LEAVE NO TRACE I've always felt that style is more important than success [in climbing]. I'd rather fail in good style than 'succeed' [i.e. get to the top] by unfair means. Ultimately, if you have enough rope and bolts, you can climb anything. People ['aid climb'] with power drills; they leave bolts and they fix ropes so that if ever the weather gets bad and if somebody has a fall, they can escape easily. To me that's bad style. It's not committing and it's not showing respect to nature and to the challenge. If you want to do that, you should go play football or tennis. In truth, the environmental impact you'll see from [aid climbing] is not going to be as devastating as building a cable car or the trash that tourists leave but it [goes against] a philosophical concept of 'leaving no trace', of taking nothing but photos and leaving nothing but footprints. It's that commitment you give that gives you the reward. A FRESH FACE The climbing that I like is on very big, very steep cliffs - we call them big walls. Huashan [in Shaanxi province], which is surprisingly unknown outside of China, was perfect; it's almost vertical. I found out that it was unclimbed [there were two failed attempts, by a German climber and a Chinese one] and looked into getting permission, and thankfully the new management of Huashan are quite progressive and they are embracing things that they perhaps would not have in the past. They gave us permission and the whole thing kind of snowballed. We had a fully international team: one Chinese guy [Wang Zhiming], one Spanish guy [Carlos Suarez] and an English guy [Houlding]. It was a unique experience for me in the sense that I've never got to the top of something and had 20 people standing there with cameras. For me, it was purely entertaining. Also, it's nice to be able to share the beauty of these experiences with people. PROGRAMMED FOR ADVENTURE I started climbing [at the age of 10] because there was a spark somewhere that inspired me to go try it. I think it was an adventure TV show I saw when I was about eight years old. China hasn't got a very developed climbing culture yet. Perhaps there is going to be a Chinese kid somewhere who [sees coverage of the ascent] and is going to go, 'Wow, I've never thought of that aspect of life before,' and might go off and have adventures. Before and after there was a lot of media but during the climb there was just the three of us. It was a big adventure from the second we set off the path to the second we got to the top of the cliff. We did it fast, we did it in one day [13 hours of straight climbing]. Indiana Jones has got nothing on that; it's hardcore. We went in alpine style; we had two ropes, which is the minimum you can bring in order to get off a mountain. We didn't carry a drill, so we didn't even have the option of damaging the rock and placing artificial protection. We didn't take any bivi gear [waterproof sleeping bag covers] so we couldn't have slept - well, we could have but it would have been cold. To me it's about rising to the challenge - just going light and fast and not having any impact on the cliff, especially on such a special, sacred mountain. I was responsible for the other two guys because I was the leader and the most experienced. People don't very often find themselves in this position of absolute self-reliance and deep commitment. That's the beauty of adventure. There is a lot of risk involved and there's a lot of uncertainty, and that's why I love it. A LIFE-CHANGING JOURNEY Climbing is pretty pointless - you risk your life going to the top of the mountain then you come back down again. You don't find gold at the summit, you don't normally get handed a bunch of flowers at the top; it's a really personal journey. But on that journey, you find out a lot about yourself, you form very powerful relationships with friends and it gives you a different perspective on the world physically but also spiritually and psychologically. You don't sweat the small stuff and you tend to not be very materialistic. All I know is that in the 28 years I've been alive, I've had some incredible adventures and seen some pretty amazing things. If I died tomorrow, I'd die a happy man. I don't dwell on death but this year has been a bad one. Six of my friends have died already this year; three of them in an avalanche in Sichuan [province] just six weeks ago. They were attempting a mountain and there was too much snow. Because of the weather in Sichuan, the snow never gets solid. My friends were walking from base camp to base camp and a huge avalanche took all three of them. But you could get swine flu or you could get knocked down by a bus on the street. Most of the people that I'm close to are people I get to share missions with. One of them is Sir Chris Bonington, who is 75 years old and on the Berghaus team [sponsored by the manufacturer of climbing gear] with me. That's one of the beautiful things about climbing, it transcends nationality and generation. Sir Chris is my 'bro' and he's 47 years older than me. He still climbs two to three times a week and has made a career out of his books and photography about climbing. I hope that I can make this last till I'm 75 and I hope I don't end up in an office because I think I'd go nuts. THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE Next, I am going to Mount Asgard on Baffin Island, which is in the Arctic, between Greenland and [mainland] Canada. We are documenting the journey as The Asgard Project. It's the most hostile environment you can imagine, it's 100 kilometres from anywhere else in the Arctic Circle. It is the biggest challenge I could possibly find and that's why we are going. There's snow and ice, and polar bears. The polar bear is one of the only animals in the world that will hunt humans. Normally when you are in polar bear country, you bring a shotgun for protection but because it's a national park, they give you pepper spray, which is effective at a metre. We just need a little bit of luck with the weather, as usual, and hopefully we'll get to the top and [base] jump off it.