There are those out there who have accomplished more than the average person by a relatively young age — some have served in the military, some have been standout graduates of prestigious universities, some have been star athletes or started their own business.
Jake Meyer puts all of those people to shame.
By age 21, Jake, an English climber and adventurer extraordinaire, had become the youngest Briton to summit Mt. Everest, and the youngest Briton to complete the Seven Summits Challenge (climbing the seven highest peaks of each of the seven continents). Meyer and his team also hold the world record for climbing each of the highest peaks in the 48 continental United States in the shortest period of time (23 days, 19 hours and 31 minutes), which he completed at age 22. Though both of these records have subsequently been beaten.
Oh, and did we mention that Meyer is a commissioned officer in the Royal Wessex Yeomanry, in which capacity he served in Afghanistan? Because, you know, climbing the world’s highest peaks in the shortest amount of time or as the youngest person ever to do so didn’t make the rest of us look bad enough by comparison.
SHIFTed sat down with Jake Meyer, the first-ever Bremont ambassador, to talk adventure, mountaineering, climbing, the military, and of course, what a proper English adventurer looks for in a wristwatch.
Hold on to your hats . . .
You have an interesting background because you started climbing so young. It was climbing, and then the military and then more climbing. So the lessons probably dovetailed with climbing, right?
Completely. And now with the day job being about developing people, I bring the theory into it. I've got the experience. I truly believe that actually, it doesn't matter whether or not you're in Helmand province in Afghanistan, you're in the Himalayas, or you're in the boardroom, or in the call center or in the office, whilst your day job might be different, essentially if you're working with people, it's very similar. The opportunities, the challenges, the motivations, the frustrations. It's almost the same, it's human nature.
And how does it fit in with your climbing, being a management consultant? How does it all work together?
Well, I am so blessed that the company that I work for, which is a relatively small business called Inspirational Development Group (IDG), they are incredibly supportive of what I do. And I wouldn't be able to do what I do to the degree that I do it without their support. And of course, I now have to absolutely add, "Not just them, but the support of the wife and my family," and all of that.
And therefore, we want our client to go, "They do a good job, but actually as individuals, they're inspirational." And I know I look at all my colleagues and I go, "They're inspirational." In their own special ways. And these are people who've been career accountants — people with, on the face of it, quite mundane backgrounds. But who they are, what they do, and the way that they do it, and their behaviors and everything, I find inspirational.
And I think the nice thing is also they realize it's more than just a hobby, it's sort of who I am.
Yeah. Part of you, isn't it?
Yeah, if you were to take that away from me, you might as well cut my arm off. 'Cause it's who I am. And in the same way that I can go for six months without going climbing, without putting a harness on, but that doesn't stop me from being a climber. It's something I really identify with. And you get other people who say, "I must go climbing three times a week, every single day, if I haven't been for a week it's like not going to the gym, or something like that. I lose a part of me." Yeah, no, I'm cool with that. I'm cool. Because I've realized that all these elements of my life have to fit in together. This year I'll probably do 30 to 40 days of military stuff, I will do 60 to 70 days of climbing, on one expedition, I will probably spend 100 nights away with work, overseas or with clients in the UK.
'Cause it's not about how many meters you climb, how many feet up you are. 'Cause the further it is, the worse it is. It's about getting out of your comfort zone, going to do different things, and people wanting to stretch themselves.
So I don't get a lot of time with my family. And therefore, it's a constant sort of spinning of plates, a juggling act to . . . maybe it's the worst compromise of everything. Trying to balance everything. And I'm incredibly fortunate that I have the love and support of my wife, my family, to actively encourage me, or at least assent to my . . . ascent. Allow me to go and do these things, and it's something I'll be forever grateful. And I know that other . . . well, it doesn't really matter if it's wives to husbands or husbands to wives, who would say "There's no way I would let my partner go and do that kind of stuff." And I think my wife sometimes goes, "Yeah, I don't know. Sometimes maybe I should put my foot down." But she's amazing.
But actually, we've got two children. I've been there at the births of both of our girls. And I still think that what my wife went through during labor and giving birth knocks a summit of an 8,000-meter mountain and the physical endeavor.
I'll make sure she sees this.
