Am I still in the hills, which we'll know helps. And we did that event. And I brought in Chris who coached and mentor people in the same way he helped me. And he was just blown away by the impact. And seeing the change of people over the course of a weekend just inspired us to try and bring this to more people really. And that weekend in the Lake District was bank holiday in May, it was gloriously hot and sunny, and that we can really change everything. So as to the charity kind of became my focus on my charity work. You know, I work with a number of different charities for Nepal, through mental health, through the outdoors, you know, YHA, and trying to help that kind of Nepal in a, you know, the process of rebuilding after the earthquake, but I felt my impact was better focused in one place, I'd always thought that I might start a charity in 2030 years, not 25. But it is the right time, there's a demand. And mine of mountains became registered as a charity in August 2020, in the middle of COVID, the pandemic, but probably very timely, as well. And yeah, I've been doing all my fundraising and focus on building that. So really, it's just about creating access and opportunities, because I think that being outside exercising is the most powerful antidepressant that I've ever tried. And there's no waiting list, you know, for nature, or the natural health service, as I call it. And I really think that we could really reduce a lot of the mental health problems we're seeing if we could promote that even more widely.

George Beesley  36:21

Yeah, I couldn't agree more. It's obviously still early days. But what are your plans for for people that thinking like, this sounds awesome. I want to get involved. What have you got planned? Well, we

Alex Staniforth  36:33

are very small, and myself and Chris started it. And we now have a slightly larger team of five and abroad trustees who are all really passionate about what we do in the benefits. And so grateful for the support that we've had in our third year for the plan, really, for me is to take it to every national park in the UK, so that we have these events running every week to reach, you know, 1000s of people each year. And I want our work and programs to be seen as an alternative therapy to just medication. So at the moment, we're running day, rambles, and weekend retreats around the UK, you know, from the New Forest up to Roseberry, topping to Wales, the peaks to the lakes, trying to reach the people that that really need is most because we know that people live near the lakes and peaks, it's easy to get there. But we know some people in the cities that just don't have access to these things. So really, we want to reach those, but with all of our events, you know, you know actually have bursaries available, so that people pay to attend, whereas on bursaries, they can access these events, you know, free of charge or a minimal fee, just so that the people that are on low income or in difficult personal circumstances, and also all the blue light card holders. So all the NHS staff that have been, you know, exhausted by the pandemic, can get that time for themselves that professional support, and just get the help that they need without having to wait months and months. So our challenge really is trying to resource our work, do more programs, and yeah, reach the people who need us most. But we have to actually start kind of stop and start a lot because of the pandemic rules restrictions. But we've been back in action since April. And we've got so many events planned this year, it's been so good to see people coming back together and enjoying the outdoors again, really. So I wanted to be the leading provider of this in the UK.

George Beesley  38:19

Alex, that's amazing. That's so so cool. What a brilliant idea. And I think very much needed. And it's interesting to see all of the kind of peer reviewed research that supports this. It's not just the idea that outdoor exercise time spent outdoors is as powerful as any other antidepressant like the data seems to be backing it up, which is amazing. I think it's something that we kind of intuitively have known for a long time, especially if you're into the outdoors, but it's really good to have the kind of empirical backing as well. So that's that I think that's amazing. I'd love to help out however we can. So let's have a chat afterwards. Do you think the stigma around mental health challenges is changing? To the

Alex Staniforth  39:01

question? And I think on your last point, I often find it hard to explain or describe why nature helps. I don't think I'll ever managed to do that. I think we know it does. But the science is really promising. And it has a stigma, I think it's changing. But we still have a long way to go. You know, as a man, talking about depressions was, was quite easy for me. But eating disorders was just like a no go, I never felt so vulnerable. And it took me three years of I've tried to manage the struggle on my own with his eating disorder in silence before I really accepted that I need to help. And I told even my family who I'm really close to. And it gets easier with time. You know, I'm now able to speak openly about it in the podcast or on stage in front of foreign people or in my books, you know, talk all about it. But that's only taken years to get to that point. And I think there's a lot of misunderstanding and a lot of image related kind of stigma and discomfort around eating disorders and then and it's so much more than just about weakness or you know, showing signs of strength. I think it's Just the sense of shame that we've cultivated in society. And for me, the only way I can suggest around that is we need more people talking and sharing their stories, who feel able to people that we might see as role models, the the kind of tough masculine figures in culture are the ones that really need to help us break down that image and replace it with something that affects every, you know, each and every one of us. But when I was opening up around my eating disorder, I still felt there was that stigma. And there is still a lot of unhealthy things in culture. I mean, for example, you know, I was stopped on the beach, having fish and chips. I cycled over there enjoying enjoying being in the heat and the bank holiday warmth and sunshine. And I remember a guy walking past and he just made a comment. And it was all meant in a light hearted way. But you know, how far have I cycled to earn those fish chips, and I'm in a really good stage in my health and recovery now. But years ago, when I was under fueling and overtraining and just running an empty, you know, comment like that would have really knocked me off. And I think we have to be really mindful about that, especially in athletes that I think are very vulnerable to this sort of stigma of, you know, having to earn our calories for exercise, I think is how I got into this, this in the first place. And I think it's something that is a big problem. So to answer your question, yes, it still exists. But I do think we are slowly moving in the right direction.

