Early this morning site users Jack Colbeck and Andy Graham set off on the first stage of a gruelling trans-national journey on foot and by bike to raise money for a friend in need. Over 15 days the 'Ben to Blanc Challenge' will take them from the top of Ben Nevis to the summit of Mont Blanc, with roughly 1200 miles in the saddle between the two.
The Yorkshire-based pair started the clock at midnight this morning on the summit of Ben Nevis, and having run down the mountain they now aim to reach Lockerbie by bike tonight.
They expect the ride from Fort William to Dover to take four days (they've a ferry booked, so it had better), and have reckoned on another four days for the slightly shorter leg from Calais to Chamonix. From here they'll climb Mont Blanc under their own steam - no train or lifts.
Neither of the guys owns a road bike, so they've borrowed them from friends; 'Andy's is much much lighter/better than mine, so he's got it easy' Jack reckons.
Friends will be driving Jack's green Transit van in support, and they'll be sleeping in it every night.
'The whole challenge is going to be super hard' says Jack. 'We will definitely have to dig deep to keep going. I think the mornings are going to be the toughest bits, getting back on the bikes after doing such a long distance the previous day(s).'
Have either of them done something of this scale before?
'Basically, no' Jack admits. 'Both of us have done some long rides. For instance earlier this year Andy did a 55 mile ride, then walked the Yorkshire Three Peaks, then rode 55 miles home in just under 24 hours.'
'And we've both done Mont Blanc before. But we don't really know what to expect it to feel like after cycling so far!'
'For training we have just been riding ALL the time since early February, so my climbing has suffered for sure but I'm definitely fitter on a bike now!' Jack says.
'On the bikes we have been mixing long distance (100+ miles) going steady with shorter rides (40 miles ish) trying to go fast, plus a fair bit of hill training too.'
Through their efforts the pair hope to raise money for their friend Hannah Hunt's HEAT (Hannah Equipment and Therapy) Fund.
In March of this year keen climber and instructor Hannah had an awkward fall when a pull-up bar gave way. She landed on her back and suffered a spinal cord injury. She is now paralysed from the waist down and has to use a wheelchair. She needs to raise money for adaptive equipment for her home, off-road wheelchairs, fitness equipment and specialist therapy.
'We were doing the challenge already just for fun' says Jack 'but when Hannah had her accident we instantly knew we could use it to try and help her out! So far we have raised over £4000. Self-powered offroad wheelchairs start at about £5000, and lots of other things that Hannah needs to get her back in the hills don't come cheap.'
The pair have managed to get some energy products from GU Energy, and sponsorship from Sypeland Climbers Balm.
Jack is a self-confessed rock climber through and through. He lives in a van and is often found kipping under overhung bits of rock. He has On-sighted E4 rock climbs, headpointed E7 and generally climbs hard in good style whether at Font, Malham, on the grit, or anywhere where climbing is possible. Jack has even been to the roof of the Alps before, where he vowed never to return - that is until this challenge.
Andy has climbed all over the country, loves mountains and has a lust for adventure. He also has a knack for talking himself into ridiculous challenges. Occasionally cycling to work and back gave Andy the idea that this challenge would be a good idea. He has climbed Mont Blanc before as well as a handful of other mountain routes in the Mont Blanc area and after a wet and unsuccessful trip with Jack last year he hopes to make this one count.
Hannah, Andy and Jack featured on BBC Radio Leeds last Thursday (still available here, 1:33 in).
You can donate to the HEAT Fund here.
And follow the guys' progress on their Ben to Blanc Challenge blog