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Alpine Challenge 2017 – Day Four Blog

September 14th, 2017

RPA Group CEO Damian Hopley brings you all the action from the last day of the 2017 Restart Rugby Alpine Challenge…..

Day Four – Wednesday 13th September

Tête Entre Deux Sauts. 2,720m (aka The Italian Job)

6:40am

Good grief. My legs feel like anvils as I creak out of bed at an ungodly hour to start preparing for our closing day in Italy.

Chef Phil has prepared the routine healthy breakfast of eggs, avocados and muesli all washed down with gallons of coffee to try and wake the team from our early morning slumber.

We drive 40 minutes through the Mont Blanc tunnel to Italy and park up at the local golf club which looks way more appealing than the 2,720m summit we will be ascending. Charlie and I get busted by the golf club secretary as we stroll into the clubhouse for not having handicap certificates, so it’s on with the all weather gear and, in the words of our esteemed guide Francois-Eric, we go “up, up, up”.

The Aosta valley is breathtakingly beautiful and, as we rise above the tree line, the full splendour of the mountains are revealed in all their glory. One of the most enjoyable aspects of this group is that there isn’t a single person that you wouldn’t want to trek with and we are all afforded that most precious commodity, time, to chat as we meander up to the summit dwarfed by the surrounding peaks.

I must indulge you and talk about some of our more ‘experienced’ trekkers who have made the trip so special, Adam Richardson and Andy Summers. Both are very successful and charming gentlemen who have come out on the trek to support Restart Rugby and both have had diverse approaches to preparing for the trip. Andy is a very proud family man, a former front-row who is in good condition for his age. He is a qualified bon viveur who, on the opening night, was keeping Ben Clarke and myself company over one or two late night vin rouges. Nights two and three weren’t much different to be honest, Andy is a keen Saracens fan who lived in Geneva for a number of years, and is great value.

Adam is, in his own words, “An overweight 58-year-old recovering from ankle surgery and 57 years of food abuse/enjoyment.” I had the pleasure of walking with Adam for a couple of the days and, for me, he totally encapsulates the spirit of what the Restart Rugby Alpine Challenge is all about.

His determination, excellent sense of humour and positivity are to the fore every day as he took on the punishing climbs without so much as a hint of a complaint. The fact that Adam’s preparation was a fortnight in Ibiza makes his achievement even more impressive.

I digress. Today is without doubt the toughest trek we undertake over the event and even the rain and cold that closes in at the top of Tête entre Deux Sauts won’t dampen the spirits of the group. This has been a fabulous effort from one and all and lunch on top of the mountain tastes extra special.

The descent is swift and is buoyed by a stop for a hot drink at the Bonatti refuge (2025m) 45 minutes from the vans. Given last night’s menu was a punchy chilli followed by a lavish bread and butter pudding, I am not afraid to say this refuge is a welcome and much needed relief. Imagine my unbridled joy when I discover the ‘facilities’ are a retro throw back that elicit memories of 1970’s European camp sites. I believe the correct terminology is a ‘Squat Toilet’. Imagine Jonny Wilkinson preparing to take a penalty kick in his 2003 prime and you get the picture. Given that I have been walking for 3 days on the bounce clocking up over 30, 000 steps a day, I can assure you, reader, that this is the last thing I need. My forthright comments in the visitors book might persuade the owners to invest in something slightly more modern.

Celebrating success

One of the important aspects of any significant achievement is celebrating. Fortunately none of the group need any persuading on this indisputable fact. We are invited to pre-dinner drinks at the second team chalet where our hosts have laid on a wonderful spread to get the final evening off to a bang.

Sat round the stunning central fireplace the bonhomie is infectious as we all reflect on a job very well done. The last supper is very special affair as we sit round the ‘table of truth’ (constructed with metal from the original Eiffel Tower) and all share favourite moments from the trip with laughs aplenty.

Prize giving

As with all good tours a prize giving ceremony is imperative and a few closing remarks from yours truly brings formalities to an end. This is a tough crowd.

There are too many thank you’s to go through on each and every trekker so the abridged version is below.

As some of us know, rugby is a game that is defined by its inclusive values of respect, teamwork, discipline, sportsmanship and enjoyment. The last few days have seen those values shine out in abundance from the entire group, it has been a wonderful coming together of like minded souls.