Yeah, no, please do. And, you know, of course a significant proportion of women go through this. All of our mothers have done this. And it's something that's mind-blowing. And that's why I think it's easy to get caught up in the whole, "Oh, adventure is exotic and it's romantic and it's going off to do exciting things that most people don't do, and therefore we're somehow better as a result of that." No, not at all. We're the idiots that choose to go and get our kicks by going to the other side of the world to do it. People do amazing, inspirational things every single day. I've always said if I ever find myself dismissing somebody who comes up to me and says, "I climbed a hill the other day. I'm really proud", that's when I've lost it. I've lost touch.
'Cause it's not about how many meters you climb, how many feet up you are. 'Cause the further it is, the worse it is. It's about getting out of your comfort zone, going to do different things, and people wanting to stretch themselves. And if that's a physical endeavor, amazing. If it's academic, or people going back to school, it's serving your country, whatever it is, it's finding that thing you're passionate about and going for it. And that's all I truly believe. You'll get a lot of people, they'll do motivational talks about you know, "Life is like Everest, it's all about climbing your mountains." And I'm always very careful, 'cause whilst I'll talk about Everest, to make it very clear that we will have lots of Everests in our lives.
It's not about the physical one, it's about facing up to whatever challenges that life throws at us, or we choose to do. 'Cause let's face it, there are a lot of things that people go through that we wouldn't choose to do, and that they don't choose. But still facing up with a sense of tenacity and determination and realistic positivity, and optimism, but confronting the brutal facts of the reality and developing a resilience to get through these things. Which is cool.
Meyer ice climbing in Italy.
Do you feel, in terms of the more traditional way in which we think about adventure and what that entails, there seems to be something at least in the past 200 years, very tied into British culture and exploration, adventure, mountaineering, do you think it's sort of part of the culture and empire? Do you think that ties in somehow?
Oh, I think absolutely. And I think one of the reasons why . . . I don't know necessarily about people on the street, but if you were to ask famous explorers, people would probably say Shackleton, Scott, there might be able to go, "Wasn't there another guy who beat Scott?" Whether or not they can remember Amundsen's name. There's probably also a certain amount of Brits who've been a little bit better at self-promotion. I don't know, maybe that comes into it.
It wasn't until 1975 that an Englishman climbed Everest. Whereas of course, the Brits, we've been claimed Everest since '53. 'Cause it was a British expedition, but it was a Nepali and it was a Kiwi who got to the top. And that's what's cool. And of course, during that phase, especially when it comes to mountaineering, the pursuit of especially the 8,000-meter peaks became a very nationalistic endeavor. And it was almost that each nation set their sights on, "We are gonna grab one of the 8,000-meter peaks." Of course, everybody wanted Everest, 'cause it was the big one.
The Brits did a lot of stuff Everest in the 1920s, obviously Mallory and Irvine, famously. But nothing happened, there was some more through the pre-war, but then there wasn't much after. It was the Swiss who tried in '52, and then they should've got there. I mean, come on, it's Switzerland! They know mountains. And it wasn't until a year later, '53, that the Brits got Everest. And of course, it was a similar story for K2, and I love the history of K2. That's the one where Americans figure really highly on it, and the American expeditions of 1939, a chap called Fritz Wiessner, who did this amazing route which has still never been done, and he didn't summit, but he got probably one of the highest anyone'd ever been at that stage. And technical rock climbing at that altitude.
And then Charlie Houston, famous American climber, in the ['30s and] '50s. And the Italians came in '54, and the Italians got it. So the K2, even though it's in Pakistan, will be known as an Italian mountain. And for instance, the K2 Museum in Skardu, the local city, is funded by the Italians. Annapurna, French. Nanga Parbat, German/Austrian. Shishapangma, Chinese. 'Cause it's in China, so . . .
So everyone's sort of tried their hand.
Yeah, exactly. And of course, the minute they realized that they weren't gonna get it, they were like, "Which other one can we get?" And they were all bagging these, and again, in those days, the only real way to do those big trips was to have it as a funded, either nationally or at least by a national body. It's amazing that right as we speak, there is a Polish team trying to be the first people ever to climb K2 in winter. And they're out there at the moment, and it's been attempted before, but K2 is the only 8,000-meter peak that hasn't been climbed in winter. All the others have been climbed in winter.
