Climbing back to his peak

GP Alistair Sutcliffe who has climbed various mountains including Everest. He has suffered a and survived a brain haemorrhage and written a book - pictured at the summit of Mount Vinson, the highest mountain in Africa
GP Alistair Sutcliffe who has climbed various mountains including Everest. He has suffered a and survived a brain haemorrhage and written a book - pictured at the summit of Mount Vinson, the highest mountain in Africa

On February 1 last year Alistair Sutcliffe suffered a massive brain haemorrhage.

The doctors told his wife to say her goodbyes as he would not survive the night.

PIC SHARON DOORBAR/ACQUIRE IMAGES 07973 340201...''HEALTH FEATURE...MIDWIFE ERROR''DR ALISTAIR SUTCLIFFE OF NORTH YORKSHIRE WHO SUFFERED A BRAIN HEMORRHAGE.''PICTURED WITH HIS WIFE CLARE AND DOGS CHINO AND COCO.

PIC SHARON DOORBAR/ACQUIRE IMAGES 07973 340201...''HEALTH FEATURE...MIDWIFE ERROR''DR ALISTAIR SUTCLIFFE OF NORTH YORKSHIRE WHO SUFFERED A BRAIN HEMORRHAGE.''PICTURED WITH HIS WIFE CLARE AND DOGS CHINO AND COCO.

But against all the odds he did.

Incredibly what saved him was his very dangerous hobby - mountain climbing.

In 2007, he had climbed the Seven Summits, reaching the pinnacle of the highest mountain in each of the world’s continents - a record-breaking fete he managed at the first attempt.

The fact that he had spent time at low-oxygen altitude levels had trained his brain to reopen dormant arteries when he suffered the haemorrhage.

Had it not been for that he would not be around today to tell his remarkable story - a story which has now been snapped up by an independent Calderdale publisher.

Alistair’s book, The Hardest Climb, makes compelling reading but its title refers not to his experiences on the world’s highest peaks (which naturally feature) but to his determined battle for full recovery, which began the morning after his brain haemorrhage.

The Hardest Climb has been published by Bluemoose Books of Hebden Bridge and owner, Kevin Duffy reveals he is thrilled - though not surprised - at the attention it is receiving.

“It is such a human story, one which truly inspires,” he says.

“Alistair’s mountaineering achievements are incredible in themselves but added to this is his very own personal battle after being taken ill. As soon as he started to tell me his story, I knew it was one worthy of publishing.”

To tie in with the launch of the book, a tour has also been organised and naturally Calderdale is on the itinerary; Alistair will come to Halifax on July 5, to the Central Library where he will give a talk and lecture about his incredible life.

Alistair, 46, is a practising GP in Whitby, North Yorkshire, where he lives with his wife, Clare, a consultant surgeon, and their two border collies, Chino and Coco.

His passion for mountaineering was ignited as a young boy, aged 11, after meeting Sir Chris Bonington - his friend’s father was the late Eric Major who masterminded the production of Sir Chris’s book, Everest The Hard Way.

Sir Chris has now written the foreword to Alistair’s book and in it he recalls meeting him at the home of Eric.

“I had no idea of the impact that I had made on this young lad,” he writes. The esteemed climber also praises Alistair’s own talents.

“Success on all of the Seven Summits is a feat in itself, made all the more remarkable by the fact that they were all summitted at the first attempt. However, Alistair’s hardest climb is his recovery from a near-fatal brain haemorrhage. All of the survival skills that a climber uses every day in the mountains have, undoubtedly, helped prepare Alistair for this, his greatest challenge.”

Alistair reveals that he suspected he was having a brain haemorrhage just as he climbed into the bath last February.

“I was struck by this odd, fast-moving spasm in my lower neck. Suddenly my head felt as though it was going to explode,” he recalls.

“I rang Clare and asked her to ring an ambulance because I knew that I wouldn’t be able to get through the 38 questions that they have to ask.”

What had struck Alistair was a subarachnoid haemorrhage which although uncommon, can kill up to 50 per cent of sufferers. It often affects the young, fit and healthy and can be caused by bulges in the blood vessel that leak and burst.

In Alistair’s case there was no obvious cause - but incredibly unbeknown to him or his doctors he had a secret weapon. A brain scan revealed he had a “foetal” artery which was still working. This only happens in around 20 per cent of adults as the artery usually becomes redundant beyond childhood. Spending time at low oxygen levels must have caused it to re-open.

A keen runner - Alistair has now completed 50 marathons plus 238 half marathons - he was determined to return to full health and now considers himself 85 per cent fully recovered.

“I still have the odd headache but I’ve run the London marathon again this year (despite cracking two ribs minutes before setting off.)

The book now charts Alistair’s remarkable recovery, beginning as he drifted back into consciousness the morning following after his collapse.

Woven into his recovery story are his reminiscences of his record-breaking conquering of the Seven Summits - Aconcagua, South America, Vinson, Antarctica, Denali, North America, Everest, Asia, Kilimanjaro, Africa, Elbrus, Europe and Cartensz Pyramid, Australia.

There are also recollections of his early years climbing including Mont Blanc and of a trip by motorbike to Timbuktu.

“That came about because I tipped up at home after one climb, looking bedraggled and unshaven and my wife quipped that I spent so much time away she didn’t know why I just didn’t clear off to Timbuktu. I thought what a good idea,” he laughs.

His near brush with death (one chapter describes what he believes was a type of out-of-body experience) has not deterred him from living life to the full.

“Absolutely not. After all, I believe mountain climbing saved my life and I want to continue. I remember coming down after reaching the summit of Mount Everest and I turned to look back and take a picture. I thought to myself ‘I wonder if I will ever see this again?’”

And will he?

“I hope so. Last time I climbed the south side. I’d like to have a go at the north side now.”

He adds that he is proud of completing the book - and pleased that all proceeds are for a charity close to his heart, St Catherine’s Hospice in Scarborough. Over the years his climbs, marathons and half marathons have raised more than £50,000 for the hospice.

“I’d like to raise more and there’s plenty of things I can do to raise that money. I’ve not done with climbing yet,” he says.

l Meet Alistair at Halifax Central Library on Tuesday, July 5, 7pm. Admission is free. The Hardest Climb is available at Fred Wade, Halifax.