Phil’s incredible Everest quest for Cancer Research UK

Phil Purdy
Phil Purdy

A mountaineering fund-raiser has told of his gruelling bid to reach the top of the world for Cancer Research UK.

Phil Purdy, 52, of Smith House Lane, Lightcliffe, has managed to complete the challenge of a lifetime and conquer Everest.

The brave dad-of-four beat treacherous conditions, which sadly caused nine climbers to lose their lives and many more to turn back.

Mr Purdy himself passed the bodies of four fellow climbers on his way up the mountain but through sheer determination and what he described as “bloody mindedness” he reached the 8,850m summit.

Now back at home after ten weeks away - and having raised £120,000 for Cancer Research UK - he spoke to the Courier about his life-changing quest.

Accompanied by sherpas, Nepalese guides, Mr Purdy spent eight weeks climbing up and down the various camps on the mountain, to acclimatise to the conditions which included the debilitating effects of lack of oxygen and temperatures ranging from -30 to 30 degrees.

He said life on the mountain was extremely tough and frightening. The group had to cross 200m deep crevasses using ladders - which claimed the life of one sherpa who fell - negotiate rock falls due to melting snow and deal with intense fatigue.

He said: “It was very hard. Very tiring and mentally demanding. You just don’t believe how hard the ice is. You struggle to even get your crampons through it.

“And the altitude - you just can’t breathe. Every small movement leaves you fighting for your breath.”

While waiting for a summit window, one of his group’s sherpas was hit by a large block of ice and had to be stretchered back, for nine hours, to a lower camp for rescue.

It later emerged that another expedition group which took advantage of a summit window in the meantime suffered fatalities.

A second summit window emerged a few days later, which Mr Purdy’s group took.

Mr Purdy, who had written letters to his family in the event of his death, said: “You’re constantly aware of the risks you’re putting yourself under. You run through scenarios beforehand mentally to prepare yourself. It feels a bit like sitting an exam - you do your thinking before but once you start you get on with the job in hand.

“I suppose you always think it’s never going to happen to you. I don’t know. I just think if it’s going to happen, it will happen.”

To make the final ascent, Phil left the highest camp - camp four - at 8pm and reached the 8,850m summit at 6.25am the next morning.

He said: “When we left camp four we passed four dead climbers. A very vivid reminder of how precious life is.”

As he neared the summit, Phil’s sherpa went blind with the altitude and his own sight began to deteriorate.

“I had no support going up the mountain from camp four. I didn’t know how much oxygen I had got. I thought I had some snowblindness but it was the altitude. It was like a film on your eyes.

“Your depth of vision goes. You’re stepping down and didn’t know how far your foot was going before it hit the ground.”

He said there was mixed emotions on reaching the summit - all too aware of the long, dangerous battle back to base camp.

“People say it must have been exciting but you’re just relieved. There’s no euphoria. You’re so aware that you won’t be safe until you get back.

“The four that had died were coming down from the summit. They would have been able to see camp four from where they died.

“You’re aware you could be the next fatality.”

Mr Purdy, who lost nine kilos of body weight in the expedition, filmed himself while he was on the mountain - including a post-summit video.

He said: “The fatigue is obvious. It’s just so physical - you can see it in my face. You’re gaunt and just completely spent, exhausted.”

Mr Purdy, whose father died of lung cancer in 2002, said it has still not really hit him what he has achieved.

“It’s not sunk in as such. I feel pleased of what we’ve done for Cancer Research UK. We did what we set out to do.

“A lot of times I thought I wasn’t going to do it.

“People invest so much time and training and preparing for it - it takes two years - it’s a massive sacrifice, and incredibly disappointing, if you can’t do it. It’s just great I managed to do it.”

He also hopes he has inspired his children to reach for their dreams in the future.

“In some small way, I hope I’ve managed to teach them a bit of ‘if you want to do something that much, anything is possible but it requires a lot of hard work’.”

He now wants to make a final push to reach his target of £135,000.

He hopes to raise enough money to fund 50 days of research into oesophageal and pancreatic cancer in Cambridge. Each research day costs £2,700

To donate, visit www.everestchallenge2012.co.uk.