They've been given about $200,000 by the Polish National Sport and Tourism Board. Which is brilliant, it's amazing, it's so great that national bodies are still investing in international things to go and do this kind of stuff. Whereas the last . . . I don't know the answer to this, the last American expedition fully funded by the nation?
There's an interesting tie there, I think, to funding. I've read one or two books about several British explorers and Bremont tie-in. What do you think the state of funding for real exploration?
So I think that some things have helped it, and some things have hindered it. I think, ultimately, the money is there. But you've got many more people wanting to do it. I climbed Everest approximately 50 years after the first person. And I was about the 2-and-a-half thousandth ascent. Within another five years, that number had doubled.
You were 21.
I was 21, yeah. So say between '53 and 2005, there were about 2-and-a-half thousand ascents. And that's not even 2-and-half-thousand different people. Fewer than that, because quite a lot of people actually had multiple ascents. Suddenly, it's going up. Like, exponentially. And so therefore, well, have we got more people trying to access the same funds? But then, of course, you've got so much more general interest in it. You know, what is it, four North Face stores in Manhattan? North Face's been around since '67, I think? Something like that. We all probably own an item of North Face kit. If not multiple items of North Face kit. Or, you know, Patagonia or whatever it might be.
The outdoors as an industry has just expanded like this. Because of course, you don't have to go to the other side of the world to have an adventure. And I think this idea of people realizing that there's so much on our doorstep. And you don't need to be a crazy explorer, or a mad extreme-sports enthusiast. Or it's a person who lives three blocks away, who has never left Manhattan, but they go to a climbing gym twice a week, or once a month, or whatever it is. And that serves as their kick. And, goodness, I don't know what has caused this. It's probably cheap travel, the internet, travel making everything smaller. It's the increase of beautiful imagery. It's the fact that actually, yep, we are still seduced by the amazing pictures of people ice climbing on the outside of the North Face or REI or whatever.
But you go into it, and 98 percent of what they sell will be for people just doing much more gentle stuff. But that's okay. So you've got brands who really wanna tap into that. Now, of course there's a flip side of it. For example, I've had a long-running relationship with Mountain Hardwear. And I'm not a sponsored athlete, I'm not on a retainer or anything, but I would just naturally choose to use their kit. I love them, they've been very good to me in the past. But a few years ago, they did something really interesting where they had one of probably the world's foremost alpinists, a guy called Ueli Steck, very sadly was killed in Everest two years ago. Soloing on another mountain. But you know, one of the best ones in the world, and they actually dropped him.
The reason behind it was that . . . why they'd had him in the first place was to create the most awesome kit. But of course, 99 percent of your target audience don't need it. They just want a good, solid down jacket. Or some cool apparel and stuff. I used to get sort of annoyed on principle with North Face for selling more cotton t-shirts than it did Gortex things. It sold more things for people to wear on the streets than it did for people ascending the mountains. And I actually had to catch myself, go, "It doesn't matter. It's a brand." It's cool, they make some great stuff, actually. If they make stuff that attracts people, then that's really good.
And you've got amazing brands like Patagonia who obviously are so focused on the environment, and give at least 1 percent of their profits to environmental causes. Or Arc'teryx, you know, Canada made, great quality and stuff. But again, this is kit that isn't being worn purely by people at the cutting edge, it's all of us. And okay, maybe we've got a bit more money to spend on this kind of stuff. And so coming back to your initial thing about sponsorship and how easy it is to get it, I think that you now have to be much smarter about how you go about it. So to be frank, I wouldn't go to an outdoor kits manufacturer to try and get cash. I would go to them if I wanted a shiny new jacket, or a stove, or something like that, and best case, they might give me some free stuff. Most realistic, they probably give me a nice discount and that will help.
But once they've got lots of cash, they've got a lot of people asking. How do you make yourself stand out? So therefore you've just got to think about more innovative ways of how you do it. So actually, the way I do a lot of the time, is I say, essentially pre-booking talks and things like that. I guess I'm in a position where, 'cause I've made a career out of speaking, these people sort of know what they're buying, what they're getting. But it just means that rather than the cash going straight to my bank account, I'm using it to fund an expedition, which is cool.
Bremont Supermaine 500 on summit of Pico de Orizaba Mexico
And in terms of Bremont, are you a watch guy? Were you a watch guy before, as you grew up?
