The country has now been in lockdown for over seven weeks and we have all been resorting to increasingly radical measures to preserve (or surrender!) our sanity. A strong theme has been emerging among the mountain-loving population, with many taking to their staircases to satisfy an unyielding desire for upwards momentum! From an 8 year old Everest champion raising money for the NHS, to virtual team expeditions to Morocco and beyond, I tracked down the five stair-climbing-heros whose stories really stuck out.
1) Ed Jackson: The recovering quadraplegic who climbed Everest
The number crunch: Mount Everest 8848m // 4 days // 2783 laps
Ed Jackson is an ex-professional rugby player whose career was cut short in 2017 when he broke his neck diving into the shallow end of a swimming pool. After the accident he spent nine months in a wheelchair, slowly regaining enough motor control on his right side to walk again. His story is extraordinary; from climbing Snowdon (in real life!) on the anniversary of his accident, to leading a group of rugby players up Mont Buet in the Alps, to raising a quarter-of-a-million pounds for a spinal rehab unit in Nepal! We caught up with Ed to find out a little more about his staircase expedition and any plans in the pipeline…
Its been 3 weeks…have you fully recovered yet?! It took a few days to get over it but body is back in one piece now. Got away with just a few blisters.
I read that you slept in a tent throughout! How was that?! Sleeping in the tent was good fun although my bulldog joined me on the second night after discovering I was in there and his snoring meant I didn’t get much sleep! + I only had a -30 sleeping bag and it was definitely a bit warmer than that in the kitchen!
What was the toughest moments during the challenge, and what pushed you on? One of the toughest moments was getting up on the second morning. My body had completely seized up over night after twelve hours on the stairs the day before. Music pulled me through that morning with some friends playing live DJ sets. The boredom was pretty tough at times but seeing the support I was getting and the donations coming through kept me motivated.
I read that you have thought about real-life Everest! Any plans in the pipeline? The real thing is a way off physically yet but maybe one day. I’m hoping to return to Nepal later this year to climb a 7000m peak.
Whats the thing you are most looking forward to doing again after lockdown is over? After lockdown I’m looking forward to catching up with friends and eventually getting back out to the alps to do some hiking.
2) Nigel Rowell: Ben Nevis 2.6 – Prooving that you don’t even need a staircase!
The number crunch: Ben Nevis x 2, 2600m // 2 days // 2783 laps
2020 Nigel Rowell is a retired GP in North Yorkshire, getting ready to pick up his stethoscope and return to work to provide support during the Covid-19 pandemic. As if that wasn’t enough, he decided to take on a garden ascent of Double Ben Nevis (2600m) to raise money for the Pumping Marvellous Foundation, as part of the UK wide 2.6 Challenge initiative. He is using a step climbing machine in the garden, which just goes to show you don’t even need a staircase! Nigel is a frequent visitor to the Scottish Mountains and has climbed 222 Munros; he hopes to finish them in 2024 on the 50th anniversary of his first Munro. We caught up with him to find out a little more about his climb.
Congratulations on your climb! How did it compare to the real-life Ben Nevis? Thank you! Yes, completing the uphill reach ascent took 1 hour 15 mins – far easier than the actual hill walking on that particular machine, and it doesn’t quite account for the distance. Although my thighs were remarkably sore the next day! My wife also got the garden sprinkler going on me to replicate the real forecast on the Ben!
I hear that you wild camped in your garden, did you get a good night sleep? Yes I was trying to make it an authentic experience! Unfortunately sleep was disturbed by owls, peacocks, dogs barking and cars nearby which you don’t get on a true wild camp! But you can’t beat boiling up that first cup of tea in the fresh morning air! Splendid.
What’s the thing you are most looking forward to doing again after lockdown is over? I can’t wait to backpack around the Mullardoch Munros camping wild on top in my new bivi! My daughter recently moved to Glasgow and I can’t wait to bag some more hills with her and her partner.
Nigel is raising money for the Pumping Marvellous Foundation and you can view his fundraising page HERE
3) Niamh McCarthy: The eight year old girl summiting Everest for the NHS
The number crunch: Mount Everest 8848m // 1 month // 58,070 steps
Update: Niamh has now completed this challenge!
Niamh McCarthy is on a mission to climb 58,070 steps to raise money for the NHS and play her part in the coronavirus crisis. She wanted to choose a “really hard challenge”, so naturally set her sights on the highest mountain in the world! She has so far climbed 47,085 steps and can almost see the summit! In real life, she has already summited Pen Y Fan, the highest mountain in South Wales, and even has her sights set on Everest one day! Niamh was kind enough to take a little break from stair climbing to answer some questions about her impressive feat:
Hi Naimh! A huge well done to you for your efforts already! Thank you! How many laps have you done so far? I have done 3139 flights of 15 stairs so far….(up to last night) that’s 47,085 stairs of the 58,070 I need to get to the top of Everest!
How do your legs feel? My legs are ok some days and achy some days.
I read that you have climbed Pen Y Fan! Do you enjoy the mountains? Is it true that you might like to climb Everest for real some day? I love mountains! I do want to climb Everest one day. My mums friend Gopal does tours to Everest base camp in Nepal and I am going to go with him. My auntie Jeraldine has been to Everest base camp before!
