After retiring from a career as a polo player at 35, Oliver Browne (1995, C) explored working in financial services before realising it wasn’t for him. The wild called, and before long he’d founded True Summit Adventures, running high-altitude treks and alpine climbing trips.
Which sports were you involved with at Radley?
I played all sports at Radley with much enthusiasm, but none with any great talent or proficiency! I started playing polo in my last year. Charles O’Connor encouraged me to get involved. Miss Lambie used to take us for lessons at Inglesham Polo Club near Highworth once a week.
What did you do after finishing school?
Initially, I went to Newcastle to study Geography, but I used to go home so much to play polo that eventually I transferred to the Royal Agricultural College, so I could play more polo at Inglesham. I had always planned on working in horse racing and all the racing people I knew, including my friend and OR, Andrew Balding (1986, B), went to Cirencester and did the equine business management course. Ed Walker (1996, G), now a successful trainer, was on my course also.
When did you decide to make polo your career?
After graduating, I planned to begin a career in bloodstock. I loved the idea of trading thoroughbreds, but instead, I started a business selling and renting horses, giving lessons and taking people to Argentina on polo holidays with the then England Captain, Henry Brett. We owned the polo school at the Royal County of Berkshire Polo Club. Eventually, one of our clients asked me to be his main professional and team manager at the Guards Polo Club, so I focused on that.
I also played at Cowdray and spent the winters playing abroad, mostly in Argentina and Barbados where we had a string of horses, but also Pakistan, and took tours in the US, South Africa and India. It was an amazing experience. I sometimes played alongside Malcolm Borwick (1990, A), another OR who was a professional polo player and friend. He has had a great career.
When my patron decided to finish playing, I thought I would do the same as I was still only 35. I thought I could transfer into another career more easily than if I waited another 10 years.
The Duke of Wellington Final Guards Polo Club, 2011
What did you do next?
I tried a few jobs in financial services, mostly in business development and capital raising, but it didn’t really grab me.
I started climbing in 2019 with an ascent of Kilimanjaro. European classics like Mont Blanc and Grand Paradiso followed quickly afterwards, and by 2020 I had pretty much abandoned my work projects to climb full-time. During the pandemic it really took off: I climbed throughout, including big expeditions to Ecuador and Nepal where I reached 7000m on Everest before getting sick with covid-19. Despite this disappointment, the expedition was great. I met all the big names in climbing and became totally immersed in high-altitude mountaineering.
How did you turn your hobby into a career?
I looked at going back to a ‘regular job’ after my Everest climb, but I was always put off by the amount of holiday they were offering. Climbing big mountains takes time, and I want to do as many as possible!
Around this time a senior figure in private equity I knew from polo asked me to take him to the mountains and introduce him to climbing. I agreed, and planned to pitch him a business idea I was working on. On the way back to London from Heathrow, I started my pitch when he interrupted and said, “Whatever you’re working on, drop it and focus on climbing. You’re a climber.”
A week later, I was in the Lake District working towards a Mountain Leader qualification and True Summit Adventures was born.
Now, I take people all over the world to climb. We offer a mix of high-altitude treks and alpine climbing trips. I want to do horsebound and cycling adventures in time, but for the moment it’s all about mountains.
Climbing isn’t your only interest. What other challenges have you taken on?
I have done lots of running, cycling and some ocean rowing. After my Everest expedition in 2021, I won the NOMAN Barcelona to Ibiza race in 93 hours, with 3 friends. I hadn’t rowed at Radley, and only did three erg sessions before the race, but my mountain fitness got me through.
The same friend recruited me for the 2022 Talisker Atlantic Challenge, an ocean rowing race from the Canary Islands to Antigua, c.4700 km. We did the race as a team of four, and we were well prepared – I found it quite straightforward, to be honest. We led for two weeks, but were overtaken by a team of coastal rowers from Spain, and ended up finishing 2nd, but still the 8th fastest time since the race was established back in 1997. Far more importantly, we raised over £240,000 for the charity Starlight, a national charity promoting the importance of children’s play in healthcare to boost wellbeing and resilience during illness. I loved taking part in the race – it was an incredible experience.
At the finish line of the 2022 Talisker Atlantic Challenge
How is business going for True Summit Adventures?
Good, I think. In 2022 we had a soft launch due to my Atlantic Row commitments, but I still ran expeditions to Kilimanjaro, Toubkal, the Dolomites and Chamonix, plus I did some corporate weekends in the Lake District.
So far this year, we have had expeditions to Ecuador, Nepal (Everest Basecamp Trek, Lobuche East and Mera Peak), Tanzania (Kilimanjaro x 2) and Kenya (Mt. Kenya). I do a mix of ‘open’ adventures, listed on my website, private trips, and corporate events. We had a great time in Nepal where I guided a 16-year-old to the summit of Lobuche East, 6100m which is likely a record for a non-Nepali.
I am currently in Peru climbing; mostly for myself as I want to keep improving technically. It’s wilder than Ecuador or Nepal (at least the Everest region). I just came down from Chopicalqui (6450m) which we climbed unsupported, but unfortunately, my climbing partner got sick during the summit bid and we didn’t summit. I’ll get it next time. I love Huaraz, the Peruvian city I’ve been staying in, and we will have trips here next year, I imagine. 2024 is looking busy which is great; every year I want to add more itineraries to our offering.
In September I launched a new project in adventure therapy with world-renowned life coach, Paul Lubicz. We are offering adventures with life coaching layered over them. We are starting in Kilimanjaro but will add Nepal and Peru: we are calling it ‘Transformation Through Nature’. It will be powerful stuff.
I also started a new project called City Summit Club. I want it to be like Park Run, for the outdoors. It’s totally free to join and we do one-day hikes near London, although I want to add a northern and a Scottish edition soon. The first one, on the Seven Sisters, had nearly 100 sign ups. Luckily, due to a BBC yellow weather warning, only 25 people turned up, but we had a great time. The next one is in the Chilterns in September.
What’s next on your adventurous agenda?
This year I wanted to climb Dhauligiri in Nepal in the Autumn season, but I may have to prioritise some commercial expeditions instead. Trying to climb some 8000m mountains is my main goal. I think we will have a commercial expedition to Everest in the next few years in conjunction with my Nepali partners. I just need a few of my clients to get more experience.
Looking beyond this year, my dream is to do a cross-continental cycle from London to Kathmandu and then an 8000m ascent in the Himalayas, ideally Makalu which is a special mountain. Some friends and I plan to try for a ‘Snow Leopard’ in 2024. The Snow Leopard is the five highest mountains in the former Soviet Union and they’re all 7000 to 7500m high.
If all goes well, I’ll try for an 8000m mountain without supplemental oxygen, which is the holy grail of high-altitude mountaineering – probably Gasherbrun I in Pakistan; I used to play polo there, and it is one of my favourite countries.
Meanwhile, I have to balance all this with guiding expeditions and starting a family with my girlfriend! Something might have to give …
What advice would you give to anyone thinking about sports as a career?
Go for it. You might not play no. 10 for Barcelona, but there are lots of levels in sport and lots of roles beyond playing; the main thing is to enjoy what you do and give it your all – you’ll be surprised where you end up. I was glad to have been a professional in an amazing sport. Both polo and now climbing have taken me all over the world and introduced me to amazing people I would never have otherwise met – that has been the best part of it for me. Funny what can come from some polo lessons at school on a Thursday afternoon …
Find out more about True Summit Adventures on their website: https://www.truesummitadventures.com/.