Not really. So, something very funny. So I was pretty much the first Bremont ambassador. So I've been there pretty much since the beginning. And the story's quite funny. It was just after I climbed Everest, so I was 21 and a bit, and for my 21st my father gave me his 1972 GMT Master.
It is beautiful. I've still got it. Unfortunately, I never wear it. Or very rarely wear it. But suddenly it's like wow, this is so cool. But up until that point I'd only worn digital watched, and mainly Suuntos, outdoorsy stuff. But it also meant that I never really learnt to read an analog watch. Someone would say "What time is it?" And I'd go, "Hang on a minute, hang on a minute, the little hand is . . . " It's like asking a 5-year-old.
I'm now better at telling the time. I can now tell the time. It was, you know, to get my 3-year-old daughter her first watch, and it was this non-branded cheap one, but it was like, "You are having an analog watch." And asking her, 'cause she's fascinated in time and stuff like that, and getting her to learn how to tell the time. 'Cause ironically, I never really did. But being with Bremont has just been brilliant because . . . I think the whole reason why they wanted me, and I was attracted to them, is it comes down to the tagline, motto, "Tested beyond endurance." Because that's what they're really trying to do. And actually, it's function over fashion. It's substance over style.
It's like having a little heartbeat on your wrist.
Yeah, they look good.
It's something that's pretty good that works. But whether or not it's with my Super or with my MBII, if I'm climbing with those, I'm smashing against the rock face or against the cliff, or climbing up a gully and you've got this snare game down there, and you know that if anything's gonna break, it's not gonna be that. And you just don't have to think about it. You get problems with digital watches, with the LCD being affected by the cold, and with battery life. Yeah, okay, they come with alarms, and alt meters and all sorts of fancy stuff, but it's a bit like an iPhone. Yeah, lots of cool stuff on there, but we probably only actually use 10 percent of the stuff, and frankly I just want to be able to tell the time, but know that this thing works and will keep working.
I think what really attracts me to a mechanical watch is that it's almost as close to having a living thing on you that isn't actually living. I love the thing. At night, when I put my watch on the nightstand, and in the quiet of the night . . . doesn't quite work here in New York with so much ambient noise outside, but just the whirring, and the ticking. I just find that so comforting. Or if I'm wearing it at night, and it's underneath the pillow, and I can just hear the tick-tick-tick-tick-tick. It's like having a little heartbeat on your wrist. And not to mention the fact, look inside these things! How do they do this? You look at all this kind of stuff.
And, alright, today with CNC machines and laser-cutting stuff, tolerances are so minute, but it's still put together by hand. That's just magical, and the fact that this hasn't just been punched out on a factory production line. Some guy in a white coat in Henley has spent hours painstakingly putting this together, and the iterations of checking it and re-checking it and re-checking it, and thinking, god, you hope they don't sneeze. Or you hope he hasn't had too many coffees this morning, and stuff. It's a work of art, and that's something special.
The other thing with . . . I'm preaching to the converted here, but I think especially for us guys, for a lot of guys, this is our one piece of statement jewelry. And nowadays we will have more than one watch, and we will make a conscious choice in the morning, as to "Do I want this one, do I want that one?" In some ways it doesn't really matter whether or not it's a range of swatch watches, or you're lucky enough to have watches that are worth tens of thousands of dollars. But it's the fact you're going, "I'm gonna use this to accessorize." But the reason why I bought all of these in the first place, is I identify with them, or with the brand, or with the story.
You probably get less of that with the lower end, and that is why I love Bremont. It's because every single timepiece in here, special editions aside, because they are just a step above, but there's a story behind this. You know, Boeing 247, it's got aircraft-grade alloys in it. This is just not your run-of-the-mill stuff. It's celebrating a partnership, the fact that the watch industry and the aircraft industry are actually so entwined. And of course travel and watches, the whole reason for John Harrison's first watch was so that people knew where they were in the world, or could calculate it without having to get a sextant for that. Whether or not it's like the ALT1-C, based on the fuel gauge of a mosquito, or it's the Jaguar watch, or the MB, it's a watch that's been fired out of a fucking aircraft. That's cool. It's got a faraday cage in it.
