No one had ever climbed Everest for Cure Leukaemia until earlier this year when Steve Hardwidge and Gary Burton completed the epic trek to Everest Base Camp to raise funds in support of Steve's sister Julie. We asked Steve to send us some of his memories of their remarkable feat and here they are in his own words:
Everest For Julie
March 4th - 23rd 2020
It’s not until you get told that someone very close to you has got Leukaemia that you start to learn about how much goes into treating a person and how each case varies for the Doctors and staff that support them.
In finding out that my Sister Julie had contracted Leukaemia I felt that I needed to help the charity that depends so much on donations to give these unfortunate people the support and treatment they need.
After climbing to the top of the largest free-standing mountain in the world a year or two before, there was only one that I thought could beat this and it was Mount Everest.
At the age of 57, I thought the task of doing the summit was perhaps out of reach, so I decided to do the next best thing and that was Everest Base camp that sits at 5364meters on the edge of the Khumbu Icefall.
Well, it took about 14 months to prepare and organise the trip along with a group of people all raising money for various charities, and all supported by Classic Challenges who arrange the safe travel and support for such events.
So, some 14 months later I had collected all the kit (there just did not seem enough kit!) that I was advised I would need and with extra support from my best buddy Gary who had agreed to do the challenge with me we set off for Heathrow.
On arrival we met our group who later on would become great friends, then started our long journey to Kathmandu.
On arrival, we fought our way through the sea of mopeds and cars to our hotel and started our 2-day acclimatisation stage and a chance to see the damage still left from the earthquake a few years before.
Well today was the day, we were off to the airport ready for our flight up to Lukla 2840m up in the Himalayas, and would be landing at the world’s most dangerous airport Sir Edmund Hillary Airport sitting perched on the edge of a mountain.
We sat in the airport for about 4 hours waiting for the weather to clear in Lukla but returned back to the hotel following reports of heavy snow falls at Lukla Airport, I felt so sorry for our Trek Leader, Henk, as his plan was falling apart.
Next day we were back at the airport at 6.00am and this time it was on, I felt so many emotions running through my body excitement, fear, and how much I would miss my family back home once we started on our trek.
The Lukla landing was exactly as described, from the air it did not seem possible to get an aeroplane on such a short uphill runway, then stop before you run into a mountain, but credit to our pilot we made it down safe.
We would now walk for about 4 hours down hill through the mountains passing through simple little villages where children played with balls, and bits of wood not even knowing what the rest of the world had to offer, but they seemed very happy!
Our first night was spent at a tea house in Phakding, it was simple and I have to say quite nice, and I remember sitting round a wood burning stove with our team talking about our journey ahead and why we were all there.
For those of you that don’t know, the Everest Base camp trek takes you through many little villages and you stop at tea houses along your way, not tents I hear you say!
Well the truth is you bring a form of income to the Nepalese people and even though they are timber buildings, they have very little creature comforts and this becomes more apparent the higher you go.
That night the temperature fell to just zero in our room and it made us think what was ahead.
The next day was to be a 10 hour walk up to Namche Bazaar finishing at 3440 meters where we stayed for 2 days acclimatising once again.
This was to be the process, climb high then sleep low, so in a series of ups and downs we worked our way up.
And as the height changed, so did the scenery, the villages started to spread out and the many suspension bridges got higher crossing across vast gorges carved into the mountains.
Our route took us through Tengboche, Dingboche, Lobuche, Gorak Shep and eventually to base camp.
By now we had been walking for about 8 hours the temperature was about minus 15 and a few hours before we had battled through a near blizzard pausing for a rest at the climbers' memorial. This was a graveyard of stone piles called 'cairns' marking the individual graves of climbers that had died on either Everest or the surrounding mountains, It was a reminder of how dangerous the mountains can be and how the weather can put an abrupt end to a person’s dream.
Standing at one of the climber’s memorials - Scott Fischer R.I.P
As we approached the Khumbo Icefall glacier I noticed there was no sign of life, no plants, no birds nothing, it really was an inhospitable place.
Now base camp was in site and I was feeling exhausted and not sure if I could push that last mile to the finish line, but like all finish lines you dig deep and think of why you are doing it, let’s just say I crossed that line with my Sister Julie.
Base Camp Everest & The Khumbu Glacier in the background
So then we did what you do, we took our photos unzipping our coats to show our Cure Leukemia t-shirts, we took our group photos and just like that:
We had done it!
After a couple of hours walk tracing our steps back we stayed at Gorak Shep tea house now remember they do not have many creature comforts and this one was top of the list for that.
We got into our sleeping bags that night with the inside temperature sitting at a chilly - 25° and the outside temperature - 30°, I think this was the coldest I have ever been inside a building.
Slowly but surely we headed back to Lukla passing through those same little villages, and with the weather warming up as we got lower down the trail.
When we got back to Namche we got our first good wi-fi signal, then we started to get the reports of the Covid-19 outbreak and how it was affecting the rest of the world, being in our bubble on the mountain with limited contact had left us oblivious to what was going on.
This, for me, was a great spoiler, there we were having just trekked Everest Base Camp and now everyone worried about getting home!
Back at the hotel I called my wife, 'get toilet rolls & sanitisers' she said the world has gone mad.
So with a bag full of toilet rolls and hand sanitisers, we set off to the airport
We did make the last flight out of Katmandu before they closed the airport and eventually arrived at Heathrow the next day, which could only be described as a ghost town.
This had put a dampener on my whole trip, but in the back of my mind I had done it, and thanks to a great team of Sherpas, Yaks, and my best friend Gary who had promised after Kilimanjaro never to do another cold trek, we had got home safely.
I only have one regret “I wish I could have raised more”
On behalf of us both we would like to say:
Thanks to Professor Craddock and his fantastic team for the work and lives that you have saved.
Steve's sister Julie was also in awe of what they achieved:
“I’m so proud by the achievements of my brother Steve and his friend Gary and know that money raised will help Cure Leukaemia carry on their work both supporting current patients whilst also supporting vital research.
I haven’t seen my brother since before he went to Everest due to the pandemic but hopefully we can all celebrate soon.
My younger brother was my stem cell donor so all aspects of my treatment and recovery have been a family affair”.
Inspired by Steve and Gary's amazing challenge? You can still make a donation to their JustGiving page HERE
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