Article about Sean Disney, CEO of Adventure
In between trudging himself up the highest mountains in the world, Sean Disney pauses to reflect on his
journey and what it’s like to be one of only seventy people to ever complete the Explorer’s Grand Slam and
the first South African to do it twice. Hours of agonizing training and a taste for persistence leads Sean to
overcome his failures and enable him to climb Everest twice.
Sean speaks of how “being outdoors has always appealed to [him]” and how he enjoys meeting and dealing with different people who he guides up these mountains and who make “everyday different.” Conquering Myself “As long as you are still alive you get to try again.”
By Naeve Human
For Sean, there was no other viable career option to adventure guiding. The seemingly endless opportunities surrounding it – constantly moving, being able to see the world, the diversity of adventure – all seemed to trump “sitting behind a desk” by miles for Disney.
Overcoming these huge physical obstacles isn’t the only difficult part of the job for Sean as he is exposed to all sorts of diverse personalities… some good and some that make his job “very interesting.”
It all began in 1996 when Sean and his team embarked on their first attempt at the Northern side of the highest mountain in the world. However, hopes of conquering the mountain were soon dismantled by a combination of bad conditions and inexperience.
There was always adebt to settle with the mountain. It seems as though the mountain not only left them
walking away with their tails between their legs, but also tickled a discomfort into them
that could not be ignored until it was scratched. Although they returned in 2006 and conquered the South side of the mountain with great triumph… there was always “a debt to settle with the mountain”, at least with the North face. Inevitably, Sean returned to the bottom of the harrowing peak in 2010 prepped with hours of training and an aggressive mindset that allowed him to finish what he had started just
fourteen years before.
Mount Everest has existed as a daunting icon for all explorers for years. Straddling the border between Tibet and Nepal, the mountain stands the highest in the world at about 29 000ft (https://www.thebmc.co.uk/everest-facts-and-figures).
Despite all these exceptional achievements and experience, Sean says that he continues to approach these mountains slowly and with much caution. He goes on to speak about how although he is a qualified mountain guide – he is continuously aware of what can happen in those mountains and expertly prepared so as to limit the risk and injury if something does go wrong…“confidence is key for the mountains, but over-confidence can kill you.”
Continuous with this notion, about 300 people have died on Everest since 1922
(https://www.thebmc.co.uk/everest-facts-and-figures). Climbing this mountain takes about 2 months and essentially costs over R1 million. These facts, however, don’t seem to faze Disney’s family as he goes on
around 5 to 7 trips a year and can otherwise be found climbing local mountains to help stay fit. “My family is used to it – I stay safe and always phone home… with technology like satellite phones nowadays it is easy to stay in touch and keep in contact.”
The mountain remains only recently conquered, first being ascended by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay on 29 May 1953. Since then, only about 4000 climbers have successfully summited the mountain – Sean Disney being one of those few.
However, not only has Sean summitted the highest mountain in the world twice –
he has also summited the highest mountain on each continent twice, fulfilling the Explorer’s Grand Slam.
Confidence is key for the mountains, but over- confidence can kill you.
Perfectly displaying the precariousness of these mountains – Sean speaks of a time where he almost lost his life close to the summit of a mountain called Mt Aspiring in New Zealand. He explains how he still has
nightmares about the fall he had that led him to slide 20 metres and stop short of a 2000 metre cliff.
“Good training payed off as I managed to use my ice axe to stop about 1 metre from the edge.”
Mountain climbing isn’t always the [white] pastures it’s made out to be either. Throughout his years of adventuring, the hardest obstacle Sean has overcome so far is failure. “Dealing with failure is a big part of mountaineering” he says, “however you will only hear stories of successful mountaineering expeditions.”
Sean expresses that a lot of the time he has not made it to the top of a mountain and for him learning to deal with that is incredibly difficult. Not only does he enjoy the simplicity of mountain climbing, the way they make his life more goal focused – he continues to say that mountains make you humble. Despite these failures, “as long as you are still alive, you get to try again.” Everyone has limitations and being able to deal with yourself, knowing yourself will help you to go on. Climbing these mountains requires loads of experience and physical training – however they also require a decent amount of mental and emotional work. Mountain climbing encourages people to carveout their identity; “knowingyour body and what it can do and also knowing your mind and who you are helps you to deal with your limitations.”
Once you train your mind to understand itself and its capabilities – anyone can achieve anything. “Everyone has limitations and being able to deal with yourself, knowing yourself will help you to go on.”
Once these physical and mental restraints are overcome, Sean is able to sit back and look at the view. After 2 months of excessive strain and hard work, he indulges in the splendour of his surroundings at the highest peak in the world. “I would describe it as very abstract… you could see all around and the curvature of the
Earth.” Sean reflects on his triumph, “the secret is to get back into the mountains and try again – this is how you beat the failure.”