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Phuket’s Ironman to climb Mont Blanc – for local charity

March 17, 2010

Les Bird in training atop Nakkerd Hill in Chalong. [Photo by Fraser Morton]

PHUKET: Les Bird’s teeth are clenched, muscles taut and body drenched in sweat as he sprints the last leg of his training hike to the summit of Nakkerd Hill in Chalong.

As he heaves off his 40 kilogram bag and glances at his watch, Les scolds himself for finishing his training hike in under an hour.

“I need to slow down; I’m going to buy ankle weights today. That will stop me running,” the 59 year-old Phuket resident says.

In the thirty degree heat atop Phuket’s highest peak, Les shivers. He knows he has a monolithic challenge ahead: a climb 14 times the height of the 350-meter Nakkerd Hill – and just a few degrees colder.

A treacherous climb

Mont Blanc, or the ‘White Mountain’, lies astride the French and Italian borders and is one of the world’s deadliest climbs.

Of 20,000 climbers, at least a dozen die trying to reach the 4,810-meter (15,781 foot) summit every year.

Both Italian and French rescue teams deal with up to 800 emergency calls a day in the summer period between June and August.

Les, however, with only three years’ climbing experience gained 40 years ago in his native England, says he will be well prepared for the climb.

He will be climbing in a two-man team with fellow Brit Harry Taylor. A former Special Air Service

(SAS) soldier, Taylor was the first man to traverse the Pinnacles, on the Northeast Ridge of Mount Everest, in 1988.

Les will arrive in the Alpine resort of Chamonix Valley a month prior to the July 4 climb.

To allow their bodies to acclimatize, it will take the duo eight days to reach the summit.

Over the first three days, the pair will make ascents to 1,500, 2,000 and 3,500 meters, descending back down the mountain after each climb. On day four, they intend to climb 4,000 meters, camp for the night, and again descend to the Chamonix Valley.

On the sixth day, they plan to reach the 4,810 meter summit, plant the Thai national flag at the top, and then make the precipitous descent the next day.

Phuket Support

As Les stoops into a dilapidated classroom in Phuket Town, 40 little faces look skyward, mouths agape. At six feet four inches he must look like a giant to the students under the care of the Child Watch Phuket Foundation.

The classroom is a stone’s throw from Phuket Provincial Prison, where most of these children’s parents are being detained.

Through his Mont Blanc challenge, Les hopes to raise one million baht for impoverished, orphaned and abused children cared for by the foundation.

The Ironman

‘Fanatical’ is how Les describes his Alpine training regime.

On Mondays he opts for a spot of ocean swimming: four kilometers from Bang Tao Beach

to Koh Waeo Island. A safety boat tails him to help avoid long tail fishing boats.

Three times a week, he cycles 125 kilometers wearing a weight belt. He endures three hour

runs and day-long hikes up Nakkerd Hill. He is a man who takes pleasure in pain.

Les has competed in seven Ironman competitions around the world over the past 10 years.

But even superfit Les knows his Alpine climb demands a different style of training. The deleterious effects on his body due to altitude sickness are also a concern.

“A person can be a world class athlete at sea level but become a vegetable at 4,000 meters,” he says.

Les is determined his fitness will see him reach the top of Mont Blanc. If he succeeds, he plans to summit Everest. If anyone on Phuket can do it, bank on him being that man.

Help Les Bird reach 1 million baht


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