The Journey to Everest: The Journey Begins

In December 2019 my Father in Law passed away from organ failure. This mainly resulted from a genetic disorder he had suffered with his entire life, but only took affect 20 years ago, Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP).

Dave was a very active man and very proud. He was a keen golfer and very good at it, often gracing the greens at Greenmeadow Golf Club in Cwmbran. He was popular, well respected and always around for a friendly catch-up. For me, he was an incredible Bampi (Grandfather) to my Son, Oren and stepdaughter, Skye. He loved the kids so much and would do anything for them to make them happy. Towards the end, he would take my son for regular trips to the shops on his disability scooter, speeding down the path allowing pure excitement from Oren, similar to what we find on the popular fairground rides. For many years, this had been Skye’s thrill-seeking hobby, now passing the torch to her younger brother.

Journey to Everest

At the same time Dave passed, I received the news that I was a runner-up in a competition, offering a discount for an Everest Base Camp (EBC) expedition through the company, Evertrek. The family had already stated they would like any funds from the funeral to go to Genetic Alliance UK, a charity who support such conditions like HSP. This seemed a great opportunity to raise the profile for the charity and vital funds to help with research and supporting the families of those who suffered. I signed myself up for the challenge that has been on my bucket list for around 10 years. I was doing it, I was going. Everest is now a reality and getting closer each day.

Evertrek offer some great advice through their website, including some podcasts, blogs and previous experience / stories. I am now starting to get an idea of the physical challenges and mental challenges that ensue. Physically and mentally, I knew I could do this. It wasn’t outside of my comfort zone and something very achievable, based on previous experiences gained within the Army. Stupidly, I requested to raise the bar and include one of the highest and hardest peaks available to Everest, Island Peak. There are many stories of other people’s trips to Island Peak, which include some large ladder crossings across wide and deep crevasses, or some harsh ice-climbs requiring footwear and ice-axes. This is the challenge I was looking for.

At EBC there is already 50% less oxygen. I am going higher than this, so I knew I needed to prepare for this environment. I have recently re-joined the Army after taking several years out, possibly the most unfit and out of shape I have ever been. This needs dedication, commitment to training and a focussed strategy. My aim is to get myself as fit as possible, to allow my body to be efficient with the oxygen I am able to get. This would reduce tiredness and allow more work in the day. I need my muscles to be conditioned and ready for trekking up mountainous regions, or climbing ice walls for long durations, so the strength training needed to be on point. Altitude sickness has no correlation to fitness levels or the muscular endurance. This is something that anyone can suffer with, regardless of ability, so I need to be ready for this, identify the signs and know how to cope. The research requirement was huge and something to help during my spare time when I’m not training. Luckily, I also know some people who have been to EBC who can advise on equipment, training and understanding the harsh conditions that were to follow.

The Journey to Everest: A Helping Hand

I am lucky to have access to the Army Adventure Training Group, who provide courses to help with this challenge. I have registered onto Alpine Mountaineering courses, Winter Mountaineering courses, Avalanche Awareness courses and rock-climbing courses over the next 16 months to help prepare for what’s ahead. These courses include ice-climbing and trekking through high mountains above the snow threshold, giving the best environment simulation I can get. These courses take place in my very own Snowdon National Park, Scotland, Bavaria and Swiss Alps. I have some travelling and trekking to get through over the next year, all contributing to the conditioning and training needed to summit Island Peak.

My general fitness has had a great kick-start, with regular runs, starting at around 4 miles, but these will increase over time to marathon distances. I have signed up to a few running events this year which include the Rat Race Dirty Weekend, a 20 mile run with 200 obstacles in my path, just making things a little more difficult; The Forces March, running 5 marathons in 5 days from North Devon to Bulford, Wiltshire; 8 Peaks Challenge, part of the Ultra Series, which consists of an Ultra Marathon over 8 of the largest peaks in the lake district, including Skafell Pike, the largest mountain in England. This is for now, but I am expecting a few more half marathons thrown in as additional milestones and extra training.

The British Army are very understanding with the arduous activity and realise this is only helping me become the best soldier I can be. I am able to take annual leave to complete the 3 week task, but also load onto relevant courses to help get me there. I have always had a love for my Corps, the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, and so I felt splitting the funds raised between Genetic Alliance UK and the REME Benevolent Fund could be my way of saying thank you.

A plan is now forming and although my journey to Everest is tough, with commitment to training and research, I will be ready. One of my favourite authors, Simon Sinek, says to always “Start With Why”. I know why I am doing this, I know what I need to do and how I need to do it. The smaller goals and milestones help break my large task up into manageable and measurable chunks, and I’m feeling confident on the journey that lies ahead.

I hope you enjoy following my Journey to Everest. There will be plenty more blogs and vlogs to follow, with many photos of the milestone events and mountain courses along the way. Thank you very much for reading and supporting.

Luke