Taking on Colombia’s highest peaks would be a considerable feat for most experienced climbers.
But Thomas Palmer, a complete novice adventurer, took on mountains and volcanoes up to 5,556 metres during multi-day treks, carrying a 30kg pack, and dodging a few land mines along the way.
What makes it even more impressive is that prior to arriving in Colombia, he was suffering such a severe bout of depression, that he’d stopped leaving the house.
Starting with Galeras volcano, the 29-year-old attempted eight of the country’s trickiest peaks, like Ritacuba Blanco and Nevado del Huila, summiting five of them but having to abandon three close to the top.
“I was battling with depression and anxiety, and I was down and out, to be honest,” reveals Palmer.
“There was a death of a family member, a breakdown of a relationship, I lost my job, then my house – so kind of the basic, fundamental things that keep you grounded, all fell away.
“It became really bad – I couldn’t leave the house, I stopped socialising and isolated myself.
“Last year I worked as a cameraman on Ross Edgley’s Great British Swim. I was still battling behind closed doors, but being in the presence of Ross, the most positive person I’ve ever met, started to rub off on me.
“One day, I thought something needs to change now, because it’s not changing quick enough.
“I Googled Colombia’s mountains. I’d been in the past and loved the country, and the next day I booked a plane (teaming up with Red Bull Media House for the trip). Before this, I’d only walked a few hills in Wales!
“A lot of the peaks we (him and videographer Timothee Callec, who documented his journey, and a local guide) climbed were volcanoes, so at a certain height, you aren’t going to find any water.
“You have to endure a certain amount of physical pain or hardship – especially if you’re carrying a 30kg backpack.
“The biggest challenge was mountain number five – the summit of Nevado del Tolima, was incredibly hard.
“I suffered bad altitude sickness, so after 3,600 metres, I was struggling.
“It’s 5,215 metres and I’m not sure I would have made it without the guide and the cameraman.
“I’d say Tolima was the most beautiful. The glacier was amazing, pure white and rolled on like icing.”
Did he ever get lost?
“Ritacuba was sketchy. When we were climbing, a snow blizzard swept in. We got trapped for a few hours on the mountain, surrounded by gaping open cracks, and we lost our sense of direction totally. We ended up going around the mountain and had to double back, to finally reach the peak.
“The last volcano, Nevado del Huila, was a different level of physical endurance.
“It was eight or nine days and no one had walked that route in 25 years because of military conflict, so we had to use a machete to carve a new path through the forest.
“On the first day, we got lost in the dense jungle, which turned out to be littered with land mines.
“We were unaware of this until about half a day into it – that was really nerve-racking.
“On the second, we didn’t drink water for more than 30 hours. We thought there’d be water but there wasn’t any at all.
“The effects of dehydration had definitely set in and we finally found salvation from drinking water out of the tops of certain plants.
“We finally did see the volcano in all her glory, only to be ordered to turn back by the Farc (rebel armed forces). We kindly obliged.”
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