Saturday 7 December 2019

Charity climber Packy McDonnell has vowed to hang up his hiking boots after trekking to Everest base camp.

Charity climber Packy McDonnell has vowed to hang up his hiking boots after trekking to Everest base camp.

The dad of six walked for two weeks to scale the 5000 metres to the camp carrying a plaque dedicated to little Oscar Knox, who died earlier this year.

It has now been placed on the mountain as a permanent memorial by Packy, whose expeditions have raised thousands of pounds for charities in Northern Ireland.

He's still tallying the total for his Everest trip, which also benefited the Northern Ireland Chidren's Hospice.

But back at home in Belfast wife Kellie feared Packy had paid the ultimate price when dozens of trekkers perished in a storm in the region last month.

"We had no phone signal for a couple of days so when I finally got talking to Kellie she said people were going mad here, knowing I was in Nepal and people were dying on the mountains," says Packy.

"We had heard about the avalanche and the storm but we just caught the tail end of it with thunder and lighting, heavy rain and snow. My thoughts and prayers are with the families of the people who died.

Lucky

"I just count myself lucky we were on the other side of the mountain and since I've come home so many people have asked me about it."

Packy had prepared for the trip by training for months, and says it paid off.

"There were days when we were only walking for five or six hours. I found it tougher climbing in the pouring rain on Slieve Donard.

"There was one occasion when a boulder the size of an armchair came crashing past us. If that had hit anyone they would have been finished.

"But most of the time you could have been trekking in shorts and trainers."

The only illness he suffered was from sunstroke, but he still had to be prepared for the weather extremes when temperatures plunged to -17C.

"I was burning up and freezing at the same time and I just got dehydrated.

"But I was up at 4am the next morning to climb Kala Patthar so we could watch the sun come up over the summit of Everest. That was a once in a lifetime moment."

The 38-year-old's charity adventures started with climbing Divis Mountain near Belfast, before he progressed to Slieve Donard in the Mournes, Ben Nevis in Scotland and then Kilimanjaro.

The only challenge left is the summit of Everest but he says his family would never let him take on the peak.

He's happy to go out on a high, especially in memory of five year old cancer sufferer Oscar.

Plaque

"The night before I left Oscar's dad Stephen brought the plaque to my house and it was an honour and a privilege to take it on its journey.

"Day by day lots of local people took an interest in it and wanted to know about Oscar's story.

"When I put it in place at base camp I felt my mission was accomplished. At that moment I felt overwhelmed, excited and proud that I had achieved my goal.

"I'd like to thank everyone who has sponsored me over the past few years. This brings my total to over £60,000 for various charities."

While his climbing days may be numbered the fund-raising will go on for Packy.

He's already turned his attention to the Welcome Organisation which helps the homeless in Belfast.

Perfect

With brother Joe he'll be rounding up supplies for the centre and says Christmas is the perfect time to think about other people.

"Everyone has got clothes in the house they don't wear that could help someone.

"And most people can afford to donate a bit of food. We all spend far too much at Christmas so why not give a bit of it to someone who really needs it.

"I want to go out on a high as far as the climbing challenges go, and you couldn't get much better than trekking to Everest.

"But I still want to help people," says Packy.

To make a donation to the Welcome Organisation ring Packy or Joe on 07835 744292.

roisin.gorman@sundayworld.com

Irish Independent

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