Nick Talbot, who was born in County Durham, recently became the first person with cystic fibrosis to climb Mount Everest, raising over £85,000 (and counting) for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust in the process.
‘I’d climbed the sixth highest mountain [Cho Oyu]; I was looking for another personal challenge,’ he tells me. ‘I was also put on new medication. My way of giving back to the Cystic Fibrosis Trust previously was to take part in drugs trials as a guinea pig. I could no longer do that, so I was looking for a new way to help other people with cystic fibrosis.
‘I’ve got a milder condition. I’m one of the lucky four percent who are on what I’d call miracle medication, it’s truly revolutionary. Unfortunately 96 percent of people can’t get on it because of the different gene types. Most of them face the prospect of a lung transplant or other organs breaking down, it’s a pretty grim way to go. We’re now at the point where we have the scientific capabilities to make breakthroughs, but the key thing that’s missing is funding. It’s a race against time for people that are alive today as to whether new treatments will come through.’
Nick’s climb was his third attempt in three years, with his initial attempt halted by an avalanche that killed 16 Sherpas and his second by a huge earthquake that tragically claimed the life of one of his friends and left him severely injured. ‘There was an earthquake that hit the whole country and killed about 9,000 people,’ he says. ‘I was in base camp at the time. It shook off a large bit of glacier on a nearby mountain and essentially it created a bomb blast. I came out of my tent and there was a 200m wall of snow and ice coming towards me at 200mph. I had ten seconds to try and figure out what to do. I ran to lower ground but it caught up with me. I ended up with some broken ribs and the onset of hypothermia; I was covered in blood and ice basically.’
Cystic fibrosis targets the lungs, meaning that at high altitude Nick was faced with a disadvantage compared to the rest of his climbing group. How did he go about training then for the mammoth task that lay ahead? ‘Painfully!’ he laughs. ‘In terms of physical training I would do a variety of running up and down stairs (I live on the top floor, there are 26 flights), running up and down hills and then for fun I added on ankle weights and a rucksack. I also went skiing to the Alps with my family. First thing in the morning I’d be climbing to the top of the mountain with skis on my back. It was very intense, having had three years of that you can understand why I feel slightly relieved!’
In all the venture took two months, with the group doing various trips up and down to leave equipment at higher camps and acclimatise. ‘Eventually we got what we hoped was a weather window,’ Nick tells me. ‘It took us five days to get to the top and then two days back down to base camp. I knew I could get to 8,200m because I did that on another mountain. Altitude does funny things and you reach the limits of your capabilities, no one really knows how high they can go. I genuinely didn’t know if I’d get to the top – I only found that out two weeks ago!’
When it came to reaching the summit and the view from the top of the world, Nick’s happiness was mingled with a sense of relief and exhaustion. ‘It was great, it was really hard physically though. Every step you’re taking is fairly painful, even though you’ve got supplementary oxygen. It was hugely satisfying but also a relief because the amount of training you do takes over your life. I was slightly ahead of the group, myself and a guy called Pem had 15 minutes on top of Everest by ourselves which was incredible. All these mountains that you’ve looked up at you’re actually looking down at, you’re by far the highest thing up in the sky. It’s an incredibly beautiful country, I’m extremely lucky for so many reasons to have been able to experience it.’
To help Nick raise money for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust visit his fundraising page at www.virginmoneygiving.com/CFvs.Everest