7 Jul 2023

From battling addiction to conquering Everest

From Afternoons, 1:55 pm on 7 July 2023
An aerial view of Mt Everest (centre).

An aerial view of Mt Everest (centre). Photo: AFP (2003 - file)

Warning: This story discusses addiction and suicide.

What does it take to go from having no alpine training or mountain climbing experience, to actually climbing Mt Everest?

Holly Beckham of Ngāpuhi and Ngāti Rangi is on a journey to find out.

To train for the big ascent she's under the mentorship of Lydia Bradey, the first woman and New Zealander to summit Everest without oxygen.

Their first step to achieving the big goal was climbing Tititea Mount Aspiring.

Holly Beckham talked to Jesse Mulligan about her goal and the training she had to get through to achieve it.

Her drive to climb Mount Everest arose from another struggle she was fighting.   

"I am a recovering addict. I'm 4 years clean from drugs and alcohol. For about 19 years I struggled with addiction and I had a disconnection to my wairua due to traumatic events that had happened throughout my childhood," Beckham said.

"Drugs and alcohol were my solution because I didn't know how to deal with trauma.

"After several suicide attempts and just feeling extremely unhappy with my life, I hit rock bottom which was another suicide attempt. I woke up in the hospital and I saw my mum and I looked at her and ... I could see the hurt in her eyes. And I thought enough's enough, I've got to try something different."

Beckham did not know what that something different was, but knew she wanted to stop hurting the people around her, and decided to try rehab.  

Holly Beckham

Holly Beckham Photo: Supplied / Holly Beckham

"That was a good 9 months of treatment, therapy, working on yourself ... getting the tools to deal with emotions - that was something that I'd never learned. Mindfulness, DBT, CBT [types of behaviour therapy], things like that.

"While I was in there I met so many beautiful wāhine that were on the same journey as me. They were wanting to get clean, and I realised I wasn't alone and just hearing their stories it was so inspiring - so I thought when I got out of rehab I'm going to make documentaries about these beautiful wāhine that I'd met."

She enrolled at South Seas film school and after finishing got a job with a New Zealand production company. While working there, a crew needed batteries carried hiked in to Mueller Hutt in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, and Beckham volunteered.

"I thought I'd do that ... anything to get out of the office - and that's where I met Lydia.

"My first interaction with her, she growled me, because I'd forgotten my beanie, and she gave me a stern talking to and she said you're a role model and ... I'd never thought of myself as a role model."

That stuck with her.

"It made me want to be a role model. And I asked has there ever been a Māori wāhine that's summited Everest? And she said no - so that's where it started."

Early this year Beckham made her first high altitude climb, up 3000m high Tititea.

Tititea Mt Aspiring in Holly Beckham's documentary Te Ara

Tititea Mt Aspiring in Holly Beckham's documentary Te Ara Photo: Supplied/ Holly Beckham - Te Ara

"So for the first time I got to put on crampons and got to walk around in them, went for a little bit of a walk around in the Fox Glacier, and then we climbed up Tititea - which took about 18hrs, so that gave Lydia an idea - and myself - if I could climb or not.

"I made it to the top and we came back down and I'm still keen to go to Everest and she's keen to take me to Everest, so yeah."

A documentary series about Beckham's journey, called Te Ara (the path), will go live on Stuff on Monday.

The pair now hope to make it to Everest in 2025: "The only thing that's stopping us is funding, and ...I've got to do training and I've got to do another high altitude maunga."

Beckham said the new direction she had taken in overcoming addiction "a huge shift".

"Believing in my body and also believing in my wairua and who I am and believing in my tūpuna as well.

"I definitely feel that like on this journey that I'm reconnecting with who I am, te ao Māori, I'm reconnecting into that space.
And I know I'm being led by my tūpuna ... they're the ones directing me and I'm just here for the ride.

She said for anyone else working through addiction: "Hold on to hope."

"There is another way. Reach out and your dreams can come true. Stick to it and growth comes from the uncomfortable - but hold on to those dreams and hold onto hope.

"I'm just imagining taking the tino rangatiratanga flag to the top of Everest and being able to represent Māori, especially wāhine Māori in an international platform."