And then, of course, you get to special editions. So I find myself sitting next to somebody, and they go, "Oh, that's a nice watch." And you go, "It's more than just a watch." And I feel with Bremont, you can really say that. And we hope, of course, people like Tyler are working very hard to make sure more people know the name Bremont, but a lot of people will go "I haven't heard of them." But afterwards, they remember it, because that's a brand with a story. And whether or not it's a story of each individual timepiece, and going, "You can get a watch that has a piece of the original aircraft that Orville and Wilbur flew in at Kitty Hawk! Or, if you can find it, you can get one that's got a piece of HMS Victory in it." That is amazing. You have a piece of history on you. You haven't got that from the Moon Watch, whatever it is. That doesn't have the moon dust in it.
And then, of course, the story of the brand, and Nick and Giles. With Bremont, it's like everything is distilled, and again I used the phrase "family." It is family, 'cause it's two brothers. And it's family of the team that work for Bremont, or work with Bremont, and then if you buy a Bremont, you're part of the family. You're part of the club, and I think that's pretty special.
That's why, when we come back to this whole thing about buying a watch with history, it's this lovely sort of almost circle, without it being too cliché and sickening, but the circle of life. This thing on our wrist, it goes through life with us, and therefore it takes the bumps and the bruises and the highs and the lows. It's probably one of the few things, that of every single item I have, maybe my signet ring is the only thing that is more constant than a watch.
How do you decide what's most functional for you on an expedition? Do you need necessarily a chronograph, or do you need it to be a magnetic, or . . . ?
Yeah. So I think in some ways, keep it simple. Again, little bit like looking at something like that, I mean I can't even see the hands on that bright thing. And okay, Bremont do some of the global times which have more going on, but I just want something where I can just look at it quickly, and that's why actually I love the white face MB, and that's the one that I used on K2 last time, and I'll probably use again next time. Because you just wanna snatch the cup up to the gauntlet with your glove, and be able to see it. That's what's important to me. I just want it to be robust. So the fewer things that can go wrong, the better.
So in some ways, a simple watch, that's the most important thing. And every layer of complexity, whether or not it's minute or second hands, or it's GMT, or it's chronograph or whatever. Bremonts are wonderfully well-made, but it's an extra thing that could potentially go wrong, so actually I just try and simplify as much as possible. Distill it down to simply, you know, why do you wear a watch? To tell the time. Yeah, of course we can get our Suuntos or our Garmins, now some of the smarter brands are now bringing out their digital watches that will do all sorts of other things, but actually I just want something which I can rely on. And as long as I keep moving, this'll keep ticking. That's the cool thing about it.
And something rather fun, I think, almost slightly life-affirming about when I change watches, 'cause often I'll wear a watch for a period of time, I don't swap them in and out every day. You pick one up and it's dormant. And you pick it up and you just give it a few swings, and it starts ticking.
Comes back to life.
Comes back to life.
K2 and K2 basecamp
What's the particular challenge of K2? What are the particular specific challenges?
So the interesting thing about K2 is that it's probably widely considered the most . . . and again, I'm cautious about what word I use to describe it. The toughest, or maybe hardest mountain in the world. Now, it's not the number one, it's not the gold battle winner of anything. It's not the highest. It gets a certain medal for that. It's not the most remote. Goodness, go to the Antarctic, or go to parts of the Andes for a longer walk in, or some more remote places. It's not the steepest, go to Yosemite, go to El Capitan, somewhere like that. It's not the hardest. It doesn't necessarily have the worst weather, it's not necessarily the coldest. Pakistan is not necessarily the most dangerous country to go to.
But within all of those various lists, it's like, two or three. It's pretty high up there. So when you aggregate all of those things together, something like El Capitan for instance, incredibly steep. Amazing. One of the steepest faces in the world. And yet, you can drive to a lot of it, and it's in the States so it's easy, and it's safe and everything. So some of it's an aggregation of all the scores. But K2 just stays up there. You can look at statistics, for instance, there are mountains that have had more deaths on them. There are mountains which, statistically, have had a higher percentage of deaths. But K2, it's still . . . for every four people that get to the top, one person will die. Now, there are lies, damn lies and statistics, but when you just look at the cold hard numbers, deaths versus summits, that's what it's like. Even on Everest, it's 3 or 4 percent.
This is more like 20 percent?
Yeah, 22, 23 percent? There've been 82 deaths in 364 summits. And that's pretty galling. It's also something like 40 percent of seasons, there are no summits. Now, Everest had two bad years where it had the earthquake and it had a big avalanche where nobody summited. But Everest hasn't had a zero-summit year since probably the ‘70s?
