It was a case of third time lucky for a British climber who has become the first person with cystic fibrosis to climb the world’s highest mountain after his previous two attempts nearly claimed his life.
Nick Talbot, 40, reached the summit of Mount Everest on Friday. He took medication to cope with the lack of oxygen at high altitude, but carried the same kit as everyone else and managed to complete the challenge in around seven weeks – the same length of time as it would take someone with normal lung function.
His previous two attempts, last year and the year before, ended in disaster. In 2014, his first attempt was foiled when 16 mountain guides were killed scaling the treacherous passes, forcing Nick and other expeditions to turn back.
Last year he nearly died when an earthquake triggered an avalanche, leaving him seriously injured and killing his friend Dan Fredinburg, a Google executive. Mr Talbot was left with broken ribs, cuts, bruising, and worst of all hypothermia, which badly affected his lungs.
The altitude also affected his digestive system, meaning he struggled to eat as much as he needed to and lost 2 stone, leaving him at just 11 stone, incredibly slim for his 6ft 2in frame.
His father Keith – who tried to persuade his son not to go through with this third attempt for fear he would lose his life – has hailed his “superhuman” achievement.
Keith Talbot, 67, told the Telegraph: “I think it’s absolutely astonishing because no one with cystic fibrosis has been to this altitude before so no one really knew how badly it might affect someone.”
He added: “Both Gay [Nick’s mother] and I tried to talk him out of it last year, after he was so badly injured but it lasted about five minutes and it became very apparent he was going back.”
Cystic fibrosis sufferers have problems with breathing and digestion because their lungs become clogged with a thick mucus.
The respiratory disease affects around 10,000 people in Britain and only half of those with the illness live to the age of 40.
Only a few years ago Mr Talbot, who has worked as a senior manager for Ernst and Young and KPMG, was struggling in his city job, with his persistent cough making meetings and presentations difficult.
But three years ago a new drug, Kalydeco, was made available to him, helping his lung function and reducing the risk of infection.
Speaking to the Telegraph ahead of his climb, Mr Talbot, now a director of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, said he hoped the medication would make it easier than when he conquered Cho Oyu, the sixth highest mountain in the world, in 2011.
His intensive six-month training for the Everest climb involved running up the 12 flights of stairs to his top floor London flat with weights attached to his ankles.
He said it was about “putting yourself through a lot of duress and building up your leg muscles; but not too much because it’s a real trade off.
“You need a lot of muscle to get up there, but equally, the more muscle you have, the more oxygen you need. It’s a difficult thing to balance.”
Even at peak physical fitness, he found himself struggling at high altitude. He wrote in his blog: “It took me quite a number of breaths for each step and as anticipated I went from being one of the stronger team members to a very slow one.
“This seems to happen once over 6,000m as despite my deliberately high fitness level I can’t overcome the increasingly thin oxygen levels forever.”
His father emphasised that his son’s aim had been to “raise awareness of cystic fibrosis, and to raise money for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust.”
“He’s not done this to get himself in the Guinness Book of Records or for his own glory,” he said.
Keith and Gay Talbot are yet to be able to speak to their son and congratulate him after an electric storm affected the communication system at base camp.
“We have had two short emails from him and that’s all we have had so far,” his father said.
“It just said ‘all good’, that sort of thing, just to relax his mum.”
“We are proud and relieved in equally large measure,” he added.
After reaching the summit, Nick thanked the hundreds of supporters who had contributed to his fundraising efforts.
“Felt incredible… just myself and a Sherpa friend called Pem on the summit for 15 minutes, amazing looking over the world!
“Thanks for all of your support, be back in touch on my return.
“I will write more soon but our main internet link was destroyed in an electrical storm so please bear with me for a few days as we pack up.”