Fiona Winterburn, 41: Scot Fiona took on Everest last year, reaching base camp following a strenuous 21-day trek. Earlier this year, she followed it up by climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. “Last year, when I decided to leave my old job, I felt I was in a rut. My confidence and self-belief were low and so, before moving onto something new, I decided it would be good to take time out and challenge myself. I remembered seeing photos on Facebook of a friend who had been to Everest base camp and, thinking it seemed an amazing thing to do, I booked a trip to leave two weeks later! With no real time to train, I realised the only climbing I had done was as a kid with my parents in Scotland, most of which I hated. Nevertheless, I bought a good pair of hiking boots and, with a fortnight to break them in, set about wearing them all the time. I certainly got a few funny looks in the mall. I would put my boots on and walk up and down the stairs in my building time after time, and I did a lot of cycling too. Both helped build my stamina and endurance, which are what you need for long treks. Physically the Everest trip was very long – we walked over 120km in 10 days, which doesn’t sound like much until you consider it was all at altitude above 2500 metres. Mentally, you have to adapt to the monotony – get up, dress, have breakfast, walk, have lunch, walk, have dinner, bed, repeat. Strangely, that became part of the allure. With no real decisions to be made, life is basic. You eat for fuel, you stay warm, you rest, you breathe and you walk. Each day gets harder as you deal with higher altitudes. The air has only 50 per cent oxygen and it gets very cold, so breathing becomes difficult. You get hot walking then, as soon as you stop, you cool down and can quickly suffer from hypothermia. Sleep is difficult. And of course, altitude sickness can kill. One of our team was airlifted from Everest and someone died two days ahead of us on the trek. There’s always a risk involved. But the stunning scenery kept us going. By the time you reach base camp you really feel you are in the middle of the earth. Nothing lives on the glacier, there are no plants, no animals. It is truly spectacular. Kilimanjaro, however, was very different. It was a much shorter trip and, while I thought I knew what to expect, climbing to a higher altitude in a shorter time was much tougher than I anticipated. I suffered slight altitude sickness, my nose and lips were blistered from the cold and I suffered ‘kumba cough’, where the lining of your lungs is damaged from breathing air with depleted oxygen. I’m not normally much of a crybaby but I broke down several times and wanted to give up. Thankfully, getting to the summit brought a massive sense of achievement and I found it really emotional. You realise how strong you are as a person. I now know that, while it’s easy to give up at the first hurdle, I have the capability to dig deep. I have a great life here in Dubai, with a great job, great friends and a wonderful lifestyle. So climbing mountains and going back to basics, that’s my reality check.