Bending Horizons: Mt Everest expeditionary-artist, Sagarmāthā, 2015
Pell reached Mt. Everest Base Camp. She intended to Summit. Things turned inside-out. Survived the Gorka earthquakes.
Mt Everest Summit Expedition
Bending Horizons Everest 2015 Mission Patch
Mission Vision Passion
In the steps of Mt Everest first ascent photographer.
Preparing my mind, body, equipment, team and approach.
Fundraising is as big a challenge as the dream.
Phase One: Trek to Everest Base Camp
Sarah, Emily, Satya and the Boneharts set off to EBC.
A managable, ecological, self-sufficient artist tool kit.
Disaster, trauma and incredible human survival and spirit.
High Altitude Performance, AU 2015
Victoria University, Institute of Sport, Exercise and Active Living (ISEAL); and RMIT University, Exertion Games Lab
Pre/Post-Expedition Speaking Engagements
DO Lectures Australia, Yarra Glen 2015
"Understand inner resourcefulness" Paynes Hut, 2015
Amplify, AMP Sydney 2015
"Return from Everest" Amplify 10th Anniversary Festival Keynote, with introduction by Dr Samuel Doron.
"How do you keep the dream alive, when things get very real?" Melbourne Exhibition & Convention Centre 2015
NEAF & Awesome Festival, Perth 2015
Live radio interview with the Magnolias JNR (aged 10-14) Art Gallery of Western Australia.
Seven Summits Everest Expedition Summit Team
Sarah Jane Pell (AU), Satyabarata Dam (IN) Sherpa Mingma Thendu (NP) Sherpa Nim Dorjee (NP)
Bending Horizons is the most complex project that I have ever proposed to undertake, yet on many levels, it is the most simple. Walking to the top of a mountain is an ancient art. Discovering things along the way, and sharing that knowledge with others - something humans have been doing since developing capacity for self-awareness. I just happen to be exploring a rather tall mountain, with some pretty interesting skills and technologies to help me share this while I am on the move, and to much bigger tribes distributed across the planet... If there is good connectivity from the Base Camp, I will report live from the "Punja" blessings, acclimatisation, approach and ascent phases. Hashtag #BendingHorizons
Bending Horizons introduces you to the mission, vision and passion for making art to the summit of Mt. Everest. The story begins with three key inspirational moments spanning ten years. (1) Climbing a grade 21 multi-pitch at Mt. Arapilis for my 21st birthday, I meet Brigitte Muir soloing a grade 24 climb. I incorporate rock climbing as a form of choreography in my first major commissioned public programs performance 'The Many-to-Many-World', held in The Great Hall at the National Gallery of Victoria, 1997. Muir becomes the the first Australian woman to summit Mt. Everest (May 27, 1997).(2) In Melbourne 1999, Sue Gregory asks me to assist her with a suprise plan to restore an original timepiece for her husband Alfred Gregory: the official photographer of the first successful Mt. Everest summit expedition by Tenzing and Norgay (1953). Alf is moved to tears. He presents me with a signed book of his photos and describes what wonder might remain for the artist given today's noisey traffic "up there". (3) NASA Astronaut Scott Parazynski summits Everest noting “The vacuum of space is not that dissimilar from high on Everest” (2007). I so begin a series of expeditions from Sea, to Summit, to Space 2015-2017 exploring a translocated embodiment through extreme performance art. The Himalaya beckoned. I sought the blessings of Sagarmāthā to venture to high altitude as a space analogue EVA too. I intended to make a 360 film capturing the extreme performance, the art, and heavenly silence. It was a significant audacious TLR Technology Readiness Level for the Artist-Astronaut model, but a modest effort in the footsteps of Brigitte, Alf and Scott.
Preparing, and Training for High Altitude, Alpine Climbing, Exposure and Remoteness
The Sagarmāthā South Col Route was taken by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay and is still the route used most frequently. It leads up and along the Khumbu Icefall and Western Cwm, up the Lhotse Face and past the South Col and Hillary Step to the summit of Mt. Everest. The physical and mental conditioning for high altitude mountaineering is rigorous. The expedition timeline includes pre-conditioning, technical training, expedition experience at altitude, and alpine acclimatisation. My training schedule includes 2-3 hours of physical exercise once or twice per day, six days per week; eating well at ideal times for strength, nutrition and energy; drinking a min 4 ltrs water per day, and avoiding alcohol. Alpinist guide Satyabrata Dam suggested that I aim to gain 6 kgs of excess body fat four-months before departure by eating a bowl of carbs (pasta, rice, cereal) right before sleeping, without reducing my fitness motivation or focus. Then gain an additional excess of 4 kg in the final two weeks during the pre-climb rest phase. From Oct 2013, I started supplementary training with the Melbourne Flames Dragonboat Crew. By Dec 2014, I joined gym sessions with head coach, Serghie Cucsa to supplement core strength, cardiac fitness, small muscle development, and speed work. Just when all seemed to be on track, I fractured my sternum during routine bench press training, prematurely suspending all physical activity and prioritising rest and recuperation. At six weeks before departing for Kathmandu, this was two weeks prior to the planned “final rest and get fat” phase. Was that enough time to heal, and return in peak performance?
