Australia Day 2020 in Grenfell: mountaineer shares incredible message

A night is a long time when you're clinging to the side of a mountain in a blizzard.

But each time Andrew Lock felt he couldn't stand it for another minute, he would hear the voice of his climbing mate and find the strength to stay awake a little longer.

It was just one of the stories the mountaineer - who has scaled the world's highest 14 peaks - shared in Grenfell on Australia Day.

And as he did, he urged us to find strength in community - to look out for those who need a little encouragement - in tough times.

Andrew Lock is the only Australian to have scaled the 14 peaks in the world that are higher than 8000 metres.

"The 8000 metre mountains are all at an altitude we call "the death zone" because if you spend more than a few hours at that altitude you will die even if you are using auxiliary oxygen," he told the crowd in Grenfell on Australia Day.

"They are so big that each mountain takes two to three months for each expedition to try to reach the summit of one of those."

Lock's ambition to climb Mount Everest, the tallest of those 14 peaks, was sparked when he saw a slideshow on the mountain as a young person.

"The only problem was that I'd never climbed anything higher than Weddin Mountain," he smilingly told the local audience on Sunday.

He learned to rock climb, then ventured to New Zealand to learn to climb small mountains. He travelled the world climbing progressively higher and more challenging peaks before his first attempt at Everest.

That first attempt was unsuccessful, so was the second. And one of his teammates was tragically killed in that second attempt.

Lock had been climbing for 15 years before he reached the summit of Mount Everest, and the achievement of that goal was only the "base camp" for his next goal of climbing all 14 of the world's 8000m peaks.

"It was very tough, fearsomely cold and very dangerous and I lost more than 20 of my friends over those years who were killed on those mountains," he said.

"Along the way I learned lots about leadership, teamwork and risk management.

"But what I learned most importantly was resilience. Because success does not always come on the first attempt but if the goal is truly worthwhile then it is worth fighting for."

It took a further nine years for him to achieve that: and six expeditions to reach the final summit.

"Each expedition was two months long, so I actually lived on that mountain for 12 months just to get to that one tiny summit," Lock said.

"And after all that effort I stayed on the top for 10 minutes, and then I was caught in a bad blizzard on the way down and I couldn't get back to my tent.

"I had to do what we call bivouac which is to spend the night out in the open and it was without doubt one of the longest nights of my life."

He clung to the side of the mountain in minus-30 degree conditions. Trying to stay awake, trying not to get frostbite, trying to keep breathing.

"Those minutes seemed like hours and those hours were interminable. Absolutely never-ending," Lock said.

"I shook with cold for so long that at times it seemed absolutely hopeless.

"But each time, just when I felt overwhelmed by the situation, my climbing partner Neil would lean over and say, "hey how you doing? are you okay?"

"And that little bit of support, that camaraderie ... bucked me up enough to endure just a little bit longer.

"And I did the same for him when he was at his lowest points throughout the night.

"And we reminded each other that even though that night seemed never-ending it would get light, and eventually it would get warm. We just to endure.

"So we endured. And eventually the eternal night did end, it did get light and life was good again."

That's what Australian community does, Lock said.

"I know that like much of this great country the Weddin shire has suffered years of crippling drought that at times must seem overwhelming and never-ending," he said.

"I urge you to endure, and to keep looking out for each other, because as hard and interminable as this drought seems to be one day those rains will come and life will be good again.

"I truly hope that day comes soon but in the mean time, if I may, I shall draw inspiration from you for my next expedition."

He'll also carry fond memories of Sunday's breakfast barbecue and Weddin hospitality as he heads back to the Himalaya.

"The question I'm asked most often is what I miss most and it's good food," Lock said.

"Diet on those mountains is very lean so sharing this good old Aussie barbecue with you is really fabulous."