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IN FINAL WHISTLE

 

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MOUNT KILIMANJARO, at 5,895m [or 19,341 ft in old money], is the highest mountain in Africa and also the highest freestanding mountain in the world. The challenge of climbing Mt Kilimanjaro is one not to be underestimated as the effects of climbing at altitude ensure that no person is certain of reaching the summit, regardless of their physical shape or condition.

Retired rugby players...forcibly or otherwise...just cannot sit still. They have this irrepressible urge to challenge themselves, whether it’s climbing the highest mountain, abseiling off the highest point, cycling across Europe, walking 100s of miles when paraplegic, or becoming a world-class coach, the world’s foremost authority on rugby journalism, or CEO of a multi-billion dollar media company.

AXA Wealth Climb Kilimanjaro Challenge 2011: David Barnes, Mark Regan, Andy Blyth

Former England and Bath prop David Barnes is one such headcase. Alongside England and British Lion, Mark ‘Ronnie’ Regan, and the most formidable England ‘A’ centre, Andy Blyth, who worked his way back from a rucking injury that left him paralysed from the neck down, the three amigos are traipsing up Kilimanjaro to raise funds for three charities - Help for Heroes, the Rugby Players' Association Benevolent Fund and the RFU Injured Players Foundation.

Rugby Unplugged follows their journey into the clouds in East Africa, and brings you reports of how the team are faring through Barnesy's hugely entertaining blog [mostly at the expense of Ronnie Regan!], alongside the 38 others also crazy enough to attempt such feat...

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The Journey

Thursday 2nd June
Fly London/ Bristol to Moivaro Lodge, Arusha -

Friday 3rd June
Leisure Day

Saturday 4th June
Depart to start 7 day Rongai Climb 

Kilimanjaro von NordenThe Rongai Route’s premier advantage is that it is the quietest route on the mountain, however one of the reasons that it is so quiet is that the likelihood of summiting on this route on the six day schedule is the second worst of all the six official routes because there are no topographical features that allow the ‘climb high / sleep low’ principle to be exploited, even if one incorporates a rest day.

Team Kilimanjaro have found a solution to this problem however, by creating a brand new series of seven day Rongai Route that switches across the south summit circuit to summit via the firm ridge of Barafu rather than the loose scree slopes above Kibo Hut – thus affording the best acclimatisation opportunities on the mountain.

Thursday 9th June
Expected Summit Day

Friday 10th June
Finish Kilimanjaro Trek and transfer back to Moivaro Lodge

Saturday 11th June
[Possible extra day on mountain if needed]
Transfer to Arusha Airport for overnight flight to London/ Bristol

Sunday  12th June
Arrive London/ Bristoltop

 


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Story So Far

THURSDAY 2nd June

AXA Wealth Climb Kilimajaro Launch Twickenham: David barnes, Andy Blyth, Jason Leonard

A really early start marked the start of the AXA Wealth Climb yesterday morning. An earlier decision to join up with four members of the Royal Logistics Corps (RLC) in their Abingdon barracks, in order to reduce the travel time to Heathrow, proved to be a false economy.

It was 2:30am when the alarms went off and we jumped into the minibus to avoid the traffic, which according to one of the senior officers was a serious danger at that time of the morning. Surprisingly there were no hold ups on the way and we arrived bright and early at Heathrow. Soon more and more of the distinctive blue fleeces of the AXA Wealth Climb appeared and the group was starting to come together.

It was at Amsterdam airport where the full compliment of the 41 people taking on the climb met each other for the first time, after different members of the party flew in from various regional airports.

There is a huge variety in the age of the group (18-66), experience, fitness level and background.

We have 3 different people taking on the challenge to mark their 50th Birthday. There is also a recently married couple who are on their honeymoon, 4 serving soldiers, 3 fathers and daughters along with people from various other backgrounds; it promises to be a great opportunity to create new friendships and share a special experience. We all know that it will be these nearly formed friendships which will be so vitally important when the going gets tough later in the week once we start the climb and while everyone will have their low points we will help each other through.

After a long day of travelling, we finally arrived in Arusha, the city closest to Kilimanjaro. It was a very pleasant surprise to be greeted by David Squire, the man behind the superb trekking company Team Kilimanjaro, who has travelled out here to personally ensure we all have an experience to remember.