Fund Raising and Building a Support Team
In an effort to push the boundaries of what defines exploration, I had to I invited a Board to guide the Bending Horizons dream. The 2015 Board of Advisors served to advocate, encourage, and hold me accountable to the expedition mission and core values. There was no limit to the ways their contributions would help redefine the concept of exploration --from a big idea and passion-- to exciting talent, leadership and insight in the arts, business, technology, exploration, environment and social engagement. My next challange was brand association: developing credibility and confidence in my capability. People want to back a champion, support success, and be a part of something transformative or inspiring. What would a commercial diver know of alpine mountaineering? What would an artist know of peak performance? What would a women need to know to secure more than a fraction of the support of her male counterparts? I set to work and launched my first Kickstarter Campaign. Despite the good-will and interest, the campaign was unsuccessful. Only 10% of my extraordinary personal network engaged. Of that, 1% offered support, many of them artists. All other support came from my extended network and the general public. I launched a follow-up Go-Fund-Me Campaign asking the original backers to transfer their original committment, and make a contribution on the alternative platform. A handful of supporters kindly obliged but it was not enough. Seven Summits were very patient. I continued fund-raising right up to Everest Base Camp, and once I reached my target, the target shifted way beyond...
Phase One: Trek to Everest Base Camp
Emily Harridge (Australia) and Satyabrata Dam (India) accompanied by his friends the Bonaert family (Belgium), joined Dr. Pell on the trek from Kathmandu to Everest Base Camp with the Seven Summits Treks guides, sherpas, porters and staff. Each member of the team was invited for their unique passions, and skills including suitable mental, social and physical fitness. The Phase One goal was to communicate the experience from Lukla to Everest Base Camp in support of the Bending Horizons documentary and escort me and the Everest climbing party to Base Camp. This project will culminate an interactive exhibition and the first HD panorama interactive documentary of a Mt. Everest summit expedition experience from an artist’s perspective. The intention is to make a unique contribution to the field by recording the condition of extreme performance in exploration - just like Alf did with Hillary and Tenzing.
Approach to technical and creative expeditionary research
It is both a huge technical and creative challenge to climb Mt. Everest and undertake practice-based-research in-the-field. No single approach or expedition equipment list therefore is going to cut it. I plan to upload HD 360-degree video and visualisations of unique Art (expression) made on location, paired with the relevant GPS location, altitude and body sensor data, and creative insights into the experience. Audiences will be invited to share in this unique live ‘expression’ of the extreme-performance via the Bending Horizons expedition website. So excited to share with you my plans to summit Mt. Everest and make art-on-location at 1000m intervals to the top at 8848m to test novel outreach platforms for space analogue training, that I have neglected to explain the reasons behind it. Not that the challenge needed added complexity or pressure, rather I wanted to test the idea, that taking 5-8mins for reflection and personal expression, may in fact, become part of a broader strategy for extreme performance and survival. Turns out I was right...
Phase Two: Surviving the Nepal Earthquakes
The April 2015 Nepal earthquake (also known as the Gorkha earthquake) occurred at 11:56 Nepal Standard Time on 25 April 2015, with a magnitude of 7.8Mw or 8.1Ms and a maximum Mercalli Intensity of VIII (Severe). Who knew that the expeditionary name: Bending Horizons would amount to it's literally meaning. The horizon crippled with a sequences of earthquakes and waves of after-shocks across the region. It was mind-bending destruction and trauma. By fate rather than design, I escaped the carnage on Everest and Thamel when nearly 9,000 people died and 22,000 were injured. The infrastructure across the region shut down, and the climbing season suspended. I did what I could as an acclimatised, first responder, disconnected from my team, and with limted resources, and then evacuated with a mix of survivors guilt, adrenalin fatigue and a gaping hole in my heart. The irony is, that Sagarmāthā's unsettling and rupturing roar, did amount to silence on Everest for the first time in decades, and yet none of my technology was equiped to capture the experience. It was a powerful reminder that it is our resourcefulness and not our resources that are invaluable. Furthermore, the story could only ever told through the embodied experience shared between nature and community. Isn't that why we explore?
Postscript: Everest as a Spaceflight Analogue Performance
In 2011, I was invited to go from the bottom of the ocean to the top of the world by fellow TED Fellow Satyabarata Dam. Yes, I thought, that sounds like me but how do I make each step count? Initially I sought to frame an awareness of the connections between bodily and sensory experience from sea, to summit, to space. With many years commercial diving experience behind me, it seemed prudent to create artwork at various altitudes during the ascent of Mt. Everest as the next step in the journey. First I must recondition for high altitude performance. I began to map the range of challenging limitations and extraordinary capabilities of the body, mind, technology and environment, when trekking, climbing and predicted the impact on art making in this beautiful part of the Himalayas. Using a research through performance approach to my 'field work', I crudely recorded my expeditionary journey in 4K HD for a hybrid 360-degree interactive documentary and further research upon my return. It was my dream that these accounts and artefacts would provide a significant opportunity for new understanding of human performance, behaviour, and limits during the moments of exertion, exposure and excitement. My research would therefore contribute the first substantial investigation into performance exploration supporting translations between extreme material agency and spatial territories, establishing the field of ‘extreme performance’. Indeed, it was an extreme performance interaction, but what transpired was not the research or route that I ever intended to pursue. The experience did however provide a unique lens on the interactions between human-computer interaction and human factors, offering insights into a design framework for states of emergency and natural disaster which can be argued, makes a contribution to our understandings of how to better prepare EVAs in hospitable and dynamic extreme environments on Earth or in space. This work continues...
Media Coverage - needs updating
 Davidson, H. Technology in Adventure: Lessons from an Everest Attempt, Glacier Hub, 20 Oct 2016.
 Short, M. How to change your life, The Sydney Morning Herald, 12 May 2015.
 Hall, B. Nepal earthquake: TAS man stranded as families search for answers, The Sydney Morning Herald, 19 Apr 2015.
 Editor. Melbourne Woman climbing Everest 2015: in a bid to be Australia's first woman Astronaut, 9 Mar 2015.
Thank you to the Expedition Partners, Sponsors and Backers. Without you, this project would not be possible. Graci.