“For me, the story of Saturday’s successful ‘Alternative 3 Peak Challenge’ started on Thursday at about 7 o’clock. As I crossed off the last item on the last of my various lists and sat back in the beanbag, I finally felt like we were ready. It had only taken around 5-months of planning.
Friday came and went – a busy day of work on a construction project that is now really beginning to pick up pace. At around 11am, I received emails from Will and Bethan from Tenovus cancer charity wishing us luck and thanking us for our support. Will even had a small curve ball for me in the shape of a TV crew he wanted to bring along to film the event. It was too late to build time into the schedule for interviews with the team or set pieces, but I knew we’d make it work somehow and I was thrilled that the charity viewed the event with sufficient regard that they thought it was worth filming.
On Saturday morning there was just enough time to fit in the qualifying session of the Chinese GP and a cooked brekkie before arriving at Boulders as it opened at 9.45am to set-up. Jay (the event co-ordinator) and I got straight into action, setting out the rest stations, reserving the routes, arranging ropes and preparing the climbers T-shirts and refreshments. By 11am we were ready to go and as the belayers and climbers began to arrive, I could feel a really positive energy about the team.
For those of you reading about this event for the first time, the challenge we had undertaken was to vertically ascend 3,407m, which is the cumulative distance of Britain’s 3 highest peaks, in just 3-hours, without any pre-placed safety ropes to catch our falls. In order to achieve this goal the 8 team members would take it in turns to complete repetitions of an 8.2 metre-high climbing wall, using a technique called lead climbing, where the climber attaches their safety rope to the wall at 1.5m intervals and then finally at the top so that the belayer, who controls the rope at the bottom of the pitch, can lower them safely to the ground. The team would need to complete 416 repetitions in total and with four climbers on the wall and four climbers off the wall at any one given time, this meant that each climber had just 90 seconds to complete each ascent and prepare for the next.
All this effort was of course being undertaken for a great cause, the Tenovus cancer charity. The aims of the charity are simple; to help prevent, treat and find a cure for cancer. In doing this they offer support, advice and treatment for cancer patients, information on cancer prevention and funding for research to improve the outcomes for people with cancer. Most people’s lives are affected by cancer, being it directly or indirectly and we therefore wanted to support this worthwhile charity.
11.30am saw the beginning of the belayers briefing. The belaying team was made up of 10 willing volunteers, some of whom I had not even met previously and were totally new to the challenge. I had 20-minutes to show the belayers exactly how the event was going to run and convey how vital their role was in our success. Although I had no idea at the time, these volunteers who were so generous in giving up their entire day for our cause, would go on to perform to a standard almost twice as efficient as I had expected.
The next step was to pair up the belayers with the climbing team and get in a spot of practice. I did my best to match the belayers and climbers by weight and ability and as soon as we were finished, we were straight into the test run. It would not only be the first time that some of the climbers and belayers had met and the first time that the whole process had been tested, but also the first time all 8 members of the Climbing Boyo team had climbed at the same time. The test run went well, with every climber completing 3 sets of 2 pitches each and therefore completing 3 revolutions of the whole climbing procedure. At the end of the test, Jay told me that we had completed 1 climb more that we had needed to in the time we had used and we were therefore right on the pace required to complete the challenge.
We took a break for 30-minutes for dinner during which I managed to inhale a sausage roll, use the loo and get a brief interview with the film crew before I was once again tracking down the climbing team for the final briefing. This meeting was by far the easiest of the day, as the boyo team are a fantastic bunch of people, each one of them as committed as the next. As we donned our Tenovus T-shirts and picked our starting numbers, I got a real sense that we were going to smash it.
We headed out in the following order (climber and belayer):
1. Jim and Sarah
2. Vikki and Helen
3. Will and Rachel
4. Dai and Ed
5. Stu and Sarah
6. Ragu and Cătălin
7. Ash and Jim
8. Myself and Geraint
By 12.55pm everyone was in position – Jay set 3-hours on the clock – there was a countdown: 3,2,1… a whistle blast, and we were off!
From my starting position at the back of the resting queue everyone looked to be climbing well. I could see small errors being made in the climbing teams, with some time being wasted while the belayers and climbers got used to how each other worked. I did a quick stopwatch check on Jim as he climbed his second pitch to see if he was climbing within the 90-second pace required to complete the challenge. The clock told me that Jim had done his rep in 85 seconds, with 5-seconds to spare. Further checks of Dai and Stu’s pace told me that we were on track.
Before long, it was my turn to get into the action, perhaps with a bit too much adrenaline running around my system, as I totally botched my first attempt at tying the rope to my harness, wasting at least a minute faffing around with the knot. Soon enough though I had it sorted and after a quick safety check I was climbing. When you’re on the wall you can’t really time yourself, but we had practised so much I knew what it felt like to climb at the right pace and Geraint was doing an excellent job managing the rope for me. I had decided to go for 10 reps in my first stint and as I climbed my arms felt strong and the route was fast, It was going well.
