For the Players
For the game

Restart Rugby Alpine Challenge 2018 – Day Three

September 13th, 2018

RPA Group CEO & Founder Damian Hopley brings you all the action from the 2018 Restart Rugby Alpine Challenge…..


Tuesday 11th September – Summit Day
Refuge Pierre a Berard to Mont Buet
1925m to 3096m altitude


It has been agreed the previous night that the trek would be split into two and that Sebastien would lead one group out early at 5:30am (yes, you better believe it) and then the second group would go an hour later and catch up before summitting together as one dream team.

Breakfast is awash with laughter as we cannot contain ourselves after the night that was. Daisy complains that her Daily Mail hasn’t been delivered whilst Gareth Stapleton, from Rise Management Consulting, our founding partner of the Alpine Challenge, asks his wife Sarah whether the thread count on their Egyptian cotton sheets was actually 400, as seen on Trip Advisor.

Today is THE big day and we set off climbing up some extremely difficult terrain before sunrise. As we make our way up the sun creeps over the mountains and the true majesty of our surrounds is revealed like we are on a film set. As a late comer to trekking, I have always maintained the sheer scale of the Alps is both awe inspiring and humbling, and we soak up the 360 degree views to Mont Blanc and into Italy and Switzerland.




As well as Rise Management Consulting, we are very lucky to have more of the Rugby Players’ Association’s partners join us for this trip to support our charity. The little and large element of the group is provided by our insurance partners, All Sport Insurance. At 6 ‘7” Kevin Davies strikes an imposing figure on the mountains (and in the bar) and his live-wire side kick, Andrew Pearce, an RFU referee for over 25 years, are excellent value. Even though they are more experienced than the majority of the group, their perseverance in tough conditions is fantastic to see.



The other RPA partners represented on the trip are Team Argentex who are also excellent value on and off the mountain. Their dedication to the chalet hot tub pre-hab and recovery is commendable and despite niggling knee injuries, they get on with the job in hand with a smile on their faces (most of the time). Brilliant effort from you all.





After three long and extremely sweaty hours climbing up the 12km to Col Salenton, we catch up with the early risers and are both inspired and amazed at how Ed has navigated the terrain. His remarkable physical strength is surpassed only by his indeterminable spirit and courage as he literally hauls himself over rocks and scree with the summit in sight. Ed Jackson is an extraordinary young man and it is our privilege to see this play out before our very eyes.

We all assemble at Arrete de Mortine and then start the final ascent to the summit of Mt Buet. At almost two -and-a-half times the height of Ben Nevis, what we are about to achieve is amazing. What Ed is about to achieve is almost unbelievable.

A few people go on ahead as we strive towards the summit and film the final few steps of Ed’s incredible journey. 16 months ago he broke his neck and was told he might never walk again. Today he has climbed Mont Buet. It is mind blowing. He is the embodiment of what Restart Rugby is all about.

Emotions run high at the top of the mountain and, quite understandably, Ed struggles to compose himself and say a few words, having taken in exactly what he has achieved. He speaks straight from the heart and there is not a dry eye on top of the mountain. I’m not sure words or pictures can do justice to that experience we all shared. To echo Ed’s words, “We must never take things for granted and always focus on the things we have, not the things we don’t”. Amen to that.





Ed Jackson and step-mother Sue.





Looking out over the valleys to Mont Blanc from the top of Mt Buet is totally life affirming and to see the sheer delight on everyone’s faces for having successfully made it to the top is equally rewarding. The obligatory group photos ensue and everyone is having their own special moment looking down from where we came and pinching themselves about what has been achieved as a group.

In the lull after our early lunch, we press gang Daisy to don the fancy dress head-wear purchased pre-trek and do her best Maria von Trapp impression on the mountain top as The Sound of Music blares out of the portable speaker. Look out for her on the new series of The Voice..


Daisy Hodgson (Daisy van Trapp)


The Descent
Mont Buet to Buet Village
3096m to 1500m


What goes up must come down and at 11:30am we start the long descent back to the refuge (I’m still breaking out in a cold sweat as I write this) to stop off for a break, before heading down to Buet village. The temperature is rising and the sun is beating down on us as we start to descend. As the late, great Tom Petty sang in Learning to Fly: “Coming down in the hardest thing” – I’m not entirely convinced he was talking about the Alps, but let’s not dwell on that.

