This Adventurer Is A Death-Defying Veteran At 23
On a mission to raise mental health awareness, 23-year-old Alex Staniforth has bounced back from bullying and defied disaster on Everest to become a record-breaking adventurer and award-winning fundraiser
At the age of 18, when most of us were attempting to break free from adolescence, Alex Staniforth was attempting to climb the highest mountain on Earth. An earthquake and massive avalanche – resulting in the tragic deaths of 16 sherpas – forced him to abandon the attempt, but Staniforth was undeterred and returned to Everest the following year… only for the same series of events to unfold again. On his second attempt, three sherpas lost their lives and Staniforth was left stranded on the mountainside for two days. He had survived the two deadliest years in Everest’s history.
Despite those experiences, the mountain remains at the summit of Staniforth’s ambitions. However, in recent years his attention has been focused far closer to home and in July 2017 he became a record-breaker: climbing all 100 UK county tops in just 72 days – the fastest person ever to do so. Motivated by memories of childhood bullying and a recent history of mental health issues, he has raised over £85,000 for charity, and hopes his endurance challenges can encourage others to open up about their own, personal struggles.
I’ve been on expeditions with people three times my age and found that experience and mindset matter most
Q: You Climbed The UK to get ‘every corner of the UK talking about mental health’ – what’s your own experience with mental health issues, and how has adventure helped?
A: ‘Mental illness has affected me since childhood and to this day, in various ways. I suffered with anxiety and panic attacks resulting from childhood epilepsy, then a running injury in my teens triggered depression and an eating disorder which still affect me regularly today.’
‘I don’t think mental health issues really go away completely – we just learn to manage the peaks and troughs better. Outdoor challenges and running have been my way of doing this. It’s not a cure, but the endorphins and fresh air give me a reason to get out of bed and see the world more positively. Climb The UK was about encouraging others to discover the benefits of the outdoors for themselves and showing that it’s not a sign of weakness to speak about mental health.’
Q: How tough was CTUK, physically, and was there a county that stands out as the hardest to summit?
A: ‘Obviously I can’t compare it to climbing Everest but Climb The UK was definitely the hardest challenge yet. For 72 days, it was the daily grind of cycling up to 120 miles, walking/ running up to 22 miles, climbing two or three mountains in one day, and sometimes enduring 18-hour days in the worst weather the UK could throw at me. There were days shivering in a sleeping bag with a chest infection, a sprained quad muscle and hypothermia in the middle of nowhere – sometimes it got too much and I ended up sobbing like a baby, alone on a mountain!’
‘Like most challenges it’s 90% mental and 10% physical – my legs just kept going, although I lost over a stone and was so exhausted I literally fell off the bike at the foot of Snowdon.’
Q: What’s next for you?
A: ‘This year I’ve been writing my second book, Out of my Mind, about Climb The UK and the link between the outdoors and mental health, which will be published next Spring by Trigger Press. Next year I’ll be trying to break a world record (watch this space) as well as the 2:45 mark at London Marathon, before my next big endurance challenge to raise more money for mental health.’
Alex Staniforth is an ambassador for YHA England & Wales, Ellis Brigham and The Westgrove Group. He released his first book, Icefall, in 2016, and has raised over £85,000 for various charities and causes. Find out more at Alexstaniforth.com.