George Beesley  41:21

What are some misconceptions about mental health and anxiety, one thing

Alex Staniforth  41:28

that I still hear and despite being so much awareness and work, trying to change his sense of what have you got to feel sad about, I've have to struggle with this. And it almost always makes you feel worse that people may look at me as somebody that has a really adventurous fun lifestyle, getting to spend a lot of time in nature and traveling, and I am so lucky to do what I do. And I know many people are in the same position who also really struggle with very low points and very low mood, and other mental health problems. And there is that perception of you know, cheer, or what have you got to feel sad about that only adds to the guilt and the confusion that person might be experiencing. Because a lot of these people who are very successful, I think mental health doesn't doesn't discriminate, there's no image, it can be completely invisible. And a lot of the people that are high achievers also have have their own personal struggles, they've got to where they are because of those. And it can be very driven people, very successful people. And they can function at a very high level, despite any mental health problems they're facing, you know, I could be speaking on stage, if I were the people looking very confident, very happy and very assured. And then I could be on the train home feeling absolutely rock bottom, or, you know, literally having to pull myself out of bed for binge eating, you know, then go and speak to hundreds of people around motivation. And I think it's that that whole sense of, you know, that you can just choose how you feel. It's really that is really dangerous. And it doesn't help anybody,

George Beesley  42:55

have you tried any forms of meditation, or mindfulness.

Alex Staniforth  42:59

So in the charity, we use mindfulness, on the walks on the weekends, because we find it works really well when you're out in nature, because you're away from the distractions of technology and all that noise. And we tend to do that in groups just to give people the chance to reconnect with themselves. Personally, I don't do it actively on my own. But I run or cycle nearly every day. And that's my kind of mindfulness time. I mean, they say that trail running is the ultimate mindfulness. But maybe that's why I'm always falling over. So it's finding the ways that work for you. But getting any quiet time. I think I try and get that quiet time every day. Just slow down and smell the flowers as the coach John would say,

George Beesley  43:37

Yeah, I think timeout definitely helps reset things and take you from an eight, maybe back down to a three. But if anybody is thinking that they would like to try meditation, this should be a drinking game, how much I promote this, but just in case anybody's listened to this episode, who hasn't heard my PSA before, if you if you do want to give it a go, I think headspace is a great way to start things off. And then Sam Harris's waking up is really good to take things from there. And it's much more than just a Sam Harris would say it's more than just an executive stressful. It's not just teaching you to de stress. It's really a completely fundamental different way of looking at life and, and consciousness and what it means to be human. But I'll leave that one for another time. So Alex, thanks so much for taking us through your adventures. And I think it's awesome to hear what you're up to with mind ever mountains if if people want to support the charity itself, and they're thinking this is this sounds great. I want to help. What can they do?

Alex Staniforth  44:39

Yeah, we'd love to connect with people and really grateful for the support. The best way would be to visit our sites, which is mindovermountains.org.uk. All of our upcoming walks and weekend events are on there so people can sign up on the sites. You know, if anybody needs a bursary then there's information around that and how they can access that support if they just send us an email and they can find out more about At the site and our fundraising events on there as well. And yeah, personally, you know, people have us here doesn't have any questions. If they want to ask for any advice around challenges or mental health or anything, then you know, my site is at alexstaniforth.com. My inbox is always open. And again, I'm on all the main channels, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Sir, I'd love to hear from you and love to connect in please do feel free to reach out to me as well. And my books are on there as well if anybody wants to read the full story, but I'd love to hear from people.

George Beesley  45:29

Great stuff. So your books are icefall and another peak another peak? Yeah, yeah, that's the one. So I'll include the links to those. So that that's for people who kind of want to benefit from mind ever mountains. But there's given that you're a charity, I assume that you just take donations as well, if people are thinking that they want to give you a bit of cash for doing such a good job to helping people out.

Alex Staniforth  45:49

Absolutely. And that's always appreciated. You know, we've been really blown away by the support we've had in the last year and for you will visit our site, there is a donate page on there as well, all the money that is raised helps us touch, it helps actually just just actually making our events possible. It provides bursaries again for people that can't afford to pay. So yeah, any donations via our sites or just giving if anybody wants to do a challenge for us, you know, maybe you're planning a big adventure or run or ride of your own this year, we'd love to support fundraisers as well. So I'll leave that idea review as well.

George Beesley  46:20

Well, you've certainly piqued my interest there. I think we'll we'll have to get a few events going and do some fundraising because that's what we're all about. Alex, thanks so much for coming on taking the time, it's been really cool to connect. We've been trying to do this for ages. So I'm really glad that we managed to. I've seen you around at lots of adventure events here and there. But we've not had a chance to meet. So it was awesome to connect today. And I'm sure we'll we'll meet up at some point go for a trail run. You'll I'm sure leave me by the wayside, but maybe a trail sprint. I can keep up with you for a few K. But yeah, we could catch up. We'll come up to the lakes at some point and we'll and we'll have to hang out in person. But thanks again for your time listeners. Thanks for tuning in viewers. Thanks for watching. So until next time, thanks very much. Cheers, Alex. Thanks, guys.

Alex Staniforth  47:07

Great to be here.

George Beesley  47:13

So that's it for this episode. I hope you enjoyed it, head over to call to adventure. That's to call to adventure.uk for shownotes and more about this episode, you will also find lots of other free content there. Things like how to guides and gear reviews, everything to get you out on your next adventure. We've also got loads of adventures for you to join us on in the UK and abroad. We've got things like climbing, hiking, mountaineering, surfing, wild swimming, ski touring, and we're adding new ones all the time. So do take a peek. Each booking helps us fund our green mission and all international trips are carbon offset. Please do rate and review the show. If you're enjoying it. It helps get more people engaged with outdoors and onboard with protecting wild places. Thanks for listening. See you next time.

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George Beesley
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George just bloody loves a bit of adventure! Imagine someone who not only hikes up mountains for breakfast but also bikes across continents. Got a case of wanderlust? This guy's been to over 50 countries and comes back with stories that'll make your grandma want to go bungee jumping.

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