Derek Haines may be known as Cayman’s “marathon man” but the champion for hospice care recently turned his attention to another monumental physical challenge – scaling Mount Aconcagua in Argentina.
After completing six marathons last year – logging a total of 157 miles – and raising more than $1 million for Cayman HospiceCare in the process, the former police officer took a break from running to join his daughter Lizzy Haines in an attempt to conquer the highest peak in the Western Hemisphere.
At 22,834 feet, the Andes summit is a daunting high altitude climb. It’s one Mr. Haines had attempted three years ago – missing the mark by just over 300 feet.
“I was really crushed by that, so I thought I would go back and have another go,” said Mr. Haines, 66, an avid climber in his younger years.
Lizzy, a medical doctor who lives in Australia, flew down to join him in the two-week expedition in January, as well as run the Cayman marathon with Haines beforehand in December.
This time around, illness prevented Mr. Haines from reaching the top – by around 1,500 feet.
“It was disappointing but it was great to have that time with my daughter,” he said. “At least one of us got there.”
It took his daughter and the team 17 hours to reach the peak on the final leg. Ms. Haines, along with a team of seven climbers and three guides, reached the summit on Jan. 19 at 10:30 p.m., decorating the peak with the Cayman flag.
Mr. Haines developed a racking cough during the five-hour trek to the first camp and a further acclimatization climb to 16,300 feet. After a demanding nine-hour trek to the second base camp, at just over 13,000 feet, his daughter became concerned about his condition.
Doctors diagnosed him with bronchial pneumonia, administering a heavy course of antibiotics. After a couple of days, his lungs responded well, although he could not take part in further acclimatization climbs to nearby peaks. After five days, he continued to strive for the summit, eventually trekking on to reach high camp 3. At around 20,000 feet, it is the highest camp prior to attempting the summit.
Against the advice of camp medics, Mr. Haines set out for the summit with the team on Jan. 19 in the early morning, facing subzero temperatures and strong winds. After reaching around 21,000 feet, Mr. Haines, still weakened by his condition, decided to turn back to the camp.
“I was a couple of hours into the climb when I decided to go back. It was disappointing, but I think I made the right decision,” he said. “If I had continued, I think I would probably still be up there – under a pile of rocks.”
Indeed, a Scottish climber died last week while attempting to scale Mount Aconcagua, suffering a heart attack while ascending the peak.
Mr. Haines is grateful for being able to share the experience with his daughter.
“Lizzy was strong throughout and I am very proud of her for reaching the summit,” he said. “If it wasn’t for her and the mountain doctors, I could not have got as far as I did.”
His daughter also had high praise for the guides and team. “They really ensured that we were in good shape and gave us the best chance to summit. It was an amazing experience.”
Mr. Haines is also grateful for supporters who rallied to ensure the father-and-daughter duo were able to make the trek. Three days before Christmas, his home was robbed, with the funds he and Lizzy had saved for the climb stolen.
On Christmas Day, Mr. Haines received an unexpected gift – a biscuit tin containing the exact amount that was stolen, with an anonymous note attached.
“I’ve got some very good chums,” said Mr. Haines. “They ensured that we were able to continue with our escapade. I do thank them and will never forget it.” He is now easing back into long-distance running, and feeling stronger.
He plans to run the Intertrust Cayman Islands Marathon again this December, but he has his sights set on another ambitious goal – seeing the new home for hospice care come to fruition.
Mr. Haines is confident this project is one he can finish as it has great community support.