Phil Spencer’s Everest in the Alps blog

Thursday 15 March 2018

Everest in the Alps: The Second Ascent, took place at the end of February, raising vital funds for research into paediatric brain tumours

Phil said: “It was a really interesting challenge, it's unique. When you tell people they're immediately curious, not that they can really picture what 5.5 miles vertical actually looks like, or indeed might feel like, to try and climb."

Phil was part of team Smith and Williamson (pictured), and together with 37 others, he joined Rob Ritchie whose 10 year old son Toby has a low grade brain tumour, to scale the height of Everest on skiis.

The four-day challenge tested all skiers to their limits. They ascended over 2,500 metres each day to reach their target, burning off the equivalent calories of running several back-to-back marathons on each of the four days.

A personal Everest

“It was simply incredible and something I would never have though I would have been able to achieve. There was only one scary moment for me and I think everyone had the same moment. It was very icy, very steep and everyone was very tired and I knew at that particular point, that if someone fell over they'd be in a whole pile of trouble.

The challenging weather patterns made the expedition incredibly hard and I've been reflecting on it. I coped better than I was expecting; I had put the hours in in training so I was hoping to do alright. The legs and body worked well but it was the relentlessness of the challenge that got to us.

It was every single minute from the moment you woke up until you went to sleep. I wasn't particular confident in my ability and I was thinking I really have to have my stuff together. When the weather changes as much as it did in the mountains, you've really got to be on the ball because you're under pressure to keep moving, keep climbing. You can't stop and faff around to change tops, get some waters get another hat, now you need this, now you need that – it's all of that stuff that's tricky on an hourly basis.

My team mates would say that I faffed a lot I think. I was never off the boil. That's my way of dealing with a big challenge, I'm not like that normally.

No pain no gain

I had broken a rib in training before the expedition began. It was fine, strangely. It was painful at night but during the day, it was manageable and that was a massive blessing. The day it really hurt was as I crossed the finishing line. My team captain, Jerry, turned to me and gave me a massive hug and a big “Well done, bloody brilliant!", and slapped me round the ribs. That was painful, that really bloody hurt.

Late in the morning of day two was a tough one too. We were staring up at a massively steep section of off-piste. It was crusty, icy and all of us were already tired and we knew there was no easy way of doing it. It was horrible.

It got worse towards the top especially on the last 40 minutes of that climb. We got spread out as a team; people were moving at different paces and all of a sudden you look across the mountain and your team mates and the guides are spread out. You're feeling on your own and you hit an ice patch and you look down and you think; if I slip now, I'm going to be in a whole pile of trouble. There's nothing and no-one that could have helped me out of that.

At those really low temperatures, it hit -30°C at several points, everyone was aware that something could have gone very badly wrong.

Hitting the summit

It all happened very quickly. The last day was a really early start, I was tired at the beginning, a few things went wrong in the first 20 mins of that day and I was out of sorts. It took me a while to find my rhythm, to get my positive head on.

I felt like I was letting people down and realised I needed to stop panicking, wake up and focus. Then we hit blizzard conditions for three hours with no communication and not able to really look around. It was a surreal 'heads down' kind of state. There were people skiing down past us and I remember saying I'm really pleased I'm walking up not skiing down!

I had no idea we had climbed that far after a few hours and the call came down the line that we only had 250 metres to go. It was a shock to be honest. Then the smiles came out for everyone and the high spirits soared for the last hour.

Hitting the summit was the ultimate elation; everyone was tired, happy, emotional – you name it. It was a wonderful feeling, finally finishing such a remarkable challenge."

The impact of The Second Ascent

Funds raised by Phil, Rob and all the teams will go to The Everest Centre, financed by The Brain Tumour Charity with a global remit to research new treatments.

The centre will fund several vital research projects that will help us understand more about low grade paediatric brain tumours and trial new treatments.

Globally over 26,000 children have a low grade paediatric brain tumour and every year in the UK another 300 children are diagnosed. The location of low grade tumours in the brain often make them only partially operable.

Consequently children often have to go through multiple rounds of invasive treatment like chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and relapse is a constant fear.

Phil said: Everest in the Alps will make a difference for The Everest Centre and for vital research that just wasn't there before."

Find out more about The Everest Centre