Because it's there...

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Because it's there...

Mount Everest, known in Nepali as Sagarmatha and Chomolungma in Tibetan, is Earth’s highest  mountain above sea level,  located in the Mahalangur Himal sub-range of the Himalayas. The international border between Nepal and China runs directly across its summit point. 

The current official elevation of 8,848 m (29,029 ft), recognized by China and Nepal, was established by a 1955 Indian survey and subsequently confirmed by a Chinese survey in 1975. In 2005, China remeasured the rock height of the mountain, with a result of 8844.43 m (29,017 ft). There followed an argument between China and Nepal as to whether the official height should be the rock height (8,844 m, China) or the snow height (8,848 m, Nepal). In 2010, an agreement was reached by both sides that the height of Everest is 8,848 m, and Nepal recognizes China's claim that the rock height of Everest is 8,844 m.  

In 1865, Everest was given its official English name by the Royal Geographical Society, upon a recommendation by Andrew Waugh, the British Surveyor General of India. As there appeared to be several different local names, Waugh chose to name the mountain after his predecessor in the post, Sir George Everest - a British surveyor and geographer who served as Surveyor General of India from 1830 to 1843. 

The first recorded efforts to reach Everest's summit were made by British mountaineers. As Nepal did not allow foreigners into the country at the time, the British made several attempts on the north ridge route from the Tibetan side. After the first reconnaissance expedition by the British in 1921 reached 7,000 m (22,970 ft) on the North Col, the 1922 expedition pushed the north ridge route up to 8,320 m (27,300 ft), marking the first time a human had climbed above 8,000 m (26,247 ft). Seven porters were killed in an avalanche on the descent from the North Col. 

When on a speaking tour of the United States and Canada in advance of their summit attempt, George Mallory was pressed by reporters to give an answer as to why he wanted to climb to the top of the highest peak on earth. Having been to the Himalaya in both 1921 and 1922, Mallory was anxious to stake a claim on the mountain both he and his climbing partner, Sandy Irvine, wanted to summit first.

The 1924 expedition resulted in one of the greatest mysteries on Everest to this day: George Mallory and Andrew Irvine made a final summit attempt on 8 June but never returned, sparking debate as to whether or not they were the first to reach the top. They had been spotted high on the mountain that day but disappeared in the clouds, never to be seen again, until Mallory's body was found in 1999 at 8,155 m (26,755 ft) on the north face.  Whether Hillary and Tenzing were the first to actually climb Everest's 29 035 ft. height, George Mallory and Andrew Irvine were the catalysts who drove the spirit of climbing throughout the Twentieth Century.

A full 29 years later, Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary made the first official ascent of Everest in May 1953, using the southeast ridge route rather than the North side of Everest as attempted by Mallory and Irvine.

Had Mallory and Irvine reached the top, 29 years earlier? We will probably never know the answer. Even the discovery of Mallory’s frozen remains in 1999 did not provide any clarity but instead, added more questions to the mystery. His watch and altimeter were broken in the removal of the artefacts from his body so there is no record of how high they climbed or at what time Mallory fell. He was wearing a light weight walking rope around his waist, which means he was most likely roped to Irvine. The rope was broken by the fall - probably split on a rock. Sandy Irvine’s body has never been found. if it was to be discovered, and his camera recovered - might it carry a photograph of the summit?

Mallory’s famous response to the question ‘why do you want to climb Everest’ has become synonymous with Everest history – ‘because it’s there’.  

Knowing how much training and preparation our AGS team has undertaken, giving them the best chance possible at a safe and successful summit – why not ?  

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Hillary and Norgay, Everest, 1953

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Mallory and Irvine and Base Camp, 1924

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A taste of what's to come as the going gets tougher...

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A taste of what's to come as the going gets tougher...

Martin and Terry nipped up to Pumori Camp 1 (5,700m) today for some further altitude training given a brief weather window which presented itself. They are now stuck back at BC again with more bad weather, where they are likely to remain until Monday at least. 

Himex now often chooses Pumori for acclimatisation trips ahead of an Everest summit due to climbing teams being able to easily access the comfort of Everest BC, and for the spectacular views which the climb affords of Tibet, Nepal and Everest herself. The traditional Everest basecamp is a crowded place and sits on active ice which moves and melts around the tents during the course of the expedition. Himex sets up camp slightly further down the valley and closer to Pumori where there is more sun and the ice does not shift – making for a much more comfortable experience and a place to call home. 

