Sophie scales great heights in search of solace

Sophie approaches Mount Damavand in Iran.

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A party-loving journalist in China, everything changed for Sophie Taylor, now Cairns, when she was 30.

A young Sophie with her dad Anthony Richard Taylor.

Her father, Anthony Richard Taylor, died so suddenly that she arrived at his bedside two hours too late. In her grief, Sophie defied chronic asthma and climbed the world’s seven highest volcanoes, raising over £7,000 for Cancer Research UK in his memory.

Now living in Invergloy, the home of her recently acquired husband Douglas Cairns, former journalist Sophie has penned her first book, published last week, October 15, by Amberley Publishing.

Pico de Orizaba, Mexico.

Climbing The Seven Volcanoes: A Search For Strength is a personal story of redemption through mountain climbing, from Papua New Guinea to Russia by way of Antarctica.

‘I don’t think I’ll ever come to terms with not being there when dad died, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing,’ revealed Sophie.

‘Any lingering sadness I feel now is just a reflection of how happy we were as a family. I have wonderful memories of my childhood, asthma notwithstanding, and that’s why I wrote Climbing the Seven Volcanoes.

‘It’s not just a book about travel – it’s an attempt to honour my Dad’s memory. Climbing mountains was also my way of dealing with difficult emotions.’

Cooking lunch in Papua New Gunea.

As an amateur climber, Sophie does not gloss over her limitations and (sometimes hilarious) mistakes. She encounters the snobbery of the professional climbing world.

She said on setting out: ‘I was smothered in a purple goose down onesie as thick as a duvet. Under the plush expedition suit, I wore two pairs of climbing pants, a soft shell jacket, a fleece top, a pair of inner gloves, a pair of outer gloves, and plastic boots. Not to mention thermal underwear. My plastic climbing boots barely closed around my ankles, which were adorned with three layers of socks.’

Only to be told by those lounging around in T-shirts and shorts: ‘You don’t need to wear your Antarctica clothes yet. Everyone changes on the plane.’

Sophie suffered from altitude sickness – so much more dangerous for an asthmatic – but she made it. Sophie somehow finally said goodbye to her father in that enormous ring of fire.

Working as a journalist for seven years (under the byline Sophie Taylor), first with the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong, then with Reuters in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Paris, Sophie married financial consultant Douglas earlier this year and the couple have now settled in Invergloy, near Spean Bridge.

‘I would never have gotten through the climbs without Douglas. He has been my rock throughout all the expeditions,’ she added.

‘Douglas grew up at Invergloy and we have been coming here regularly over the last 10 years, so it feels like home to me as well.

‘I love that it is much less frenetic and loud than in big cities. I love the beautiful and rugged Highlands, as well as the people, who have been very welcoming.’

Now working as a Life Sciences analyst, looking at pricing and reimbursement of medicines in Asia, Sophie began mountain climbing following the death of her dad in 2008. The Seven Volcanoes Project raised USD 10,000 for Cancer Research UK and overall, her mountain climbs have raised approx. USD 14,000 for cancer charities.

Kilimanjaro, Tanzania.

So what’s next on the agenda.

‘To be honest, I don’t have any big challenges planned at the moment. I’m extremely goal-oriented, so it’s not always easy to just take life as it comes! But one thing I’ve learned from all of this is that it can be so easy to get lost in big plans and projects that you forget to cherish loved ones in the here and now… while we still have them.’

‘For now, I’ll be very happy to seek out joy and beauty in the present moment, rather than dream of big projects in faraway places,’ concluded Sophie.