The interesting fact about coming down mountains is that it requires great concentration to plot where you are going to put your feet and then try not to skid on the boulders as you step down. It puts significant pressure on your joints and is mentally exhausting as you have to be on your guard for fear of tumbling. What makes Ed’s achievement even more super human is that he has to concentrate wherever he walks, up or down the mountain, so his resilience and mental fortitude is even more remarkable.

What ensues is a very long and challenging journey back to the refuge across extremely unpredictable terrain. In the words of Brian Hanrahan of BBC, we had counted them all out and counted them back in again, and after our very emotional farewell to the team at the refuge we start off for the final push.

What follows is extremely tough but to see the entire group who only, two-and-a-half days ago hadn’t met, all chatting, laughing, walking and enjoying the experience was a great sign of exactly what the mountains can do to people.

We found our way down to Buet village where the minibuses whisked everyone back to the village. A few old hands headed to the pub to see Ed sinking what he described as the best tasting beer of his life and one he, above anyone else, thoroughly deserved.


Steps: 42, 300

KM: 32.4

Calories: 8, 600

Beers sunk: Undisclosed




Our closing dinner is out of Chef Phil’s burger van as the entire group sits round the table absolutely shattered but very proud to have achieved what we all set to do. A small prize giving from CHX recognises the absolute gem of a man that Will Matthews is. His contribution to team morale has been remarkable throughout. Thank you Will, you are a very special human being and it was a pleasure to spend time with you.



We then recognise and thank Gareth and Sarah for all their support through Rise Management Consulting. It is entirely due to your help that we can stage such an incredible event, so thanks again for everything you do for Restart Rugby.

After dinner and in time honoured tradition, I am given the floor and permitted to say a few words of thanks to the organisers, Ali, Damien and Nick for their seamless work in making the trek so fantastic for everyone involved. We have been working with Chamonix Hardcross for three years now and the event continues to improve year on year, largely due to their leadership, expertise and sense of fun. Sincere thanks also go to the brilliant Ursula Fairlie and Beth Wright at Restart Rugby who have worked tirelessly on making this event the best yet.

The biggest thanks inevitably goes to every one of our trekkers who gave up their precious time to support Restart Rugby and went above and beyond to dig deep and summit Mount Buet at over 10,000 feet after two gruelling days on the mountain, not to mention one unforgettable night in a refuge..

And last and never least is the one individual who inspired us every step of the way throughout the trek. When Ed said he wanted to do the challenge earlier this year, there was some trepidation as to whether that was achievable. To then see him in action, listen to him speak with the maturity of someone way beyond his years and then see the inner fight is something beyond all comprehension.



At the risk of indulging myself (sorry Denners), if you had told me 20 years ago when I founded the Rugby Players’ Association that I would be spending time up a mountain with former rugby players, RPA partners and individuals raising money for our charity that was set up to support players and their families who have suffered injury, illness or hardship, I would have thought you should get help. To witness this last event and see someone who has been helped by Restart Rugby and is re-paying the charity back as both a Trustee and a fundraiser is incredibly humbling. Ed had no right to be able to walk again, but his sheer grit and spirit got him active and when he got up Snowdon in April, he immediately set his sights on a new challenge. He conquered Mont Buet where many able bodied people would or could not.

We can’t begin to thank you enough Ed for everything you are and everything you have done for Restart Rugby and also the game that we all love so much. It really was so very special to be with you and watch you achieve what you set out to with such good, humour and determination.


Thank you to all our 2018 trekkers: 

Gary Davies

Kevin Davies

Chris Canning

Mike Denbee

Sophie Dun

Jon Goss

Charlie Hodgson

Daisy Hodgson

Damian Hopley

Ed Jackson

Sue Jackson

Will Matthews

Andrew Pearce

Charles Ramage-Johnson

Gareth Stapleton

Sarah Stapleton

Andy Summers

Georgina Thomas

Dominic Wood



You can continue to show your support for Restart Rugby by clicking the links below: