Cavell Nurses Challenge, by Lexi Ireland

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The Cavell challenge was in aid of the Cavell Trust , who assist nurses and midwives in times of need. To support and help raise money for the Cavell Trust please donate via 

Day 1 

Up bright and early once again, a good breakfast set us up for glacier walking at the Columbia Icefields! Fraser was with me this day and it was obvious from an early stage that I was going to be getting all of my bad luck out of the way nice and early. As I arrived I realised that I had a 6 – 7 hour day ahead but had forgotten my lunch!

We were led up a short but steep hill to the glacier; taking in the markers that showed how quickly in years) the Glacier is melting and receding – it was quite worrying to realise that it has retreated over 1.5 kilometres in just a few decades. Once we reached the ice, we were shown how to put on our crampons and how to use our pickaxes. The crampons then took what felt like forever to put on (with some of us struggling a little more than others to work them out!) however, once we had them sorted, we were off! It was tough on your knees; you had to ensure that you really dug in with every step.

One of our new friends, Rhianna (a trainee paediatric nurse from the University of South Wales) and I had fun jumping over the streams and attempting to run in the crampons. Unfortunately this did go a little wrong when I managed to get my toes stuck and fell extremely hard on my knees – all to a gasping sound from the rest of the group. This spectacle was beaten shortly after by Shabnam (another girl from Premier).

Day 2

This day was a slightly later start than the others (09:00!) in order to go on a hill walk – in preparation for my mountain climb on Thursday. I met a lot of mature students (nursing) on this hike who all explained why they had given up their various careers (from general admin to IT specialists) in order to train as nurses and the stories were varied and inspiring. Our hike was a fair stretch, however, it was very relaxed and not too difficult; although my dodgy knees were beginning to play up somewhat.

In the evening, a few of us treated ourselves to an excursion to the local natural outdoor ‘hot’ springs. They had everything from freezing springs to almost boiling ones and we had a lot of fun alternating between them. On the drive home, we were lucky enough to spot a black bear! Our driver pulled over and allowed us to take pictures – as well as get out for a bit of a closer (but safe) looks at the bear from around 10 feet away. Then it was time for some dinner followed by an early night, ready to summit the mountain in the morning.

Day 3

The big day was finally here! I rose bright and early, ready to leave at 07:00 sharp. We all met in the restaurant for breakfast and our guide told us (in her friendly but authoritative tone) that we were not going to slack. The only other group (out of four taken up) that summited Cinquefoil Mountain (which is not as high as Edith Cavell, but is more technically difficult) had summited in 6 hours – we were about to do it in 3 hours 45.

After leaving our van near the road, we began by what felt like running through woods. Armed with bear spray and hiking sticks, we began the first part of our ascent. It quickly became tough and we were all out of breath only a few minutes in (except for Lisa, our guide, who seemed to be a machine) and it was at this point, that we were advised we would stop for 2-3 minutes periodically, but that we would not get any ‘proper’ breaks or we would not be able to summit. Pushing on, we navigated our way through the trees, all the while keeping an eye out for bears.

When we asked Lisa how many times she had been up the mountain, she replied: “This one? Never. This is a horrible one to climb. No one climbs this mountain. That’s why there’s no trail.” Feeling instantly reassured, I resigned myself to the fact that death was a genuine possibility – it was then that we got our first look at the scree ahead of us. This is where the other groups faltered and decided to go back; I could see why – it was terrifying. Paige, Rhianna, Emma, John and I all shared the same look of worry as we began navigating the rocks that could send us hurtling towards our death with just a foot placed incorrectly. As you put your foot in to make shift foot holes that the person in front of you had made, you would slip down a minimum of 3 inches – a maximum of 3 feet. At one point, we were creeping along a ledge that was approximately 2 feet wide when suddenly Lisa told us we couldn’t go that way. With a drop of around 250 metres to our right and a sheer rock face to our left (and now a crevice straight ahead of us), she had to squeeze past us in order to go and find another way around.

Once or twice, we stopped. One or two people would be on their hands and knees on the floor feeling unable to go on – it was at this point that we pulled together as a team and forced each other to soldier on. John (the marketing manager for the Cavell Nurses’ Trust) told us two stories on the way up, about people that the Trust had helped, that not only reduced us to tears, but also reminded us of why we were there and the cause that we were supporting. This alone helped us pick ourselves up, grab our spirits from off the floor and persevere.

Finally we got going again, there were several times that boulders would slip and we had to jump out of the way however, in record time, we managed to summit. There was literally blood sweat and tears – but we had done it. We were there. The views were astounding but after less than a 20 minute break, it was time for the equally as difficult task of navigating back down.

We reached the hotel again in record time and Rhianna and I headed straight for the Jacuzzi with some well-earned chocolate milk. I joined the Welsh Nurses’ gang that evening for pizza and films in their room before heading to bed for a well-earned sleep.

Day 4

The final day of challenges had sprung upon us so quickly. It happened to be the one that I was most terrified of; rock climbing.  When it was my turn to climb, I thought too much about the fact that someone else would be belaying me and was nothing short of completely terrified. After coming close to tears from the fear, I shook it off; I knew I had to face my fear and do this last thing. My previously broken hand had been going through weeks of intensive physio and acupuncture specifically to achieve the goal of rock climbing. Having scaled the rock, I looked down and saw the river below us – it was beautiful, but now I had to trust my belaying partner and let go of the rock. I let go… And to my surprise, she didn’t drop me! Very slowly I came closer and closer to the safety of the ground – and it wasn’t until that moment that I remembered how to breathe!

Having done it once, I decided that was enough for me and carried on as a belay for other people which I really enjoyed. It began to rain so we headed back to the hotel to get ready for the final evening’s festivities.

That night we had a fantastic party and, as what happens in Canada stays in Canada, I shall say no more on that front – except for the fact that I have never danced or sung that much in my life!

What a crazy, tough, fantastic week.

About the author

NHS Professionals administrator

NHS Professionals manages the temporary staffing needs of around 66 NHS Trusts across England. An integral part of the NHS, it aims to reduce Trusts’ spending on flexible workers without compromising quality, by providing greater transparency of demand and supplying bank staff at the best possible rate. Its bank of more than 40,000 flexible workers comprises general and specialist nurses, doctors, midwives, admin/clerical , allied health professionals, healthcare scientists, support services among other healthcare professionals.

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