Thursday, March 16, 2017

Ryan Davy Trains for Mount Everest

Ryan's training program with Jean-Robert was intense!
It is always inspiring to talk with someone who lives life to the fullest. Ryan Sean Davy is a person who truly grasps all he can in life. I had the pleasure of talking with Ryan before he left his Aspen training ground to head to Katmandu and his latest adventure, and challenge, to climb Mt. Everest. He will be attempting to summit Mt. Everest, “unassisted, supplemented, and unsupported”. Lurking just beneath our conversation was the reality of how dangerous and life-threatening this expedition will be. However, our conversation was full of optimism, hope, and laughter.

I listened to him speak about the intense training, physical effort and concerns he had for this journey. What impacted me the most was his desire to make an impact on people and his desire to show them we can do anything if we have hope, goals, and work hard. I found it ironic that he laughed hardest when discussing the hardest part of his training, the increased eating requirements. It was a humbling experience to talk with Ryan and I walked away feeling challenged and empowered. I hope you feel the same.

Our Conversation:

Me: Before we start talking about Everest, how about a little background. Where are you from and how did you get here?

Ryan: I’m originally from South Africa and I’m a wildlife cinematographer. I started my career when I was 18 as a cameraman. I did exciting wildlife documentaries but eventually reached my ceiling and moved from wildlife into feature films. I found if I could combine my love for feature films and adventure to teach people about why you need to take risks to achieve your goals.

Me: You’ve done amazing things, why Everest?

Ryan: The way Everest came about is that I had all the experiences and great adventures behind me but I felt I just really wasn’t putting them to the test. So, I needed to find something that really surpassed everything I’ve done in my life. Nothing seemed to qualify other than Mt. Everest.

Me: You mentioned you want people to take risks to achieve goals. Is that what you said?

Ryan: Yes, for the last year or so, I’ve worked with a lot of people and I’ve seemed to notice that do what they have to do and not do what they want to do. A lot of their material items seem to own them rather than them taking control of their lives. I just find that, and this is not judgment on anybody, but I’m just finding that there are a lot of excuses why people don’t want to achieve their dreams. They think it is too hard.

They look at me and say, “You’re living your dream, how do you do that?” First of all, I minimize, I live a very minimalist life, so I don’t allow material things to control me. I like to be spontaneous if something comes up, I can leave tomorrow. It allows me to get closer to what I want to achieve in life, experiences, adventure and finding who I am and what I’m here for. I want to bring this message across that you have to stop looking for excuses. The more people in the world looking for excuses means the more of an emptiness there will be in the world.

It’s kind of like the film that had a major impact in my life as a kid, “The Neverending Story”. The subject behind that was people had given up on their dreams and hopes, and an emptiness had taken over. That’s pretty much where the documentary of Mt. Everest will take over. I’m documenting the crazy idea of summiting Everest, unassisted, unsupported, and without the use of oxygen.

Me: I love that movie as well.

Ryan: That film had a huge impact on my life and was pretty much the reason I got into filming at that time. Wow, if this film could change my life, which it did, maybe I could change other people’s lives through film.

Me: So, unassisted and unsupported. What does that mean?

Ryan: "Unassisted" basically means that I won’t have any sherpas or porters carrying equipment or supplies and I’m not going to have a support crew to climb the mountain. Then of course, "un-supplemented" means I won’t be using any supplemental oxygen. The reason for it is that it is very expensive to go through the guiding companies. It certainly is a rich man’s mountain. Climbing it Alpine style is easier because the oxygen is very heavy about 7-8 pounds per bottle, and one bottle may be enough to get you to the summit, but even then, you’re cutting it really fine. You need at least 3 bottles to get you up and back down again.

The weight is one issue, but they are also super expensive, about $500-$600 a bottle and then you need a regulator. The other reason is your body becomes reliant on that oxygen so if the equipment malfunctions you deteriorate very quickly. By teaching my body to summit without oxygen, or any other machinery that may malfunction, I’m completely relying on my senses and my abilities to know when to call it, or if my body is acclimated to the climate and I’m able to push forward.

Me: I noticed on one of the Facebook videos on Jean-Robert’s Gym site that you were on a treadmill with a mask on your face. What was that for?

