YHA Ambassador Alex Staniforth made 2017 a year to remember by completing a remarkable UK challenge.
Alex Staniforth isn’t your average twenty-something. The YHA Ambassador has made it his business to undertake extraordinary adventure challenges, including twice attempting to climb Everest, initially at the age of just 18.
Mid-2017, however, saw Alex embark on a challenge far closer to home: Climb The UK, a 5,000-mile journey that took him to the highest point of every one of the 100 counties in the UK. Staying in hostels en route, he completed it in a record 72 days, raising more than £25,000 for mental health charity Young Minds in the process. But as he tells #LiveMoreYHA, it was no walk in the park…
How did the idea for Climb the UK come about?
I’d been looking for a challenge closer to home after my high-altitude expeditions, one that ticked the boxes of combining walking, running and cycling, and giving the chance for other people to take part. As far as I knew, only one other person had completed it in this style. You end up toying with ideas for a while and suddenly it just clicks. I was having a roast dinner with my friend Mike at the time, actually. At first I didn’t think it would be hard enough! There was a huge amount of planning involved. I had about five months between forming the idea and starting the first day. Planning a logical route and deciding the itinerary was the hardest part.
What was the day-to-day experience like?
It really varied. Every day had different challenges: ferries to catch, bad weather, big peaks to climb and so on. I spoke at four different schools during the challenge too. After a while you get into a rhythm and each day almost passes in a blur. The hardest part was getting on the bike and setting off each day – you have to break it down into one day at a time and not worry about the following days.
What were the highlights?
Sussex, the South Downs and Cornwall. That was largely due to the great company I had – a big highlight was having more than 150 people of all backgrounds joining me on walks and cycles. For some it was their biggest mountain or even their first climb, so getting them outside and achieving something in the process kept me going. I was pleased to pull off the idea of kayaking to the Isle of Wight too. Best of all was the final peak, Moel Famau in Wales, with friends and supporters cheering me on under blue skies. It was like the Everest summit photo I never got. But I was so weak I literally fell over when I got there, having lost over a stone in weight!
Anywhere that really surprised you?
Norfolk. It unfairly gets a lot of stick for its lack of hills, but as well as being ridiculously flat on the bike the North Norfolk coast is beautifully scenic, I’d definitely like to go back.
And any moments that were really tough?
I ran out of ways to say that I’d had the worst day of my life. Some of the days in Scotland were miserable due to the isolation and weather, with 60mph winds and timber lorries flying past spraying me. At one point I was so wet I had to get changed in a phone box. On day 70 I had to call it a day with hypothermia in Bala, being so soaked I just couldn’t get warm. That meant falling behind schedule, so on my penultimate day I had
to start at 3.30am and cycle 107 miles for over 18 hours, while climbing Holyhead Mountain and Snowdon in between. The harder things get, the more we raise our threshold for next time.
How much did you hope to raise?
My original target was £10,000, so I was totally blown away by the huge generosity and support received. I’d actually raised £24,000 but a few weeks ago decided to do a 310-mile, 31-hour solo cycle to Edinburgh and pushed it over the next milestone. As a sufferer of mental illness myself I wanted to show these obstacles needn’t hold us back.
What’s next in the diary?
It took me months to recover physically and mentally. Through December I was in Nepal for some solo trekking in my favourite parts of the Khumbu Trail, as well as doing some charity work. I’ll be planning another challenge too. My aim is to inspire others to overcome their challenges through my challenges. We all have our Everest in life, and I believe getting outdoors can be one of the best remedies.
Alex stayed in hostels throughout his challenge. Which properties stood out?
“YHA has such a huge network that even after a 72-day challenge I could have stayed in many more. I loved YHA Wilderhope Manor – it’s like being at Hogwarts! A bizarre but enchanting place in beautiful countryside. YHA Pwll Deri has such an amazing location that when I suddenly found the hostel and the sweeping ocean views on the cliff side I nearly swore. YHA New Forest is a hidden gem, tucked away in the trees, YHA Boscastle has a wonderful charm and is perfect for coastal sunsets – although there’s a steep climb to get out of it! – and YHA Kington and YHA Cambridge gave me really memorable welcomes too.”