As I alluded to earlier, one of the main reasons for bringing those people together has been Amanda Johnson. If our friends are a reflection of ourselves then Ben Clarke has struck gold with Amanda. She has been nothing short of amazing and the glue in bringing so many people together, thank you again Amanda and best of luck for your big day with Ben later this year. I’ll make sure to wear my Cuban heels.

Our awards ceremony follows and the prize for best trek fundraising is first up. Restart Rugby relies totally on donations and we are blown away by how much our trekkers have raised (£45,000 + at the last count). It has been one year since the last Alpine Challenge and, as mentioned at the outset of this blog, in that time much has changed. The most remarkable story amongst this group is that of Una, James and Ben Bradley. They lost their inspirational husband and father Neil too early and they have come on the Trek en famille. Una is a very glamorous anesthetist (think Honor Blackman with walking poles) and her two boys (both trainee medics) are handsome, charming and sporty and they have all fitted in brilliantly. Collectively the Bradley’s have raised the most for Restart Rugby and it has been an absolute privilege to spend time with them. We give Una the shirt signed by our rugby stars as we fear the boys may ruin it wearing it at Freshers week.

The final award is given to the “Trekker du Tour” and it is a no-brainer that Adam and his recovering ankles takes this coveted prize. You could not meet a nicer man and I look forward to him defending his title next year.

Thanks

A trip of this magnitude can not happen without the help of several key people so some overdue thanks are due.

To Francois-Eric for his guiding, energy and extraordinary hair and also to the returning Emilie Lecomte for all her support on the mountains. Merci a vous!

To Ali, Damien and Nic from Chamonix Hard Cross who have all been brilliant from start to finish. Their knowledge, support and professional approach made the trip so enjoyable and it’s an absolute pleasure working with you. Yes, even you Damo. I cannot recommend them highly enough.

A massive thanks to our rugby stars, Ben, Charlie and Tamara, you have been great ambassadors for the charity throughout the event. Special mention to Tamara who was parachuted in as a replacement for Lee Mears and has firmly secured her spot in the starting line-up  for 2018. What a total star.

Thanks also go to Restart Rugby’s Head of Fundraising Susie Baxter for all her efforts in making this event come together. Despite being stuck in the office, she managed to keep us all on the straight and narrow (especially this blog), so huge thanks for that.

Big thanks as well to Tom Soulsby, our social media genius who has patiently waited for this copy to land every day and has then transformed it into something interesting, he deserves a medal.

The biggest thanks goes to Gareth and Sarah Stapleton, from Rise Management Consulting, our official partner for this trek. We simply could not have made this work without your valuable support Gareth and it was fantastic to have you both join us for what was an incredible few days.

We closed the formalities by presenting Gareth with a signed England shirt at dinner on behalf of the current squad who wanted to show their appreciation for his help.

Prologue

As I sit at Geneva airport with the rain lashing down outside I can’t actually believe that the 2017 Restart Rugby Alpine Challenge has ended. Then I try to get out of my seat and the aching in my lower half brings it all painfully back.

It has been such an enjoyable and exhausting few days and the spirit of the mountains will live on in all of us until we return next year.

Our Just Giving pages will remain active for a few weeks and I hope that reading this blog will inspire some of you to donate or even come and join us next year to make the 2018 event bigger and better.

In closing, I am incredibly privileged to work in this great game. Our players do so much for other charities, so it’s vitally important that Restart Rugby is there to pick up the pieces when things go wrong. Thank you for all of your support and I hope that you can continue to support this great charity going forward.

Upwards and onwards mes amies, I’m off for a pedicure and a lie down.

Until the next time

Damian x

Steps: 34,609

Calories: 6,566

To read Damian’s blog from day three click here or alternatively visit his Just Giving page to make a donation.

 

For more info on Restart Rugby and the Alpine Challenge and to show your support for the team and our players, please visit our Just Giving page.

 

If you’ve been inspired by the 2017 Restart Rugby Alpine Challenge and would like to book your place for 2018 please contact Susie Baxter on 020 3053 6670 or sbaxter@theRPA.co.uk