Moral is high as Mark Regan, after watching Spongebob Squarepants on continuous loop for 8 hours on the plane, has proudly announced that this is his first trip to the Himalayas… no one has the heart to tell him he is a few thousand miles out.

For the majority of the party it will be a day of rest today but for a few, however, we are heading off to the local schools to introduce rugby to some of the local children.

While every person joining the AXA Wealth Climb is taking on a personal and physical challenge, they are all supporting charitable causes. Every person who has taken a place has paid their own fare thus allowing all the money raised to be donated to charities.

The AXA Wealth Climb is primarily supporting three charities: Help for Heroes, the RPA Benevolent Fund and the RFU Injured Players’ Foundation.

Many people on this trip have an association with rugby, be it as a player, a sponsor or a supporter and understand that whilst many players will play many enjoyable years there are a few who are unfortunate to suffer serious injury. When that injury does occur the Rugby community are quick to rally round and support that player. We are extremely proud to be representing two such charities, which support the player, and from my own rugby background, I am climbing in aid of the RPA Benevolent Fund.

FRIDAY 3rd June

IT is the first full day in Tanzania as the group enjoys the beautiful country, before getting ready to embark on the climb.

A late evening, on Thursday, getting to know everyone of the 41 people of the AXA Wealth Climb meant a few tired people on Friday morning. Despite this, most were up early for breakfast safe in the knowledge their late night renditions of 'Sweet Caroline' and 'Sunshine Mountain' had entertained the entire hotel.

AXA Wealth Climb Kilimanjaro Challenge 2011: Arusha SchoolFriday was always labeled as an official rest day, in preparation for the climb, and the group split up to take advantage of what was on offer in Arusha. A few of the group have been taken by Team Kilimanjaro for a local Safari while 12 of us went to Kalolani Makumbuso primary school to help spread the game of rugby.

As soon as we entered the school we had 500 children all wanting to throw the rugby ball around. We found it surprising how many recognized the game and couldn't wait to get their hands on the ball. This is where the organizational skills of the Royal Logistic Corps came into its element and the children were separated in manageable groups to enjoy the skills.

AXA Wealth Climb Kilimanjaro Challenge 2011: Arusha SchoolNot many of the children could understand the strong Bristolian accent of Mark Regan, but then again nor could many of us. Despite this, the children seemed to enjoy the opportunity to run around throwing the ball and being lifted in lineouts. It goes without saying that Mark Regan has lost nothing in retirement as he missed every one of his jumpers. The teacher's were also slightly bemused when he started to hand out business cards advertising his after dinner speaking services.

AXA Wealth Climb Kilimanjaro Challenge 2011: Arusha SchoolThere was one slightly embarrassing moment at the start when, all keen and eager, we set about the coaching. However, It was only after a couple of minutes that the poor Head Teacher had to point out that we were coaching the wrong school. We had started coaching the neighboring school, who share the same playing field, as the children we were meant to be coaching, sat patiently waiting.

Later in the afternoon the staff of Team Kilimanjaro arrived at the hotel to give the final briefing and what to expect. While we are a group of 41, we have been split down into 6 smaller groups that will rotate each day, to allow everyone to get to know each other before being separated into groups dictated by speed and ability for the final summit night. Everyone's nerves were settled as the excellent guides of Team Kilimanjaro answered any concerns.

Herowear Help for Heroes PantsA big dilemma that we have to resolve is which pants to wear. Herowear, who have produced a range of pants supporting one of the AXA Wealth Climb charities Help for Heroes, have kindly sent us a selection of pants. These include the camouflaged version and the plain version. The key choice is which pair to wear for the summit photos? At the moment the camouflaged option is winning but whatever the final brief is, it won't be a pretty sight.

There was a more subdued atmosphere at dinner last night as the team dinner as everyone contemplates the task ahead. Saving energy is very important over the next few days as we look to ensure we have the reserves left to reach the summit.

We did find out a few new things about our fellow climbers though. One climber had Wham! sing at his 21st birthday, another has never taken a flight before, let alone left the UK, and a third has had a top 10 single.