Nothing in the world of high-altitude mountaineering, nothing's guaranteed. But that's what makes it attractive to me, because if you could guarantee it, then what's the point? It's not an adventure, it's not testing you. It's a bit like . . . I remember when I went up to the Antarctic, to climb Mt. Vincent, and on the same flight out onto the ice there was an American with his two children. Now, they were probably 10 or 12 years old. And three of them were flying to South Pole to go and get a photo at the barber shop pole, and then fly back. And that probably cost $160,000. $170,000.
And, okay, weather and things could get in the way of them getting there, but it's a bit of a . . . you pay your money, they will make sure you get there. And, goodness, you've been to the South Pole. And those kids who are now grown up will have a photo of them at the South Pole, and that's kind of a cool thing to say. But would you rather have that photo, or would you rather have the photo of you with a big beard, with your sledge, at the same thing. It's the same photo, but what it's taken to get there. I've heard people say, "It won't be long until you can get a helicopter atop Everest."
I hope that that never happens. There is one example of a helicopter which has landed on the summit, in 2005, the year I was there. It has the record for the highest landing in the world. But I don't think, even if someone wanted to, I don't think someone could land, stop, and get out and then get back in. I don't think that's possible. But it . . . certainly not a shut down. That's why some people almost take sport in doing down the achievement of doing something like climbing Everest. 'Cause we've all seen the photos of the queues, and you get carried up there by your Sherpa, and you pay your money and that's it.
And whilst, yeah, there are a lot of people on the mountain, and whilst yeah, the vast majority of people are helped a huge amount by the Sherpas, and yes, it's not cheap to do it, ultimately if you ascend the top of Everest, nobody's carried you. Yeah, maybe someone's carried you back. But it's still been those little legs that got you to the end. It doesn't matter if they've done it in two hours and five minutes, or they've done it in eight hours, they've got round and they powered themselves. They've still done a marathon, and that's amazing. That's cool.
Some people'll be like, "Oh, I've gotta break the three hour mark. I've gotta break the 250 mark." I'll just be like, "I just wanna get round." And that's a bit like climbing a mountain. People approach it in slightly different ways, but you sort of get a choice as to how you wanna do it. Do you want to throw lots of money at it, and try and have maximum chance, or do you wanna do it no-frills and much cheaper, but you're gonna have to do all the work? And that's what's cool about it. And ultimately, if an individual, or group of individuals wanna challenge themselves, that's awesome.
Is breaking records by age, by time in which you do it, is that integral to your ethos, what's important to you? Or is that incidental?
It tends to be incidental, and it tends to be for two reasons. The first one is that, let's face it, trying to get a record or having beaten a record is interesting from a media or a potential sponsor's point of view. That's something. People will set a bizarre record in order to achieve something. And actually sometimes I'm thinking, well, is the record really important or is that all just fluff? The other thing is, especially the age stuff, is an age . . . so, to an average person, doing something by a certain age or potentially, secondly, an age record, is the ultimate anti-procrastination tool.
There's a reason why the most popular ages for running a marathon is 29, 39, and 49. People wanna do it before they hit the big birthday. Not because a day later, when they turn 30, 40, 50, they won't be able to do it. Because they feel like that's a "must do it whilst I'm still in my 20s, whilst I'm still in my 30s." And of course that was the same for us, or for me, was I wanna go and do this. Now, of course, the age thing also helped with sponsorship, 'cause it was interesting. And then you put into the being a youngest. It's not just because of "Oh, well I must do it if I'm 20 now and I wanna do it before I turn 30." I've got 10 years to do it.
On the summit of Peak Chapayev in Kazakhstan
But if I wanna be the youngest, well, now the age is that. But of course, if I get older, that might get younger. So it's double reason to get off your ass and go and do it. So when I first went up the Seven Summits, I was 14, he was 28. When I was preparing to go to Everest, when I left Everest, I was 21, the record was 22. I had one season to go for it. Now, if I hadn't have done it, I hadn't got to the top, it doesn't really matter. But that gave me the impetus and the catalyst to say, not hasta mañana. It is now. Seize the day. Carpe diem.
Photos courtesy of Bremont.