Yorkshire special forces veteran Christopher Gaskin is no stranger to adversity but even he was pushed to the limit taking on all 214 Wainwrights unsupported.
“I chose May for the challenge as it’s my birthday and normally the weather is good, but this year was horrendous. A lot of people cancelled their challenges and there were times when I really did feel at risk. I got trench foot on day three.”
But this resilient former soldier was determined to complete his record-breaking challenge which he did in 11 and a half days, in which he climbed the equivalent of Mount Everest four times,
“I was in Iraq and Afghanistan and I helped treated some of the young men some as young as 21 who had lost limbs or suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“What I was going through, even at its hardest was nothing compared to them and what they still live with every day and so I just got on with it.”
He is raising funds for Walking With The Wounded and has raised around £5,000 for physically and emotionally wounded service men and women but would dearly like to see that figure doubled to £10,000. “When I left the military it took me some time to readjust to civilian life and I had no injuries,” explains father of one Chris from Knottingley, West Yorkshire.
“For servicemen and women who have been either physically or emotionally injured Walking With the Wounded is vital for signposting them back into civilian life and supporting them. I wanted to do something to raise money for them.” Already a keen runner, running around 100kms a week, a friend suggested he should run for charity.
Chris had read about a fell runner who had taken on all the 214 Lake District peaks identified by Alfred Wainwright in his famous guidebooks.
He decided to do something slightly different – to climb to the peaks solo and unsupported in the fastest time possible.
It meant he had to carry everything for the challenge including food, mapping, cooking and camping equipment, water, spare clothing, safety and first aid equipment. His pack weighed 20kg – about three stone – and due to the terrible weather even when he had eaten his rations it weighed the same due to being soaking wet.
The total distance is 540kms and included 95,000ft of ascent – that’s the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest four times. Chris had allowed himself 14 days to complete Project 214, as the challenge was named. In the end he completed it in 11 and a half – finishing at the weekend.
But he admits he hadn’t banked on the weather.
“It was very difficult at time,” he recalls.
“I set off on May 18 and the weather was fine for the first two days were fine but then days three to six were so bad. There were some people doing a 24 hours challenge and they had to abandon. I just had to keep moving forward but when it came to the Pillar and the Steeple I had to get to the top and get back down as quickly as I could.”
While climbing the challenging Scafell Pike he fell over and was worried he might be injured, but he was okay and was able to continue,
“It just makes it even more interesting,” he jokes. “But when it got really hard I had to draw on my military training. Although there is nothing wrong with failing, it’s a conscious decision and I didn’t want to quit.”
As well as his military training, Chris, 39, drew on his own personal seven point check list.
“Having been in the Special Forces I was used to working a hostile and challenging environments but I also have my MINDSET checklist I created through service in hostile operating environment to go from a limiting mental position to one that sees things as an opportunity: ”
Chris joined the army when he was just 16. “I grew up in Knottingley and there really weren’t very many opportunities other than working in a factory, I decided early on I wanted to do something different. I was one of those children who just loved being outside and I liked pushing myself and so the military just made sense.”
He did tours in Afghanistan and Iraq and was promoted to sergeant. But he wanted something bigger and so applied, and was successful on the first attempt, to the Special Forces.
Although he loved being with the Special Forces, he realised how hard it was on his family as he was away from home for long period of time.
He decided wanted to spend more time with his family, especially his young son, and so when the opportunity came to leave he took it.
After leaving the military Chris worked in security and counter-terrorism for private companies and now works in the private healthcare sector.
But it is clear his heard it still very much with the men he worked with and the military family he left behind.
“I really wanted to do something to raise money for Walking With The Wounded and for all those servicemen and women who have been through so much and for many are still going through it I was one of the lucky ones but not everyone was so lucky.”
Conquering the Wainwright 214 isn’t the end of Chris’s extreme challenges. He is taking part in the brutal Marathon de Sables this October, also for Walking With The Wounded.