Completing the Explorers Grand Slam is one of the ultimate challenges for ultra-adventurers. Masha Gordon, a mum-of-two with a successful career under her belt, took on this challenge and reached her goal of setting a record by becoming the fastest woman to complete the Grand Slam.
In 7 months and 18 days, Masha scaled the highest peaks on each of the seven continents – Everest (Asia), Kilimanjaro (Africa), Vinson Massif (Antarctica), Aconcagua (South America), Carstensz Pyramid (Australasia), Mt. Elbrus (Europe) and Denali (North America) - and trekked to the geographic North and South poles.
For adventurers with dreams of any shape and size, Masha shows what it takes to reach a dream in spite of many obstacles.
1. Believe in your own capability.
Masha was by no means athletic growing up. In fact, she believes it’s quite ironic that she now holds an endurance record after failing in physical education as a girl. Only a decade ago, she could hardly run a mile. But after maternity leave and time in the French Alps, Masha discovered a love of mountaineering that began her journey.
It started with a simple desire to get back in shape after having a baby. Soon, Masha fell in love with adventure and went on a climb. To her amazement, it wasn’t nearly as hard as she thought it would be. The incredible sense of achievement that came after was something she craved to experience again. Instead of seeking exercise, Masha’s excursions became life-changing journeys she couldn’t live without.
Masha shows that there are few requirements to begin a life of adventure. You don’t need a certain amount of strength or a specific background to explore the world outdoors.
2. Have discipline with the way you spend time.
How do you embark on a grand adventure with two young children and a stressful job? Masha related that the balance came organically. The key is to be very disciplined about how time is spent. Coincidentally, a lot of family time ended up being outdoors.
Masha shared, “My idea of motherhood is spending time with my kids doing pursuits we enjoy and having a partner who understands that.” Being in partnership with people who can help makes a huge difference when setting out for the adventure of a lifetime. With Masha away, she had to know that her partner was comfortable being a parent. Luckily, Masha’s support system understood how unique and valuable this challenge was for her.
3. Give yourself a chance.
After a career move, Masha finally had the time and space to try out high-altitude mountaineering. To her great surprise, she discovered she was strong and was more than capable of summiting. With the encouragement of someone who told her climbing Denali would be easy for her, she continued forward.
Even with a small build and a weight of 50 kilos, Masha was perfectly suited for adventure. As she continued to climb and prepare for Everest, Masha found that she’d already completed a number of the 7 summits of the Explorers Grand Slam. It was then that her dream to beat a world record was born.
If you underestimate yourself, you’ll never get the chance to do something really extraordinary. As you test your limits and discover what you’re capable of doing, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities will arise.
4. Find a source of positive encouragement.
How do you find the courage to take on a massive challenge? For Masha, one crucial part of saying yes was the support of a guide and friend. This person acted as a sounding board and gave her the encouragement she needed.
On her climb of Vincent in Antartica, Masha realised she was doing something so opposite of anything she’d done before. But instead of being scared by it, she embraced it and moved forward.
Although Masha worked hard to train and prepare for the adventure, she knew she would never be aware of everything coming her way. So many of us want to know everything and put things off in order to be fully prepared, but many times that’s not possible. That’s when having a helpful guide and good reaction in times of uncertainty comes in.
5. Stick through obstacles to reach your goal.
Numerous obstacles arose on Masha’s path to completing the Explorer’s Grand Slam. Soon after the announcement of her decision to take on the Grand Slam, Masha broke her wrist. This injury was a pivotal moment. Of course, an initial response would be, “How can I possibly climb with a broken wrist?” but after seeing wounded warriors go down a mountain, she knew this was no excuse.
At many points, Masha’s plans were derailed by injury or logistics. She learned that if you stick with it and figure out a solution, you can make it to the end. Through unpredictable long days and challenging weather, Masha harnessed her willpower and accumulated mental endurance to climb on.
6. Embrace the personal journey.
Taking on the Explorers Grand Slam was an intense personal journey which changed Masha greatly. With the exposure to intermittent stress, everyday life felt much calmer. A delayed plane or change of plans was no longer a big deal. While Masha used to pack in each day with as many activities as possible, she now enjoys savouring one thing at a time.
Masha’s children were also along for the journey. They learned fun facts about each climb, called their mum from the South Pole, and became adventurers in their own right.
With her foundation, GRIT&ROCK, Masha’s mission is to inspire young women to take up mountaineering and outdoor activities and develop leadership, perseverance, and self-confidence.
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