‘I was a Premier League striker – now I want to climb Mount Everest’

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Former Premier League striker Darius Henderson hopes to become the first footballer to ascend Mount Everest. The former Watford and Nottingham Forest forward will attempt to climb the world’s highest peak next May having turned to mountain climbing to cope with retirement.

Henderson has already completed some of the toughest mountains on the globe. The 41-year-old’s journey started after climbing Mount Snowden in January 2019.

And he will hope to complete Everest in just under a year’s time. Henderson compares scaling Everest – which stands at nearly 9,000 metres (29,000ft) – to scoring a Premier League goal, something he managed three times in 35 appearances for Watford.

“For me, the ultimate goal was to score in the Premier League. That was my ‘climbing Mount Everest’ when I was a footballer,” Henderson told the Independent.

“I did that, and I think there’s less than 0.1 per cent of footballers who can say they’ve done that.

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Climbing Mount Everest, the odds to be able to say you’ve stood on top of the highest mountain in the world, the percentage of people is even lower. To be able to say ‘I’ve done Everest’… I wouldn’t say it’s selfish but it is ego-driven.”

Henderson’s mountain-climbing journey has seemed quick. It was just over four years ago that he was at the top of Snowdon and had the idea of climbing the world’s tallest peak.

He recalls his journey since: “I did a winter skills course in Scotland, which was brilliant. The weather was absolutely brutal. It’s more technical stuff, like ice axe arrest, sliding down a cliff face on your back upside down, walking up an elevation with crampons. Just the extreme weathers, the survival mode that puts you into. I absolutely loved it.

“Then my first high-altitude mountain would have been Mount Elbrus in Russia but, only a month before we were supposed to go, the war broke out. I changed that to a trip to Cotopaxi in Ecuador, which people no longer summit because it’s now a live volcano! It was then Gran Paradiso, Mont Blanc and over to Argentina for Aconcagua, one of the seven summits.”

Henderson – who retired in 2017 and admits to having struggled with the lows of post-football life – remarkably insists he is “not actually that great with heights”. He says that the most ‘vulnerable’ he has felt is when one tumble could result in death.

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“You drop one side, you’re gone. You drop the other side, you’re gone. In terms of your pathway, where you are climbing you’ve got crampons on and, for anyone that’s worn crampons, you are prone to tripping,” he continued. “Because, if you catch your other foot with your crampon, you are going over.

“At this moment in time, this is probably the most vulnerable I’ve felt. I’ll never forget the guide turning to us and saying, with a very serious tone, ‘we have to stay as close as possible and make sure there’s no tripping, one foot in front of the other’. That’s while we can hardly breathe and your legs are burning. Literally one slip away from… that’s it, life’s over.”

However, Henderson admits he thrives in the environment where survival is the ultimate goal, just as he did as a bustling centre-forward in a 15-year career spent largely in the Championship.

Henderson concludes: “I enjoy being in an environment where I can’t help but be in survival mode, in a tent, 6,000m in the air, freezing cold, minus 20, waiting to summit. You can’t sleep very well but it all adds to the theatre of being able to say you’ve done this.”

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