The AXA Wealth Climb is coming together well and everyone is looking forward to the challenge ahead on Saturday but most importantly hoping that it will help raise essential funds for some great causes.

SATURDAY 4th June

IT is day one of the ascent of Kilimanjaro and the group get a glimpse of the challenge ahead.

AXA Wealth Climb Kilimanjaro Challenge 2011The scheduled meeting time and pick up by Team Kilimanjaro was 7:30 yesterday morning but everyone was up well before that as a mixture of trepidation and excitement set in.

There are very strict weight limits for baggage on the mountain with 20kg as the maximum allowed. While most managed to obey the limits, the current record is 27kg, which meant some drastic repacking was needed. Mark Regan had his numerous colouring books removed, however luckily they were returned when the rest of the group pleaded he should keep them so he could keep himself entertained.

AXA Wealth Climb Kilimanjaro Challenge 2011The porters are the unsung heroes of any Kilimanjaro climb and their largely unseen work is what enables the teams to progress up the mountain. One climber invested considerable money in the latest rucksack, which had all the latest technology. He was so proud of his bag and how he would be helping the guides due to the latest ergonomic designs. Unfortunately the guide did not share the same thoughts and looked at the bag, shrugged, and promptly lifted it up and carried it on his head.

Everyone on the AXA Wealth Climb is facing the challenge of trekking to the highest point on the African continent, but for Andy Blyth it is an incredible achievement that he has actually made it this far. In 2000 Andy was playing for Sale against Saracens when in the process of a tackle he suffered serious damage to his cervical spine at C3&4. This injury was extremely serious and he was initially completely paralysed. As a result it meant he was confined to hospital for the best part of a year before he begun a long and slow rehabilitation. While Andy has made some good progress he is by no means back to normal and walking long distances takes considerable effort.

Andy's determination to take on Kilimanjaro is an inspiration to all of us. Many of the 41 people on AXA Wealth Climb have an association with Rugby, either as a player, sponsor or supporter and appreciate the risks of playing such a physical game. We are all there to support Andy in what will be a truly remarkable achievement.

The RPA Benevolent Fund and the RFU Injured Players' Foundation were set up to support the players through times of injury or hardship and are an indispensable part of the rugby family.

AXA Wealth Climb Kilimanjaro Challenge 2011We are trekking up the Rongai route over the 7 days, which gave us spectacular views back over the Tanzanian planes into Kenya. As you trek up Kilimanjaro there are four distinctive temperate zones and today was spent trekking through the rainforest on a reasonably short day. The odd Columbus monkey has been spotted however the mythical elephants are yet to appear.

The banter has been flowing as the teams are in great spirits ahead of the challenge however when the clouds parted to give a spectacular view of the summit the group fell very silent as the size of the challenge ahead became very real.

On arrival at the camp last night we are currently at an altitude of 2600m. The weather is still reasonable and we have been able to sit around chatting through the day as we go further up the temperature is expected to drop dramatically.

The AXA Wealth Climb has been split down into 6 separate more manageable groups recognised by colour. While we are mixing up the walking groups every day, each team has it's own dedicated mess tent to eat in. We are currently eating as our own team, the silver team, however we have sent out an official invite to the red team to join us for dinner tomorrow evening. Black tie is compulsory for admittance.

SUNDAY 5th June

AS the group starts to get to know each other better, everyone is starting to feel the effects of the altitude.

The 2nd day on the mountain proved to be a long and challenging day. The total trekking time has been between 8-9 hours with a vertical gain of 1000m.

We have taken the decision to swap all the groups round so that every member of the AXA Wealth Climb (AWC) gets to mix with the other climbers. Teamwork and friendship are an extremely important contributory factor for the success of the AWC.

AXA Wealth Climb Kilimanjaro Challenge 2011The effects of altitude have started to take its effect on members of the group. Anyone who tells you Kilimanjaro is an easy walk has either never done it or has no idea of how altitude can affect the body.

For some, it manifests itself as headaches that can progress to nausea and sickness. While it can be managed, it has to be taken seriously and this is where the professionalism and knowledge of the Team Kilimanjaro guides is so important. Their guides are all extremely experienced (all have summited over 150 times) and understand the effects of altitude and how to best deal with it.

