Three colleagues are planning to scale the extreme heights of Mount Everest to support those fighting terminal illnesses.
Petra McMillan, Andy Caulfield and Ryan Scobbie, of Grangemouth-based Alchemy Inns, have set themselves the gruelling challenge of reaching the 5380-metre-high base camp of the world’s tallest mountain in aid of Marie Curie.
The trio hope to collect £14,000 in sponsorship money for their daring 11-day trek through the Nepalese Himalayas to support the charity, which provides free professional nursing care to the terminally ill at home, as well as in its nine UK hospices.
While mountaineering is very much new territory for the two Bonnybridge men, Petra (45), a Marie Curie patron since 2012, previously summited Africa’s highest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, three years ago.
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The Dundee-born woman, who owns Alchemy Inns and Alchemy Drinks with husband Tommy, has, along with family and friends including nephew Ryan, raised more than £500,000 for Marie Curie over the past decade through a series of sporting challenges.
Her determination to head for Everest to mark ten years of volunteering for Marie Curie inspired operations manager Andy (35) and 26-year-old Ryan, a finance manager, to sign up for the fundraiser, which will begin on November 2.
The workmates will not be short for moral support. They are to be joined on the expedition by another 25 British climbers, many of whom took on Mount Kilimanjaro alongside Petra.
The team’s efforts could raise around £123,000 for Marie Curie and, with £20 paying for an hour of care, such a total would cover the cost of around 6150 hours of nursing care.
With the countdown to the event well under way, Petra is confident the group she has assembled has what it takes to conquer all that lies before them.
However, given her experiences in Africa, she knows no amount of training will prepare the fundraisers for the debilitating effects of every mountaineer’s greatest dread: extreme altitude sickness.
The illness can set in from 2000 metres and, with Everest’s base camp perched at four times the height of Ben Nevis, it’s likely the climbers will be forced to endure many days of discomfort as their bodies struggle to acclimatise to the conditions, which could drop to as low as -20C.
Petra said: “It’s a really tough challenge and we have no way of knowing if we’ll make it but we’re doing it for a great cause and that will really motivate us to dig in.
“So many people are tackling challenges and asking for support so I’ve always felt the need to strive for tougher goals which might capture the public’s imagination.
“When you say Everest, it still turns heads. True we’re only going two-thirds of the way up but that is still extremely difficult for the average person — which we all are — with no guarantee of success so we know we’ll be earning every penny in sponsorship.”
The quest to ascend Everest is undoubtedly Petra’s toughest mission.
It’s a fact which isn’t lost on her or her colleagues, both of whom are now embarking on a rigorous training programme to prepare themselves as best they can for the ultimate test of character.
Petra explained: “Kilimanjaro was six days, this is 11, so you’ve got almost double the time at altitude and the temperatures are much lower.
“There’s a cumulative day-on-day effect of having to maintain your strength and stamina for that duration which is really quite challenging.
“Even when you’re sleeping you’re burning, burning, burning so it’s a constant battle when you’re on the hill, trying to take on enough food to have the strength to do what you’re asking your body to do but at the same time you don’t want to eat because you feel so nauseous.”
Fortunately, the team will rest slightly easier at night in their plywood shed ‘teahouses’ knowing that three of its members are doctors.
For Andy and Ryan, though, their focus is on giving it everything they have to help those who need it most.
The pair are also planning to cycle the equivalent of Everest by biking up and down Dunning Hill in Perth repeatedly over a 24-hour period with friends this summer to raise awareness of and funds for the challenge.
Andy said: “It’s not for us, it’s for people who need care.
“People are not donating for us to climb a hill, it’s to pay for an hour’s care for the terminally ill.”
Ryan is eager to play his part too, even though he admits the size of the task ahead may not have dawned on him just yet.
He explained: “I’ve never experienced altitude sickness or a physically draining exercise like this so I’m certainly underestimating it.
“When I get to it and see what the challenge is in front of me then I’ll probably start getting a bit nervous.
“But it’s all part of the experience and seeing how you come out the other side, hopefully!
“I’m looking forward to it. Every time I think about it I get excited.”
Offering some words of encouragement to her team, Petra added: “When you think about it, you’re actually walking on the rooftop of the world.
“The scope of these mountains and the enormity and scale of them compared to tiny little you is very humbling.
“When the horrible times come calling and someone needs care, it’s thanks to events such as this that the money is in the bank and the nursing is there.”
To donate, visit www.justgiving.com/fundraising/teamalchemyEBC.
For more information on Marie Curie, go to www.mariecurie.org.uk.