Saturday, July 12, 2008

53. The 3 Peaks Challenge - Movie

Follow this link to see the 3 Peaks Challenge Movie - it's a large file but definetly worth the wait!

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

52. Finally, The Challenge

Photos: 3 Peaks Challenge, Ben Nevis base with the Bus; Stop-watches starting on the Nevis Bridge; Dawsie and Chris Nearing Nevi's Summit; 3am Climb up Scafell Pike; Scafell Summit with the Team; The Water Crossing; Chris Leading the Charge on Snowdon; Big Chris on Snowdon Summit (someone crawling up the final section in the 70mph wind); Me and Tessa struggling with the Wind on Snowdon; Celebration after completing the Challenge; Chloe...

There were definitely a few points during the 24 hour challenge that I questioned whether I could even go any further. The hurt I was feeling at one stage felt like I was carrying a rucksack full of bricks, my lungs were desperately gasping for anything resembling oxygen and my legs felt as though they were made of rubber – I’ve never felt anything like it before. And then as if my magic, I had managed to push through that pain and hurt, albeit with a little help from the boys and the occasion jelly bean induced sugar-rush. My mind was regularly wondering, occasionally thinking of reasons of why I couldn’t possibly go any further, but then I had to keep refocusing and remind myself of why I’m here and why I could keep going. On a mountain, over a mile high, in the pouring rain and gale force winds, we were forced to keep ourselves company as we had no chance of conversation due to the incredible noise the stormy weather made on our ears. You’ve got no choice but to get lost in thought. I saw some incredible efforts that weekend and it was something I’m very proud I was able to be a part of…

It all started out so nicely, crisply ironed fresh clothes were the choice of many – the sun was shining as the buses turned onto the windy roads to the east of Fort William in the Scottish highlands, nearing the start of the first climb up Ben Nevis. We were all excited but there also a feeling of nervousness surrounding the team. We all donned our Paul O’Gorman Leukaemia Research t-shirts, lined up energised for the photos, the stopwatches started and then we were off – 4,500 feet of hill was awaiting us. The steepness of the path caught most of us unaware and within ten minutes we were already pealing off layers of clothing. This was tougher than we anticipated. After two and a half hours of a constant steep walk, we were nearing the summit – the views were incredible as the snow on top of Ben Nevis sat there enticing us to leave the path behind. That feeling of elation captured us all as we reached the top of the first mountain…one down, two to go. Now we just had to get back to the bottom safely.

The drive down from Scotland to Scafell in the English Lake District was the like looking into the future – our bus was literally getting battered by the storms and giving the drivers very little visibility. Somehow we even managed to drift off and get an hour or two of shut-eye (depends who you ask!). The weather never subsided the whole way through the quiet country roads and upon arriving at Scafell Pike at 2:30 in the morning, the mountains were nowhere to be seen. I could barely see my hand in front of my face. Getting out of a warm, comfy bus into 10 degrees of cold, cold rain and wind was up there with the hardest things of the weekend – we all quickly got changed into our new gear, donned the head torches and followed our trusty guide up the side of a hill that was engulfed in water. The only thing visible was other head torches bobbing away in front of you. That smile Pete our driver gave us before jumping back in his warm bus stuck with me for at least an hour…about until we all had to cross a creek that had swollen and created its own furious rapids. We didn’t see any real light until we reached the 3,100 feet summit of number two at around 5am. We all quickly munched on our soggy sandwiches before turning around and heading back down the mountain that is renowned for its steepness and hidden cliffs.

Upon returning to the buses absolutely saturated, Jo our driver informed us that there were severe weather warnings reported on the radio. We quickly derobed, dried off and got on our way towards Snowdon in north Wales, listening to the radio for any further reports. After a few more major reporting of this ‘deep depression’ and ‘gale force winds’ in north Wales, we decided to pull over and start up Jo’s laptop to give us a more in-depth overview of what was awaiting us, six hours away down the motorway. It didn’t sound or look good! Reports of sheds losing theirs roofs and trees blowing down in winds of up to 75 mph (115kph) didn’t sit too well with some of us, forcing a discussion among the team on whether we should continue or abandon this Challenge. Was it all over?
The conversation was about general safety and whether we’d simply get blown off Snowdon – with all in favour of the decision, we started up the buses once again and continued our journey to Wales to make the decision there. We were wasting valuable time discussing alternatives anyway…

The chief Park Ranger informed us over the phone that he could not close the mountain, but he could issue a strict warning of not to climb – if I remember correctly, I think his words were “I wouldn’t be seen dead up Snowdon today!” After no further discussions based on whether we tackle mountain number three, we were dressed once again in our climbing gear and making our way up Snowdon’s path – we had four hours left exactly before the 24 hour time limit was exceeded, so all 13 of us were on our way.

The scenery I’m sure would have been unreal! We were in the clouds within thirty minutes of walking, so visibility was pretty ordinary. Those gusts of wind were starting to become noticeable as we neared the half-way point up this beast of a hill…the wind galloping down the side of the hill above us was so loud, we had roughly two seconds to brace ourselves before the turbulent air hit us and tried to toss us over the edge. The further we went, the harder it became. When I started to wonder whether the wind could get any worse, a man on his descent told us that the wind here was nothing compared to the top. Thanks for the inspiration buddy! The higher we got, the more we had to scramble and use our hands to get up from one ledge to the next. The 24 hour time limit was ringing in my ears, so we pushed on. Finally, the path evened out again and we were left with a 400m walk up a section of the hill that was about 20m wide and only 5m at some points. We were completely surrounded by cliff edges but the clouds prohibited our ability to see them. The final push and we were there…the wind was absolutely howling like a coyote on heat! The summit was marked by a cabin-like structure that we felt obliged to foolishly climb. This could only be done by crawling to the top or else we would have definitely fallen victim to these 75mph winds!

A few high-fives and we were on our way down again thankfully. We’d just about survived this ascent, now we just had to skilfully manoeuvre our way back down too.

I finished the Challenge with my Leukaemia consultant, Tessa Holyoake and one of her scientists Vignir by my side. Tessa was unbelievable throughout this event, putting all of us twenty-something blokes to shame with her far superior fitness.
The rest of us meandered off the hill and registered total times of 23 hours onwards – with four minutes remaining, we were only two down from the full 13 who started this hill. And then as if by some dramatic finale, big Chris and John were seen bounding down the hill in order to complete the Challenge within its allotted time. All the gang stood at the finish line, cheering the boys off the hill and they finished with an overall time of 23 hours and 58 minutes. GOLD!

Maybe this weather made it more adventurous? Some may argue that it was adventurous enough…but all in, as much as I hated it at times, I’m very glad that we took on this tough Challenge and made it. That'll be my last one for a very long time. My legs certainly felt pain for the following week but because of this Challenge, £15,750 will now go to the new Paul O’Gorman Leukaemia Research Facility in Scotland, where people with Leukaemia all over the world will benefit. A big thanks to all who participated, drove, organised and to Pete for decking his bus out with "Leukaemia Research" and "3 Peaks Challenge" artwork!

The one thing that made this event much harder that it should have been for me was the news of my PCR results the day before we started. All the docs and I were confident, it would finally drop below the amazing 0.1% mark, as the previous few had gone down and finished at 0.3%. Unfortunately I was told it’d gone back up and was 0.43%. Not a huge jump but after the levels I’d been achieving, this isn’t anywhere near the result we were hoping for. I’ll keep taking my Sprycel medication (140mg a day) and hopefully the next PCR test will bring better news…

Our fundraising page will be open for a few more weeks –

Thanks again for the support!