AXA Wealth Climb Kilimanjaro Challenge 2011Team Kilimanjaro has also supplied guides at a ratio of a minimum of 1 guide per 2 climbers. This allows the groups to break down and individual climbers to go at their own pace and not that of others. This will be vital in preparing to get them to the summit.

Whilst we are all feeling slightly unwell and tired, we are all very aware for the reason why we are climbing the mountain. Many of us are proud to support Help for Heroes and are acutely aware that what we are going through is nothing compared to those soldiers who are injured serving their country.

Help for Heroes raises money to support members of the Armed Forces who have been wounded in the service of their country. Over a million people have responded to date and millions of pounds have been raised to buy much needed services that will aid their recovery. So far, they have allocated almost all of the money they have raised in order to fund direct projects and support other service charities.

The route yesterday took us away from Kilimanjaro peak as we traversed the mountain. This route has been specially designed to give us the best chance of acclimatisation that will allow us to summit. This proved a bit too much for Mark Regan who couldn't understand why we were not going straight at the mountain. This route, combined with the realisation that we are not actually in the Himalayas, has meant Mark has taken to his tent to console himself in his colouring books. We hope to see him soon.

AXA Wealth Climb Kilimanjaro Challenge 2011Whilst some of the team has been suffering, we are all amazed at one of the members of the group. A 20 a day smoker was instructed to cut down on the mountain. He has cut his cigarettes down but had brought cigars instead. What makes this harder to take is that he is comfortably progressing better than any of us despite being the joint oldest in the party.

One of the more lighthearted effects of altitude on the body is the extra wind you produce. Some groups have etiquette on how to deal with it (finger pulling included) while others are no holds barred. The guides tell us it's a sign that the body is coping well with the altitude so it looks to continue throughout the trip.

The red team not only accepted our invitation for dinner last night but they are hosting us tonight and we have a spectacular view of Mawenzi peak from the tent. Not only is the food superb but also a large tub of giant strawberry sweets have appeared to raise moral. Good times.

MONDAY 6th June

THE AXA Wealth Climb hits 4300m but the group are starting to feel the affects of the drop in temperature.

AXA Wealth Climb Kilimanjaro Challenge 2011Day three started a bit later than normal yesterday to give everyone the opportunity to rest after a long day. Unfortunately someone forgot to tell the porters as the camp was rudely awoken at 5:30am.

However, the advantage of this was clean to see, as we were all up to see the fabulous sunrise come above the cloud cover that lay below us. As the sun caught the light of the Mawenzi and Kibo peaks, I doubt there are many more spectacular places to sit out and eat breakfast.

A few of the group are feeling the effects of altitude sickness. For most this is a headache but for a few it is manifesting itself as nausea and even sickness. This is where the knowledge of the Team Kilimanjaro guides takes over. It is not uncommon when it comes to altitude and the guides monitor all individuals to ensure that their health is the priority.

AXA Wealth Climb Kilimanjaro Challenge 2011The walk up to Camp 3 was between 4-5 hours, depending on the speed of the groups, which for the third day were shuffled again. Despite the short day there was a vertical gain of over 700m. This climb saw transference from the scrubland into barren rocks and dust and we have reached an altitude of 4300m.

Whilst Mark Regan is slightly unique at times, he is an absolute star on a trip like this. Mark has a quip for everyone (it might take him 10 minutes to think about it) and generally has everyone in high spirits. Whether it's a variation of Bab or Babber or a funny saying, Mark is certainly making the time pass quicker. A good example of this entertainment was just given to me at dinner yesterday when one of the climbers recounted the story of Ronnie arguing that a pork chop and a tuna steak are impossible to differentiate. Ronnie has the unique ability to entertain the group whether intentionally or not.

As we arrived in camp early yesterday afternoon we were given the opportunity to trek further up to aid acclimatisation. The theory of climb high, sleep low should allow us all to sleep better tonight and give us the energy for summit night.

Derek Jelley Leicester TigersIt was on this trek that we bumped into Derek Jelley, an ex prop from Leicester Tigers. It is amazing that in such a random place you can bump into someone you know. Derek is here to raise money for a charity, as are all members if the AXA Wealth Climb (AWC).

