It was a stunning day on the mountain. The vast blue sky surrounded the climbers making their final push to the summit. Among the brave mountaineers from Chile is a lone female climber, the clamps on her boots grip into the frozen ground. “Crunch, crunch, crunch.” With the summit in sight, she pauses for a quick breath, before stepping forward again into the howling wind. A few minutes later, Annabelle Bond is standing on the top of the world’s tallest mountain, her bright smile radiating a positive energy toward her Chilean climbing partners and the film crew that trailed their final push.
In the year leading up to this moment, Bond endured months of training with her Chilean expedition crew- proving to herself (and her all-male expedition mates) that she was capable of handling physical and mental stress inherent in attempting to climb the world’s tallest mountain. A bout with bronchitis during training; serious enough to cause permanent scaring on her lungs, did not detour Bond’s determination. In fact, it strengthened her resolve and belief that she was capable of anything she put her mind to.
Standing on top of Everest, Bond became the 4th British woman to summit Everest in history- an amazing feat on its own. But she did not stop there. Inspired by her success and motivated to prove that she was capable of even more, she immediately set her sights on a new goal- being the first woman to summit the highest peaks on every single continent in one years’ time. Over the course of the following year Annabelle traversed the world, ascending a total of 45,000 meters (150K feet), enduring the ups and downs of a relentless travel schedule, and experiencing a brush with death on one of her final ascents. 360 days after she smiled at the camera on the summit of Everest, Bond became the fastest woman in the world to summit the “7 summits,” a record that stood for 8 years.
Annabelle’s story is one that challenges many traditional notions of female success. Given her background, it would have been easy for Annabelle to lapse into a private life of comfort. But by choosing to challenge herself and channel her innate competitiveness, she was able to achieve goals unthinkable to most people. The lessons she has carried along the way have given her the strength to be a strong single mother, inspire others to get out of their comfort zone and make an impact larger than herself through charity. In this WELL, WHO? EXCLUSIVE we share her inspiring story- one that proves that women of all ages can overcome any tall obstacle ahead of them.
Annabelle Bond was born in Singapore to John and Elizabeth Bond. Sir John (who was knighted in 1999) well known as the transcendent 45-year career growing HSBC’s business across APAC, travelled often for work, leaving her mother to watch over her sister and brother while not at home. Over the course of her childhood, Bond spent time outside exploring with her siblings and playing team sports. “My parents insisted that we learned all of the social sports to a degree that we could do anything,” she remembers. Given her privileged background you may expect the Bond parents were conservative about letting the children roam outside, but that was not case. Bond remembers fondly the years her family spent living in Indonesia, “My mom was very much like- go into the paddy fields don’t worry about the cobras. I was really a tomboy- lived in shorts and t-shirts…. We used to ride around tea plantations and play on Krakatoa beach.”
At the age of 8 Bond started spending her school years at boarding school in the UK, coming back to Hong Kong during breaks. At the time, flying back and forth was not so easy… “It took 3 or 4 stops to come home.” While Bond enjoyed school, she didn’t apply herself fully to her studies, “I wish I’d worked harder in school. I was sporty but a bit naughty. I think I wasted a bit of an opportunity,” she remembers. Upon graduation, she decided to try her hand in the music business, working for a concert promoter in London. While able to enjoy the social scene in the city, her parents feared she was getting sucked into a party lifestyle and encouraged her to return to Hong Kong to refocus.
Upon her return to Hong Kong Annabelle found work with the real estate firm Savills in residential sales. The competitive nature of the job was the spark that she needed to get her life back on the right track. “I think healthy competition has always been a motivator for me… The job suited me… you earned as much as you put in.” When a colleague in her firm was closing more business than her, Bond decided to go into overdrive to make sure she was not outdone. “This other girl was pulling in all the clients and that is when my competitive nature kicked in… I really put my head down and got to work… I was promoted 3 or 4 times after that.” Bond was able to leverage her network in Hong Kong to build a loyal client-base…
Being in Hong Kong afforded her the opportunity to get back outside and participate in team sports. Through a connection she was invited to join training for the 103-kilometer race along the length of the MacLehose trail. Running in the mountains reconnected Annabelle with her adventurous childhood and quickly she was training more often. Her efforts culminated in a successful showing in her first race, one which she would go on to complete a few times over. “I did it 4-times. I always did it with the Goldman Sachs A-team. It was 3 guys and me.” Her experience working with her teammates to overcome obstacles, one of which involved losing all but one of her toenails, gave her the perspective she lacked earlier in her school days.
