Wednesday, 24 December 2008

New Year in Nepal Easter on Everest

The altimeter read 29,000ft, the Barometer -38 degrees. Thanks to engineering of Rolls-Royce, Boeing and in the comfort of a British Airways pressurised cabin, I was as high as Hillary and Tensing were when they stood on top of the world. On the flight to New York I’d just been feasting on my complimentary cold ‘all day breakfast’ and the thought of playing cricket at Gorak Shep was as far away as a Buddhist Monk thinking of the new Britney Spears video on the screen in front of me. But I soon found myself under the pressure which many men have recently encountered: desperately trying to find an alternative to the pressure of watching Mamma Mia! Stumbling across a documentary entitled Everest ER, I’d found my saving grace. Documentary following a team of volunteer doctors caring for the climbers and sherpas at Everest Base Camp in Nepal. This gripping series follows the lives of these doctors over the course of one Everest season. Perfect. I pressed play without even thinking and following a few exchanges and promises to Vi that I’d watch it manana manana, the headphones firmly went on and felt a huge sense of excitement watching a documentary about where I’d be attempting a world record in 2009!

The Everest Base Camp Medical Clinic was set up by Dr. Luanne Freer after visiting base camp in 2002 and realising the distinct lack of medical advice and care She now returns each year with other doctor volunteers to perform her selfless work and has treated more than 1,300 people since its launch and I’ve recently been told that they will be helping our on our Expedition attempt although not too much I hope! In her own words ‘I was looking for a way to combine my passion for the mountains with my desire to give back to the Sherpa people I had come to love; what better way than to start a clinic, in a tent, on a big hunk of moving ice’. I watched in complete silence as I witnessed people with aliments such as ‘Khumbu Cough’, a tickling cough that comes from dry cold air irritating the lungs causing one chap to break his ribs from coughing so violently, constant headaches, loss of appetite, sleepless nights, nausea (research has shown 25% to 50% of people arriving at Pheriche, which is 4,200 metres, will get some sort of AMS), broken legs and ankles and an hour later I wish I had sung-along in my airline seat to Pierce Bronson in lycra, singing Knowing Me Knowing You.

New York was a welcomed break as I’d recently had a bad relapse of my Ulcerative Colitis, the first in about five years and ended up back in hospital. All this coupled with the life of a stockbroker becoming like that of a dung beetle, constantly picking up things that were shite and worthless. Waving a giant finger at the Knicks game, eating a foot long hot dog coupled with a beer and a pretzel (the two came together, maybe the UK should cotton on and serve a pint with a huge pork scratching) was the highlight, as was walking the Brooklyn Bridge at sunset on the way back from Grimaldi’s, (highly recommended by Kiwi as the best pizza’s in New York...and I wasn’t disappointed!) but as I sat outside the changing rooms for my third hour in the shoe section of Bloomingdales recovering from yet another steak which I’m sure was still moving when devoured, I realised that an all American diet was not tantamount to giving myself the best shot at becoming a record breaker.

Coming back to Blightly was a shock to the system. My first ‘personal’ training session at the gym was something only comparable to the pain Mel Gibson felt in the penultimate scene in Braveheart on the rack and after being on the cross-trainer, the bike and the treadmill over the course of an hour, I must have looked similar to someone giving birth to a child. These sessions have continued on a weekly basis and I pretty sure at various points I’ve insulted him, his mother and reincarnated his grandmother just to throw an insult at her for good measure. This however pales into insignificance to what some of the other lads were doing and reading through our captain’s blog you can get an insight into what he and 11 of the lads did lining up for the Grim Challenge to see the type of commitment that is being driven into this expedition – running, wading, and crawling through 8 miles off off-road countryside. If this wasn’t hard tough enough, it also happened to be the coldest day of the year. I’d advise reading Glen’s blog amongst the other nutters who entered this for the full experience of crawling through mud whilst ‘dodging a few ice blocks here and there’.

