Climbing the Physical & Mental Mountain
Osprey Adventurers Jonathan Pain and Fergus Crawley took on an incredible feat in November 2020 with the aim to complete the world’s first vertical marathon by ascending and descending the UK’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis. This challenge was all to raise funds for Movember, with a focus on mental health and to encourage men not to suffer in silence. They shared their story with us.
“On the 1st November 2020, we (Fergus Crawley and I, Jonathan Pain) started climbing Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest peak, in Fort William, Scotland, knowing that this initial ascent would be the first of a planned 32 consecutive summits. What we didn’t know was just what an epic journey we’d just begun!
Let’s backtrack somewhat and offer some context. I mean, why on earth would you climb Nevis 32 times?! Well, let’s just go ahead and blame Fergus there shall we! Over the last 3 years, Fergus has been campaigning tirelessly for men’s mental health and in particular to highlight the alarming rate of male suicide and draw attention to our need to openly communicate about such matters.
Previous challenges, through The Movember Foundation, have been set around tough and extreme endeavours as a way of drawing attention to the story and the message. Fergus approached me in 2018 to coach him towards success for the physical challenges and a partnership was formed.
Last year, when considering marathons, we were looking for something to perhaps draw a little more attention to the cause, this was when Fergus simply tipped the map on its side and asked, ‘can we do a marathon…vertically?’ Ben Nevis, scaled 32 times amounts to 42km (or 26.2 Miles) of vertical elevation. A Vertical Marathon. And so ‘Project Vertical’ was born.
The message throughout the challenge was that, when facing difficult mental health issues, one should reach out and talk. That talking saves lives and that communicating honestly with those around us can make a huge, positive difference.
With that being the case, we felt climbing Nevis side by side (rather than another amazing solo effort from Fergus) would be a way of demonstrating that we can all support each other through the toughest of times. That knowing that others are prepared to share even the hardest of journeys can make all the difference when trying to climb our own mountains in everyday life, whatever that mountain may be.
Day 1 was brutal. Brutal. We started during storm ‘Aiden’ which saw us make our first summit amidst 110+mph winds and temperatures of -19 degrees. We descended, dried as best we could and then went again.
Summit 2 was just as tough and nearing the top of the mountain for the second time after 8 solid hours of battling sideways rain and hail, we encountered another climber who could not make it down. Our efforts then became focused on rescuing this climber and ultimately our first day ended early in sheer exhaustion.
Only later into the challenge did we truly realise that after the toll day 1 had taken, it meant that we had to face up to the reality that we could not feasibly complete 32 summits within the 11 day window we had set ourselves.
With the support of each other and those around us attending to the immediate logistics we talked our predicament through at length, shed some tears and agreed that we would commit to pushing as hard as we could day to day, always taking that first step together and always committing to move forwards climbing our mountain. A mountain which had now become as much metaphorical as it was literal.
Day to day, as we continued through the 11 days, we discovered that we were using our own mental health message of communication and honesty in the face of adversity as much as anyone watching Project Vertical unfold. We discovered the importance of accepting help from all around us from a new perspective and we were privileged to receive messages of support from near and far and from friends and strangers alike.
With the support of our brand partners, although we didn’t meet our own initial arbitrary goal, we climbed Nevis 22 times covering the equivalent distance of scaling Everest 3 times, we faced our fears daily and we faced them together. We overcame the overwhelming urge to give up by leaning on each other and those around us. We faced our own mountain literally and figuratively each day and supported each other to take that first and next step again and again.
By the time Project Vertical came to its conclusion on the 11th November 2020, we had been on a very different journey than the one we set out on and it’s a journey we shall never forget.
We’d encourage you to grab your pack, get out there and #climbyourownmountain.”
Jonathan Pain and Fergus Crawley recently joined us on the Osprey Podcast to chat about the challenge and how they trained for it along with their own battles with mental health.
Jonathan Pain: @jonathanpain | Fergus Crawley: @ferguscrawley | Scott Jackson (photos): @scojackson
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