Few sights stir a sense of adventure like the first glimpse of a mountain’s ice-encrusted peak emerging from the clouds.
Not so long ago, climbing to the top of one was considered an act of lunacy; now, however, the world's high places have become theatres of mass recreation. At mighty Mt Everest alone, hundreds of people a year reach the summit – and scaling lesser peaks around the world is the highlight of a trip for many thrill seekers.
To mark the launch of Lonely Planet’s Atlas of Adventure, we talked travel with BAFTA-nominated director Jennifer Peedom, whose new film – Mountain – explores our enduring obsession with these extreme environments.
Where was your last trip?
Nepal with my family. I took them to visit my Sherpa friends. It was the best family holiday I’ve ever had. So special for so many reasons.
Where is your next trip?
What is your first travel-related memory?
When I was six years old, the Australian dollar was strong against the US dollar, so my parents took us out of school and on a three-month road trip across America. I still have wonderful memories from that trip.
Aisle or window seat?
Window. I hate having to get up and down all the time for people wanting to get out. I’m happy to climb over a sleeping aisle seat passenger.
Do you have any travel habits or rituals?
I’m an obsessively light traveller. I try and only travel with carry on, as I hate waiting at baggage carousels. I have lots of pouches to keep everything contained and easy to find. Travel documents, electronics and travel adaptors, and toiletries. I leave a lot of stuff packed just for travelling, so I just grab the pouch to save packing time.
Favourite city or country or region?
Buenos Aires would have to be one of my favourite cities. Nepal for the mountains and adventure. Europe for culture. Japan is my newest discovery. I absolutely adore it. Believe it or not, I also just love being at home sometimes.
Your career has taken you to a lot of extreme places – what’s proved the most challenging travel experience?
You might expect it would be the mountains… Certainly, working on Everest is a challenge. Even getting there is difficult, whether via Tibet or Nepal. But my most challenging travelling experiences were probably in South America, where I travelled alone in my twenties. I had lots of hair-raising experiences over many months, but managed to escape them all unscathed, and probably stronger for the experience too.
What first prompted your fascination with mountains?
I went to Nepal with a friend, who was acclimatising for Everest. I’ll never forget landing in Lukla (the gateway to Everest) and being surrounded by magnificent mountains. I felt a sense of awe and respect, but at the same time, felt strangely ‘at home’. I’m lucky in that my genes mean I can acclimatise fairly easily, so I don’t suffer as badly as some at high altitude.
The film explores how mountains have become theatres of recreation rather than places of mystery – how do you feel about that change of status?
I certainly feel sad about the over-commercialisation of some mountains, particularly Everest. I think it says a lot about our culture of instant gratification that Everest has become this symbol of achievement. I feel we have lost a sense of why mountains matter. However, there are so many mountains that do remain mysteries and many ways to enjoy mountains in a respectful way.
Which of the many destinations featured in the film do you most long to visit?
I’d love to visit Antarctica one day.
Aside from mountains, do any other extreme environments elicit a strong emotional response from you?
I’ve recently spent time in the desert, and it was interesting, because while I could appreciate the beauty, something about all that vast space, and the relentless heat, terrified me.
What is your best or worst travel souvenir?
I used to collect a beer bottle from every country I visited – I gave that up long ago, but did have a large collection. It all went into the recycling bin one day in an attempt to declutter. My favourite souvenirs? Things I still have on display in my house are Tibetan textiles I found in a market in Lhasa.
What is the best or worst piece of travel advice you’ve received?
Best: pack light.
Worst: I lived in Panama for a year when I was 18. I was told to take anti-malarials by the Travellers Medical and Vaccination centre. I only realised three months in that malaria had been eradicated there decades earlier. It took my gut years to recover from the pills (which are essentially antibiotics).
What’s your biggest travel fail?
What advice would you give a first-time traveller?
Travel will open your mind, your heart and has the capacity to change your life. Just try not to lose your passport!
Mountain is showing in cinemas across Australia from 21 September and will be released around the world later this year.