On the training side, I’m still yet to make my debut and whilst I’ve had a few setbacks with my health this year, there are no excuses in the new year. Monday nights are now being run by Kiwi involving laps of Albert Bridge and Chelsea Bridge with sprint training in between and then Kirt and Tom leading the Trim Trails on Wednesday nights and Saturday mornings involving a number of fitness exercises that, and I quote an anonymous source here ‘I’d like to see Bear Grylls trying to do this shit...’ (Bear was incidentally jet skiing in the Antarctic having just summated an unclimbed peak in -25oC temperatures) No pain, no gain. Not trying to come across as too much of a training Scrooge before Christmas, I’ve sure I will be visited by the three Ghosts of the Everest Test and I fear the Ghost of Training Yet to Come the most...!

My personal highlight of the year has to be putting my pads back on and getting back into the nets, which occurred a couple of weeks ago at Lords following by far one of the most entertaining morning of The Everest Test thus far. Inspired by the organisers, a PR stunt in the heart of London tourists’ spots to raise awareness brought traffic, people and the pigeons of Trafalgar square to a standstill. The idea was to perform what is referred to as a ‘freeze mob’, whereby the team dressed in white and with various props (ski goggles, tennis rackets as crampons, ropes, sleeping bags and rucksacks for the trektators) all walked into an densely busy placed, the trektators would then applaud to welcome the team onto the pitch, Wes would then bowl what was an imaginary ball, David Kirtley then pushed inexplicably at the slightly wide delivery which was caught superbly at fine leg...and then everyone freeze in that position for three minutes.
My morning like many other who turned up to prepare at the Millennium London Eye has started in a blurred haze, the previous night having been spent in the LSE student Union following our work Christmas party. Whilst requesting ‘Reach’ by S Club 7 dressed in black tie did draw attention to myself, a few hours later I would never have predicted that Parliament Square would have been brought to a standstill with every sole turning their cameras away from Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament and onto members of the Everest Test ‘frozen’ in position, having just appealed for a wicket being caught at short leg! I stood at watch in amazement and hundreds of people crowded round to take pictures and ask what was going on. Whilst some of the players performed their roles admirably, Haydn and Jamo looked like they were trying to impersonate someone doing a star jump or having just been kicked in the balls and disappearing into orbit.

Best comeback line I’ve heard since General Peter Cosgrove has been undisputedly awarded to Wes for his role outside Buckingham Palace. If I ever get interview for Goldman Sachs (still in existence at time of writing) and the panel asked me to describe a moment where I have been challenged and how did you respond, I would have to coin this as my own. Having avoided a few vans worth of police cars at Parliament Square, Buckingham Palace with the flag flying high at mask was going to be trickier situation as 15 people marched boldly in white towards the palace. As the Trektators cheering signified the start of the ‘match’, Wes was confronted by a policeman who assured him that the freeze mob wasn’t going to happen on ‘his watch’....Queue the classic get out of jail card free response from Wes of ‘But we’re doing this to raise awareness of the Charity’. This usually gives you access to any cornerstone of mother England, but not for this policeman defending the Queen. Just about the play his trump card and smugly laying down on the table what in poker terms he felt was a flush having just bet the ranch, raising an eyebrow responded ‘Well then...which charity?’ Out comes the Royal Flush from Wes with a simple parry of ‘The Prince’s Trust’. Unequivocal silence from the Bobby as David Kirtley was again caught inexplicably pushing at an imaginary full pitch ball outside off and Haydn now performing some form of John Travolta move erplacing his now infamous starjump appeal. If this wasn’t good enough I was fortunate to witness a Geordie wearing a Newcastle football shirt with Number 9 ‘God’ on the back, walk past Wes with his baby in a pram, high-fived him whilst he was frozen mid appeal and chuckled to himself ‘I love the English’. I don’t even think anyone had noticed the changing of the guard going on behind us.

