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The final Chairman’s Challenge

By Prof Roger Kirby

We knew it was going to be tough, but it turned out to be the toughest of them all! The description in the literature that the GR20 track through the mountains of Corsica was ‘the most challenging trekking route in Europe’ had managed to deter many potential participants. In the end, 10 grizzled veterans of the ten previous Challenges (which cumulatively have riased £1.2 milltion for Prostate UK) plus one novice – the very fit Julian Ball – started out along the gruelling pathway. The participants consisted of five doctors (Roger Kirby, Roger Plail, John Fitzpatrick and John Dick, together with his son, Alistair), five patients who had previously undergone a radical prostatectomy and the aforementioned novice: 11 men with six prostates between them!

On day two we had our first casualty: Rex Willoughby stumbled and fell backwards on a steep section of track and was heard to cry ‘Man down!’ The message on the walkie-talkie was that he had broken his ankle, but it turned out to be a severe strain; amazingly, and with the unstinting support of Roger Plail, he completed that day’s trek, brushing away the offer of the helicopter rescure of which several walkers from other parties were availing themselves. At that stage he had to throw in the towel: and then there were 10!

The route was difficult enough, with much scrambling up and down slippery and very steep rock faces, and traverses across steep ice fields at the top of the mountains, but we hadn’t anticipated the same Atlantic weather system that had caused the widely reported floods in Draguignan in the south of France. The storm struck just as we arrived at our mountain refuge for the night. We set up our two-man tents in a severe rain storm with howling winds and crept in for the night. It’s not easy to sleep on a mountainside with rain cascading down on the canvas and water running down the mountainside beneath the groundsheet – even if you are dog tired from a tough day’s hiking – but somehow we managed, and awoke the next morning to a glorious sunny day, but with a 21km hike!

There were times when we didn’t think we’d make it and it was with a mixture of relief and exhilaration that the team eventually arrived in Corti, our final destination, the halfway point on the GR20. To their credit, the intrepid duo, Andrew Etherington and Harley Atkinson were brave enough to stay on and complete the remaining 100 miles of this most rugged route.

The great news is that thanks to the generosity of our amazing sponsors and supporters this trek has so far raised more than £172, 330 for Prostate UK – to stop prostate diseases ruining so many lives. With Gift Aid added we should be close to £200,000. If anyone wants to help us achieve or exceed out target please send a donation to Prostate UK. We will announce the final sum raised, as usual, at our Annual Luncheon at the Dorchester. See you there!

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