What has been your favourite food to fuel you up the stairs? Chocolate!
4) Marie Cheng: Swapping Real Team Expeditions for Virtual Team Challenges
The number crunch: Everest Basecamp, Everest Summit, Team Wainwrights, Morroco 3 peaks // over 15,000m
After a strict and academic upbringing with little exposure to the outdoors, Marie Cheng only discovered mountains later in life through a spontaneous decision to join an expedition to Kilimanjaro. Fast-forwarding ten years, she now runs her own expedition company Three Peaks Africa. With the current expedition season cancelled, Marie has taken to the stairs to participate in multiple team challenges, racking up more than 15 thousand metres! She has conquered: Everest Basecamp; Team Wainwrights Challenge; Everest Summit; and Morocco Three Peaks Challenge! We caught up with Marie to find out more.
Can you tell us a bit about the team nature of the challenges? Everest Base Camp on the stairs was the idea of Rory Southworth, a Salomon Ambassador who put on his Instagram stories the challenge to join the team. Each day he would post the elevation gain and the team would then get the stairs done in their own time by the end of the day and post them onto their own stories. Then he ran the Team Wainwrights Challenge. It was nice to have the team environment as we had group chats going on IG and egging and supporting each other. The very next day, a small number of the team who had done Everest Base Camp summited the height of Everest in 1 day – another 3448m up!
And this inspired you to organise a team challenge yourself – The Morroco Three Peaks Challenge! I organised a team of my own to replicate one of my own expeditions that I run to complete the Morocco 3 Peaks Challenge – climbing the three highest mountains in Morocco (4.071m, 4089m and 4167m)
What was your favourite food or snacks to fuel the challenge? Pip and Nut Peanut Buttter (I have an obsession with nut butter). So nut butter smoothies, nut butter packs, nut butter toast.
What’s the thing you are most looking forward to doing again after lockdown is over? The challenges have as I said been a great way to keep fit but for many people like me, they’re giving us the focus and routine some of us need. Not to mention the teamwork, comraderie and general chatter on the IG chats that have felt like we’re all there in person (I’ve never met a majority of these people on the teams!). I do miss the mountains and travel quite a bit, so I’m looking forward to climbing a small mountain in the Peaks with my dog post lockdown finishing in an country pub with a gin and tonic 🙂
5) John Rocks: Climbing all fourteen 8000m peaks for Mental Health Awareness
The number crunch: All FOURTEEN 8000m peaks // 1 month // 35,137 laps
A challenging career in the ambulance service taught John the supreme importance of spending time outdoors to positively impact our mental wellbeing. With Covid-19 forcing us all to spend more time inside, John is more keen than ever to raise peoples’ awareness of the therapeutic benefits of outdoor exercise. During the month of May, John is seeking volunteers to contribute “flights of stairs” to his ambitious project to summit all fourteen 8000m peaks of the world! We managed to catch up with John in between running around after his kids and running laps of his staircase!
An amazing challenge! What inspired you to go for all 14? Nirmal Purja achieved the fastest ascent of all 8,000m peaks in a record time back in October, I wanted something of a similar nature for indoors. He didn’t achieve these peaks on his own, he had great support networks and I have represented these networks with friends, family and volunteers assisting me with additional metres of ascent. It’s also the reason I chose a mental health charity, as without support networks, much like an expedition, people require support networks during their time of vulnerability.
Which peaks have you climbed, and where are you now? We have climbed Shishapangma, Gasherbrum 1 & 2 and Broad Peak, we’re now on to Annapurna. Definitely a place I want to visit, to complete the Annapurna Circuit at one point.
I understand you have 2 kids to entertain! Have they joined you for any laps? Dora (6 years old) at the beginning was super engaged, but that has slowly dwindled especially during the great weather. I don’t blame her there’s lots of other interesting things to do around the house and garden. Otto (2 years old) has provided a simulation of underfoot conditions, negotiating him on the stairs to represent ground conditions. He’s done a few flights, but wants to be carried back down, so he gets left upstairs until he makes his own way down.
Have you been involved with any real-world projects promoting mental health in the outdoors? I am currently working with friends and colleagues to develop therapeutic outdoor programmes at a family level, which is something I am really passionate about and looking forward to getting started soon. My normal day job though is working with primary school children, and I see the therapeutic benefits of working with them in the outdoors daily. It’s great being able to remove kids from a room of 4 walls, painted magnolia, and get them in to the outdoors surrounded by green and the natural sound of the wind and birds.
What’s the thing you are most looking forward to doing again after lockdown is over? I really like the idea of moving in to a bungalow. With all this stair climbing though, I am really trying to find a fitting challenge for my level of fitness. I am guessing with all the restrictions it is going to be UK based for a while. So something like a bivi trip on the Dales Way to the Lakes would be great, and cycle the Leeds-Liverpool canal.
John is raising money for Mental Health Foundation and you can view his fundraising page HERE . He is also looking for anyone to contribute flights of stairs!