On the roof of the world
Recovering addicts tell of 17,598ft climb in Nepal
Three men from Rutherglen, Burnside and Castlemilk have completed the challenge of a lifetime.
John Ferns, Davie Mains and Donald Martin - all recovering addicts at Calton Athletic - trekked to Everest base camp in Nepal in November.
They made the journey as part of an eight-strong group of people from Glasgow who have overcome drug or alcohol addiction.
Inside this week’s Reformer, the three men told Douglas Dickie base camp was a whole new kind of challenge.
They had to contend with extreme cold, headaches, panic attacks and even random nosebleeds.
In November, three men from Rutherglen, Burnside and Castlemilk took on the challenge of a lifetime. John Ferns, Davie Mains and Donald Martin are all recovering addicts at Calton Athletic. They headed to Nepal with five other members to trek to Everest base camp. While they were physically ready, nothing could prepare them for the psychological battle ahead. This is their story. John is a 49-year-old from Castlemilk who has been in recovery for 14 years. Davie, 47, now lives in Burnside having approached Calton when he was just 20. Donald, 37, has been going to Calton for 11 years and now stays in Spittal, Northumberland. John Ferns, Donald Martin and Davie Main were part of an eight-strong expedition from Glasgow addiction recovery group Calton Athletic to make the journey. All eight men have overcome drug or alcohol addiction, but according to John, base camp was a whole new kind of challenge. “It was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life,”he said.“Once you get above 15,000 feet, the breathing gets really hard. When you first start, the days were long and you couldn’t wait for night to come. “But the higher up you got, the nights were worse. We were waking up with panic attacks, there was blood coming out of our noses and you would get the most extreme headaches.
“When you fall asleep, your metabolism slows down so you wake up gasping for air.
“I would liken it to recovery. You can believe you are getting better but you are never cured. You can never beat an addiction, and it is the same with altitude. You just have to learn to cope with it.
“You would get up in the morning forgetting you were at altitude.
“Something like packing your bag would leave you knackered and it would take you ages to recover from it.
“It was hard just to do the day-to-day stuff, every morning you were waking up frozen.”
Davie reckoned many of the group were taken back to their days as addicts.
“They told us at the start, there will be times where you will feel like you are dying. We have had experience of that with our addictions, but to experience that when in recovery was quite scary.”
Base camp is situated at 17,598 feet above sea level. While the group had prepared physically, nothing could ready them for walking at altitude.
It took them seven hours to walk just five miles with the whole journey lasting 15 days.
Two of the group who set off couldn’t make it the whole way – and everyone admitted there were times when they thought about turning back.
And Donald insists those who did make it had their Sherpa, Nemo, and Mungo Ross from Scottish Mountaineering to thank.
“Mungo said he picked our guide, Nemo, because he was the best pacer he’d
ever seen. He goes slow, at his own pace.
“A lot of groups went by us but were struggling and people had to go back down.
“That was key, the pace we went at. We had a lot of guys like myself who are quite competitive and if we had been left on our own we would have been blown off the mountain.
“No one can beat altitude, no matter how much training you have. It had nothing to do with fitness, it was just your luck if your blood adapted and what pace you went at.”
Davie added:“We all wanted to stop at some point. It was actually one of the guys who didn’t make it who one night talked me through it.
“The physical aspect of it was not the issue, it was psychological, that’s where we found it most challenging.”
Despite the challenges, all three men say it was an experience of a lifetime.
The group visited villages on the side of the mountain and even a temple, while the views of the Milky Way at night left them stunned.
But the obvious highlight was reaching their destination.
Donald said:“Up there you only get 50 per cent of your normal oxygen levels so it was like someone sitting on your chest.
“But when we got to base camp, we seemed to come back to life with the sheer jubilation. “Of course, coming back down you are getting more air and that was a brilliant part of it. I think you appreciate it more on the way down.”
Davie added:“To take these guys to Everest and for six of them to make it is incredible.
“We were way out of our comfort zones, it is easily the biggest undertaking I have been on. I have
You only get 50 per cent of your normal oxygen levels… it was like someone sitting on your chest Donald Martin
been through a lot, but that was the pinnacle.”
The group will now look at their next challenge – but all three admit they will have to go some to topping their last trip.
And as time goes on, no-one is ruling out a return to the world’s highest mountain.
Donald said:“It was like a marathon. Every time I do one I tell myself I’m not going to do it again but a few weeks later you want to get back into it.
“At first, we were all traumatised by it but now I appreciate what an enormous undertaking it was. I would do it again if I could.”
Inspiring The team trekked to the famous Everest base camp
Touching base The team make it to base camp after an arduous journey Teamwork Davie (left), John (second left) and Donald (third right) along with the group could not have made it without supporting each other
Reflections Donald on his way up the mountain Well-earned break John and Davie have a rest on their way up Arriving John, Davie and Donald arrive in Nepal along with their Calton mates