Ryan: There were two masks, one that was black that had vents that simulates what the oxygen would be like at 18,000 feet, but it gives you an idea what it would be like with less oxygen. It also allows the lungs to utilize the alveoli that you generally don’t use because our body takes in a lot more air than we typically need. By restricting the air flow the body indicates that it needs to get more alveoli out there and start working. It also allows the muscles around the lungs to be built or developed because when I get to altitude I’ll have to physically breathe in and out. At sea level, you don’t have to physically breath in and out because the pressure against the body forces the air into the lungs, and the pressure against the lungs forces it back out. The problem is when you get higher there is no pressure so you have to physically work to breath in and out, which where the hypoxic mask is put to good use.

The other mask is a VO2 mask that Jean-Robert offers to his clients to do a VO2 map test on your ability and your endurance which he did to me the very first week I was there. While my fitness levels were off the charts, which he was very impressed by and if Jean-Robert is impressed it’s a pretty big deal, he was worried about my body fat percentage. My body fat percentage was sitting at around 5.7 and I had to get that way higher because when I get on the mountain my calorie burn goes up to 8000-10,000 per day. I have to build body mass to have resources available for my body. If I don’t have those resources I’m not going to last very long.

Me: So long have you been training for this?

Ryan: Since September 2016. I literally started training the day after I came up with the idea of doing this. In January 2017, I googled the highest towns in the U.S. and Aspen came up as one of the highest towns. It would help me to acclimatize and to build more red blood cells. I discovered Jean-Robert’s Gym and he welcomed me in with open arms. I think he was impressed by my training and endurance. He put it upon himself to put me under his wing and teach the necessary elements I needed to know to accomplish my goal to climb Mt. Everest.

Me: What’s been the hardest part of your training?

Ryan: Eating has been very difficult, because I’m not used to eating so much and neither is my body. I literally have to constantly be eating all the time and it’s a very high protein diet.

The physical training has been enlightening. I’ve never been able to find anyone who can keep up with me. Jean-Robert has the necessary endurance, skills and physical fitness to provide some sort of competition. He really is way ahead of me and he’s been keeping me on my toes. That part of it has been very enjoyable.

The one thing I’m pretty concerned about is the altitude, because I have never been exposed to the kind of altitude I’ll experience on Everest. Nobody knows how each person is going to deal with altitude, because every single body reacts differently. Still, the hardest part has been the eating!

Me: So, maybe you’re not like the rest us, but on the mornings when you wake up and you’re like, “What am I doing, I can’t go on, I don’t want to do this today” what do you do to get yourself going?

Ryan doing a cold plunge at Jean-Robert's Gym
Ryan: For the last 10 - 12 years, I have lived a very exciting, adventurous, and busy schedule. The best way I find to get me up and about as quickly as possible is cold showers. The first 20 seconds when I get out of bed, and I feel like how am I going to do this, or something I don’t like doing. I take a cold shower. Those first 10 seconds are really hard, but once I’m in there I’m wide awake and I’m ready for the day.

It has proven to be invaluable actually. Jean-Robert has been educating me about importance about brown fat in the human body. Brown fat is primarily utilized as a heating furnace for the body in cold climates. The fact that I have exposed myself to coldness has allowed my body to build up brown fat which allows me to handle cold conditions especially on my expedition where I will be facing negative double digits especially near the summit.

Me: Maybe I’ll title this “Shut Up and Take a Cold Shower.”  :)

Ryan: It does the trick. It stimulates things, it flushes the blood to protect the organs, and there is this adrenaline rush. It really wakes you up, by the time you step out of the shower you feel like you’ve been awake for hours. You’re ready to face the world. It also causes an endorphin release so you feel positive and happy. Whenever I’m feeling down or discouraged I just jump into a cold plunge or shower and it really does the trick.

Me: In your mind, what is the craziest thing you’ve done?

Ryan: Base jumping, really because it was spontaneous and I love spontaneity. I was doing a documentary for four base jumpers throughout the U.S. and we were in Idaho and I wasn’t able to get the shot I wanted as they jumped off the Perrine Bridge. So, I asked the director if I could step off the bridge on some sort of platform so I could get them as they jumped off the bridge. He was unhappy with that, but he said we could make it happen but they were going to put a pack on my back just in case. He put me up there and I was suspended 350’ above the river filming these base jumpers coming off the bridge.

Right at the end he said, “You look comfortable, do you want to jump?” I said, “Of course I want to jump.” He gave me a crash course on how to operate the chute which was a wing, and obviously, they were all very anxious and nervous because you generally have to do about 250 skydives before you attempt a base jump. I had never done a skydive in my life. I stepped off the bridge and I was nervous as hell even though the instructor was saying to me you don’t even look nervous and that was worrying him. I just told him that I had learned how to control and embrace it because it is a beautiful feeling.