One of the charities of the AWC is the RPA Benevolent Fund. The charity provides financial and practical support to RPA members, whether they be suffering hardship, including injury or illness or assisting members to attain educational qualifications. The fund also helps alumni members with the ongoing cost of treatment.

Andy Blyth who is part of AWC is one of the beneficiaries of the RPA Benevolent Fund and we are raising money to help fellow players like him that are unfortunate to suffer serious injury or illness.

It is getting very cold once the sun goes down so socialising is reducing drastically as the warmth of the sleeping bag is far more appealing. What started as just T-shirts has progressed each day to an extra layer. As we sat at dinner yesterday evening we were clothed in a base layer, a thin fleece, a thick fleece and a huge puffa jacket. Luckily the AWC are superbly supported by Blacks, whose expert advice meant that all members are properly equipped for these temperature changes.

There are an unbelievable amount of Dave's in the group. At last count there were 9 Daves, which has meant if you forgot anyone's name there was a good chance he was Dave. If they were not Dave before, they are now. There is old Dave, surfer Dave, Waitrose Dave, underground Dave and even little blond Dave. As you can probably tell altitude affects the brain in many ways. For us so far it has given us a bizarre sense of humour.

WEDNESDAY 8th June PART I

I am writing this on Wednesday morning so we have skipped a day. We woke up this morning, after a very cold night, to find the tents all covered in a thick layer of frost. Today was officially a lie-in till 6 so everyone is hopefully more refreshed as we set off on a reasonably short trek that will see us initially go higher but then finish at a camp 3-400 m below the  present camp. The trek route designed by Team Kilimanjaro has been developed to give us the best chance of acclimatisation and therefore summittiing.

There is certainly a different feeling around camp this morning as the altitude has affected quite a few of the team overnight. While for many this is simply a lack of sleep and appetite, for some they have pounding headaches and nausea.

AXA Wealth Climb Kilimanjaro Challenge 2011Members of the Axa Wealth Climb (AWC) who have been very strong over the previous three days, are suddenly reduced to shadows of their former selves. One of the members struck down today would be considered to be one of the fittest and strongest of the group but altitude sickness has no respect for health or ability as anyone can suffer it's dehabilitating effects. Fortunately the altitude drop today should help alleviate some of the symptoms, however trekking with no energy, due to lack of sleep and food is no fun. The teamwork and friendships that have developed since we left the UK last week are now more important than ever as we support each other through the mentally tough times.

Once underway the snake of people moving between camps is spread out across the desert terrain.  We are all back in our starting teams of 6 so that the TK guides can monitor us closely to understand what time would be appropriate for us to leave the last camp on the summit night. Slight changes in character, appetite and walking speed are all noted by the guides and reported on each night.

While walking this morning the groups broke out into song to cheer everyone up. Some extremely badly sung versions of classic songs echoed off the walls.

One of the members of my trekking group is my tentmate Andy Blyth. I have already spoken about how amazing it is for Andy to have contemplated this challenge given the seriousness of his neck injury in 2000. Over the past four days Andy has trekked alongside us without ever complaining about his own personal discomfort. He has taken a few falls, as his legs have given way, but each time he picks himself up, dusts himself down  and cracks a joke about himself.

Every step is a huge challenge for him and it says so much about his resilience that he is still going strong and more determined than ever to make the summit at Uhuru Peak on Thursday morning. Andy is proving to be a huge inspiration to many of us as however bad we feel every step Andy takes is far harder than one of ours.

I am climbing for the RPA Benevolent Fund, a charity established to help rugby players through times of injury or hardship.

Unfortunately I have not seen Mark Regan today as his team set off at a cracking pace and were first into camp so I have no new revelations. He did leave us with a philosophical quote last night, however: " up to now has been the regular season, now is the time to win the trophies ... Baab!!" (Mark Regan is available for motivational speaking).

WEDNESDAY 8th June PART II

VERY emotional day today as we left camp at 8am and headed up to the last camp. Although only a short trekking day of 4-5 hours there was a height gain of 800m to leave us at 4717m. At this altitude even simple things use a lot of energy so we are resting up for our summit attempt that will commence around midnight as we head to Uhuru peak which is 5895m.