One more freeze mob at Trafalgar Square which scattered the pigeons with the volume of the appeal and stole Nelson’s limelight and after three more minutes, it was off to Lords for an update on the expedition and two things I had feared most over the last few months: getting back into the nets after shattering my thumb and the dreaded bleep test*. Twelve hours earlier I had been ‘Climbing every Mountain’ and Reach for the Stars’ with various other students in the LSE union bar looking like a complete idiot, but I feared this had been ill preparation for a bleep and more humiliation was to come. Kirt soon became some kind of sadistic torturer, a side I hadn’t seen to him yet and having firstly announced that he’d forgotten the bleep test causing euphoric sighs across other members who were in the similar hungover state, then proceeded to find it and take great glee and pleasure in clapping his hands in place of the bleeps whilst chuckling to himself, as my heart raced to a level similar to that of a grand national winner. I clocked in at respectable 11.2. The work done with Jamie the trainer had obviously paid dividends and began to feel some guilt about the various insults I’d thrown at his family at my previous training session.

*(The test involves running continuously between two points that are 20 m apart. These runs are synchronized with a pre-recorded audio tape or CD, which plays beeps at set intervals. As the test proceeds, the interval between each successive beep reduces, forcing the athlete to increase velocity over the course of the test, until it is impossible to keep in sync with the recording, i.e collapse screaming ‘medic’ or ‘stretcher bearer’)

At the meeting there were various announcements, one being the sad news that Charlie Brewer had to pull out for medical reasons. He has been suffering from similar symptoms to that of ME and Chronic Fatigue for nearly a year now and has also been unable to work for over six months. Charlie is a huge cricket fanatic and has dedicated a huge amount of his time to the Maladroits CC which he is now captain of and runs the day to day logistics of the team. He is a lifelong friend who I have travelled to as far as the West Indies and Sri Lanka to watch England play cricket whilst losing various games of golf on the way! Despite being the one person I would love to see up at Base Camp and I know this is one thing he would absolutely loathe to miss out on, he has selfishly given up his place and having recently been diagnosed with Lymes Disease, I wish him well and a speedy recovery.

It was also announced that there is a change to one of the charities that we are raising and can now inform you that coupled with the Himalayan Trust we will now be raising funds for the Lords Taverners founded in and based upon cricket, that helps young people, particularly those with social, environmental, physical or learning disadvantages, to enjoy cricket and other sporting and leisure activities and there was unanimous agreement amongst the meeting that this was the right decision to change at the moment of the expedition. I had the opportunity to update the teams on progress with Surrey Cricket Club who are now are Official Cricket Partners and they have now generously given us access to their net facilities once a week, increased our media exposure, helped us get involved with some of the Lambeth School they are affiliated with which will hopefully culminate in a link with some of the Nepalese schools and also a moment that I will take to the grave ... a rematch of the Hillary v Tenzing epic on the hollowed turf of the Oval during the lunchtime interval of either the Ashes Test or the One dayer! A huge thanks at this moment goes once again to George Foster and Paul Sheldon at the Oval and to Paul Farrant at JM Finn for all there help thus far.

‘Are you sure you don’t want a helmet mate?’ was how I was greeted ten minutes later by the infectiously competitive Chris Palmer, I might add also my own teammate, as I strolled to the crease in the nets from a six month absence. ‘Never worn one, never will’ was my overly-cocky response. I continued down to the far end, knowing what was coming and sure enough a few balls later I ducked into what I thought was a bouncer. In a moment similar to Chris Read being caught like a rabbit in the headlights by a Chris Cairns slower delivery, the short pitched ball hit me somewhere on my lower arm as I took my eye off the ball. The ‘bouncer’ would have struggled to bounce a midget on stilts. Welcome back Charlie. Watching David Kirtley caressing yet another glorious drive into the side netting next o me was something to behold and it will be fantastic to have him as part of Hillary CC at the Shep. I heard a couple of the Tenzing boys mumour ‘Lets hope he gets bloody light headed on match day!’ as they glimpsed the Cardiff Captain for the first time. It was good to see who we were up against as I’d missed the ten wicket drumming earlier in the season at the hands of the auld enemy and on the day of the Everest Test, I believe the outcome will be an entirely different story!!

Completely separately, I will be spending New Year in Nepal with my family celebrating my father’s 70th. Kirt and Cuzza will coincidently be out there at the same time, so I’m sure a few beers will be shared in the Yak and Yeti until the wee hours of the morning before heading off to Tiger Tops in the New Year. It will be incredible to return to the foothills of the Himalayas once again and visit Kathmandu and the much mooted Emerald Valley, considered to be among the most beautiful places in the world before returning for the world record attempt April. It will certainly be interesting to see what the Nepalese have in mind for New Year’s Eve – I doubt my Banana Man outfit I wore the year before would go down too well!

