A social care worker who conquered Africa’s highest peak is now setting her sights on the world’s most famous mountain to raise money for charity.
Gemma Graham, 27, of Whiteness, will climb to Everest’s base camp in just over four months’ time, reaching a height of 5,364 metres.
However, her trek up Kilimanjaro in 2014 means she is well aware of the scale of the task which lies in wait.
“When I did Kilimanjaro I got the most horrific altitude sickness and a couple of times I didn’t think I would be able to do it,” she said. “I will probably get it again but it’s all in your head. If your head’s there, you can make your body do it.”
Miss Graham aims to raise £3,800 for Help for Heroes and NHS Shetland’s mental health department. Both causes hold a personal significance for her.
“I have quite a few friends who have been in the army and witnessed some awful things and I like that Help for Heroes offer mental and physical support and also support for families,” she said.
Meanwhile, her decision to help the local mental health service harks back to her previous charity climb.
“I did Kilimanjaro for Mind Your Head three years ago and I chose Mind Your Head because mental health is something that has affected my family. But it is also something that affected myself at the time I was doing it but I didn’t say anything because I was too ashamed and embarrassed,” she said.
Miss Graham did eventually use the service – and later worked there too – and her insights provided the inspiration for her latest idea.
“I wanted to put something back into it because I know at the moment they’re really struggling and you’re forever seeing people bashing the service,” she said, adding that her money will be put towards more staff training.
So far she has raised just under £700, the bulk of which came from a bake sale held in the Gilbert Bain Hospital.
Further fundraising events being planned include meals at the Gurkha Kitchen restaurant in early November and a charity pub crawl and raffle in December.
She needs to drum up £3,040 by 23rd December with the remainder due four weeks before the climb.
Amid all of the fundraising efforts, however, there is the serious business of preparing the body for the physical test it will endure in the Himalayas.
“When I wanted to climb Kilimanjaro I had no idea what I was letting myself in for,” she said. “I had done training but it was a bit of a shock to the system.
“This is going to be harder because it’s longer and the days are going to be longer – it’s 12 to 14 hours of walking every day.”
Out of respect for the greater challenge posed by Everest, she has sought to complement her walking regime with a strength and conditioning programme drawn up by Haydn Thomason of Viking Fitness.
Yet just when everything looked to be taking shape, a stumbling block reared its head.
“I started training and then I have had this horrible viral thing so I have actually got to start again from scratch. But the climb isn’t until March so I still have plenty of time to train,” Miss Graham said.
However, while time is on her side she is only too aware that – unlike her summertime Kilimanjaro preparations – this time round her training will not benefit from longer, kinder days.
“It’s going to be difficult to drag myself to the gym in the darker nights but at the same time it will help the winter go quicker,” she said.
Come March next year, Miss Graham will head to Heathrow Airport before jetting off to Nepal along with fellow mountaineers signed up to London-based organisation Action Challenge’s Everest ascent.
From Nepal, they will take a small plane to Lukla Airport, whose short, steep airstrip has led to it being called the most dangerous airport in the world.
And then the real challenge will commence – the week-long trek to the south base camp, followed by the week-long journey back down.
While some might be surprised to learn that Everest base camp is in fact 500 metres or so lower than the summit of Kilimanjaro, there are good reasons why most mountaineers never climb further.
“I would love to go to the top – that’s one of my life goals – but to do that it’s very expensive, about £50,000, and you need to have years’ worth of mountaineering experience so even if I wanted to do it, no company would take me on,” she added.
Anyone wishing to donate to Miss Graham’s causes can do so by visiting: www.mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/gemmagraham1