It all started as a simple challenge – to climb one of Nepal’s highest mountains. The challenge itself was not enough for Sebastian and he came up with the idea of climbing for charity and that is how Bid to the summit was created.
His adventure has now secured over 37 000 SEK to Cancerfonden and their cancer research and as Sebastian said himself: "I think it is one of my best achievements in 2019". Read all about his journey, challenges and how he kept himself motivated throughout this risky expedition.
Sebastian Soltani while doing an interview with VLT in Västerås, Sweden
Flight Instructor - Sebastian Soltani
Sebastian Soltani is 32 years old and comes from Västerås, Sweden. He did the Flight Instructor Course at OSMAA and graduated in September 2019. He became an instructor because he loves to fly and his passion for aviation led him to this path. Sebastian adds: “Making others succeed is important in this job and I like to help other being successful. I am happiest when the students meet their fullest potential.”
The idea of climbing Mera Peak in Nepal
Sebastian’s adventure started back in October 2018 when a friend introduced him to Nepal. Even though his friend’s experience had been bad, Sebastian could not drop the idea and the challenge of climbing in Nepal. “Basically, I like challenges. I came up with the idea of Nepal in October 2018. It was a friend who introduced this whole thing to me and he was in Nepal. His experience was so bad. Honestly, I don’t know why I got stuck with it. He got altitude sickness and all. But he had a lot of books with him from Little Big Planet about Nepal and I just started to read these and got more and more interested.”
Sebastian with his group on their way up to Mera Peak, Nepal
His first goal was to come up to 5000 m at the Everest Base Camp. The Everest Base Camp is also a meeting point for climbers that are going to Mount Everest. Sebastian started to contact companies that arranged these kinds of trips in Nepal and found a Swedish/Nepalish company that also helps the community by building schools, for instance.
“I have been talking to one of the expedition leaders there, Christina, a Swedish girl, and we sat the date primarily in October 2019.
They told me that this trip is very demanding and you need to be fit. Actually, I was everything besides fit.
That’s why this whole thing come up with this trip, because I need some type of motivation to start training. I choose to climb a mountain in Nepal to get fit. That was one of the main reasons and now I had 1 year to prepare. I looked up a PT to get professional help and started from there.”
Sebastian pointing at Mera Peak, Nepal
Sebastian had now one year to prepare and to climb other mountains. In July 2019 he climbed the Swedish mountain, Kebnekaise (2099 m), and concluded that his training was wrong. Sebastian told his PT, “I do not need muscles to climbing mountains I need stamina. He said, that makes a lot a sense and we change the training plan and we went out more. Out running, uphill, downhill, I even run with weights.”
Approximately 2-3 months prior to the departure date in October, Sebastian got a call from his agency and was asked if he wanted to climb the Mera Peak (6476 m) instead. “Mera Peak in Swedish is ‘more’ so I did not get it first that the mountain was called Mera Peak. I thought, she wants me to go more peak. A higher peak? Then I googled Mera Peak and then I understood that the mountain is called Mera Peak. From that day my focus shifted 180 degrees from the originally plan to Mera Peak."
"I wrote back to her that I have never been up to 3000 m and 5000 m was already a high goal for me. So, when she told me that this is almost 6500 m, I mean is this even possible to go up there if you never have been there? And she said, “We are going to help you reach it. The trip is specially tailor fitted for you to succeed it”. They were confident and that made me confident. They also mentioned their school project which was important to me because I wanted to be a part of it.”
Thade School Project
Sebastian’s goal with his trip was not only to climb Mera Peak but also to learn more about the culture and to visit the agency’s school project. The school project was in Thade, a small village in the mountains. “The village had a very poor school before that we were able to see, and it did not look like a school. It had like four walls and was completely empty.”
Grace Academy English School in Thade, Nepal
The agency had not only helped the village by building a new school but also accommodation for the students who lived in other villages. Sebastian continued, “Education and health care in these areas in the mountains are not easy to reach, it can take a day. Everything makes it complicated, because they are so far up, and they don’t have proper roads. They live really simple lives here. This also got me really interested and I am really glad that we got the chance to visit this school and see their work.”
The origin of Bid to the summit
Sebastian came up with the idea ‘Bid to the summit’ after he had watched videos of other people trying to climb Mera Peak. One guy had stuck into Sebastian’s head which made him realize that for him to succeed he needed something bigger and a motivation to help him all the way up.
“I started to look up charities and I talked to a close family member who had been sick in cancer and got help from a new research technic. The whole idea for this fundraising and charity climb came from there. Then I needed to come up with a name and concept for others to join.”