Annabelle’s foray into trail running got her thinking about other challenges. She yearned to travel and experience more adventures. She had the opportunity to do so when she and her then fiancé took trips overseas to explore the world together. “I did some very cool travelling… I ran the Inca trail, all around Peru. Then we went to Nepal- my first time to base-camp. Then we went to New Zealand.” Annabelle enjoyed exercising while seeing the world, albeit she usually stayed away from bigger climbs given her fear of heights. That was until 2001 when the couple decided to hike Aconcagua mountain in Argentina, the highest peak (6962 meters) in South America together. “The only reason I was able to do it was because I ran the MacLehose. I knew I could run 16 hours straight and had the endurance.”
“I’ve Arranged for you to Climb Everest!”
The next step in Bond’s fitness journey was the result of a proud mother. By chance, her mom came across a man named Andronico Luksic at a dinner party who was arranging a trip to Everest. Her mother unabashedly shared with the gentleman all about Annabelle’s recent feats, gushing about her daughter’s climbing abilities and recent conquering of Aconcagua. In somewhat a joking manner, Andronico (now a dear friend of the Bond family) suggested Annabelle should join. Shortly after the conversation, Annabelle’s mom called her up, “I’ve arranged for you to climb Everest,” she squealed over the phone.
Annabelle thought the whole situation was a bit crazy (not many commitments made at parties actually work out after all) but after some thought she decided she should jump at the opportunity. Annabelle contacted the Chilean team who hesitantly invited her to join in on their training in Ecuador. “I was quite brave to show up and meet all these Chilean men and keep up with them during training.” The hint of doubt she heard in the voices of the men arranging the trip fueled her to prove them all wrong. She gritted her way through the training, secretly battling a nasty case of bronchitis. But in the end, she earned her way on her own accord. The achievement brought a sense of confidence and freedom she had not felt before.
With everything coming together, Annabelle made the decision to dedicate her climb to support the charity The Eve Apparel, a UK based non-profit focused on raising awareness with gynecological cancers. Having gone through a scare herself just prior to her climb, she felt drawn to make an impact by giving any funds she raised to the charity and holding the non-profit’s flag atop the mountain.
On May 15th 2004 the team successfully summited Everest, thrusting Annabelle into a media spotlight. Her team’s journey was documented by a crew of videographers from The Discovery Channel, who portrayed her as the “pretty blond,” adding extra pressure to her climb. “They thought I would drop down the first crevasse,” she recalls. Annabelle was buoyed by the doubters, anxious to prove that being female was an asset, not a liability on the mountain.
To make her success sweeter, Annabelle was thrilled that people had donated 1.8 Million USD in support of her climb to The Eve Apparel.
Most experts usually advise climbers to rest for a few months after an Everest trip, but Annabelle was ready to forgo rest to carry her momentum forward to another feat. Given her experience, she knew that climbing the “7 summits,” the highest peaks on every continent, was a challenge (albeit difficult) she could conquer. At the time no woman had successfully completed the challenge in under a year, so she jumped at the opportunity to make history and started at once to arrange the trip. After hard work and relationship building, a group of 6 corporate sponsors including Li & Fung Group, agreed to sponsor the full cost of her trip.
The next year was a whirlwind journey that took her to all corners of the earth. She followed her Everest trip with a trip to summit Mount Elbrus in Russia, followed by the famed Kilimanjaro in Africa and the relatively easy Mount Kosciuszko in Australia. She then ventured to Antarctica to summit Mount Vinson. The logistics of getting her equipment and crew to Antarctica was the most complicated and expensive part of trip, eating up almost half of her sponsorship money. Annabelle slogged through the cold climb, hurting from the lack of rest. After decent she immediately boarded a plane bound for South America, thinking another summit of Aconcagua should not pose too much of a challenge. She had after all already conquered the mountain a few years prior.