When the adrenaline is flowing through your body and you can feel the blood going through every single organ, it’s incredible. You feel more alive than you’ve ever felt. I jumped off the bridge and it was so much fun I did it twice.

Me: When is your goal to summit Mt. Everest?

Ryan: I’m going to play the field mainly because of the traffic on Everest because I can’t afford to stand without oxygen. I can be waiting for hours at a time. I’ll have to wait until the end of the season just before the mountain closes with is about the 30th of May. That’s when I plan to summit. The mountain actually closes the 1st of June that’s when I have to be off, but once I summit it’s a pretty quick descent if I’m in good shape, so I should be able to be off the mountain by the time they close the ice falls.

Me: What kind of advice can you give people just to keep going?

Ryan: Jean-Robert has really educated me about how the body works. He constantly reminded me about our threshold. A lot of people will jump on any machine that they can find and not monitor their heart rate. The importance of what you eat, put out and monitoring your pace so you “don’t explode”. This is the term Jean-Robert uses when we end up getting fatigued, and then exploding. Obviously eat healthy, so you can live longer and so your body can do what you want your body to do. You need to learn about what your body is doing so you can push yourself harder, know your limits and your threshold.

Jean-Robert trained alongside Ryan for 6 weeks!
At the same time, it helps you to go a lot further which is something I learned to do. In the past when I was climbing a mountain I would push really hard all the way and when I was ¾ of the way up I would be fatigued and then it becomes a mental thing where you have to push yourself, constantly push yourself, until you get to the summit. Jean-Robert has taught me about pacing myself, even in the initial part of the expedition on the climb. I feel that my heart rate is restricting me because it is slow and is keeping me at that pace, so I just want to push and go and go and go. The fact that I’m keeping my heart rate at the necessary threshold that my body is tuned for, allows me to have the energy all the way to the top and all the way back down again which is something I never had before.

The other day we did Snowmass, and the first time we did Snowmass I exploded or bummed out ¾ of the way up. Even though I pushed all the way to the summit, I was fatigued. Then when we did Snowmass again after learning about maintaining your pace and maintaining your endurance. I literally got all the way to the top and back down again to the Snowmass Village and I honestly felt like I could to it again with no problem at all.

If I could give people any advice it would be to find your threshold, find the pace your body is comfortable with and stick to it! Don’t push harder than you need to push in order to maintain the endurance your body needs. Also, Jean-Robert has really educated me about eating healthy. I always thought I was a really healthy person but there are certain foods that one would consider as healthy, but they are actually building white fat or yellow fat which are really unhealthy fat as opposed to the really healthy fat, brown fat. Make certain that you are eating foods that build brown fat, especially if you are an athletic person or a physical person. Research the right foods to feed your body so you can get the best out of your body.

Me: Do you have family or someone who will be watching the whole way?

Ryan: My siblings and father are little concerned, they do know that I’ve done this kind of stuff a gazillion times, and I think they have faith in my ability. But because internet and Wi-Fi is very expensive at basecamp, I cannot afford to utilize those kinds of amenities. I’ll be making contact whenever I’m able to, but it won’t be that often. Once a month maybe or if I can push it, every 2 weeks. I’ll see if I can trade some favors with the guiding companies to see if I can use their internet or Wi-Fi to touch base with the world every occasionally. Otherwise I’m on my own.

Me: We’ll be thinking about you and praying for you back here. Any final words?

Ryan: Just that it has be very humbling in Aspen, so much support, especially from Jean-Robert, he’s an incredible guy. He has a heart of gold. If he sees that a person is willing to reach deep into themselves to accomplish a goal, he reaches out to those people and offers a service that helps and will end up saving your life. I can honestly say that the knowledge Jean-Robert has provided me will really save my life. Other people and companies have been extremely supportive. It’s a humbling experience to have the support and encouragement from the people in Aspen.

Ryan: One final thing. A lot of people want to know “Why”? It’s a test of courage, it’s a test of endurance. I think it’s important to put ourselves to the test constantly, because if we don’t life’s going find a way to test us. I feel curious why I would do something where there is a very good chance I won’t make it, because there is a number of people who have reached a fatal end on Mt. Everest. My justification of that is, if you’re not willing to die for your goal or your dream I’m not really sure what we’re living for. We have to push ourselves constantly.

For updates and more information about Ryan Davy’s Mt. Everest journey visit:

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