Sebastian together with his team
Sebastian contacted Cancerfonden who were happy to help Sebastian set up an account where companies and private people can donate money. He later came up with the idea that: “For every 100 meter I climbed up, they committed to donate.” In return, Sebastian would print their logo on a big banner that he would bring up to the summit.
Sebastian contacted multiple companies and he even got companies to participate from Dubai and the US and A. “I did not know what it was leading to, but I just went with the flow. My donation plan was to have a small amount, medium amount and a big amount so that not only big companies could participate but also smaller companies. Then OSMAA stepped in and doubled the whole plan and commitment, and that is when I chose to have OSMAA as the head sponsor of this charity trip.”
Sebastian at one of the base camps
“It is important to remember that this trip is not risk-free. The things I know today, if I knew them 1 year ago, I would probably not go on this trip. The things I saw, the people, the sick people I saw, there was one girl who died, not in my group, but they were also on an expedition. As I mention this guy, a marathon guy, he was very fit and did not make it up.
I think it not just the physical part, but it is also the mentally part. You have to be very strong mentally to succeed doing this. You have to trick your mind. Some days you don’t feel well, and you just have to erase that and go on. It is hard to explain, but I think it is 60-70% mentally and 30% physically. Now that I have gone through the whole experience, I should probably have prepared myself more mentally. You don’t need to be super strong to climb mountains you just need to have the right approach. You need to know what to expect and be prepared.”
A 15 days passage to Mera Peak
It took Sebastian’s group 15 days in total to reach the summit Mera Peak at 6476 meters. The route however, was not just straight ahead towards the summit. It went up and down and Sebastian calculated his passage to be 7-8 times Kebnekaise in meters. The upsides of walking a longer passage is that it helps your body to acclimatize in these altitudes. But it also tares the energy faster because your body can’t recover as fast.
Map over the passage to Mera Peak
“If I could choose, I would definitely take the same route again because it helped me in the end to get up there. I saw other teams who took shortcuts and I talked to one of them in the group. Only 3 out of 10 made it to the top. We don’t talk 10 regular people, they where all fit. So, there are both positive approaches to our route and there are also negative aspects. But for me it was positive.”
Unfortunately, not everyone in Sebastian’s group made it all up. On their way up, some of the team members had to turn back. Another team member was having thoughts about quitting the day before, but Sebastian manage to convince him to help him out with his mission and continue.
Sebastian and his group on top of Mera Peak, Nepal
A lot faster to get down
The way down from the summit was faster than up with a mix of hiking, a helicopter ride and by car to reach Katmandu. In Katmandu, Sebastian had booked a flight ticket home that he needed to catch. Sebastian said, “On the way down it goes much faster and we walk quite a long passage down. When we where half way down I was so tired and exhausted that I skipped lunch and just slept until the day after.”
Not a risk-free mission
Climbing up a mountain this high is not risk-free. Sebastian and two others in his group got sick and were worried that they could not continue. They were at 4500 meters and a fever in that altitude is one of the worst thing Sebastian have ever experienced. “You have this super fever and the headache combined. In this altitude you get more exposed to altitude sickness since your body is so weak already. It is a strange headache, it goes from the front back of the head and down through your neck, very strange.” On that day they walked one of the toughest climbs on the trip and Sebastian remember it as if he was on autopilot not being mentally there.
Their expedition leader was medical trained and had what Sebastian called a ‘Magic Box’. In here, Sebastian got the antibiotic he needed to get better in order to be able to continue towards Mera Peak. Sebastian said, “The most challenging part was to be sick in that high altitude and I was not prepared. I thought the challenging part was to climb the mountain and not to fight the flu or the fever. For me, climbing the mountain was not the most challenging part, the challenging part was when I was sick and tried to get better.”
View to Mera Peak
Expectations and learnings
When we asked Sebastian about his expectations for this trip, he had a quite unusual answer, “This is actually funny to mention but I am a warm person and I don’t like when it is cold. For me this trip was to get out of my comfort zone, because I hate when it is cold. My feet and hands are always cold, so I prepared myself by buying the best socks, gloves and so on. My expectations were that it was going to be very cold there, but the thing that I experienced was not even close to my expectation. And you cannot expect that amount of cold when you are in a warm environment. At night it got so cold that you didn’t wanted to go outside even if you had to go to the toilet, so some nights you didn’t go out.”
Another, not surprising expectation Sebastian had was the nature. He was truly amazed, and it was totally different from his expectations and to see it live. Sebastian added, “The pictures from Nepal doesn’t help to show the real environment. These expectations were high, and I was amazed when I arrived, because it was so nice when you see these huge mountains around you, it is just breathtaking. This trip definitely met my expectations.”
