Rachael Middleton was camping on Skye when her GCSE results came out, something that was typical of a girl imbued with a love of the outdoors from an early age by her parents and grandparents. It was three weeks before she opened them to find out that her straight A* grades would see her on the road to Sixth Form at The Abbey. Academic development aside, though, it was the School expedition to Nepal in 2013 that would spark the obsession that seems likely to define her life: ‘I was standing, just staring at the Himalayas, and Miss Corderoy leaned towards me and said; “I can see it in your eyes, you know one day you’ll climb it,” and that was it.’
On finishing her A Levels and securing a place to study Biomedicine at Liverpool University, Rachael set off on an adventure that would take her back to Nepal, meeting up with the guide she’d stayed in contact with since her Abbey expedition. The “3 passes” trek was her first experience of high altitude, and she completed what is usually a three-week trek in just fifteen days; she was hooked. A solo trek through Anapurna followed, then travel round South East Asia. Teaching in a school was one of her happiest experiences but soon the mountains were calling and her first big peak was the 6000m Huayna Potosi in Bolivia. A snow-capped volcano in Peru followed then Rachael set her sights on her highest peak yet, Argentina’s Aconcagua, which at 6962m is the highest mountain outside Asia.
In December 2016 Rachael joined a team of 5 others - all male, all at least a decade older than her - to attempt the summit. One of her teammates, a tall, fit former US soldier, told her, ‘when I met you at the rendezvous hotel I thought “she won’t make it.”’ Eleven days later it was Rachael who supported him as he struggled through exhaustion to make the summit. Rachel’s own determination came from within: ‘My mum has always been my biggest motivation, she’s always right behind me and I just kept telling myself “just think how you’re going to feel when you tell mum that you’ve done it.”’
Spending 45 minutes at the summit of this monster mountain was the best feeling on earth: ‘I just thought “now I’m living!” It’s a very addictive feeling.’
And so it seems. Rachael is heading to Costa Rica to teach English for a few months, but she already has her sights set even higher, on the 8201m Cho Oyu mountain in Tibet. It’s a huge challenge, not least financially, but as her US teammate learned, she is not a woman who should ever be underestimated.Rachael credits The Abbey with building her mental toughness and resilience and encouraging her to set high goals and follow her dreams. ‘I think that if you have a dream, you should just make it happen.’ She has switched her degree from Biomedicine to Geography to enable her to pursue a career that will take in the world that she is desperate to explore. With her determination, fierce independence and passion for adventure there’s no doubt that she has many more summits to conquer!