For those who had read my next installement of War and Peace and the Everest Test, may I Wish you all a very Merry Christmas and for those involved in the Everest Test, a record-breaking New Year in 2009!!

Thursday, 6 November 2008

It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves

Being inspired by the achievements of Sir Edmund Hillary having read his remarkable autobiography ‘View From The Summit’ recounting the first man ever to set foot on Everest in his 1953 landmark expedition, coupled with the threat of the organisers of having to knock in a cricket back for our attempt to break the Guinness Book of Records for the highest game of sport ever played - a game of 20Twenty Cricket at Base Camp of Everest - I decided it was finally time to conquer a first for myself...the challenge of setting up my own blog!

The first question you will no doubt ask is why have I decided to play a game of cricket, albeit at twice the altitude that FIFA allow professional footballers to play due to health reasons, on the highest plateau on earth? Without plagiarizing Mallory’s answer ‘Because it is there’, I will endeavour to give some background to how I became fortunate, or rather foolish enough to be invited on this incredible challenge and also what exactly The Everest Test is all about!

Having once again travelled to the shores of the West Indies to watch cricket, this time in April 2007 for the Cricket World Cup, I had just witnessed one of the classic matches between England and the West Indies, which was in fact the stage for one of the game’s greats, Brian Lara, to bow out of international cricket. Although run out for 18, he received a resounding ‘Yes!’ to the question posed to his beloved crowd of ‘Did I entertain?’ in his post match interview. Fortunate enough to shake his hand on his lap of honour, I believed it couldn’t get much better and settled in for the evening for more ‘Carib’ beers with my university cricket aficionados James Carrington and Charlie Brewer. Two other cricketing fanatics we had randomly met in the matches beforehand, who had quit their jobs and been following all the games across the islands were Alan Curr and Jonathan Hill and they joined us without having to twist their arm to much.

Following the usual debate about whether the illustrious Maladroits CC were indeed a superior village cricket side than the Drovers CC (when we all initially met, it took us a few hours to relaise that we had already done battle on the green cricket fields of Surrey the summer before, and won) and whether Stuart Broad was the future of English fast bowling or batting, I was silenced by the question posed by Alan of ‘Ever wondered what it would be like to play cricket at 17,000 feet at Base Camp of Everest?’. We had migrated from Carib Beers to Margaritas at this point and Cuzza and Hillsy (as they are affectionately known) had in fact just done a reverse bungee on a belly full of beer, so merely dismissed this insane idea as inebriating ranting. I watched them both re-in-act one of Michael Vaughan’s sixes from earlier whilst falling off their bar stool and then continue on their never ending debate about who was the greatest English cricket captain of all time.... Nothing more of the conversation was ever mentioned.

A year later and having lost the Magners Cup (an annual charity cricket match which has over the years raised funds for Alzheimer’s, the Primary Club and Ulcerative Colitis from which I have suffered from for 6 years) to the Drovers in a tightly fought contest involving the Barmy Army and the Lashings – Tino Best just happened to take a hat-trick for the Drovers in the final – I found myself sat with thirty or so other insane minded people on a cold snowy April Sunday morning in the Duck Pub in Battersea and first met the brains behind this idea and the expedition leaders, Richard Kirtley-Wright, Gareth Wesley and Charlie Campbell. Coffee was served, and much needed, but more sobering were the sentences mentioned such as ‘we will be attempting to competitively play sport with only 66% of the oxygen at sea level’...It will feel like ‘breathing though and straw’...You will be pushing the mental and physical boundaries of conventional sport to officially set a world record for the highest altitude of field sport at 17,000 feet, at Base Camp of Everest’. Simple, easy, a walk in the park...if you were a seasoned cricketing mountaineering Sherpa, attributes of which I could debatably claim none of. This was one of those once in a lifetime opportunities....and I had already begun to fill in my application.

