A former Welsh international rugby player, who is the first person ever to stand on the highest summit on each of the world’s continents and stand on all 3 poles in the same calendar year has returned to the University Portsmouth to thank the team that helped him prepare for the challenge.
Richard Parks spent three days with the Department of Sport and Exercise Science last year taking tests to prepare him for the extreme temperatures he would face on the ‘737 Challenge’, a seven month challenge to conquer the seven highest mountains on each of the world’s continents and the North and South Poles.
Richard’s training at the University helped him cope when he fell seven metres down a crevasse during the expedition, spending nearly two hours trapped and close to hypothermia.
Part of his preparation involved being plunged into a cold water immersion tank to prepare him for the possibility of falling through ice, a significant risk during the Arctic phase of the expedition. He was also exposed to conditions of altitude and cold air immediately following each immersion. These conditions were simulated in the laboratory’s research chambers where oxygen content can be reduced to as little as eight per cent and temperatures can be set to as low as -20°C.
Richard said: “The training at the University of Portsmouth was actually focused around the possibility of me falling into the Arctic sea ice on the North Pole leg which I knew would be very hazardous. But actually the immersion tests really helped me when I fell down a crevasse on the first day of Denali in Alaska.”
Already climbing with a frostbitten toe from Mount Everest, Richard fell seven metres down a crevasse and spent an hour and a half trapped and soaking wet with dripping ice falling on him. Unable to move and pinned to a ledge which had broken his fall, Richard spent every minute moving limbs and digits to try and avoid getting further frostbite.
He said: “If I had got further frostbite in that crevasse, the challenge could have been all over. I was getting pretty close to clinical hypothermia down there and one thing I couldn’t afford to do was panic. Having the knowledge of already being hypothermic and all the testing I did at the University of Portsmouth in the cold water immersion tank really did come in to play down in the crevasse. Having that experience gave me the ability to react to the situation and although it was scary, I was able to stay calm and make rational decisions.”
Dr. Jim House, Reader in Human & Applied Physiology at the University, said: “It’s fantastic to see Richard again now he has completed this epic challenge. We worked with him to help his body learn to cope with conditions that took him close to clinical hypothermia, which obviously helped enormously when he had fallen seven metres down a crevasse. Colleagues and I are very proud of what he has achieved.”
To celebrate Richard’s return to Portsmouth the Spinnaker Tower turned its sail yellow last night to show support for Marie Curie Cancer Care, the charity Richard is supporting.
To find out more visit www.737challenge.com