…On a rope.
And we aren’t talking static or dynamic, 10mm rope. Oh no. We are talking old fashioned gym rope, the sort that might have been part of your PE lessons in junior school. The sort that chaffs the hands and grates the skin off your knees. The sort that no real climber would go near unless they had a very good reason.
Josh Senior, as always, had a genuine reason for going where no one else would dream. In his bid to not just raise money for Air Ambulance Kent Surrey Sussex, but finish his 12 months of 12 physically gruelling challenges in style, he saved the worst until last. He might be a cross fit enthusiast, a gym bunny and a nearly converted swimmer and triathlete, but Josh is first and foremost a climber. Which is why climbing became the focus of his final challenge of the year.
The premise was simple. Eight metres of rope, up and down, for 24 hours, ably supported by two mates. That meant 1,106 ascents of the rope, keeping up a pace of one per 78 seconds. All through the afternoon, evening and keeping climbing through the wee hours. Going past dawn, into the morning and see out lunchtime to finish by 2pm.
At 2pm, the challenge started to muted applause from the bemused climbers who had popped down to Chimera for a quiet session, not realising the madness they were about to witness. Josh took on the brunt of the early stints, up and down repeatedly while the support crew logged each and every climb. Hands protected by gloves which started the challenge brand-new, it wasn’t long before signs of wear were clear. Time to change out.
Into the fray came Craig and Alex. They took turns, the pace continued and as the spectators gathered, the climb continued. As it dawned on the watching supporters just how many ascents were going to be needed to hit the height of Everest, the sun dipped below the horizon and the evening set in.
It was at this point, on the back of five plus hours, the reinforcements were called up. Squad kids finishing their Christmas competition jumped at the chance to scuttle up the rope, making quick work of the eight metres and giving the team a few minutes much needed rest. But bedtimes called and soon the intrepid trio were at it again, this time in an eerily quiet centre.
Alex bowed out late in the evening – having been battling illness all week, he had done well to make it that far and take some of the burden off the others. An Instagram plea at literally the 11th hour saw last minute stand in Andrew drive 90 minutes just to take over from Alex.
With Andrew much fresher and able to complete the brunt of the climbs for a few hours, that left Josh and Craig to continue to do what they could through the wee hours of the morning, with time slowing down and minutes on the rope feeling like days. No rest, no shut eye, no chance. Leg muscles burning, forearms screaming for respite, bodies desperate for rest. And then the worst news – after a weary calculation at the halfway point, the team discovered they were massively behind schedule.
Cue an epic couple of hours of non-stop climbing from the trio. The height was dropped from eight to five metres, to lessen the load in between vital periods of rest. Up and down, lowered expertly by Stephen in his role as best friend, encouragement giver, there from beginning to end as belayer, himself performing just as vital a role in the orchestra of moving parts that was trying to see the challenge to its conclusion.
The static belay rope soon needing switching ends, and then swapping out entirely, with its lifespan well and truly reached. That bought the climbers a few minutes of rest and a chance to refuel, while everyone else looked at the rope in amazement, having only ever retired their own ropes due to age or damage.
Dawn brought not just golden light seeping through the windows, but the most-welcomed sight – family, here to encourage, bring sustenance and most importantly, a constant supply of caffeine. Suddenly feeling fresher than they had for hours, the challenge was back on track and the numbers tumbling.
Ben Nevis had been and gone the previous evening, then the Eiger. Mount St. Elias was summated in the wee hours, as the team globe trotted their way up a series of respected peaks. Aconcagua in the Andes disappeared mis-morning, followed by Cho Oyu as the climbers finally surpassed the 8,000m mark.
By this time the centre had filled up with a new set of climbers who asked questions, disbelief on their faces when they realised what was occurring. On and one, up and up, climb after climb they watched in awe as Josh, Andrew and Craig ticked off the metres.
And then, just like that, they made it. Adrenaline seeing them through once they realised they were finally ahead of schedule. Josh clipped in for the ceremonial final climb of the gruelling challenge. Cheered and applauded by the whole centre, arm over arm, he climbed up the rope to the very top and summited the height of Everest, the tallest mountain in the world with half an hour to spare.
It was a challenge that will live long physically as much as in the memory – calluses ripped, forearms shredded, calves suffering acute rope burn. Umpteen calories burned, bodies nearly broken with effort. But they did it. They did what they set out to do, and in doing so, Josh finished his 12 challenges in style. Why go to such lengths, who put yourself through so much? Because Josh believes wholeheartedly in the cause – because he wants to make sure the charity has enough money in the coming year to function. To fly to the aid of those in need. And he decided to go about it the most eye-catchingly way, by flinging himself up and down a rope in the middle of the centre for 24 hours.
You can’t disagree that it was attention-grabbing, and awe-inspiring in equal measure. And if it encourages just one person to donate, then it was all worth it.