When the AGS team is able to have another crack at getting higher on Pumori (we hope early next week) - the going will get tough. 

From Camp 1 to Camp 2 (6,200m) the climbing gets increasingly technical with steep and exposed ridges as well as some ice walls with fixed ropes.  
From Camp 2 the climb involves steep ice climbing until Camp 3 is reached at 6,850m. 

Prior to the massive earthquake in 2015 which ravaged the Everest Base Camp region, this route was made dangerous by massive overhanging seracs towering above the shoulder between Camps 2 and 3, resulting in this being an unsafe acclimatisation peak. Those seracs have now collapsed, resulting in a much safer route. 

From Camp 3 the team will attempt to reach the summit - again using the fixed ropes to navigate the many crevasses and ice walls en route - before summiting and returning to Camp 3 for the night. From there they descend to Everest Base Camp the following morning.

Photo credits - Himalayan Experience and Stephan Keck
Also thanks to Alanarnette.com for the photo map which shows the view from the summit of Pumori.

Descending Pumori.  Photo Stephan Keck.

Descending Pumori.
Photo Stephan Keck.

A yak in front of Pumori.  Photo credit Himex.

A yak in front of Pumori.
Photo credit Himex.

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The view from Pumori.

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We chat to former SAS solider and current IFMGA mountain guide Harry Taylor, who has guided the majority of the mountaineering trips for Martin and Terry

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We chat to former SAS solider and current IFMGA mountain guide Harry Taylor, who has guided the majority of the mountaineering trips for Martin and Terry

Harry began his career in the Royal Marines as an Arctic survival instructor and later served with the British 22 SAS. Harry subsequently became an IFMGA Mountain Guide and in 1988 completed the first traverse of the Three Pinnacles on Mount Everest’s NE Ridge with Russell Brice. Russell Brice, known as ‘the Everest guru’, went on to establish HimEx, the most experienced commercial guiding outfit on Everest and the expedition and logistics lynchpin for Martin and Terry this year. 

In 1993 Harry became the second Briton to have summited Mount Everest without supplementary oxygen.  Harry was the Adaptive Grand Slam team guide on both Mount McKinley and Elbrus.

Harry offers us some fascinating and uncensored insight into the Everest climbing scene and how things are on the change…

What / when was your first trip to Everest and how many times have you climbed/ been involved with Everest expeditions since? 

I have been to Everest to attempt the summit 7 times but have been on the mountain 9 times in total, 2 of those with filming expeditions. 

My 7th time was in 2012 with the Walking With The Wounded team which included Martin - they were also climbing with Russell and HimEx. Russell made the decision to cancel the entire expedition and all summit bids due to safety issues - more specifically the notoriously dangerous route through the Khumbu ice fall which was even more unstable than usual, with heightened avalanche risk due to warmer than average temperatures. 

How has Everest and Base Camp changed since you first lead expeditions there with Russell? Is it still a place you want to be? 

It has got an awful lot busier, and not in a way that makes me want to be there now. The number of people at BC each year, and most concerningly the number of climbers who aren’t competent or well prepared, increases dramatically every season.

 There are now so many operators and service providers which are badly run and which cut corners in every possible way. It isn’t a place or an industry where short cuts can be taken, and the potential results are catastrophic. The local government struggles with significant corruption issues – they say they are trying to clean themselves up and that they are improving each year but the truth is that don’t care and nothing is changing. Everest is a cash cow for them and I don’t see it improving – they have no need to change as long as tourists continue to want to climb Everest and trek in the local region. The Nepali government will try to push operators out who have the highest safety standards – the western operators such as Russell - as those are the operators who are pointing fingers at the government issues and behaviour.

The western operators have spent the last 4 decades striving to improve safety standards for their climbing clients as well as for their staff – notably operating methods, the provision of rope fixing practices and access to the best kit, equipment, sanitation and food.  


”I fear that with the explosion of clients on Everest - many of whom want the cheapest ticket possible for a quick summit win and don’t undertake adequate research into the varying providers, or have sufficient experience to enable them to make decisions regarding the provision of logistics operators– that safety standards and the integrity of operators will actually decline”.

