Poles Apart Book Release – Interview with Sean Disney & Vaughan de la Harpe

Sean Disney & Vaughan de la Harpe Interview

Vaughan and Chumbe Sherpa descending The Hillary Step – Everest (South). Photo by Sean Disney

The Poles Apart (with some pointy bits in between) book by Vaughan de la Harpe and Sean Disney (as told to David Bristow) has hit the shelves.

An entertaining and fascinating account of the authors’ formidable mountaineering and climbing accomplishments.  In 2011 the pair completed the “Grand Slam”, which is summiting the world’s seven highest peaks as well as journeying to the North and South Poles.  The book chronicles their achievements in an amusing and modest manner, while still sharing the drama of the various expeditions.

Poles Apart is highly informative about some of the real nitty gritty encounters and behind-the-scenes information about what exactly it takes to summit some of the world’s highest mountains, delving into the vast and varied challenges of mountaineering and very personal experiences of how the two authors overcame them, finding an inner strength that is just as vital as an outer, physical strength.

Although this book delves into the challenges but it does so with a good dose of humour, as both Sean and Vaughan bounce their experiences off each other and reminisce in sometimes hilarious ways with the kind of detail and stories that armchair adventurers (as well as genuine mountaineers) will enjoy.

‘This book is not just about mountaineering.  There is the required physical fitness, the mental strength, the tortuous planning, the extreme patience (waiting in a tent in sub zero temperatures, day after day, for a window in the weather) the science, the careful choice of equipment, friendships formed, the need for tolerant wives and families, the soul searching … and, of course, the need for a good sense of humour.’ – James Clarke

Vaughan de la Harpe is the Managing Director of a company based in Johannesburg that specialises in the administration of insurance-related products. He is the first South African, along with Sean Disney, to have completed the Explorers Grand Slam.

Sean Disney is the Managing Director of Adventure Dynamics International. He lives with his family in Johannesburg. He has climbed Everest from both sides and is a two times 7 summits climber. Sean is a qualified paragliding pilot, private pilot, open water diver, and cyclist.

The book can be purchased from Kalahari.com

We have 3 copies of the book to giveaway!
To stand a chance to win:  Send an email to info@climbing.co.za with ‘I love Climb ZA’ in the subject!

Poles Apart Book Cover


Interview by Jonathan Joseph

Right off the bat, Sean and Vaughan, well done to both of you on an astounding achievement!  Yours has obviously been a long and very successful partnership.
Q:  How has this mammoth undertaking affected your friendship?

Sean: Thanks for the offer to be interviewed, it is always a honour!  The Poles Apart book took us two and a half years to write and the process was kind of unusual.  None of us had diaries so the “flash backs” where intense.  We have been friends for over 10 years and we drank a lot of good red wine with David Bristow.  The process has been amazing and Vaughan and I will be writing book number two as we whittle away at the 7 highest Volcanos on each continent.  We will keep you posted….

Vaughan:  Sean and I have known each other for a long time and have been on a fair number of expeditions together.  We know what to expect from each other and on each expedition we simply knuckle down and get the job done.  Over the years we have built up mutual respect and importantly, a level of trust.

Sean Disney & Vaughan de la Harpe Interview

Glacier at the summit of Kilimanjaro. photo by Vaughan de la Harpe

Q:  If you were to select only one highlight each from the entire epic, what would it be?

Sean: The two chapters that still make chuckle to this day is the incident of the Baynes brothers and the Chilean military Photographer in the Vinson section and the Great Condensed Milk incident in the South Pole Ski Section.  I was there and it brings a big smile to my face.  Our characters are portrayed quite cleverly and a book in the 1st person is very difficult to write.

Vaughan:  For me it was climbing up the summit ridge of the south side of Mount Everest on 24 May 2006. The weather was uncharacteristically perfect and at 5:30 with the sun casting its first light over the Himalayas way, way below, I knew at that point that I would make the summit. A very special moment.

Q:  And a corresponding low point?

Sean:  The deaths on the North side of Everest always sadden me and the bodies that still lie on the track.
Vaughan: I agree with Sean.  The bodies of climbers along the route do give one pause and drive home our own mortality.

Q:  I notice you make quite specific mention of a few well-known brands (Gore-Tex, La Sportiva, MSR).  Are you sponsored by these companies, or are their products just that good?

Sean:  I am sponsored by First Ascent – they are a great local brand.  We use high tec  8000m equipment and would love to be sponsored by them.  Boreal also come to the party.
Vaughan:  I am not sponsored at all but these companies do make  top class products. When embarking on an expedition one should choose the best equipment that money can buy. You won’t regret it!

Q:  For the gear junkies now…..  Aside from the usual necessities, are there any interesting or unique bits of kit you each can simply not do without on expeditions?

Sean:  I still maintain in the book, the best inventions over the last 10 years are the Buff and the chemical hand and foot warmer.
Vaughan:  I agree and don’t forget a pee bottle!

Sean Disney & Vaughan de la Harpe Interview

Vaughan on the infamous Tyrolean traverse of the Carstensz Pyramid ridge. Photo by Lance Metz

Q:  In the book, you comment on the state of commercialization of the big mountains.  Over the many years you’ve been playing and working on them, what has been the most noticeable effect of the commercialization of these special places?

Sean:  There is nothing wrong with the commecialisation of mountains.  Not everyone one is a soloist or has Table Mountain in the their backyard.  Mountaineering is on the up and will continue to grow.  The enviromental plans on mountains need to be increased to allow for the increased traffic.
Vaughan:  Particularly mountains like Kilimanjaro and Elbrus. They are perceived to be the “easier” mountains to climb and will therefore attract more and more traffic.

Q:  As commercial expeditioneers what steps do you actively put in place to help ensure that these, at one point sacred, places do not get utterly destroyed by masses of humans that now flock to them?

Sean:  We work and highlight points with the local authorities and guide with the principles of “leave no track and only footsteps”.

Sean Disney & Vaughan de la Harpe Interview

Vaughan (L) and Tim Baynes take a hammering on Mount Vinson. Photo by Sean Disney

Q:  Sean, what forewarning would you give to any potential new tent partner for Vaughan?

Sean:  Vaughano is a great tent partner, he might not say the same about me, but let me tell you – choose your tent partners wisely – take ear plugs and look for the considerate types.  There are some really messy climbers out there and big snorers!!

Vaughan:  I was once holed up in a tent with Sean for 48 hours during a storm.  I don’t want to go into detail but my therapist says I’m coming along nicely!  Jokes aside, a compatible tent buddy is critical on an expedition.  Sean and I have developed an understanding over the years and it works well.

Q:  And Vaughan, any advice for someone sharing a tent with Sean?

Sean:  Be nice Vaughano!!
Vaughan:  Don’t under any circumstances leave Sean in charge of the condensed milk. Nuff said!

Q:  So, you’ve both spent oodles of time on massive mountains and walking to the ends of the earth.  Do you have eyes on any potential new lines up any of the peaks you’ve already climbed, or perhaps any as yet unclimbed peaks in your sights?

Sean:  We are looking at the 7 Volcanos peaks as a project and new book.  I would also like to do the second 7 highest on each continent.  K2 seems a problem at the moment and I have 2 of the second 7 and 6 of the 7 Volcanos.  Haha.
Vaughan:   For me, it’s the 7 volcanos.


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