PokerStars sends man to top of the world

As you're likely aware, PokerStars' office sits on the Isle of Man in the UK. Recently, a police officer from the Isle found himself at the highest point in the world--with a little help from PokerStars. This is his story, in his own words.


by Phil Drowley

Having attempted to climb Everest in 2006 and living with the disappointment of getting to the balcony (8,500 metres) on summit day but having to turn around (due to being ill) with just three hundred and fifty metres in height left to climb, I had trained especially hard to ensure that there was no repeat.
It all started in 2000 when a work colleague came into my office at Police Headquarters and asked me whether I wanted to do something for the year 2000, he told me he was putting together a team to climb Kilimanjaro for charity. Before he had left the office, I was signed up, not even knowing where Kilimanjaro was. I soon discovered that it was the highest mountain on the African continent. Five of us set off on that challenge which saw us raise over fourteen thousand pounds for the charity Isle of Man Friends of Ronald McDonald House.

Having reached the summit and arriving home, I knew that I had to do something else and so ever since, each year I have been climbing, each time going a little higher/harder and having climbed the highest mountains in South America, North America, Europe and Africa, Everest - the highest point on the Asian continent seemed like the logical choice. To see if I was capable of an '8000 metre peak' I tried the 6th highest in the world - Cho Oyu (8201m) and was successful. so Everest was definitely my next goal.

Because we had started by raising money for Isle of Man Friends of Ronald McDonald house, it seemed the right thing to do to raise money for the same charity for this ultimate climb. Also, in the years that have passed whilst I have been working my way to this goal, lots of my friends have unfortunately had to use the facilities provided by the charity. The house provides accommodation for families so that they can be close to their children in their hour of need in hospital. I haven't yet got a final figure for the money raised, but it seems to be going well.

As well as training hard, I had to try hard to find the money to climb this mountain. It's expensive climbing mountains (Everest - $65,000), Luckily with the help of PokerStars sponsorship, my dream of climbing the highest mountain in the world became reality.

I was joined on the trek to base camp by two of the original Kilimanjaro team, Keith and Kevin, which was fitting as it had been Kevin who had called into my office back in 2000 and, I suppose, was responsible for it all.

On arriving at base camp after two weeks of trekking, I settled into my home for the next couple of months - a two man tent all to myself. Each day you wake up buried deep in your sleeping bag and wait for the sun to hit your tent. You notice the glitter of the ice layer on the roof and sides of the tent formed from your breathing throughout the night. As the sun hits the tent, the ice starts to melt and you have a mini shower on the inside of your tent as it drips on to you. The sun soon causes the temperature inside the tent to be so hot you have to get out. Then in the direct sunlight you need to ensure you are protected from the really strong sun rays at this altitude. By the time lunch time comes, the clouds start to form around the valley which leads to the daily snow fall. So you retire to your tent, the temperatures start to fall as evening approaches, and you want to get back inside your sleeping bag to stay warm. And so the day to day life goes when not climbing.

On climbing days, it’s up early, 4.30am ! You force breakfast down. The body doesn't seem to want to digest it, but you know you need the energy, or else you won't perform. You dress as warm as you can. It's cold! All your metal climbing gear is freezing! From base camp you enter the ice fall. It is amazing. It demands respect and is very scary. As the sun comes up, you find yourself stripping off the layers of the warm clothing that you had put on. The noises coming from the ice. It slowly moves as you move your way through it reminds you to keep moving. Some of the blocks--which could collapse at any time--are bigger than houses. We went through the ice fall ten times in all and there was only the odd fall by my team mates. The crevasses that you cross are massive. You can't see the bottom of some of them. They are that deep. Crossing and climbing the ladders becomes an art, they become 'loose' over time as the ice that they sit on melts. When carrying a full pack over them, they bend under your weight and you often find yourself holding your breath.

Not too many incidents between camp one to three. Climbing the Lhotse face is always tough going as it is so steep, but a few teams had been up before us to camp three and as such there was the odd step cut into the really icy sections.

We put our oxygen systems on from camp three, which is always a strange sensation. You get out of breath and almost want to pull the mask off to get at the air. Arriving at Camp Four, the highest camp before the summit, I knew I was feeling so much better than my last attempt and my confidence in a positive result just grew and grew.

Leaving for the summit at 8pm (Nepal time) on the 23rd May to avoid other teams that were also attempting the summit, I looked out in the direction of the climb and could already see the odd headlight shining out as the odd climber had already started out. Taking my place amongst my teammates with my head torch showing the way, I set out, nervous yet confident. It was hard work initially getting into a rhythm with nothing to see other than what was under your feet and listening just to your breathing through the mask. It did not seem exceptionally cold, but then I was dressed for the conditions. As we climbed higher into more exposed positions, it got colder and I had to wiggle my fingers and toes to keep their feeling. In time, the wiggling failed to work and I lost the feeling in my fingers and my toes, but before I knew it we had arrived at the balcony (midnight) the point where I had turned around previously. I almost laughed out loud at this point, as I felt so much better this time around.

After a short break to change my oxygen bottle, I carried on toward the south summit. We climbed on an exposed ridge, which allowed the wind to tear away at us. It was extremely cold on my face where the skin was exposed. But, again, the south summit appeared before I knew it and from there I could see the infamous Hilary Step which two of my team were already trying to climb. After negotiating this tricky bit of rock myself, there was nothing but a gentle climb on snow to stop me reaching the top of the world and at 5am.

I could not believe my eyes as I stood with no where higher to go, I had reached the highest point man can stand. The sun, which had started to show itself on the horizon as we left the south summit, was now rising steadily to reveal some amazing views of the Himalayas below. It was still absolutely freezing and the wind was still strong. I attempted to use my camera but the cold had seen off the battery life. Even my spare, which I had kept close to my chest to keep warm for the whole climb, had died as soon as it was exposed to the camera and the cold.

Luckily a fellow team mate had a camera and took a photograph of me with the Isle of Man flag to mark the event of the first person from the Isle of Man to reach the summit. Although I had hoped to spend some time on the summit to take it all in, I found myself along with all the others who summitted that day, just wanting to get back down safely.


On the way down I had a bit of a moment on the Hilary Step when I got my foot caught in an old rope and found myself horizontal holding onto some old rope to stop me falling. Luckily I was able to right myself and after composing myself made the rest of the way back down to camp four without incident.
The whole experience has been amazing and I have not quite come down to earth yet
What’s next? Well I have the highest mountain in Antarctica and the highest mountain in Australasia to do to finish of the seven continental summits.

I just have to find a sponsor!

Brad Willis
@BradWillis in