Many operators are working hard to collaborate with others to continually augment the safety and standards on the mountain, but some local operators are so cheap that this will ultimately put huge pressure on the western outfits to cut their costs just to remain in the market - it’s just not viable any more.  
People want the kudos of ‘bagging the summit’ and demand the safety net which goes with the higher priced and most experienced operators. They want the base camp wifi, the most experienced guides, the most varied food, hot showers and the highest standards in Sherpa assistance, but they don’t want to pay the price which goes with it. The local/ inexperienced outfits claim that they offer the same as the most advanced on the mountain – and clients fall for it - they don’t know where to look or how to ‘read the small print’.

“People will always want to climb Everest and that won’t change, but I fear a cataclysmic disaster if the western operators have to shut up shop due to being pushed out”.

Why does Russell and HimEx stand out from other Everest operators? 

I have known Russell since we climbed together in 1988. He was already operating in the Himalayas then - doing climbing trips on his own and marketing smaller trekking expeditions. Since then he has developed the whole model for Everest expeditions, as well as other mountains, and many have copied his business model. 

Russell is a perfectionist.  He is a mountain guru who changed the levels of expertise which were required to even operate in these areas, and he continues to challenge the client who feels they can do anything but without the desire to undertake adequate training to justify their place on these mountains. The 8000 metre peak playground is a serious one, with life and death consequences.  

Russell has always strived to bring safety to the highest possible level and it is what he is known for. Other operators are constantly following in his wake.  Russell collaborates with other operators, but everyone still looks to him for the final say - he is the outstanding guy in the Everest story. 

There are lots of other fantastic logistics providers – such as Eric Simonson and IMG (International Mountain Guides), Guy Cotter and The Adventure Consultants, but all of the well run operators collaborate and play nicely together - they realise that the sum of all parts is greater than the individual operator. Everyone has different styles but Russell is uncompromising and he stands out.  

“Russell is known as the ‘Everest guru’ and all of the other major operators look to him to make the final say given his unrivalled experience and unwavering integrity.  He isn’t even doing it for the money, he doesn’t make any!”

What will happen when Russell stops? Is there any plan for succession? 

I hope that the Adventure Consultants and IMG might stay in the business and try to fly the flag for sanity and safety. If they drop out, it will descend into the lowest order and we will see many cataclysmic disasters to come. 

What are your thoughts on the criticism of those with injury and disability taking part in extreme expeditions? 

I don’t agree with any of it. If someone wants to attempt something and they are well prepared, expertly trained, and seeking advice and help at every stage - whether they are sailing, mountaineering or cycling, I think they have a clear right to do that in a sensible way.  As long as they have managed their injury and are as well prepared as they can, that’s amazing. Many able bodied climbers are far less prepared!  

Mark Inglis was the first double amputee to summit Everest and he set the standard for others to follow suit, and has inspired many others. He was a hugely experienced climber who was stuck on Mt Cook (New Zealand) in bad weather and sustained amputations as a result of monstrous frost bite. He strove to continue to climb as part of his therapy and rehabilitation and he is an incredible example to many. 

What do you think has been the most valuable training / experience which Martin and Terry have undertaken with you and why? 

There is so much that we have done ! I climbed Denali (6190m) in Alaska with Martin and Terry but on different trips. I summited with Martin, but with Terry we experienced terrible weather which thwarted our summit bid. That mountain and the climbing experience was the most valuable for both of them in terms of preparation for the Everest environment. The Denali climb involves fixed roping - it’s tough, you’re working hard and with no Sherpa support. Rappelling work for people like Martin - who has the use of only one arm - is a massive challenge and this is the nearest thing to the Lhotse face on Everest for him. For Terry too – it was a monumental challenge and achievement – for Martin to reach the summit and for Terry to get as far as he did.

What is your best bit of advice for Martin and Terry as they prepare to climb the ‘big hill’ this year? 

There are so many ‘last tips’, but ultimately, the most important thing is that they look after each other and remember that there is a lot more to come home for than just a successful summit. 

Martin, Terry and the AGS team are hugely grateful to all of their supporters - most notably Olympian Homes which is providing the sponsorship to enable the summit team to climb with the best and safest operator on the mountain. We can’t thank you enough.

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Russell Brice, Founder of Himalayan Experience (HimEx) - the most experienced logistics operator on the mountain.