Adventurers the world over have been inspired by the achievements of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay and this expedition is no different. With over 50 people now enrolled on the expedition which includes 30 players divided into two teams, aptly named Hillary and Tenzing to which an affiliation for each player now runs deeper than just an identity, the invaluable ‘Trekatators’ consisting of medical staff, cameramen and some of the most enthusiastic people I have ever encountered, we will all each be raising a minimum of £1,500 in an attempt to break the world record for the highest altitude of field sport ever played, it is indeed awe-inspiring and will be the most difficult challenge I have taken on in my life.

Richard Kirtley-Wright has been up to the plateau where we hope to break to record at Gorak Shep and like Sir Edmund himself, has a great affection for the Sherpas who without their help we would not be able make this attempt at the record. After his accent in 1953 Hillary founded the Himalayan Trust, a non-profit dedicated to bettering the lives of the Sherpas. The Himalayan Trust has helped to create a modicum of wealth, health, and overall prosperity in this once desperately impoverished mountain area and this is one of the two charities that we will be raising funds for and a truly worthy cause. To quote Sir Edmund Hillary:

I first visited the Khumbu area on the south side of Everest in 1951 and developed a warm respect and affection for the Sherpa people who lived there. Their life was a tough and hardy one but they had a most vigorous sense of humour. It was impossible not to like their cheerfullnes and generosity.
Over the next ten years, I developed many Sherpa friends and became of the things they lacked in their rugged existence - no schooling for their children and no medical treatment for the ill. I often felt there was much we could do to help them but never got beyond the stage of talking and dreaming.

The second charity which we will be raising funds for is Sports Relief All the money raised through Sports Relief will be spent by Comic Relief to change countless lives for the better at home in the UK and across the world’s poorest countries. So whilst many adventurers and expeditions have trodden similar paths we hope to tread in April 2009 for a number of different reasons, our sole aim is to raise as many funds as humanly possible for these fantastic charities and your support for both this expedition, The Himalayan Trust and Sports Relief is greatly appreciated. A win for Team Hillary would be a bonus!

A phenomenal amount of work and unprecedented effort has been put into this expedition and so much has already happened. The Trektators organised an incredible launch party at the Collection in South Kensington, raising over £3000 and was attended by over 200 thirsty souls, including Neil Laughton ( a living legend in his own right who has climbed Everest among other incredible feats. The two teams are also represented in pretty much every 10km run, half marathons, Marathons (Cuzza and his sister Helen just completed the Berlin Marathon – an incredible achievement in itself), triathlons and the weekend in February is already pencilled in to attempt the Three Peaks Challenge (Ben Nevis, 4,408 feet [1,344 meters]), in England (Scafell Pike, 3,205 feet [977 meters]), and in Wales (Snowdon, 3,560 feet [1,090 meters]) which if all placed on top of each other, still falls nearly 6000ft short of our intended height to play cricket!

It obviously goes without saying that fitness is paramount to the success of this expedition. Players need to be ready for two varying elements of the trip, the 9 day trek to the plateau, and then playing the match at 5165m. The first element requires to be walking fit, both legs and upper body, to carry the expedition kit in packs etc and the second element is the match with just 66% oxygen the players would have at sea level. Whist a number of 45 min runs per week are now a staple pastime, my fitness level has recently taken a hit as I was hospitalised for a couple of days with my ulcerative colitis and diagnosed with anaemia, but a rather expensive gym membership purchase leaves me with no excuses left and I promise to be seen at the Trim Trail at Battersea Park on Wednesdays and Saturday mornings (training organised by the triathlon running Sharland brothers and Kirt) before someone sees a pig fly....

