So we did it! Hopefully (waiting for verification) not one but two world records broken and over £300,000 raised for Wooden Spoon.
We started our journey almost a year ago after a post Sevenoaks match conversation with Ian Lindsay about Wooden Spoon and their North pole challenge. It’s always a bad idea to agree to something after a few pints and before we knew it we had signed up for the Everest challenge!
Since that day the whole journey has been amazing with training weekends, fundraising lunches and dinners, altitude chambers and enough walking equipment to keep Millets afloat for years. The support from everyone has been incredible but the support from Sevenoaks RFC has been out of this world.
So on April 13th we said our good-byes at an emotional send off and flew to China and onto Lhasa in Tibet. Lhasa is already 3500m above sea level so you could instantly feel the difference in oxygen. We spent the next few days visiting monasteries and going on acclamation walks, one which would take us above the magic 5000m mark.
Little did I know that the first few days were going to be my worst, succumbing to altitude sickness very early on I feel quite ill and thought the Doctor was going to send me home before I had even reached base camp. Thankfully with the right medication and some rest I recovered but can honestly say I never felt great for the whole time. Altitude has no respect for fitness or training and whether you get it or not is purely down to you physiological make up, you get horrendous headaches, sickness and generally feel very hungover!
Reaching base camp was brilliant and it lifted the whole team, whilst it’s not the Ritz it was quite comfortable in our tents and the mess tent where we dined and hung out was great. At night the temperatures went down to around -11 but during the day it could be +15 and with the glare off the glacier and snow it felt a lot warmer. We spent most days walking between 6 and 8 hours acclimatising and going eventually up to 5900m. The terrain is incredibly difficult with lots of large, loose rocks and slate and very steep slopes on both sides. You always had to watch where you was walking and often would slip either on the glacier or moraine.
The higher altitude started to have a negative effect on a lot of people coupled with a nasty virus at camp causing chest and sinus infections which at that altitude made breathing very difficult. We would lose 6 people over the next few days with altitude related sickness sadly meaning the end of their challenge. Due to this it was decided to play the “mixed touch” game of rugby at base camp (5200m) as this would be a new record set whereas the full contact game had an existing record we wanted to beat.
After taking a few hours to set up the pitch, the game was played on a glacier but only covered in a small amount of snow making running a bit easier! Seven a side game was played for 7 minutes each way using much needed rolling subs. Teams had already been allocated with Simon on Shane Williams team and I was on Lee Mears team. Those two teams joined forces and played against “Team Tamara Taylor and Ollie Phillips.” It was incredibly hard work but good fun and naturally much more competitive than everyone “intended!” Final score was 3 a piece although morally I think our team won as a dubious try was allowed by the ref Matt Mitchell (ex TJ’ player.)
After a small celebration we turned our attention to the more challenging match to be played at Advance Base Camp (ABC) @ 6400m. We spent two days getting to ABC with each day a gruelling 8 hour walk. Sadly there were more casualties, one person retuning to base camp and a number of people completely wiped out and requiring oxygen tanks. This was a real wake up call for everybody how the extra altitude and therefore lack of oxygen was so debilitating. One of our party and ironically the “evacuation” specialist was himself evacuated on strict orders from the Doctor. His journey involved returning to Base camp slumped over a Yak for 9 hours! It was the only way to get him down, he was then taken to the Tibetan border and smuggled across to Nepal where a helicopter took him to the hospital in Kathmandu. He was extremely ill and whilst back in the UK is still in hospital with a collapsed lung.
Advance base camp is a very hostile place but beautiful at the same time, the scenery is amazing and being so close to Everest is majestic. The weather was a very chilly -25c at night so even your pee bottle froze! Getting in and out of the tent was hard due to the slopes and rocky terrain, in fact nothing was easy at all.
As our numbers were dangerously close to the 14 we required for the full contact/ 7 a side game we decided to ask our sherpas if they would play for us! We had a hilarious time trying to explain the rules but all they needed to do was run!
We spent 4 days at Advance Base Camp and Simon and some of the stronger members went to inspect the area where we intended to play the game. Tied together so to avoid falling through any unseen crevasses they concluded whilst it would be extremely difficult we could attempt to play the full contact game. So we did!
The following day we walked for around 2 hours to get to the area and spent ages marking out the pitch with red and white tape, erected the posts (drainpipes) secured with post supports using ice screws and put out the corner flags. By this stage everyone was knackered and we hadn’t even played the game. The pitch was a glacier but covered in about a foot of snow so running was much harder. Ever time you took a step forward it felt like your lungs were going to burst, it took an incredible effort just to pass the ball!
But we did, we managed to play the game at 6330m which will hopefully be a new world record as the previous record was 5800m. The score was 5-5 so not your usual 7’s game, certainly the pace was no where near a normal game! The celebrations were fairly muted because we were all so shattered and mindful that we still had a 2 hour walk back ABC.
Our final walk was going to be one of the toughest as we had to walk back to base camp in one day whereas it had taken us 2 days with an overnight stop at intermediate camp on the way up. Yes it should have been easier because we are going down in altitude but everyone was already exhausted from being so high up for such a long time. The walk back was horrendous and whilst for some it only took 6 to 7 hours, the last members took over 14 hours and the first group had to go back out and help them back as darkness had fallen by then. Simon was one of those and heroically helped some of the group back.
It had been a long journey and much more difficult challenge than any of us had appreciated, the cumulation of lack of sleep, physical exertion, altitude, weather and harsh terrain really took its toll and only 19 out of an original 28 finished the challenge. However it was an experience that none of us will ever forget and it feels amazing to have written a piece of history as well as raisin such a huge sum for the Wooden Spoon.
Thank you for all your support, Miles and Simon.
This article first appeared on www.sevenoaksrugby.com.