On the roof of the world

Re­cov­er­ing ad­dicts tell of 17,598ft climb in Nepal

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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

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