Mountain man to see if his record stands

IF Philip Whistler was a superhero his special power would be the ability to scale mountains at high speed. 

Imagine crossing an Olympic sprinter with a mountain goat – that’s Phil Whistler.

Mr Whistler is a mild-mannered diagnostic

radiologist in Nowra most of the time and an adventurous record-setting athlete in between.

He earned his stripes on Lord Howe Island, where he grew up scaling and camping on Mt Gower, the island’s 875-metre peak.

He has climbed the mountain 278 times and as a result has memorised a detailed map of the route.

That internal map played an important role in claiming the Mount Gower ascent/descent record of one hour, 41 minutes and 10 seconds.

Not bad considering the average trip up and back takes between six and eight hours.

And not bad considering he was 45 years old when he set the record.

Mr Whistler’s record has stood since 1995, but on January 5 it will be challenged.

A hand-picked selection of some of the fittest athletes in the world will attempt to beat Mr Whistler’s time in what will become the annual Mt Gower Challenge.

“I was 45 but I was extremely fit when I did it,” he said.

“A few of the guys attempting the record are professional athletes. Tim Reed is number five in the world in ironman triathlon. My son is also competing – he’s 28, a freak in fitness and was seeded 22 in the world in half iron man last year.

“So they are likely to climb quicker due to fitness, but I spent my childhood days on the mountain. 

“Friends and I would make our pocket money hunting pigs and goats on the mountain. The bounty was $1 per tail.

“So I know how to descend quickly through the steep, rugged country.

“One wrong step and you could end up in very big trouble, 50 per cent of it is vertical. You need to use ropes.

“The boys have been training and doing time splits on each section, I think they could beat my record by five minutes,” he said.

While there have been many attempts by people to see how fast they can climb and descend the mountain, Mr Whistler’s 1995 attempt was the first official record attempt.

The concept of encouraging the young guns to break the record came about over a few drinks with his friend, ABC TV producer Ben Hawke.

The pair also added a fund-raising angle to the event for the local school.

“Because it’s a potentially dangerous thing to do at speed, the Lord Howe Board said we had to select the athletes for the first year,” Mr Whistler said.

“A number of islanders are competing, along with Tim Reed, my son Ollie, my wife Michelle and Kayla Hiscox.

“I’m now 62-years-old but I expect to complete the challenge in about two hours.

“I think the men should break my record. The women are hoping to do it in under two hours, 40 minutes.”

To learn more about the challenge or support the fund-raiser visit mtgower.com.

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