Picture this. One moment you’re paddling in the warm blue sea. The next minute you’re lying in a hospital bed, partially paralysed. Despite what the doctors are saying, you’re holding out hope they’re wrong.
That’s what happened to Steven Plain, from Burswood, Western Australia, following a freak swimming accident on 13 December 2014.
While at Cottesloe Beach, a wave swept him up and caused him to crash head first into the seabed.
Steven was rushed to the hospital, where it was confirmed that he had broken his neck. Multiple unstable fractures to his vertebra, a contorted spinal cord, a ruptured spinal disc, a dissected arterial artery, and torn ligaments where just some of his extensive injuries. Doctors told Steven he narrowly escaped being paralysed for life and unable to walk. He would, however, have to be fitted with a halo head brace for 15 weeks to try and correct the damage.
After receiving such shocking news, many would simply focus on regaining their former strength and well-being. But Steven refused the doctors prognosis and set himself the ultimate challenge – to not only walk out of the hospital, but to go on to climb the seven summits, including Carstensz, in just four months.
What are the seven summits? The seven summits are the tallest mountains on each of Earth’s seven continents. For Steven’s record, the fastest time to climb the Seven Summits including Carstensz (male), the record includes summiting both the Carstensz Pyramid (Indonesia) and the Kosciuszko (Australia) for a total of eight summits.
However, the challenge seems even more daunting when you find out that before his injury, Steve had only climbed one mountain before; the Federation Peak in Tasmania, which was 1224 m (4016 ft). The majority of the mountains on the seven-summit hit list are more than double, if not triple or quadruple that elevation.
With no proper mountaineering experience, and a tough road to recovery ahead, Steven’s challenge was ambitious to say the least. But even his neck brace couldn’t deter Steven from his goal.
Over the following years, he underwent an intense training regime and carried out climbs in the New Zealand Southern Alps, the Peruvian Andes and the Himalayas in preparation for his record-breaking, round-the-world mountaineering adventure.
Finally, after years of training and preparation, Steven was ready to set off on his awesome journey. To document and share his progress, Steven created Project 7in4.
“Leaving Sydney in January, laden with two big expedition duffels, I said an emotional farewell to my family before boarding my flight for South America and on to Antarctica for the first of the 7 Summits, Mt Vinson.”
After conquering the first mountain as part of a expedition group, Steven went on to complete the others with his friend and climbing partner Jon Gupta.
Many would have seen it as an impossible feat, but he not only completed the challenge, but did so in a record-breaking 117 days 6 hours 50 minutes, achieving the fastest time to climb the Seven Summits including Carstensz (male).
Steven beat the previous record, which was held by Colin O’Brady (USA), by nine days.
He completed the mountains in the following order:
- Vinson (4892m), Antarctica on 16 January 2018 at 19:00 UTC
- Aconcagua (6962m), South America on 28 January 2018 at 15:15 UTC
- Kilimanjaro (5895m), Africa on 14 February 18 at 08:30 UTC
- Carstensz Pyramid (4884m), Australasia on 21 February 2018 at 05:50 UTC
- Kosciuszko (2228m), Australia on 2 March 2018 at 19:15 UTC
- Elbrus (5642m), Europe on 13 March 2018 at 09:10 UTC
- Denali (6190m), North America on 04 April 2018 at 05:40 UTC
- Everest (8848m), Asia on 14 May 2018 at 01:50 UTC
You would expect Everest to be the most challenging part of the journey, but one of the toughest tests of endurance was during Steven and Jon’s hike up Denali, in North America.
“It is a cold, tough mountain at the best of times, but we weren’t doing it at the best of times,” Steven wrote in his trip report.
“Hit by a storm with temperatures below minus 30C and winds gusting above 100km/h, we were tent bound for three days.”
“As we pushed higher and higher, in the back of my mind was the waiver we signed… acknowledging that we would be the only team on the mountain and that rescue services weren’t available at that time. The temperature by that stage had fallen below minus 45C. It is hard to describe just how cold that is. Even the water bottles inside my down suit had frozen.”
The gruelling hike ended after 20 hours – then they just had the small matter of summiting Everest to complete before the record was his.
As well the challenge of a lifetime, Steven wanted to complete the awesome feat to raise money for two organisations, SpinalCure Australia and Surf Life Saving Western Australia. Both were instrumental in Steven’s recovery from the ocean after his accident and his later treatment.
“It was important to me to give back to those who helped me in 2014 after my accident,” Steven explained.
And give back he did. Over the course of Project7in4, Steven raised a staggering $44,606 AUD ($31,221.52 USD) for the organisations.
Since returning home, Steven has won Australian Adventurer of the Year at the Australian Geographic Society Awards, and been a finalist for Australian of the Year WA at the Australia Day Awards, while his determination has led to him featuring in Guinness World Records 2020 and the launch of GWR Day 2019 which focuses on the Spirit of Adventure.
However, returning home after such a long and amazing journey was not easy, and has left him wanting more.
“People often talk about ‘post-expedition blues’. The come down and return to normality after a long expedition. It is an adjustment to fit back into society.
“For four years I had worked towards a single goal. Summiting Everest, and completing the Seven Summits, was not the euphoric moment I thought it would be. It was a solemn moment of reflection.”
“Part of the reason I set myself the goal was that I wanted to test myself physically and mentally. I wanted to see what I was truly capable of. The Seven Summits was an amazing journey, one I’ll look back on for years to come.
“However I don’t feel like I was tested to my limit.”
If travelling to seven countries, ascending and descending a total of 91082 m (565.96 miles), enduring sub-zero temperatures and traversing mountain ridges is not testing someone to the limit, we don’t know what is!
But whatever Steven’s next record-breaking adventure is, we’re looking forward to it.
What will your adventure be?
Feeling inspired to attempt a Guinness World Records title yourself? Discover your Spirit of Adventure by finding out more about GWR Day, including how you can get involved on the day itself (Thursday 14 November). We realise everyone’s adventure is different, so whether it’s taking on a new challenge, fulfiling a desire for adrenaline or perfecting your existing skills – there’s a record waiting for you.