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The 721 Challenge: Overcoming Adversity And Setting World Records with Nick Hollis

What have you done today that pushed you to your limits? For today’s guest, Nick Hollis, getting over COVID is testing him. But it won’t stop him from working his hardest to set a new world record for his ultimate world challenge – the 721 challenge. 

Nick wants to be the fastest man to climb the world’s Seven Summits (he’s already completed this stage of the challenge), ski to the North and South Poles unaided and row the Atlantic Ocean.

The reason? 

To help him on his true mission – to promote sustainability and work for a greener future. Backed by The World Land Trust (of which Sir David Attenborough is a patron), Nick is putting the environment at the centre of his challenge. 

As well as being a mountaineer, athlete and entrepreneur, Nick is also a circuit speaker, and one of his most popular topics is around purpose and resilience, two key skills for business leaders. 

In today’s episode, Nick shares which of the seven summits was the hardest, which one was the easiest, which one he enjoyed the most and which was the most beautiful. He talks about his motivations for leaving his job at HP, and why following your passion is something everyone should do. 

Back yourself, life is short, says Nick, who’s currently recovering from COVID. This is a truly inspirational conversation, we hope you enjoy it as much as we did. 

On today’s podcast:

  • From HP to mountaineer
  • Corporate adventure training
  • Why Everest isn’t the toughest mountain
  • 7 summits on 7 continents 
  • 721 Challenge
  • Catching COVID
  • World Land Trust

Links:

Mountaineer, athlete, entrepreneur, adventurer – today’s guest has many monikers, but he’s probably most well known for being a mountaineer. Why? Because only a handful of people in the UK have completed the mammoth Seven Summits challenge – to climb the highest mountain on every one of the seven continents. Including Everest. 

“And that was a challenge I completed in May last year. I consider myself an adventurer. But I also have a day job as well. I run a corporate training and expedition company.”

Nick’s adventure company takes business teams out of their usual office environment and puts them into new, challenging environments. By doing that, it instils real teamwork, real team development in them. 

“I think our job as facilitators is to create the environment where teamwork can thrive. It’s also to apply a degree of pressure and a degree of discomfort. But that needs to be managed. If you take it to the point of stress, the whole piece breaks down.”

Nick also runs a corporate well being company delivering courses, seminars on how to optimise business performance and employee well being. 

He shares the lessons and techniques he’s picked up on his expeditions and from managing extreme survival situations, to inspire other people to push their limits and achieve their own goals. 

“The difference you’ll see across that initial 10 hour day, is they’ll come in as a collection of misfits, they’re not quite sure what to do, but it’s surprising how quickly they develop.”

Core adventure company clients

So who are his core clients who come to his adventure company and ask to be tested and pushed outside of their comfort zone? 

“We work with a variety of organisations from 10 employees looking at growing and looking to develop their team, right through to the blue chips, but I mean, 80% of my business comes from FTSE 100, Fortune 500 organisations today.”

Mountaineering

Nick climbed his first mountain when he was 12 years old. Now he’s an international mountaineer with the goal of a lifetime: to be the fastest man to climb the Seven Summits, reach the North and South Poles and row the Atlantic Ocean with his project – the 721 challenge. 

But he isn’t doing this solely for glory – it’s a means to an end. Backed by The World Land Trust, Nick is putting the environment at the centre of this challenge. Promoting sustainability and working for a green future is his true mission.

“The first of the Seven Summits I climbed was Kilimanjaro. And that was 20 years ago. And really, it started my journey into the big overseas peaks.”

And spoiler – Everest isn’t the toughest mountain. 

“A lot of people are not going to be happy about me saying this, but I would say no. And for me, I found Denali, the highest mountain in Alaska, considerably more challenging than Everest.”

The reason being that Everest has a lot of support in place to aid climbers. It’s luxurious in comparison to Denali. Also, Denali is colder, with higher winds and is more technical. 

“You’re a part of a machine when you climb Everest. Independent mountaineers would consider it to be quite a luxurious operation. In the case of Denali, it’s the polar opposite.”

The easiest mountain then? 

Kilimanjaro

“It’s a mountain which in my view is often underestimated. And the phrase I hear so many times when it comes to Kilimanjaro is: ‘Chris Moyles, did it, it can’t be that hard.”

But you have to remember, says Nick, it’s still a mountain. It may not be a technical climb, but it’s a mountain of 6000 metres nonetheless. It’s high. 

“And a lot of people when they climb Kilimanjaro, try to climb in a five day round trip. And that means you’re going from sea level to nearly 6000 metres in three days. Now, that is insane.”

Everest base camp, for example, sits at 5300 metres and will take 10 days just to get there. You then spend several days there acclimatising before you push up any higher on the mountain. 

“You’re looking at a fortnight minimum on Everest before you’ve hit the altitude of Kilimanjaro. So if anyone is thinking of climbing Kilimanjaro, I would say do it. It’s an amazing adventure. But secondly, don’t underestimate it. It’s mentally as difficult as it is physically. And if ever there was a situation where the tortoise wins the race over the hare, Kilimanjaro is it.”

Mount St. Vincent

This mountain may not be the highest, but it’s still sizable at 5000 metres, and it’s extreme, says Nick. To get to it is a mission in itself. 

“Just to get onto the continent of Antarctica is an adventure in itself. You fly in from Chile, on this beaten up old Russian jet, this thing is extraordinary. It can land on the glacier. From there, you will then take a single propeller plane inland to basecamp.”

The difficulty of Mount St. Vincent? The sheer coldness of the place. 

“On our summit on a sunny day, with windchill, it was about minus 40 ambient temperature and it was a windy day, so getting up to minus 60 with windchill. There’s no time for summit photos, you don’t take your hands out your gloves, you’ll lose your fingers.”

721 Challenge

Within a week of finishing the 7 Summits challenge, Nick realised, having completed his goal, he needed to set himself a new challenge. 

“To be honest, by that point, I had enough of mountains, I wanted to break from mountains, but still do something within the adventure field. And I’ve been working over recent years with an amazing organisation called World Land trust. David Attenborough is a patron. And so I was looking to do something to raise funds for them.”

And the idea for the 721 Challenge was born. 

“To be the first person to complete the Seven Summits, ski both poles solo, and then row the Atlantic.”

But then COVID hit and put the kibosh on that plan. Not that he’s given up, he’s just moved the challenge forward, into the future. 

“I’m taking a gamble on my recovery, my recovery back to full health. And I haven’t given up on my challenge dream. I’ve actually simply rejigged so my next project is rowing the Atlantic at the back end of next year. So I’ve got 12 months to get fully fit, do all the prerequisites and get myself in a boat to the Atlantic, after that will be the North Pole. And then I’ll finish in a year’s time with the South Pole with that big crossing of Antarctica on the South Pole. So that’s the plan. That’s what I’m working towards right now.”

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