AXA Wealth Climb Kilimanjaro Challenge 2011The AWC is made up of people from very different backgrounds and abilities but all 41 men and women have created a special relationship on the mountain. This was clearly seen when the last group, which had a couple of ill climbers, walked into camp and was clapped in by every member. So many people on this trip have shown incredible resilience and today was no different as all 41 made the high camp.

It is a good job it is sunny here as many of the male members were secretly shedding a tear at the determination of their fellow members. The altitude has certainly made things more emotional and phone calls home become very poignant.

We all know we have a very hard night ahead that will involve trekking through the darkness for several hours. However we are in superb hands with Team Kilimanjaro and they will ensure that safety is always the first priority. We will be pushed forward when the going gets tough but our health is always the number one priority.

We will leave tonight in our set teams of 6/7 at different times with the aim of reaching the summit together. I know from previous experience how the emotion of reaching the summit after 6 days trekking can bring on a few tears of joy and relief. It will be an emotional time.

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BY JOVE THEY'VE DONE IT!!!

THURSDAY 9th June

AXA Wealth Climb Kilimanjaro Challenge 2011THE day we have all been building up to has finally arrived and we were packed into our tents at 6pm to get the vital rest needed for going to the summit that was scheduled to start around midnight. All the teams have their own individual starting times to try and co-ordinate us all arriving at the summit at the same time. The team Kilimanjaro guides have been studying the groups over the last few days with this in mind.

Whilst we all tried to sleep a mixture of nervousness and excitement meant that most people only grabbed a couple of hours if they were lucky. Summit night is everything and all the previous work has been done to give us the best chance of summiting. We all knew we were in for a long day as we ascended from 4717m to 5895m to then descend to the last camp site at 3800m whilst covering a distance of 22kms.

Unfortunately one of the group was taken ill coming into the last camp and was taken off the mountain. Whilst the scene was very distressing for the group we were safe in the knowledge that they were in expert hands and that the easiest way to alleviate altitude sickness is to descend to a lower height. The Team Kilimanjaro guides are extremely experienced in spotting and dealing with any illness and we know that the climber received the best possible care.

Midnight came and we all set off in nearly every piece of clothing that we had brought with us as the temperature was a cold -15 as we walked through the night. Soon after leaving camp you could see the procession of head torches heading up the mountain.

As we headed out of camp we almost instantly came across scree that was to be the theme of the night. The steepness of the slope meant that we progressed a series of zig zags across the scree whilst fighting for breath as the air became thinner at the higher altitude. We all knew we were looking at between 6-8 hours of climbing through the night, only able to see the feet in front of you that were illuminated by your head torch. All groups dealt with it in different ways but for ours the soldiers had us organised by each person counting 100 steps then passing on to the next person. This therefore gave us smaller goals to reach, next 1000 or 500 steps before we stopped. This allowed the trek to be manageable and you actually wanted your counting turn to come round so you could focus your mind.

Most of the groups hit Gillmans point on the crater rim at around 6am as the sun was rising. From there it was a 1 1/2km trek to Uhuru point, the highest point on the mountain. The timing of the groups worked and most of the AWC were on the top at the same time. Due to the height and the effects on the body many of the group had to get their photo and descend immediately whilst others could stay a while longer. It was an extremely emotional time on that summit as the relief of making it to the top came out. A few tears were shed and it showed how close the AWC have become. The previous 6 days of rotating the groups had meant that everyone had a bond with every other party member. It was these bonds that had pulled people through the night.

I think the guides had been suitably disgusted by our singing over the previous days so before we had a chance to sing they entertained us with Swahili songs most of the way up to keep us entertained. Whenever they felt the group was in a low patch the singing and even dancing would start.

We learnt that only 3 climbers were not well enough to make the summit which meant that 38 of the 41 members of the AWC had made it. Whilst each individual has to be praised for their determination and spirit the guides and organisers of team Kilimanjaro deserve a lot of credit.

Whilst everyone put in an amazing effort to walk through the night at high altitude there are a couple who deserve special mention.