Russell Brice, Founder of Himalayan Experience (HimEx) - the most experienced logistics operator on the mountain.

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Walking with Dinosaurs...

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Walking with Dinosaurs...

As the AGS team reaches an altitude of 4000m, the debilitating effects of the reducing oxygen start to take their toll. Sam, who suffered life changing injuries as a result of a sledging accident and who has joined the AGS team to walk to Everest base camp, is feeling the effects of the elevation and speaks to us today about what motivates her to continue.

In 1923, when George Mallory was asked why he was trying to climb Mount Everest, he replied “because it’s there”. For me, becoming fit enough to climb mountains was initially something to focus on after my accident - it provided a goal to aim towards and something to keep me driven whilst focussing on my recovery. I wanted to prove to myself that I’m still me, still strong and capable.

Now I couldn’t imagine not having the ability to climb a mountain, or the motivation to want to do so. It’s my zest, my ambition, and keeps me feeling alive, helping me to put life’s ups, downs, and rights and wrongs into perspective. 

You can read more about Sam and why she is a part of the AGS team here.

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A new Base Camp team member joins the AGS summit duo

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A new Base Camp team member joins the AGS summit duo

In the final week before the departure for Kathmandu, Martin and Terry were delighted to be able to confirm the addition of Sam Baynes to the AGS team.

Additional sponsorship secured by the AGS has enabled Sam, who has been undertaking training with the AGS team in the hope of being able to join them for the Base Camp trek, to fly to Kathmandu with Martin and Terry, and she will be hiking to Everest Base Camp (EBC). Whilst a very different challenge to the one which Martin and Terry (the summit team) have ahead of them, the hike to EBC for Sam is a massive challenge and provides her own ‘ Everest’.

Sam moved to Austria to work as a physiotherapist, specialising in snow sports injuries, but on New Year’s Eve 2015 had a sledging accident, leaving her 50m off a mountain side and sustaining severe and life changing injuries. Sam endured a traumatic brain injury (TBI), broken skull and neck, and lower back and brachial plexus nerve damage which resulted in a 7% chance of recovering from the coma she was in.

Since then, Sam’s determination has lead to undergoing life changing therapy and continuous rehab and training. Her passion is now taking on mountains - something which she barely survived.

After summiting her first mountain - Gran Paradiso (4061m) in Italy 22 months after injury - she has now completed the national three peaks in the UK (Ben Nevis 1345m Scotland, Scafell Pike 978m England, Snowdon 1085m Wales in 23 hours) and Killimanjaro (5895m) Africa.

Sam feels strongly about encouraging others who have experienced significant trauma, highlighting that there is always an adaption that can be made to overcome the challenge, as well as the social stigma that has been unfairly given to disability.

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The Adaptive GrandSlam project started with providing opportunities for injured veterans to use sport and adventurous challenges as a focus as part of rehabilitation. In 2016 we started providing opportunities for civilians with life changing injuries to get involved with our team, also being supported by the AGS foundation. Sam was our first team member, and when she first joined us her injury was first very new. At the time, she hadn’t taken in just how life changing her injuries were, or how she could aim to take on a serious challenge. Her mindset was strong and she was keen to engage. She joined our training programme and trained diligently, and successfully summited Grand Paradiso, Italy’s highest mountain, with the team. Since then, she has gone on to summit Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, and we are really proud that she is now joining us on our Base Camp trip. This proves that everyone has their own ‘Everest’ - no matter what that challenge is.
— Martin Hewitt, AGS Founder
We make our own luck. If takes effort, guts, courage, the want for something better and stepping out of your comfort zone. The AGS has had a massive part to play in that for me. My recovery would have been very different if I had never had them in my life. I can’t thank them enough for including me in their programme.
— Sam Baynes

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A very British Partnership with Shackleton Clothing

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A very British Partnership with Shackleton Clothing

The AGS team is proud to have the support of Shackleton London - a truly British brand - and one which equips users with the best possible kit for extreme conditions. Shackleton London has partnered with some truly pioneering, global and extreme expeditions and we are honoured that they have chosen to support the AGS team.


Martin Hewitt, AGS team leader, is photographed here in the Alps wearing the Shackleton Erebus Jacket
‘With temperatures on Everest expected to range from 10C down to -30C, having clothing which is fit for purpose, compressible and reliable is essential to our success. 