Upon arriving in Argentina, however, reality dealt her a hard blow. Rather than re-acclimatize after spending time in low-lying Antarctica, Bond went straight into climbing in high altitude. “I was overconfident… instead of 10 days I tried to climb it in 3… it took everything for me to get to the summit.” On the way down, she collapsed unable to move on the side of the mountain. Her climbing partner was too tired to carry her down. It was up to her to keep moving or freeze to death. “I lay there on the ground… I had three goo shots for energy and after a while I dug deep and managed to get down on my own,” she recollects. Upon reaching base camp she was immediately rushed to the hospital to treat frostbite taking hold in her feet. It was a close call for Bond, who said while harrowing, the near disaster taught her the invaluable lesson of never underestimating a climb.
After a brief rest to recover Annabelle set out to complete the final jewel of her journey- Mount Denali, also known as Mount McKinley, in the United States. On June 10th 2005, after a grueling yet successful summit in daylight (which is 24 hours in the summer) she passed twin brothers on the way up. To her shock they lay dead next her tent the following morning. The two had tumbled off the mountain together during their climb. “I was so freaked out… I almost had to crawl the rest of the way down.” The pain of seeing other climber’s failure made the completion of her task bittersweet. But she flew home to Hong Kong, the reality of her achievement started to sink in. She had proved to herself she could overcome whatever challenges were sent her way- a lesson she would carry with her the rest of her life.
Living the Lessons
In the 15+ years since Annabelle completed the Seven Summits, she has participated in an impressive list of adventures, from running the Namibian desert to joining a crew in a sled-dog expedition in the North Pole. To Annabelle, personal discovery starts with getting out there and trying new things. “Real memories happen when you go on an adventure. You don’t remember beach holidays,” Bond quips. Another key to success is discipline. “My dad is very driven and very disciplined. The two go hand in hand…. I’m also very competitive. You have to have that to get through races that are challenging.” To this day Annabelle sticks to a regimented schedule, starting with waking up early and going for a run. Bond also mixes in Pilates and biking to keep her body healthy and mind sharp. She makes room for some indulgences, but in general sticking to a healthy routine is paramount to staying happy.
Ever since the birth of her daughter Isabella in 2007, Annabelle devoted her life to being a mother.“My first priority is Isabella- my priority is to be there for her.” Like her mother, Isabella has a structured schedule, running in the morning 3 days a week, getting lessons for tennis, in-between her responsibilities in school. Isabella has joined her mom on trips to see the world, experiences Annabelle believes will bode well for her personal development, “Isabella is so happy to be going on all the trips- she’s a really good little traveler.”
Being a single mom has had its challenges, especially in the early years of raising Isabella.
On top of the stress of being a new mother, Annabelle had to chart a new course with her ex-fiancé, enduring years of a highly publicized legal battle. “We had differences in how we were going to parent. I figured we’d be arguing about it forever, and I didn’t feel like I was his number one. I actually thought that he would come and fix it, but he didn’t and that’s life and that’s how it was meant to be. So, I devoted myself to being a single mom.”
Like many of us since the pandemic, Annabelle has been spending more time with her family at home. Relaxed dinners and afternoons playing boardgames… she’s been enjoying this time with her husband Ken Hitcher, who she married in 2020 after a two-year engagement. Looking toward the future, Annabelle has plans to get out and continue adventuring and raising money for charity.
Her most recent endeavor combines her passion for adventuring with education and fundraising by leading adventure tours to remote destinations. In 2019, before the pandemic, Annabelle led an expedition to Africa in partnership with Hong Kong based adventure company Just Challenge and the charity Laureus Sport for Good. “We took 100 people out- you have to raise 1000 usd per person so you automatically raise 100,000 in one trip,” she proudly remarks. Once travel opens back up, she is sure to plan more fundraising adventures. In addition to professional travel, she also hopes to be able to host a larger celebration for her recent wedding to share with family and friends.
A big item on Annabelle’s bucket list is taking her daughter Isabella to China to explore. Oftentimes in Hong Kong, especially in the expat community, it’s easy to forget how much China has to offer in terms of outdoor experiences. “I want to take Isabella into China more. It gets a bad wrap but… It is safe, its clean, its efficient. We’re so lucky to have all of this on our doorstep.”
Until travel can open up, Annabelle encourages Hong Kongers to get outside and experience the beauty around us. “We’ve got the most incredible biking trails, and beaches, so take advantage.” Remember to “take every opportunity that comes your way!”
To read more WHO? Exclusives with inspiring leaders click here.
Written exclusively for WELL, Magazine Asia by Jackson Kelleher