Petra with the elephant from Dumbarton’s coat of arms.
By Bill Heaney
A Dumbarton hotel director is “feeling on top of the world” after leading a successful group expedition to Everest base camp in Nepal for charity.
Petra McMillan, a Marie Curie patron, and her team of 26 from all over the UK raised £66,594 by trekking to the foot of the world’s tallest mountain last week.
Now, thanks to their efforts, families facing terminal illness in the UK will receive a 3330 hours of care at home, at the end of life this Christmas.
Petra, whose family own the Dumbuck Hotel in Dumbarton, said: “I’m really proud of everyone on our team, they all worked so hard in really tough conditions to achieve their goal.
“Normally only 65% of those who attempt base camp achieve it so the fact all of us got there together is a testament to the strength of the group, our support crew from the UK and the local Sherpas.”
Tragically the group, aged 27 to 74 and drawn from Inverness to Poole in Dorset, began their challenge on a sombre note following the death of fellow Marie Curie trekker Kellinu Portelli (54) just days earlier.
Dad-of-two Kellinu, from Cardiff, was found dead in his bed the night after reaching base camp and is believed to have succumbed to severe altitude sickness.
Indeed numerous people on Petra’s team struggled with the effects of altitude and also battled sickness, diarrhoea, respiratory ailments, sleep deprivation and exhaustion during the 11 day trek to 5364 metres.
Petra, who was made an honorary patron in 2011 and to date has helped raise more than £500,000 for Marie Curie, said the tragedy underlined the risks involved for everyone.
“I think there is popular misconception that base camp is easy, only the summit counts but that’s usually a view held by people who have no comprehension of the scale of these mountains or the knowledge of how altitude affects the body.
“Base camp is a long slog, beginning at plus 20 degrees and dropping to minus 18. Living conditions are very basic and just keeping healthy and strong day on day in order to get up and down safely is a challenge in itself.”
Base camp was Petra’s second high altitude challenge, having summit-ed Mount Kilimanjaro (5895m) in 2015 with five others from the Everest team. On that occasion she was floored by altitude sickness and endured a gruelling 17-hour summit day punctuated by ill health.
This time, despite an iron transfusion for chronic anaemia just days before her departure to Nepal, Petra had no such symptoms.
“I think the big difference was time. In Tanzania we climbed to 5895m in five days, on Everest it took us eight days to reach 5364m. Those extra days make all the difference in helping your body acclimatise.
“However, if the iron transfusion hadn’t come through in time, I doubt I would have risked my health and the two years of organisation and planning would have been in vain for me at least.”
Of the 26 people on the team, Petra knew or had completed running, cycling, trekking and abseiling challenges with 20 others in the UK, Central America, Asia or Africa in a decade volunteering for Marie Curie.
Now, recovering at home in with husband Tommy and children Jack (20) and Heidi (18) she has no immediate plans for her next adventure, other than the odd jaunt up the Angus glens this winter.
“I feel on top the world but I have to admit I’m really appreciating living at sea level right now! It’s a big world out there though, so who knows what next year might bring.”
For more information about Marie Curie, visit www.mariecurie.org.uk