The AGS team is embarking on what we hope will be a lasting partnership with the Shackleton brand for our wider Adventure GrandSlam mission - 7 peaks, 7 continents and 2 poles with the first disabled team. 

#byenduranceweconquer #shackleton #adaptivegrandslam #AGS#everest #summit #adventure #conquergiants #grandslam#takentoextremes #britishmade

Shackleton Clothing - British made, expedition grade apparel. Inspired by Sir Ernest Shackleton, tested in Antarctica, taken to extremes.

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Everest in The Alps, and final training

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Everest in The Alps, and final training

This week Martin Hewitt, AGS founder and Everest team member speaks about his involvement with the ‘Everest in the Alps’ event in Verbier – ski touring the height of Everest in 4 days to raise money for a pioneering brain cancer charity.
The event also served as his penultimate training trip ahead of his departure for the Himalayas. 

How did ‘Everest in the Alps’ come about – tell us about it. 
‘In 2015, a team of 14 set off on the first ‘Everest in the Alps’ challenge: to ascend 8,848 metres – the height of Everest, the world’s highest peak – on skis, over four days in Verbier. The event involves approximately 32 hours of uphill ski touring.  Each day the teams climb between 2,000m – 2,500m to reach the overall target of 8,848m in just 4 days.  The inspiration and motivation for the event was a brave little boy Toby, and those like him who are diagnosed with brain tumours. 


The first event 3 years ago raised over £3 million for The Brain Tumour Charity, helping to fund a new research facility - The Everest Centre-  which is now leading vital work in the area of paediatric low grade brain tumours’. 

How did the AGS team get involved with the Everest in The Alps event?
‘One of the organisers of Everest in the Alps is a friend of mine from University and also a previous Para – Tom Bodkin. Tom set up Secret Compass, which is the logistics provider supporting Everest in the Alps. When Rob, the Father of Toby (and the driving force behind Everest in the Alps) met with Secret Compass and the AGS team, we all realised that we were striving for the same thing - adapting to life changing injury through sport and adventurous challenge at the same time as encouraging others to support us. 

Everyone involved thought it was going to be a one-off event, and the fundraising total far outweighed everyone’s wildest dreams, especially Rob’s. It is now going to be scaled up annually – this year was the 3rdsuccessive year of the event taking place. 

The motivations of Cancer combined with wounded service personnel seems to encourage all of the participants to strive - the atmosphere is incredible and everyone pushes hard together. AGS is really honoured to be involved. 

Anyone can sign up no matter what your skiing ability is or record of previous sporting achievement – you just need to have the determination and dedication to train hard. It is a fantastic few days - a gruelling but hugely rewarding challenge and great fun: https://www.everestinthealps.com/information/

This has served as the perfect penultimate training session for your forthcoming expedition – taking on the ACTUAL Everest this Spring. 4 days in Verbier ski touring is a small undertaking in comparison to what you have coming up – but ideal training in terms of the continuous ascent for up to 8 hours per day. Tell us more about your training? 

‘Training for our Everest expedition was not the motivation behind being in Verbier, but we were in fact supporting other people to attain their ‘Everest’ and to support this incredible cause. We became involved with the inaugural ‘Everest in the Alps’ challenge and want to continue to be involved. It is the coming together of people with a strong will to do something to help The Brain Tumour Charity, as well as those with a motivation to push themselves through training and sport. We all have lots in common. It doesn’t matter that the challenge isn’t supporting those charities which the AGS supports – we all like to contribute to the efforts of others and it is of course fantastic training for us. 

We were ascending between 1500 - 2000 metres per day, and used this opportunity to carry our full Everest expedition pack weight, which is aprox 16kg’s to maximise the training opportunity’. 

You have just finished one final week of training abroad before returning to the UK. What were you doing, and why?
‘I have been in Klosters in Switzerland for the last week, assisting with the annual ‘Supporting Wounded Veterans’ ski challenge week – a ski camp for wounded and injured service personnel. It is not just a skiing holiday – but a mentoring programme which assists them with reintegrating into civilian society but at the same time offering them therapy in the fresh air and mountains and through the medium of adaptive sport. I am an Ambassador for the organisation, and am really honoured to be involved. I have found therapy through skiing as training myself, and I am therefore delighted to give my time to help others who are struggling post service, demonstrating to them that there are many others experiencing the same struggles, and that though coming together, we can succeed.  

