When Chief Officer Ash Ogborne’s partner and fellow crewmember Amber Crouse passed away in June 2023, his plans later in the year shifted and took on a different meaning. A trip that they planned together became one that consisted of climbing Mount Everest and Kilimanjaro in her memory while also raising money for charity.
Initially, the couple planned to go to Thailand, where he would work on his next ticket and she would do a yoga course before climbing Kilimanjaro, something they had wanted to do for a while. As these were the last travel plans they made, Ogborne was reluctant to cancel them, so he asked his best friend Sam Doyle to come along. He introduced yachting to Ogborne, whose last position was temping on a 95-meter motor yacht. Doyle’s most recent position was chief officer on a 65-meter motor yacht.
While figuring out the best route between Thailand and South Africa and looking at climbs he and Amber wanted to do together, he thought of climbing Mount Everest base camp and doing them back-to-back.
Doyle took initiative on setting up a GoFundMe for these treks and choosing causes close to his heart — men’s mental health and breast cancer research. Both have had an impact on his family. Eight years ago, he had a cousin who committed suicide at 21, and while it’s discussed, he feels not enough gets done about men’s mental health. And Doyle helped to take care of his aunt who had breast cancer, and two days before he left, he found out his mom was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. So these climbs were made in Amber’s memory but also to support the two causes through MANUP? and Cancer Research UK. At the time of press, they have raised £4,900.
Before even arriving to Everest, Doyle injured his knee while training, and both experienced chest infections that left them bedridden for at least a week in Thailand. So for the two weeks leading up to the climb, they did as much cardio as they could, hitting the gym every day, and doing long hikes to try to prepare themselves.
“Just getting there itself, we were just so grateful to be there. Everything just kept going wrong in terms of planning,” Ogborne shares. “We booked these flights months in advance and by the end of the trip, we had 15 flight cancellations or amendments.”
Their trek to the Mount Everest base camp began on November 16, 2023, and they spent nine days climbing up at an average of three to seven hours per day. Ogborne had a relatively easy time with the climb and wanted a challenge, so on the final acclimatization day, they went up quicker, resulting in blisters on his heels. By the time he was able to admin medical aid to his feet, the damage had been done as he gained more blisters. Despite being in pain, Ogborne and Doyle arrived at base camp on the ninth day and came back down in two days (even though it was meant to be done in three), finishing on November 28.
“Sam was doing a lot better than I thought,” Ogborne says. “All the pressure I had been putting on him, getting on him about getting fit and training, and I was the idiot that had gone and injured myself through my own fault. That became quite a bit of a joke through the trek.”
By the time they made it to Tanzania, Ogborne couldn’t walk on his feet but was determined to do the trek. They reached the starting point on December 3. Luckily for him, walking uphill didn’t hurt at all, so with Doyle by his side, he went up as fast as he could to get as much distance as possible. The local guide team, including 13 crewmembers of guides, chefs, and porters, made them feel like they were part of the community.
“They were teaching us songs, words, and how to interact with people on the mountain. It was a far different cultural and community feeling doing Kilimanjaro than it was on Everest,” Ogborne says. “And because Amber was from South Africa and a very patriotic South African, it was very personal for me because all the singing and dancing, that whole culture and vibe, reminded me of her. It just became a much more enjoyable personal experience.”
On the last day of climbing and while normally it would take seven hours to reach the summit, they needed to get to the summit for sunrise, so they pushed through the 45 to 50 oxygen level and made it in 3.5 hours. At the summit, Ogborne sprinkled some of Amber’s ashes, as he did at Mount Everest base camp, and they concluded their journey with an 11-hour hike down on December 8.
“We’ve been best mates for years now and it’s a shame that something so tragic brought us together for so long, but I’m glad we were there for each other,” Doyle says. While Doyle admits that hiking was something he never thought he’d do and that he had to push himself to do it, the experience has been life changing and he’s already thinking about doing climbs of Machu Picchu and Mount Fiji.
“Doing the climbs that me and Amber had planned together has helped me towards gaining a bit of closure, especially being able to scatter her ashes in the places I know she wanted to go to. My mood was very up and down throughout the journey as I was trying to process a range of emotions — the main thing I’ve taken from it is what an incredible friend I have in Sam,” Ogborne shares. “It’s strengthened our relationship and reminded me that through deep sadness and trauma, there is still so much to be happy and grateful for.”