THROWING yourself down a mountain side with only an axe to stop your descent is not most people’s idea of fun.
But for serial adventurer Tony McMurray it’s just another hurdle in the way of raising vital funds for two charity’s he has more than enough reason to support.
In the past Tony, who owns Towcester Tea Rooms, has undertaken daredevil trips including climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and kayaking the length of the River Thames.
His latest trip will see him scale Mount Blanc in the French Alps in August – to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Society and the Oxford Transplant Foundation at the John Radcliffe Hospital.
The two charities have a special place in Tony’s heart. His mother Josephine was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s four years ago and sadly died on New Year’s Eve aged 73, while the transplant unit recently successfully transplanted his wife Sharon’s kidney to her best friend.
The special winter mountain training course is just one part of preparing for climbing Mount Blanc.
In the last ten years around 4,500 people have died trying to navigate the ice flows and ridges of the treacherous peak.
At around 15,700ft it is the largest peak in Western Europe and is covered in all year round snow and ice.
Tony is now being trained in the use of ropes, crampons and ice axes ahead of the trip, while equipping himself with boots and ice climbing equipment.
He said: “I have always had a love of climbing mountains, ever since I climbed Mount Sinai while back packing in the Middle East some years ago.
“The Kilimanjaro challenge in 2007 left me wanting more and after doing a bit of research I found that while Kili was regarded as a four to five difficulty, Mont Blanc is a five to six.”
Tony’s trip will last for eight days. His preparation will include acclimatisation climbs, ice climbing training and winter skills training courses during the next few month. He will also spend time climbing some of Britain’s highest peaks.
Recently he travelled to the Lake District to take part in a winter mountain training course.
He said: “Originally the course was for a group, but not enough booked and I got one to one training with a guy called Paddy. The best training I could have had. He’d climbed Mont Blanc and all over the world and told me all I needed to know.”
Tony was taken to the top of Helvellyn, England’s third largest peak and was shown how to perform a manoeuvre called an ice axe arrest. He had to throw himself down a slope to simulate a fall and then use the axe to stop his descent. He was later given his first taste of walking up ice slopes with crampons.
“The last, and biggest test was being roped to Paddy and climbing up the side of the Headwell of Helvellyn to its top,” he said.
“As the climb got steeper I had to dig in with my crampons to ensure my feet were fixed to the mountain.
“As someone who suffers from heights that was exhilarating, it looks a sheer drop all the way down.”
After advice from Paddy on changeable mountain weather, practising his new learned skill and instruction to get fitter, Tony has planned to spend two weeks climbing in Scotland and Yorkshire where he will take on Ben Nevis and the Three Peaks in Yorkshire. A further trip to the Lake District and local walks are also planned.
His trip is entirely self funded, with all donations and sponsorship going to the charities.
Sharon has now made a full recovery after giving her kidney to Tracey Aspin on St Valentine’s Day.
She is using her experience to remind people to register for organ donation and to remove any anxiety someone in a similar situation might have.
“People have asked me if I was scared and nervous. But I can honestly say I wasn’t. It was really exciting and doctors and nurses made feel as ease,” she said.
“The hospital has described the operation as text book. Tracey’s surgeons actually described my kidney as working in between it being taken out of me and it going into Tracey, it was so strong, it was weeing in the bowl.”
Sharon said her recovery has been boosted by cards and flowers from her friends and family as well as those of Mrs Aspin.
She now wants people to double check they are registered for donation and added: “There are so many people who think they are registered, I just want them to check because the more people who sign up, the fewer living donors have to give.”
On Sunday Sharon and Tracey, both qualified dance instructors will host a fund raising Tea Dance at Towcester Town Hall. Tickets cost £5 in advance or on the door, and include tea, coffee, cream scones and two and half hours of dancing.
Mont Blanc Fact File
Mont Blanc (white mountains) is named after its perpetual snowfields and glaciers.
At 18,510ft some consider Mount Elbrus as Europe’s highest peak, while others consider it to be in Asia rather than Europe.
The exact height of Mont Blanc varies according to the depth of the summit’s snow cap. The official elevation is 15,770ft, but in 2002 it was measured as 15,782 and in 2005 as 15,776ft.
The first recorded ascent of Mont Blanc was by Jacque Balmat and Michel Paccard in August 1786. Climbing historians often consider the first successful ascent of Mont Blanc as the beginning of modern mountaineering.
In January 1893 the Mont Blanc Observatory recorded the mountain’s lowest temperature at -43DegC.
Alzheimer’s Fact File
One in three over the age of 65 will end their lives with a form of dementia.
700,000 people in the UK have a form of dementia; more that half have Alzheimer’s disease.
The numbers suffering from Alzheimer’s is expected to rise to nearly a million by 2031 and 1.7 million by 2051.
Dementia is not a part of ageing and is caused by a disease of the brain.