Adriana Brownlee is a 22-year-old British mountaineer currently on track to become the youngest female in the world to climb all fourteen 8000m peaks. Adriana relies on Red2Blue techniques to keep her calm during the extreme pressures of being at 8000m in the death zone. Here, she talks about how Red2Blue has helped her through some of the most difficult moments of her career and how she’s passing on the knowledge to help a generation of girls in Nepal.
Adriana began using a Red2Blue almost three years ago. She had used other mindset techniques but was struggling with how to articulate what was going through her mind when it came to those pressured moments. Training to become a Red2Blue coach gave Adriana the tools to cope with the pressure that accompanies life-threatening situations like summiting one of the 8000m peaks.
“You can never think about the negatives in mountaineering as it always ends in a downward spiral,” she explains. “But when you’re in a situation that is unexpected and totally out of your control, you really need to know how to make good decisions under pressure, because one wrong move is fatal in the death zone.”
One of the ways Adriana remains calm and focused is by grounding herself and looking down at her boots, which simply reminds her of where she is. She then takes one or two deep breaths before making a move, to make sure she’s in the moment and in a ‘Blue’ state of mind. “It’s so easy to go straight to ‘Red’ without thinking and make the situation so much worse,” she says.
Adriana remembers a moment on Dhaulagiri in Nepal, where at 6000 metres (Camp 2), her team had a choice to go up or to stay down. They decided to go up even though there was a storm coming. When they left the tent there were stars in the sky and no wind, but half an hour later, everything changed. “Suddenly we were hit with 80 to 90 kilometres per hour wind, and I felt my hand freezing to my ascender!” she says.
Adriana remembers Nims, their leader, turning around and shouting “What’s wrong with you? If you don’t wake up now you’ll die.”
Spiralling out of control
“At this point I knew that everything was spiralling out of control and my only option was to get down to safety. As soon as Nims shouted this, I remember looking around me and seeing that I was at 6000 metres and there was no time to lose.” Adriana used her Red2Blue techniques, grounding herself by clapping her hands after every two to three steps. Eventually, everyone made it back down to Camp 2 safely.
Adriana believes the ability to refocus herself in the moment was what kept her safe – and saved her from losing her fingers. “I could’ve easily gone into panic mode and my body would’ve frozen ten times faster,” she says. “I could be here today without fingers, but that little moment to think and realise where I was, was lifesaving.”
The weather can often put a stop to an expedition, but Adriana doesn’t waste time or energy dwelling on things that are out of her control. “There’s always a bigger picture to see – you’re safe, and not on the mountain in an avalanche or storm. The mountain will always be there so you can come back another time for the summit. “It takes a lot of learning to get to the point where it doesn’t affect you when things don’t go your way on the mountains, but with the help of Red2Blue, I learnt it a lot quicker than most,” she says.
A time for reflection
Adriana was well on her way to achieving her goal of summitting all 14 of the 8000m peaks when tragedy struck. She was in Tibet in October to summit the final peak, Shishapangma, when two large avalanches happened during a team’s summit and four people lost their lives. It was completely unexpected and shook the whole group. Adriana recalls sitting with the rest of her team at the basecamp tent in silence. “We didn’t quite think it was true,” she says. “They were all incredible climbers and kind-hearted people.”
One of the learnings she took away from that expedition was how important it is to stick together as a family and support one another. “Mountaineering is not a big community, so news like this hits everyone,” Adriana says.
Returning home, she reflected on what it was that attracted her to those mountains. “It was truly because I loved climbing, especially with Gelje Sherpa, who was also there. We supported each other through this tragedy. Really, the only way to deal with it was to remember the beautiful people that passed away and then examine my own reason for climbing in the hopes that I would always choose a safe way to climb and never take any risks,” she explains.
Adriana is still considering whether or not she’ll return to the mountain in Spring 2024. “Mountaineering is all about listening to your heart and gut, so that’s what I’ll do for the moment,” she says, “but I know one day I’ll definitely complete my 14 peaks.”
In the meantime, in her role as a Red2Blue ambassador, Adriana has been visiting organisations that are implementing Red2Blue programmes to demonstrate how transferable the skills really are. “They can be harnessed at 8000m or in an office environment, which is so powerful and a testimony as to how effective Red2Blue really is. It’s been a true honour and so much fun to present my stories to these companies,” she says.
Adriana’s also used Red2Blue tools like the ‘screw up cascade’ throughout the development of her own company, AGA Adventures, to prepare her for the worst. “Being able to transfer skills that I use in the death zone to my office has been crucial in helping me to face the hard moments in my company and tackle them successfully,” she says.
Whilst in Kathmandu, Adriana taught Red2Blue to the local school children. The girls, who are all orphans or from troubled backgrounds, have learnt how to communicate with each other using Red2Blue as a shared platform to express how they’re feeling when under pressure. “The goal is to help them make good decisions together when times get tough, whether that’s in exams or in day-to-day life,” Adriana says.
Get out of your comfort zone
So, what’s the best piece of advice Adriana’s ever been given? “Never say no to opportunities. I’m so glad I said yes to becoming a Red2Blue coach, as it has opened so many doors for me. It’s shed light on how I function on the mountains and how I can teach other people those same amazing skills. So always try new things and get out of your comfort zone.”
Adriana also encourages people to always take risks even when you don’t know what the outcome may be. “Risks don’t need to be reckless or dangerous, it could be just embracing a new style of presenting to your employees or moving to a new country, and could eventually bring you to a next level that you never knew existed,” she says. “And with Red2Blue, you certainly have the tools to deal with it if your risk doesn’t go quite to plan!”