I am really pleased to be able to use this week to help others, but of course have had the opportunity to undertake my own training for a few hours per day. I have been ski touring between 2000 -3000m of ascent per day, whilst carrying my full expedition pack weight, which will be 16-18 kg’s. I have also been mentoring other wounded during the week and have been a ski ‘buddy’ for those who have joined the ski camp. 

It has been a really positive way to spend my last week training before returning to the UK to have some much needed family time ahead of my departure for Kathmandu on Sunday 24 March.
I have had the time to train hard solo, but have also had time to reflect on and remember why we set up the AGS foundation – to encourage others with life changing injury and disability to strive for progress and accomplishment through sport. 

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Olympian Homes headline Everest sponsorship

OLYMPIAN HOMES SPONSORS ADAPTIVE GRAND SLAM EVEREST CHALLENGE

 

Olympian Homes is proud to support a team of British adventurers from Adaptive Grand Slam, who are on a mission to become the first disabled team in history to complete the notorious Explorer’s Grand Slam.

 

The Mount Everest attempt, which is being sponsored by Olympian Homes, will be the sixth challenge completed by the team, who have already walked to the North Pole and summited Mount McKinley, Mount Elbrus, Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Aconcagua using modified techniques and equipment.

 

Only a handful of climbers have completed all stages of the impressive Grand Slam feat, which entails summiting the highest peak on each of the seven continents and walking unsupported to the geographic North and South Poles.

 

The adventurers are on target to break four world records in becoming the first disabled team to walk unsupported to the geographic North Pole, the first disabled team to walk to the South Pole from the continental edge of Antarctica unsupported, the first disabled team to climb the seven summits and the first disabled team to complete the Grand Slam.

 

Mark Slatter, chairman of Olympian Homes, said:

 

Olympian Homes was formed 26 years ago and has a history of mixed use development including speculative residential, retail, hotel, student accommodation and built to rent residential accommodation. It has developed successful partnerships with a number of blue chip partners including Marks and Spencer, Balfour Beatty, Travelodge, Brookfield and now the Goldman Sachs and Welcome Trust owned IQ Students.

 

The ethos at Olympian is threefold, to make money, to enjoy our work and to put something back.

 

The Adaptive Grand Slam Foundation, founded and inspired by Martin Hewitt is providing a road to physical and mental recovery for numerous ex military and non military alike through the vehicle of extreme training and challenges and we are very proud to support it and help ‘put back’.

 

I met Martin on an Everest expedition in 2012 and was astounded by his unbounded positive outlook, his energy, stoicism and drive to better both his own circumstances and those of others. 

 

The AGS Foundation has the potential to change a great many more lives for the good. By participation, donation or support with your time, be a part of this journey.

 

Adaptive Grand Slam team leader and founder Martin Hewitt served for eight years as a commissioned officer with the Parachute Regiment. He was injured while leading his men in combat in Afghanistan, paralysing his right arm and ending his military career. In 2011 he walked unsupported to the Geographic North Pole joined by HRH Prince Harry as part of the Walking with the Wounded team.

 

The organisers and adventurers of Adaptive Grand Slam expeditions are ex-servicemen, civilian members of the disabled community, professional mountaineers, expedition leaders and supportive members of the extreme adventure community.

 

Martin Hewitt, founder of Adaptive Grand Slam, said:

 

“Many people with life changing injuries face a long process of rehabilitation, finding themselves thrown out of action and into the perplexities of physical and psychological obstacles and difficulties with self-acceptance. The Adaptive Grand Slam was established to select, train and develop disabled teams to tackle extreme expeditions and challenges to support the AGS foundation.

 

“The Grand Slam is considered, amongst seasoned mountain climbers and expedition leaders, as the height of expedition achievement and the AGS team are unique in that they have to rely on alternative ways and means of completing the challenge with their various disabilities. Each mission is undertaken by a small core team providing experience and continuity, with additional team members joining singular expeditions.”

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My mountain legs - AGS team member Mel Nicholls

AGS foundation fund new mountain crutches for Mel.

My Mountain Legs

 

To achieve any tough physical goal, takes training, determination, the right mindset and often the right team around you.  But for many para athletes like myself, mobility equipment can be one of our biggest barriers, or thankfully often, a means to going further, independence, and finding a new possible.  This was certainly the case for me when I had the opportunity to join the Adaptive Grand Slam team for their Chamonix challenge in October this year.