I have in fact previously reached the dizzy heights of 17,582ft [5260 metres] climbing up to the Tanglangla pass whilst visiting India. It is the second highest pass in the world, so it will be a welcomed return to the picturesque and striking views that only the Himalayan mountains can offer...The difference this time round being I’m no longer an eighteen year old whipper snapper! I might add that the photo next to the Tanglangla sign is of one of me with ginger hair when a sun-in dye moment went wrong and my parents still ‘tut-tut’ at the photo of me on their mantle-piece proudly talking to the Queen about our trip to India when she visited Charterhouse

The captive picture is myself and her laughing recounting my story of the landing at Leh airstrip, which I personally thought was petrifying as I’m sure we capsized a fisherman on the decent in to land having just missed a moutain lake by inches....I was wrong. At the first official Everest Test meeting, Kirt and Wes described landing on the Lukla Airport where we will touch down to make our record breaking attempt and where most people start their trek on Everest. If my parents, or anyone who is scarred of flying is reading this, probably best to skip to the next paragraph. Their description was as follows:

Voted as one of the world’s most dangerous airports, the width is 20m and the runway incline is a staggering 12% and there is about a 700-metre (2,000 ft) angled drop at the end of the runway to the valley far below. When you take off, you go downhill and then the runway just disappears into the valley down below. If you don't get enough speed, you drop until you get lift and then hopefully get back up again.

My trip to India was also the first time I encountered the extremes of breathing at such altitude and remember my friend and I taking on the Sherpas (the bet was who made who tea in the morning) to get to the top of a mountain pass. I figured that the slow conservative pig trail up the scree slope with the yaks would take hours and my more direct ‘short cut’ up the side of the scree, now infamous amongst friends, would be quicker. Half way I we realised how wrong we were and breaking into a fit of laughter, we then had to sit back to back for over half an hour not to catch each other eye just to get our breath back as we could hardy breath and were gasping for air – five hours later we made it to our camp and humble pie was firmly eaten, much to the amusement and glee of the sherpas in the morning!
We did play a fantastic game of cricket agasint Leh CC at their ground at 11 975 ft and lesser mortals were collapsing before finishing an over! The most memorable highlight of the whole game was when we had to stop to let a sacred cow walked across the wicket as it was not allowed to be rushed, an interlude of about 20 minutes. A sequel to the successful 'Penguins Stopped Play' book by Harry Thompson perhaps...but a game of 20Twenty cricket 6,000 ft higher?!?! I’m only thankful my father concentrated on my batting in the back garden and will certainly not be looking for a couple of quick singles should I make it.
On the cricketing front, once up the hill I will be led by the ever enthusiastic Glen Lewis (very appropriate that a Kiwi is leading Team Hillary ) and the recently married animated Jules Staveley as Vice, both of whom would rather climb Everest itself in bare feet and a jock-strap than see Hillary lose on the day (the recent 10 wicket defeat at the hands of Tenzing was our poker-faced tactic, all a big rouse). I’ve sadly been unable to get involved on the cricketing front since shattering my thumb playing back in May and having had a couple of set back since, (my now girlfriend being to blame for pulling it out of its socket on our first date and breaking it again and what was nearly our last!!) I will be back in the nets soon since my eye watering cortisone steroid injections in my thumb joint seem to have helped the recovery.

The fundraising side, I’m involved with a dedicated Committee made up of players, organisers and trektators organising a number of charity events both pre and post-expedition and many hours have been put into this already this year burning the candles late into the evening. As well as the fundraising, sponsorship of the event is obviously tantamount to the expedition and funds for the charities and information on the title sponsorship can be found at . Personal thanks must immediately go to my company Marketing Director Paul Farrant at JM Finn Stockbrokers, who has been invaluable with his time and helped get Surrey Cricket Club on board as our official cricketing partner. Paul Sheldon, the CEO of Surrey CC has been incredible since and thanks must go to him and George Foster in offering us use of Surrey’s facilities, the Ashes Suite at the Oval for our post-expedition fundraising event and not forgetting a re-match of the Everest Test during one of the days at the Ashes during the lunch interval on the hallowed Oval turf itself!

As I mentioed at the start, more than four and a half decades after Hillary and Tenzing looked down from Everest’s 29,000 feet on the world below them, and gave them both well-deserved places in the history books, I have been incredibly fortunate enough to have been invited on aand be involved with this incredible challenge. I will endevour to keep you posted of my activities, the various events surrounding the Everest Test and progress leading up to and of course during this record breaking attempt. My personal fundraising page will be up and running shortly an I hope you will come back to check on progress by myself personally and the other members of the Everest Test Expedition.

‘It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves’
(Sir Edmund Hillary 20 July 1919 – 11 January 2008 )

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