The stubborn streak that drives a courageous climber

10 November 2016

Nick Talbot, CEO, Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors

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I’ve been really fortunate in life, I have a good career and apart from a couple of near death experiences when I was younger, my health has usually been better than most people who have cystic fibrosis. CF kills people every day by slowly attacking the lungs and other organs until they no longer work. I’ve benefited from new medication which can only help a small percentage of people with CF and has meant that my lung function has improved and my health is more stable, though previous damage can’t be repaired. The new medication has meant that I can no longer participate in medical trials and so I have looked for new ways to help the Cystic Fibrosis Trust and people who are suffering from CF.

I decided to combine a passion for climbing with raising money and profile for CF. Over the years I have pushed myself and my boundaries to see what I can do, gradually getting higher and higher, and in 2014 made my first attempt on Everest. This was the year when there was the biggest disaster to date on Everest, with an avalanche killing many people in the icefall, and the mountain was closed to climbers.

Actions were taken, such as a new route to prevent a repeat of such a tragedy, so I trained intensively again (running up and down hills with 26kg for up to five hours!) and returned the following year with a documentary team. This time I successfully got through the perilous icefall to Camp 1 and then went back down to base camp as part of acclimatising.

It was there that I was caught up in the 25 April earthquake – an even bigger natural disaster that hit the whole of Nepal, killing 8,500 people. I emerged from my tent to see a 300m high wall of snow and ice coming towards me at 200 miles per hour. I had 10 seconds to react and ran to lower ground before it took me out, smashing me into the ground. I got up and it smashed me to the ground again. The blast took out my entire camp, including money, credit cards, equipment. I could hardly breathe and it turned out I had broken and cracked ribs as well as being covered from head to toe in blood and ice with signs of hypothermia. With the help of others I managed to stabilise my situation and 24 hours later was evacuated. It was a particularly tough time not being able to communicate to the outside world that I was ok, as I knew my family and friends would be worrying.

Having a slightly stubborn streak, I decided to go back again in 2016. This is not as irrational as it sounds, as severe earthquakes usually happen very rarely so the danger of climbing Everest, to my mind, hadn’t actually increased, and I had survived the two biggest natural disasters on the mountain. I made good progress, going up and down to different camps to acclimatise, and finally summitted Everest on Friday the 13th May with just a couple of minor incidents on the way up.

My family and friends were a bit more nervous this time, for obvious reasons. Thankfully I could stay in more contact as Inmarsat kindly lent me a compact IsatHub terminal, that I could use with my own smart device. It was amazing to be able to stay in touch by phone and email in some of the most remote parts of the world where normally I had no contact, and for that I’d like to say a big thank you to Inmarsat for creating such great communications equipment. My family and friends certainly appreciated it, and it helped me stay in touch with the media in various ways too, raising profile for the CF Trust.

With the intense training regime over the three years, and severe challenges which come at altitude, climbing Everest was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, every step and breath was a challenge. Yet for me this was only for a month or so, the more serious sufferers of CF face this every day of their lives and ultimately have to hope for a lung transplant, if they are lucky.

I have decided to continue the journey and attempt to climb the 7 Summits, the highest mountain on each continent, to raise money and awareness for the CF charities – the CF Trust, CFF and BEF. This involves intensive training and is as much a mental challenge as a physical one. One down, next on the list Carstenz Pyramid, the highest summit in Australasia!

About the author

Nick Talbot, 40, is CEO of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, whose passion for climbing has taken him all over the world. He was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at the age 12, and has worked tirelessly to promote awareness of the debilitating genetic condition, which causes the build-up of mucus in the lungs, digestive system and other organs. His Everest climb raised £90,000 for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust.

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