Andy Blyth not only climbed to the top, for the majority of the time he set our groups pace. He took a few falls as his legs buckled on the steep ground but he just carried on. On the approach to the summit he still had enough in him to power to the front of the group. Not one person in the AWC has not been in awe of Andy and what he has achieved. It is a true inspiration to all of us but Andy, being Andy wants no fuss and has actually been praising other members of the team.

There is also a lady in the group who has unfortunately suffered with altitude sickness from the second day. Every day we have expected her to leave the AWC. She was vomiting and not eating most days, however she amazed us every day by appearing in the camp.

At 12:15am she felt that she had nothing left and returned to camp unable to climb the mountain. At 1:15 she called out in the night and persuaded her guide that she had to give it another go. Setting off on her own with her guide she climbed through the night and appeared at the crater rim as we were coming down. She literally crawled over the top then insisting she walked the last few kilometres to the top. She made it all the way. The mental toughness that was required to achieve such a feat is unbelievable.

After summitting there was a long walk down. Many people had focused so much on making the top that the trek down was long and hard. The day started at midnight but it was not till 5-6pm that the final members arrived in the low camp. There are some absolutely exhausted members of AWC here but hopefully we have a good night's sleep at the relatively low altitude of 3800m then back to the hotel for the first wash in 7 days.

It's fair to say we definitely do stink.

Thank you to everyone who has supported the Axa Wealth Climb and its three associated charities: The RPA Benevolent Fund, Help for Heroes and the RFU Injured Players' Foundation.

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In the UK, you can donate by texting the word climb to 70050 to donate £1.50 +usual message rate. 100% of all donations go directly to the charities.


ABout David Barnes

David BarnesPROP David Barnes, who joined Bath from Harlequins in 2000, is one of the most respected figures in English rugby. He is was uncompromising competitor on the field and chairman of the Professional Rugby Players’ Association [RPA] off it. A neck injury forced him to retire from rugby earlier this year, and therefore has had to step down from his position with the RPA.

A hard-working and dedicated professional, Barnes played in every match for Bath during the 2006-07 season and has proved his tag as a durable front-rower by making more than 200 appearances for the club.

He was tour captain for England Saxons at the Churchill Cup in 2006 and has a wide range of interests away from rugby, including scuba diving.

In the summer of 2008 [yup...he's done it before!], he climbed to the top of Africa’s highest mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro, to raise money for the PRA Benevolent Fund and for the Tamara Johnson Trust Fund.

During the summer of 2009 he was appointed one of Bath’s five player representatives for the 2009-10 season and also took his place on the Rugby Football Union’s Image of the Game Task Group.

In 2010, Barnesy was awarded a Testimonial by Bath Rugby, of which this challenge is the last of the events.

When asked why Kilimanjaro, he simply replied, "Unfortunately when you pick up injuries playing rugby I’m a person who looks for other challenges. Back in 2008 I broke my eye socket & cheek so wasn’t able to play for a few weeks so started thinking of crazy things to do and decided with my close friends...and before we knew it we’d signed up and booked."

And here he is again, this time forced to retire, so what better way to get the blood pumping than to charge up the world's highest free-standing mountain all over again...

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About Mark Regan

AFTER 19 years in top flight rugby, that included winning the Rugby World Cup in 2003, a British & Irish Lions tour in 1997, 46 England caps and more than 440 competitive matches, Bristol front row man Mark Regan MBE announced his retirement from the professional game at the end of the 2008/09 season.

The 37 year-old hooker, known as 'Ronnie', won a host of rugby accolades during his illustrious career, including playing for England at all levels, being part of the infamous Lions tour to South Africa in 1997, leading from the front during England's bid to retain the Rugby World Cup in 2007, and Heineken Cup and Powergen Cup winners with Bath and Leeds respectively.

The 39-year-old, has described this challenge as the "most exciting challenge of my life".

He told BBC Radio Bristol: "You play for yourself in World Cup finals and stuff but I just can't fathom this one."

Along with the rest of the AXA Wealth Climb team, Regan and climbing companions Kevin Osborn and Matt Newman have set themselves the target of raising £50,000 for Bristol Children's Hospice.

