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Blood, Sweat and Education

My family has a tradition. Every two years, my younger brother and I do a charity challenge with the help of our parents. And as the years have gone by they’ve got more and more demanding. Two years ago, our Dad, his friend Ian and my brother and I rowed an Atlantic rowing boat from Bedford to The Wash in Norfolk. Taking two nights and three days, it was the most physically demanding thing we’ve ever done.

Sadly last summer, Ian was diagnosed with leukaemia. We knew then that our charity challenge had to raise money for Anthony Nolan, the charity who has been helping to find him a stem cell donor. We’d already decided to climb the highest mountain in Ethiopia and to raise money for an educational charity there as well, so the challenge was set. All that was needed now was a team name: Blood, Sweat and Education.

In all honesty, I didn’t really know what to expect from our five day Simien trek but it became our hardest endeavour by far. The challenge was not only a physical strain due to lack of oxygen at such a high peak, but a mental one as well. The ability to suppress headaches and cope with altitude sickness, whilst pushing on for 6 to 8 hours of intense exercise day after day is a must. There were no guarantees of a wash, clean clothes, dry sleeping conditions or even a road to follow. Once we started, we knew that we had to keep going as there was no Plan B or safe evacuation. But perseverance was rewarded with breath-taking sights of 500m waterfalls, steep terraced valleys, stunning wildlife and wonderfully welcoming people.

By day 3 of our trek, it became obvious that it would not be possible for us to safely reach the summit. There had been unseasonal heavy rain the previous three nights. One night our tent even flooded. We had no dry clothes for days afterwards. The rivers along the mountain ranges were swollen with the extra water. At one point we had to wade hip deep through freezing, fast flowing water. The water was rising so quickly that by the evening, not even the mules were able to cross at the same point. The thought of turning back was heart-breaking. People were sponsoring us for two amazing charities, but we needed to be sensible as the only way off the mountain is by foot, and you have to do it without any help.

So, we decided that we’d climb the next highest peak, Mount Bhawit (4,430m) instead. Once above vegetation, it was a steep, rocky and breathless climb. But we made it, and even managed to have a laugh at finding a chessboard, just in case you fancied a game. A short victory dance later, and our bodies were telling us to get off the mountain.

We were lucky to have a few days either side of the trek to experience a completely different culture. Every single person in the community was friendly and willing to help. I particularly enjoyed the local cuisine, especially the frequent coffee rituals.

After all the hard climbing, wet clothes and days without a wash, we raised about £3,000 and it was totally worth it.

There was also good news on our return. Ian found a match and had his transplant last year. His recovery won’t be easy, but it’s amazing that someone donated their stem cells to potentially save his life. Thanks Anthony Nolan!

If you’ve been inspired to take on a challenge and fundraise for Anthony Nolan, check out our ideas for what you can do.

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