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“It’s a view I’ll always have. All I have to do is close my eyes and I can see it.”
When Jeanette, Lymphoedema Nurse at Thames Hospice, reached the summit of Spain’s highest mountain - Mulhacen in the Sierra Nevada, it wasn’t only a marvellous achievement, it was also the fulfilment of a very personal challenge.
Over the years Jeanette, who has worked for the Hospice since it opened in 1987, has been an ardent fundraiser for the Hospice, participating in Midnight Walks, the Santa Dash and the annual Sunflower Walk. In 2011 she went a fair few steps further and completed the Siklis Trek in Nepal’s picturesque Annapurna Range. Describing that experience as one of the best things she’s ever done, she’s been hankering to do something similar ever since.
In 2015, however, Jeanette was diagnosed with breast cancer. The illness, and the treatment, took its toll. She was ‘striving to get back to normal’, when she heard about the Thames Hospice Sierra Nevada Trek. “It was my little challenge.” Jeanette says, “I wasn’t unfit, but I needed a goal to work towards to be a bit more active.”
Pressure of work, and looking after her mother, made it difficult for Jeanette to do as much training as she would have liked. She settled for walking as regularly as possible and managed some longer, more challenging routes in Swinley Forest and at Box Hill. Drawing on her experience in Nepal, she knew that the better prepared she was for the trek, the more she would enjoy it.
Together with her 17 fellow-trekkers - a mix of hospice staff, volunteers and supporters - Jeanette flew into Malaga on 4 October 2018. From there the group were taken to a hotel in one of Spain’s highest villages – Capileira (1,450m) in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Early the next day they set off into the mountains and got their first sight of Mulhacen (3,479m). Carrying rucksacks made heavy by a change of clothes and essential water and food, the group spent the day climbing up to a mountain refuge at Poqueira (2,500m), within striking distance of the peak.
On that first day Doctor Sarah, the tour leader, encouraged Jeanette to find her own pace, even if it was slower than other walkers. “It’s about maintaining a steady pace,” says Jeanette. “It’s not about winning on a challenge like this, everyone who takes part is a winner, even if they are at the back.”
On the second day the trekkers set off at first light for the peak, a further ascent of nearly 1,000 metres across tough terrain. The initial goal was a stone shelter, from which they would ascend to the ridge just below the summit.
Once past the stone shelter the climb up the rock-face became much harder. Doctor Sarah encouraged Jeanette to concentrate on reaching the ridge and not think about the summit. “I was stopping every few paces.” Jeanette says. “Even those who’d been leading the way were edging their way up in stages. You had to keep chipping away at it.”
By the time Jeanette made it to the ridge, the rest of the group had decided that she should be the person to lead them on the final climb to the summit. To Jeanette’s relief this final leg was neither as long nor as daunting as she’d feared.
Jeanette admits to a tear or two as she became the first of the Thames Hospice trekkers to set foot on the summit of Mulhacen. “I realised I’d flipping done it!” The sense of achievement was overwhelming. Jeanette took a few moments to herself to appreciate that she had actually achieved her goal, and to take in the splendour of the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains. It was a view, she knew, she could only enjoy because of the effort she’d put in to getting there, and that’s what made it special. “It’s a view I’ll always have", she says. "All I have to do is close my eyes and I can see it.”
If you feel like giving yourself a challenge this year, sign up to our next trek across the Sahara Desert here.