In June 2015, Stuart Jones and his friend Richard Topping climbed Mont Blanc, the highest peak in Western Europe, to raise money for the ADSHG and Great Ormond Street Hospital. Stuart has Addison’s himself, so this was an amazing achievement and we are so grateful to them for choosing to support us in this way. 

Stuart tells the story in his own words...

After a period of illness, I was diagnosed with Addison’s disease in June 2013. I’m an active person and to hear that I had a chronic illness that would physically inhibit me was a huge knock. However, this was eclipsed by finally understanding what was wrong and knowing it could be managed. This video charts our journey. 

I’d had classic symptoms – lack of appetite, desperately tired, brain fog and had lost nearly two stone. Despite feeling normal-ish after taking my medication, I had little strength or stamina. After 18 months, I realised that to fully recover I needed to somehow force myself into some serious training. So, I decided to climb the highest mountain in Western Europe – that ought to do it! To put this into context, the last time I’d worn walking boots was as a child in the Lake District.

Like many great adventures, this one started in the pub...

Over a couple of pints, I asked my friend Dickie Topping if he fancied joining me. As he replied without any hesitation “Let’s do it”, I realised he was equally uninformed as to the size of the endeavour ahead as I was. We decided that if we were going undertake such a challenge, we should raise money for charity at the same time. For me, supporting the ADSHG was the obvious choice. Dickie chose to support Great Ormond Street Hospital as his friends’ daughter, Bessie, was receiving ongoing treatment there.

The serious training begins...

My goal was more about gaining back my strength than summiting Mont Blanc. I took the training seriously – hill walking, climbing walls and lots and lots of running. We climbed Snowdon three times, well nearly three times. On our first attempt we set off on the Watkin Path with light drizzle in the air. Two hours later, we were straining into a 50mph headwind, horizontal rain stinging our eyes, visibility down to 10m and snow covering the tracks. When a particularly strong gust knocked us both on our backsides, I suggested we might review the situation (perhaps having no adrenaline in my system was a blessing at this point). Sensibly, we turned back. We subsequently learnt a common climbing saying – “Getting to the top is optional. Getting down again is mandatory.”

Another highlight was a 22 mile trek along the south west coast path from Salcombe to Noss Mayo. I’d planned this meticulously to test our strength up and down many coastal hills and enable river crossings at low tides. However it turned into a 32 mile trek when we discovered the Bantham to Bigbury ferry only runs for an hour a day, meaning an additional 10 mile hike inland to the nearest crossing point. Let’s just say we were ‘jolly cross’.

We also had our first experience with a climbing wall. The big positive was the essential experience of ropes and harnesses – quite fiddly things even at sea level. The negative was discovering that I have a very healthy respect for heights. Dealing with it is a question of mind over matter – concentrate only on the metre above you, not on the 15 below. Very easily said…

Arrival in Chamonix

After 14 weeks’ hard work, we arrived in Chamonix and immediately headed to the Aiguille du Midi cable car that whizzed us up to 3,800m. This was our first experience of altitude and it was alarming! We scampered up the steps to the viewing gallery and immediately both almost passed out. You can actually feel how thin the air is.

We’d booked to climb Mont Blanc with an organised group and met up with our fellow climbers and mountain guides that evening. My endocrinologist had advised me to always have two pre-loaded syringes in my own pack, another with Dickie and another with my guide. I’d stored these in clear plastic toothbrush holders. As I handed these out, the guides all thought it was EPO! After my explanation, they called the Chief Medical Officer in Chamonix for advice. Fortunately he’d heard of Addison’s and was comfortable with me climbing. I’d also been advised to double my dose for the exertion and again for the altitude, meaning up to four times my normal daily dose of 20mg hydrocortisone.

We are grateful to Stuart Jones and specifically Richard Topping of Fourth Flight Films for creating this exclusive documentary of their endeavour for us.