One of Jay’s roles on the day was to calculate the total amount of climbs at the end of every half hour and tell the team if we were ahead or behind schedule. Taking into consideration that some of the guys had never climbed with each other before and that we’d only just gone fast enough in our test run, I was expecting us to be slightly behind the required pace in the first 30-minutes. It was therefore a massive surprise to hear that we had in fact climbed 33 routes more than we needed to!
As we headed into the second half hour the teams were noticeably becoming more efficient. As the climbers were coming off the wall they were being grabbed by the film crew for a quick interview mid challenge and I was really impressed with how everyone took it in their stride. Although there were beads of sweat beginning to appear on our brows, no one was complaining about tired arms just yet and morale was high. I managed to get in another two 10-pitch stints before Jay calculated the scores for the second time, nearly 191 routes in the bag and 52 climbs ahead of our target.
As we moved into the second hour my thought process mainly revolved around things such as “52 routes ahead is a good cushion for when we start to get tired” and “surely we won’t tire out so much that we fall behind now”. However, I had no need to be so negative. The climber’s faces got redder with the effort and the belayers hands got blacker with the friction and dirt from the ropes, but instead of slowing down we in fact sped up dramatically. When Jay calculated and shouted out the total on the 120-minute mark I could barely believe my ears – 418 pitches! We’d completed the challenge with an hour to spare! ”What now?” Jay asked me, “Do we stop?” No way I thought, let’s see what we can do. I shouted “Keep climbing” to the team, not that I needed to.
I’m not sure exactly how it started or who started it, but very quickly the idea arose that if we really went for it we might be able to climb the equivalent distance of Africa’s tallest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro, so Jay did the maths. ‘Kili’ (as it is affectionately known) stands at 5,895m, which was 2,488m further than our original target and would raise our required pitch total from 416 to a whopping 718! As word spread around the team there was general disbelief that we could achieve the 300 climbs in the last hour that were required, but everyone dug in and we went for it!
30-minutes to go and the final tally up before the whistle revealed that we’d climbed 141 pitches since the 2-hour mark with a total of 559. We’d need to climb another 162 pitches in the last half an hour to make the new target. However, my arms were now beginning to feel like chunks of lead and the other team members were also visibly beginning to tire. After coming down from her stint on the toughest of the four routes, Vikki told me she was knackered, and even the gravity defying antics of Ragu and Cătălin were started to looked strained. I didn’t think we could make it without making a change.
There was a 5th route in our area that I had always had my eye on just in case we needed a final push for the line. I’d thought that having four climbers resting and four climbers climbing would be the best way to preserve the team’s stamina and help us last the distance, but faced with this new challenge and the possibility of just missing it, I thought it was worth the risk and asked Ash and Jim to jump on the fifth route. Time off the wall was now cut to next to nothing, with 5 climbers on the wall and 3 off, you were back on the wall within 2-minutes of coming off to rest. Unperturbed, the team dug really deep and threw themselves at the last 30-minutes like they were the first.
There were shouts at 10-minutes to go, 5-minutes to go, 1-minute, 10-seconds, 5, 4,3,2,1… The final whistle! After the initial cheers and the high 5’s, all eyes turned to Jay as he tallied up the final total. The team had needed 718 routes to hit the new, seemingly unattainable target. Had we done it? 138 on pitch 1, 240 on pitch 2, 183 on pitch 3 and 160 on pitch 4. The total?
721 routes – 5,912m – SUCCESS!!
What the team achieved in that final hour was quite special in my opinion, but above all one performance stands out as the most incredible. William Peach, the youngest member of the team who had celebrated his 12th birthday the day before, added to his 60 pitch total from the first 2-hours by climbing an incredible 40 routes back-to-back with no breaks! 100 pitches, or 820 vertical meters in 3 hours, what a legend!
So then, a great result for the members of team Climbing Boyo! We have so much to be grateful for, including the support of our friends and family, the management at Boulders climbing centre for letting us use the section of their centre for the day and providing us with come great climbing routes, the amazing belayers who gave up their day for us and last but not least, the guys at Tenovus who brought a film crew and made us feel like stars. Congratulations to everyone involved and thank you for being part of it.
To date we have raised somewhere in the region of £1,750 for Tenovus. This includes donations prior to the event, the proceedings from the pub quiz held on 5th April and donations taken on the day. There are still sponsor forms to be taken in and donations to be collected and we hope that we can push on and hit our final target of £2,000. If you haven’t donated already and you have been inspired by our achievement, please donate. You can corner any one of the guys and add your name to a sponsor form, or donate on our online fundraising page by clicking here.”
Rob Walker ~ Challenge Organiser/ Amateur Climber/ Boyo.
This write-up originally appeared on the Climbing Boyo blog. Click here to view it, which includes all of the images from the days events.