‘From A-levels to the Alps’: Europe’s highest mountain conquered by student and his Royal Marine friend

A former video games addict who would spend more than six hours a day on his console has climbed Europe’s highest mountain – and got all As in his A-levels.

Tuesday, 19th August 2014, 11:05 am
Charlie Bicknell and Andrew Egan, both 21

It was only a few weeks ago that Charlie Bicknell, of Berkhamsted High Street, was taking on Mont Blanc in the Alps – Europe’s highest mountain at 15,781 feet.

The task is notoriously difficult – and dangerous – to complete.

Police announced on Monday that two climbers and their guide had been discovered dead after an 800-metre fall on the mountain range.

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Earlier in the month, two Belgians were found dead on Mont Blanc and in July six climbers died there.

Charlie attempted the challenge with his friend and fellow former pupil of Hemel Hempstead’s John F Kennedy School Andrew Egan, who is now a Royal Marine. Both are 21 years old.

Charlie said: “We had no idea what it was going to be like beforehand. We just wanted to wing it, buy a good book and get up there – but were told it would be too dangerous.

“After a proper duel with no acclimatisation or knowledge, and after arriving on a last minute tram to the start of the climb, we managed to tough it out.”

After a few hours of climbing, the pair stumbled across and slept in an abandoned empty hut before getting up at 3am to continue their climb.

They scrambled up boulders and along two-feet ridges next to huge drops – and to make matters worse, as you get higher, the altitude makes you feel drunk.

Charlie said: “It’s like you have had six pints. You cannot really think straight and are in a sort of altered state of consciousness.

“It was so hard. After a few steps, you are out of breath, so you need to be very careful all the way.

“If you were to fall or stumble and drop off the ridge, you are not coming back. You are going to slide down off the side, and that will be the end of you. It would be like falling from a plane.”

They heard three loud bangs during their climb – which Charlie thinks were avalanches happening on other mountain ranges.

They had reached the summit by about 12.30pm – but could not stay for long because Charlie felt nauseous and was suffering from headaches.

The pair had run out of water and had to eat snow to stay hydrated. They got back to the hut where they had slept the night before by 8pm, and later arrived in time for the last tram back to the nearest town.

Last year, Charlie swam the English Channel as part of a four-person relay team.

In 2012, he was the youngest person to finish the Bolton Iron Man triathlon – where participants swim 2.4 miles, cycle 112 miles and run a full 26.2-mile marathon.

The Iron Man took him 11 hours and 43 minutes – and just a couple of months later, he cycled the full length of the UK, going from Lands End to John O’Groats.

On top of his endurance challenge successes, on Thursday Charlie achieved an A* in biology and two As in chemistry and physics in his A-levels.

He got an A in AS-level geography too – a remarkable turn-around from how he used to live his life, playing video games instead of studying.

He plans to study for a medicine degree after taking some time out to travel around Spain.