Since my last stroke resulting in loss of use of my left leg and reduced in the right, I have always walked through two crutches for mobility and balance when not having to use my wheelchair.  I walk and weight bear through my arms, so I have always found my every day crutches to hold me back when I have wanted to push further, or go onto different terrain such as rock, mud, snow and sand.  I am an endurance athlete and share the endurance engine and mindset to keep going, but integrating this with anything using my crutches has not been a successful option in the past due to lack of adaptability.

After a weekend training with the AGS team in Herefordshire, back in the summer, I was able to identify what I would need from a pair of crutches if I had any chance of joining the team on their Chamonix Challenge and attempting Gran Paradiso, however far.

There are limited options on the market currently, many variations of a standard crutches design but not for what I was going to need from them.  I was looking for full support, lightweight but robust for the challenges ahead and adaptable to rely on, on differing mountain terrain including snow and ice.  I have in the past tried using ice spike / crampon attachments to my crutches but these were not able to withstand any significant usage.

I knew of a company who did make something that I thought would be the best fit for what we were looking for, although based in Canada and at a much higher price than that of standard crutches, these have not been an option for me to try and I wanted to make sure they were up to the job.  After a lot of research around crutches design and discussions, with the support from AGS, I was able to purchase a pair of Boundless carbon fibre crutches from Sidestix https://www.sidestix.com along with an armoury of accessories that would hopefully enable me to go further and push harder than ever before.  Aside from being the only crutches to enable changeable accessories for different terrain, made to measure Sidestix Boundless crutches feature a unique shock absorbing feature which helps reduce joint compression, pain and fatigue; something that as long-term crutch user I find goes hand in hand.  I was keen to try these out, and once delivered, complete with an assortment of attachments and accessories, I put them to test just before leaving for the mountain.

There wasn’t much chance to get used to these new crutches before heading out, but it gave me a bit more confidence knowing I could use them with no obvious issues.  Because of the shock absorbing system, these crutches were noticeably heavier than what I am used to, but took the trial run well.  The real test was about to begin.

I’d been given carbon tubes and aluminium ones as an option for more hard-wearing use.  Although I agreed why the aluminium option was there, for our imminent challenge, I decided to go with the lighter carbon option in the crutches as I was already noticing the extra weight, before the huge challenge ahead of me.  In my backpack I’d packed the extra adaptions I’d need further up the mountain, a pair of substantial ice spikes and a set of snow shoe attachments complete with Vibram discs, along with the few small tools needed to make these changes.  I began my climb in the standard ferrules, though of a far greater standard of ferrule for this sort of thing than what I’m used to. Once needing to swap out the ferrules to adapt to changing terrain, it was just a case of undoing the bottoms of the crutches and replacing with the required adaption.

I can say I really put these crutches to the test on Gran Paradiso.  The first part of our climb to the mountain hut was fairly technical for me on my crutches and on a slippy rocky uneven ascending path.  The crutches performed well, and it wasn’t until we hit the snow level, which had reached much further down than expected, that I had any issue with slippage.  My hands also held up well, something that I have suffered with a lot in the past with blisters.

The following day was all about the snow and ice, so changing from ferrules to snow shoes and ice spikes was new territory in every way.  I steadily gained confidence in these new aids, it was surprising has secure and how competent they made me feel.  Although my feet were slipping a lot in my boots and me unable to control my legs, my crutches held strong and let me pull myself up the mountain with all my effort.  I was in a completely new environment in so many ways, and although incredibly tough, incredibly slow and frustrating at times, I was able to achieve far more than I ever thought I would, have before.  I was able to go further than I ever have before, thanks to my team, and thanks to having the right equipment, essentially being my mountain legs.

It was a good test for not just me, but my new adventure crutches on our challenge.  I had a few small teething issues that I have now addressed and improved for future adventures, but overall, I am really pleased to have found a new possible, and to have been able to explore this by having the right equipment that has enabled me to do so.

There is so much I am thankful to the Adaptive Grand Slam team for, and I am wholly excited for future challenges and what else is possible.

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AGS Chamonix Challenge

Our annual Chamonix challenge proved to be a great success. This year, we took are largest group to date with AGS team members and supporters. Here’s a quick summary.

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