Taking a moment to study Mera Peak (the mountain to the left)
Sebastian biggest learnings from his trip was his limits, both physical and mentally. One other goal he had for the trip was also to know himself better. Sebastian said, “It is easier to succeed in challenges in your life if you know your physical and mentally strengths. In one way I think I have learned a lot about myself which are things that money can’t buy. They say you learn when you travel and that is true. This was an opening trip for me personally and I am happy that I did it.”
Learning about the life in nepal
“It was very poor conditions in Nepal which was not expected. I saw things I have never seen before. They didn’t have much the people there, they lived simple lives. It not just to say they were poor because they don’t know other ways to live. If they had unlimited resources, I don’t think they would have been living any differently. The conditions made them live simple lives."
One of the kids that Sebastian met in Thade, Nepal
"These kinds of things change me because I saw children that didn’t have stuff we are used to here in Sweden, they didn’t have proper toys, but they were not unhappy about it. The thing that amazed me was how small things could make them happy. And most of the people here were happier than people back home. That amazed me and I though about a lot. Like “why do we complain this much at home?” My friend should see how these people are living here."
"I think it is good for us to see how other lives their life. I think you appreciate the life you have more and learns to appreciate the smaller things in life you didn’t before. Things that were maybe important to me before isn’t now. I don’t put energy into stuff that I used to. It is most personal things. I think that is what changed me most, I see things differently and I don’t put that amount of energy into things that I maybe did before. I feel more relaxed.”
How to stay motivated
A big part of Sebastian’s motivation came from his charity climb, Bid to the summit. A lot of people had joined his fundraising and a lot of people followed his mission. Sebastian explained, “It helped me to trick my mind. Am I really going to make this trip? The thing that came into my head was “take one day at the time”. How do you eat an elephant, right? It is not a thing that you usually eat, but how do you eat a big thing like that? It is one bite at the time, right? For me it was one day at the time which changed quickly actually. From one day at the time it went to “one step at the time”.
The thing that came into my head was “take one day at the time”. How do you eat an elephant, right?
"As the days went and we came higher it was hard to be motivated. I actually counted my steps. I had the charity climb in my head because I knew “the higher up I get, the more money I secure to Bid to the summit”. The charity climb definitely help me to reach my goal, I don’t think I would be standing on Mera Peak if I didn’t had this charity climb in the back of my head.”
Sebastian getting closer to Mera Peak, Nepal
Sebastian explained that to set a goal and reach that goal is rewarding in itself. But the most rewarding parts he mentioned were:
- Get to know yourself better. “Sometimes you need to go through stuff to know yourselves better.”
- The cultural part and get to know the people in Nepal.
- To reach the summit at Mera Peak.
- Secured the full amount to cancer research.
Sebastian tried to explain the feeling he had when he reached the summit of Mera Peak: “You have these mountains around you and all you see are these huge walls. When you reach the summit, everything opens. You have this 360-degree view. Just that made everything okay and it was worth climbing up here. To be able to see that was amazing.”
Sebastian on top of Mera Peak, Nepal
When Sebastian reached the summit he was now aware that he had secured the full amount of money from the participating companies and that Cancerfonden would get a good amount to their cancer research. Over 37 000 SEK has been donated through Sebastian’s Bid to the summit and this is one of Sebastian’s greatest achievements in 2019. Sebastian adds, ”That is because I know that it probably are going to help people. This is perhaps a small amount in the big picture, but it is a big contribution from just one person. And I am very proud of that. This was the best reward of the trip.”
Recommendations to others
"Why are you doing this?” Sebastian explains that you should not be asking yourself this when you stand at 5000 meters because it is dangerous to have those thoughts. Sebastian’s recommendation is to have those thoughts sorted out before you go on a trip like this. Sebastian’s why’s was very clear:
- “Firstly, I wanted to do it because of the charity climb”
- “Second: I want to know myself more and my limits. My mental strength and physical strength.”
- “Third: I want to learn more about the culture.”
To sum it up: “Know why you are going there, set a goal and find ways to motivate those goals.”
Could this be a reason why some people don’t make it to the top?
“Absolutely. It is all in the head. One of the expedition leaders said that once your thoughts are starting to spin in your heads and the doubts are starting to come, it is when it starts to get dangerous, you get altitude sickness, and everything comes.” Sebastian also added that you of course need physical strength as well, but a good mental strength is the key to be successful in these kinds of expeditions.
Sebastian compare the mental strength to other things in life and not just climbing mountains. “It could be challenging things in life as well. For me, for instance, to pass my exams or sitting here today as a flight instructor was a challenging part for me. The mental part is a source for us people to succeed. To be very determent. When I climbed Mera Peak I told myself “I am going to succeed no matter what”. I didn’t once hesitate. I didn’t even want to say those words like quitting as the others.”