Reaching The Summit: The Unbelievably True Story Of Cory Richards And His Prototype Vacheron Constantin Dual Time
National Geographic photographer Cory Richard’s inspiring story of perseverance and adventure. A journey that took him from homelessness to the top of Mount Everest.
I’ll admit, I didn’t know much about Cory Richards before attending a mid-summer press conference organized by Vacheron Constantin. But as it turns out, I had been living under a rock. The acclaimed photographer and long-distance explorer is renowned for the beautiful images he shares to his one million Instagram followers. However, Cory Richards is more than just a finely curated Instagram feed. He’s a walking, talking, living, breathing badass with a unique tale to tell.
About Cory Richards
Born in Boulder, Colorado to a pair of professors, Richards’ didn’t exactly have the type of upbringing which would suit a now legendary mountaineer. A somewhat vicious relationship with his brother led to Richards leaving home at the age of 14. Battles with depression, PTSD, and alcoholism led Richards to discover climbing and eventually accomplishing two ascents of Mount Everest. What started as an escape from issues on the home front turned into a career for Richards. The now accomplished climber faced his demons and has a fascinating story to tell.
Buy why climbing? As Richards points out, it was more about necessity,
“I was brought out of that time period [homelessness, depression, alcoholism] by climbing – because climbing was in some ways an act of aggression, but it was also an act of art. It was an act of creation. And I found in it [climbing] a way to voice the angst that I had in my adolescence and to show this sense of what it means to be human. And it wasn't about creating this veneer of awe and wonder, and it was about showing what was behind this… But, in the beginning, climbing was all I had. Climbing was all I knew. Climbing was all I was valuable for, to anybody around me. And so, I took that, and I ran with it.”
As part of Vacheron Constantin’s “One of not many” campaign, Richards exemplifies the spirit of adventure against all odds. As Richards adds,
During the event, Vacheron Constantin unveiled a new Overseas Dual Time. But not just any Dual Time. The actual prototype that Richards wore on his most recent ascent of Everest. As you can see in the images, the watch is an absolute stunner. Cased in titanium and tantalum and sized at 41mm. A unique grained textured grey dial with subtle orange accented AM/PM indicated and local time complication. Even the strap is Everest ready as it’s produced using Ventile weatherproof fabric. The crazy part? Vacheron Constantin has no plans to produce the watch.
Key Takeaways from his life
Hearing Richards' motivational speech about his life was a special moment that brought forward many emotions. Throughout his adventures, Richards has achieved an almost mythical level of self-awareness. We’ll let Richards explain six key takeaways from his journeys.
In Pakistan– “I learned [that] subtlety, quietness is often far more impactful than being loud, being brash, being brazen. There is a time for subtlety. There is a time to listen. Failure is a good time to listen. You have to listen to yourself; you have to listen to the situation.”
From Mustang [in north-central Nepal]– “I learned about the importance of understanding my past, which has been a huge thing for me in life. Looking at where I've made all the mistakes I've made. What's precipitated a situation I've gotten into. Why am I there? Only through understanding our past, can we look to our future.”
From Africa – “I learned about consequence. The consequence of decision making. We have to look at the beginning of something to understand its end. We have to look upstream and downstream to know how our decisions will impact wildlife, how our decisions will impact one another. We have to be inclusive versus exclusive. We have to sometimes examine ourselves with such disturbing honesty that we break down what we think we need and find out what we really need.”
And, from Everest–“I learned that I have to embrace my strengths and trust my judgment, trust it every time. I hate to say to my guts are not always right, but they are the only thing I've got, and I'm going to go with them. That has been a huge lesson for me.”
Richards latest ascent of Everest
Perhaps even more spellbinding was the tale of Richards latest attempt at the great mountain. If scaling Everest wasn’t hard enough, Richards chose to go the long way around during his most recent attempt. While almost 99% of all attempts are made from the Nepali side of Everest, Richards chose to traverse the seldom used and entirely more dangerous North Ridge route. By entering on the Tibetan/Chinese border, Richards and his partner Esteban “Topo” Mena faced possible death at nearly every turn.
One of the reasons that Richards chose the Dual Time because of the sentimentality of his entirely possible demise, “There's this constant reminder on my watch face that there's a whole other group of people that don't actually want me to die doing what I'm doing. They care. They're home. They want me there. They want me to come home.”
Richards explained that Vacheron Constantin did have some hesitation on the collaboration. Richards said, " I had this idea; I wanted to go back to Everest. I want to do something that hasn't been done."Laurent Perves, the brand’s Chief Marketing Officer said to Richards, "Well, let me think about that because (A) You might die, that's never good on a PR thing [laughs], but (B) yes, that's what we stand for – Refinement, reduction, craftsmanship, creativity, legacy.”
While climbing Everest can undoubtedly be a life-changing experience, the trip does come at a cost. The average expenses of climbing Everest is around $45,000. Must climbers seek sponsorships, some go as far is placing logos on their climbing gear. Vacheron Constantin admits they donated to Richards latest attempt yet didn't seek outright publicity in return. Having their watch on Richards' wrist would turn out to be the best publicity you could ask for. The collaboration feels entirely organic, and the purpose-built watch stands as a testament to the incredible achievement.
Climbing 25,000 feet and having to turn around
After scaling the difficult terrain over ice and snow combined with multiple days of literally crawling up an almost insurmountable slope, Richards was faced with a decision. Turn back? Or keep going.
Richards and Mena found themselves in an open bivouac at 25,000 feet at -35 degrees with no tent. The energy required to stay warm overnight was too tremendous. After 40 hours with one collective hour of sleep, they had to make the heartbreaking decision to turn around. Richards explains, “we didn't have what it took to get to the ridge, cross it safely, and make it in time.”
The truth is, the Dual Time was reminding me that this was not worth dying for. But it was worth coming back for.
While recounting his climb, the disappointment was palpable. Yet the correlation with Vacheron Constantin’s participation was entirely sincere. As Richards closes, “the truth is, the Dual Time was reminding me that this was not worth dying for. But it was worth coming back for. “
(Photography by Liam O'Donnell)