Nigel Vardy – Mr Frostbite (#119)


Frostbite in Alaska, appendicitis in Greenland, near drowning in Borneo, rope failure in the Kumbu, reported missing in Annapurna.  Would you go climbing with this man???

Some people call him brave, some call him mad.  To face the thin air at high altitude takes a bit of both, but to Nigel Vardy, there is nothing like being on a high mountain.  Losing limbs to severe frostbite would put off all but the few, but to Nigel it was the springboard to climb, achieve and conquer.

Over the past 30 years he has climbed across the world, set mountaineering records and spoken to schools and businesses across Europe. He continues on life’s adventure, forcing new boundaries and new experiences every day of his life…

As Nigel says – “I don’t want to die in an unused body…”


Can you describe something that has recently amazed you? How did it make you feel?

The ability of society to change.  I’ve seen huge amounts of people walking, enjoying the outdoors and getting free exercise.  The start of the COVID-19 Lockdown has made people realise there is so much local to them which can be experienced for free and the spring this year was beautiful.  Sadly, I fear many have short memories, but hopefully, for some, the seed has been sown.


How does some who suffers from a fear of heights become a climber?

With great difficulty.  I had to be helped out of a tree as a young boy, because I was crying with the fear of being six feet off the ground.  I find the sheer exposure of a mountain still scares me witless, but it keeps me focused and very alive, which is no bad thing in my trade.  Complacency often kills.
What ingredients go into making a good adventure?

Fresh air, physical work, weather of any description and most importantly, good company.  It doesn’t have to be across the world, but adventure does have to be in a testing environment as we use the word too easily these days.
Why do you think they’re often a great source of personal reflection?

Because we reconnect with the environment we were born to inhabit.  We are tested, both physically and mentally and have to take risks, something I believe we should do more.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a dangerous man, but if we push ourselves hard, we can reflect later on the lessons learned in a way no conference or seminar ever can.
Are we more human in the wild?

No, we are human in the wild.  It’s the fact that we’re less human in houses, offices and workspaces.  We were born to inhabit nature, not hold it at bay with steel, concrete and aircon.  When we are outdoors in nature our senses work as they should, we feel alive and relieve our stresses.
Can you explain what frostbite is, the possible consequences and how it affected you?

Frostbite is a cold injury where flesh and bone freezes.  It mainly affects exposed skin and extremities such as fingers and toes.  Some can be superficial and will recover quickly, whereas the severe frostbite I suffered saw my limbs physically turn solid.  The circulation and nerve damage can be so deep that tissue struggles to recover.  In my case, the circulation could not return and my extremities turned black and died.  This caused the loss of all my toes, fingertips, nose and left cheek through surgery.
Can you tell me about your decision to keep adventuring after your frostbite incident. Was it an immediate decision, delayed or lots of multiple choices to keep moving forwards?

I decided very early on to climb again, although at the time I couldn’t even walk.  I was told in the first few days of my accident that I would climb again and these words resonated within me throughout my recovery.  I had to take short steps, working with short term goals to reach the hills again, but I was determined to succeed.  Before climbing however I had to learn again many of the lessons we take from childhood – walking, writing, hand dexterity etc as though I was 30 years old, I had a new body to learn.  After a year and a half, I began climbing again.


Have your injuries meant you’re now more intentional in what you do?

Yes and no.  I enjoy all kinds of travels and adventures, without putting my injuries at the top of the list.  Saying that, I do have to consider them a great deal due to the physical pressure I’ll be putting them through.  I’ve ski toured in Greenland and Baffin Island, but also taken part in Mountain Bike races across South Africa.  Very different experiences in very different climates, but both needing extra care for my injuries.
You’ve straddled both the business and adventure worlds. What transferable skills and mindsets are there?

Both require detailed planning, but also flexibility and creativity.  We need to be able to take challenging decisions, sometimes in difficult situations, based on only the information we have at the time.  We also need to stand by the decisions we take.  I believe both worlds demand excellent and continuous training,  with experienced coaching and guidance.  I served an apprenticeship when I began engineering over 35 years ago and believe it set me up for life in business.  The mountains are no different.
What’s your next big adventure?

I have a few ideas, although the present COVID lockdown is preventing much travel.  I’ve an invitation to sail to Greenland and climb some new peaks, kayak with Orcas in Northern Norway and ski tour in Bavaria.  As you see, all cold places!

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