"It's a fantastic idea, the fund-raising is upon us and I am definitely going to get up that hill.

"Many people have done it but it's a once in a lifetime occasion. It's a challenge and I do like a challenge."

RONNIE'S JUSTGIVING PAGE:

Mark Regan JustGiving

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About Andy Blyth

Andy BlythTHIS challenge for Andy Blyth should not be underestimated and is testament to his remarkable determination and courage to fight back from a career-ending injury which many feared would leave him paralysed for life.

Blyth suffered the near fatal spinal injury playing for Sale against Saracens in 2000. He had suffered a concussion of the spinal cord in a seemingly innocuous challenge with Saracens' French rugby union international Thierry Lacroix.

Having begun March 12, 2000 as a vibrant 25-year-old who harboured genuine ambitions of making the step up from the England A side to the full XV, he was, in that instant, a tetraplegic. While in the intensive care unit his parents were warned to prepare themselves for the worst. It was two months before he was able to move his toe and ten months before he was able to leave hospital. Blyth defied medical opinion when he was able to walk again two years later. His spirit will inspire many others who have suffered debilitating injuries.

Andy Blyth said, “This is the first thing in a long, long time that has stirred up a fire in my belly. I’ve loved having another target to focus on, a goal to fulfil which has really motivated me and got the adrenaline flowing again. Although I have to admit now the departure is imminent, the sense of excitement is starting to be replaced by trepidation! Never-mind Kilimanjaro, this is Everest to me. When you think about where I was ten years ago, even five years ago, if someone suggested that one day I’d climb Mt Kilimanjaro I’d have told them to stop taking the mickey! This AXA Wealth Challenge has given me such a buzz and has really helped me, but more importantly I hope that I can help other people who are struggling now, to show them not to give up. Everything is possible.”

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The Charities

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RPA Benevolent Fund

 

THE RPA BENEVOLENT FUND is the professional players' charity, established to provide financial help and practical support to players including those who have suffered hardship through serious injury or illness in the following areas:

• those who have suffered hardship including serious injury or illness.

• assisting members to attain educational qualifications. It is recognised that investment in our members education will help to minimise hardship demands on the Benevolent Fund in the future.

• helping qualified alumni members with the cost of ongoing medical treatment as a result of rugby related injuries.

The Professional Players' Charity is a registered charity, No 1113160.


Help For Heroes

 

HELP FOR HEROES raises money to support members of the Armed Forces who have been wounded in the service of their country. We ask our supporters to “do their bit” to show these extraordinary young men and women that they are cared for by us. Over a million people have responded to date and millions of pounds have been raised to buy much needed services that will aid their recovery, but we need more! So far, we have allocated almost all of the money we have raised in order to fund direct projects and support other service charities. We are passionate about what we are doing and as far as we are concerned the sooner we can see results, the better!

Registered in England and Wales under number 6363256.
Registered Charity number 1120920.


RFU INJURED PLAYERS FOUNDATION (IPF)

THE RFU INJURED PLAYERS FOUNDATION (IPF) is a charity that looks after 132 clients and also has a valuable role in the prevention and management of injuries. For many years now, and uniquely amongst sports National Governing Bodies, the Rugby Football Union has insured all amateur players for serious and catastrophic injuries. The insurance cover has increased over the years and those injured prior to 1995 would have received a far smaller sum while those injured, say, in the 1980s or before received very little indeed.

In addition to this, SPIRE (Support Paraplegics in Rugby Enterprise) was created in 1993 by the then President of the RFU Ian Beer to help out when catastrophically injured players were having difficult times. Since its creation, the major donor has been the RFU, although donations have come from all levels of the game. The SPIRE capital fund has gradually been built up and invested to provide a sustainable income, which has been used to provide grants to the ex-players. Through SPIRE hundreds of grants have been made over the past 15 years.

SPIRE has changed its name and transferred its capital fund to the Injured Players Foundation, the charity being run by a new Board of Trustees. The new Board has been formed from the Trustees of SPIRE and new Trustees appointed by the RFU, which include experts in spinal rehabilitation. The Chairman is Ian Beer, who originally founded SPIRE.

Registered in England and Wales under number 6438698.
Registered Charity number 1122139.


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