My name is James, and I would like to tell you about 2 unique mountaineering challenges I am undertaking, both for the adventure and opportunity to raise funds for the Somerville Heart Foundation (SHF) who help support adults born with congenital heart disease.
Born with complex CHD myself, I was very lucky to have access to world class treatment as a child and young adult at Great Ormond Street Hospital. Through countless anaesthetics, chest infections, interventions, and open-heart surgery, it has been a journey with many challenges and positives.
15 Peaks Direct
I will be summiting all 15 peaks (those over 3000 ft) in North Wales, DIRECT. Rather than the usual walking / hiking routes, the aim is to access the summits by rock climbing and Grade 3+ scrambling.
As this approach takes more time, we don't have a specific deadline other than completion by 2024. With the support of the National Outdoor Centre, Plas y Brenin (PYB) I will be making a start as of 29th May 2023, look out for updates!
Cuillin Ridge Traverse
This is one of the most coveted mountaineering challenges in the British Isles, taking in 11 Munros and 16 other summits. My climbing partner, Penny Barker and I are taking on the Cuillin in Summer 2023 (pencilled in for July). Penny and I met at PYB some years ago on an Intro to Rock course and have developed a climbing partnership ever since. I could not ask for a more able and upbeat partner to share in this multi-day adventure.
So why is this especially a challenge?
Many moderate to complex congenital heart conditions cannot be cured, only offered palliation. For me, this means living with a modified Fontan circulation, where one side of my heart is ‘bypassed’ so blood flows directly to my lungs without the aid of a pump.
The Fontan provides palliation shunting blood away from the usual pathway back to the heart on it's return, but the limitations are that with exertion, oxygen levels drop to levels most where people would need support, and cardiac output (the amount of reserve) is limited to less than half normal values.
I am very privileged to have built up a great relationship with PYB over the last 4 years. PYB is hugely supportive of my climbing and provided expert advice and guidance over the years enabling me to be an independent climber / mountaineer. I have formed great relationships with some of the guides and it is a gift to go climbing with them without the CHD being either underplayed or getting in the way.
1 in 100 are born with a heart condition, from simple defects requiring no intervention to to highly complex disease needing a high degree of intervention in order to survive and life-long, extremely specialist care.
Not so long ago (1980s) only around 2 in 10 complex CHD children made it to adulthood. Now the number is more like 9 in 10 reach adulthood. Yet awareness outside of these highly specialist centres is low and support very limited. The journey is lifelong and can feel a very lonely one.
The result of so much intervention at such a young age has profound psychological affects on some and moderate to complex CHD physical implications for all.
The SHF offers a supportive network both promoting the best interests for people with CHD who have reached adulthood and a community where they may meet, share experiences and form meaningful friendships. This is particularly special as it can often be difficult for people to feel connected with regards to they're experiences and to be able to do this is life-changing and enhancing. In addition, they provide mental health and wellbeing counselling, events, webinars, newsletters, and much more.