Climbing a 4,000 metre mountain is no easy feat.
But for intrepid adventurer Matt Carpenter it’s more than just a challenge. It’s a chance to prove that brain injury can’t stop him, and to raise money for the charity that helped save his life.
In September, the dad-of-two is trekking North Africa’s highest peak, Mount Toubkal in Morocco.
Hikers summit the most majestic peak in the rugged Atlas mountain range, ascending 4,167 metres above sea level.
“It’s essentially to show other people on the same journey as mine that mountain-sized challenges are achievable,” Matt says.
“A brain injury can make the world feel small. But the world is huge.”
Matt Carpenter’s journey with brain injury
Matt is fundraising for P.A.U.L. for Brain Recovery, a British charity providing support, guidance and education to people impacted by acquired brain injury. Alongside the trek, he is also running his first ever half marathon. On top of all that, for every £10 raised, he will take a custard pie to the face.
It feels “brilliant” to be giving back, he says. But it’s been a long road to Mount Toubkal.
In 2010, Matt was admitted to hospital after suffering from a concussion - but a routine CT scan delivered an “all-clear” result.
For eight years, the Hull local lived a normal, busy life. He regularly fundraised for charity, worked in a job he loved at a homeless shelter, and fathered two kids.
But in 2018, he was struck by a sudden seizure at work. After doctors ordered another CT scan, they discovered a tumour.
The malignant lump is visible on Matt’s 2010 scan, barely the size of a marble - but doctors missed it. By the time the tumour was discovered, it had grown to the size of a “Cadbury’s creme egg,” Matt recalls.
“It knocked me for six… it’d been there all that time,” he says.
“I thought ‘there’s been a thing in my brain getting bigger and bigger.”
After emergency neurosurgery, Matt sprung back into fundraising. Against the advice of his doctors, he completed a brutal Tough Mudder obstacle race, and a 10k charity run.
In hindsight, he admits that he was in denial about his medical prognosis. But the tumour returned - and he was forced to accept that he needed help.
Despite undertaking a gruelling course of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, Matt still managed to complete the Yorkshire three peaks challenge, and bagged Scaffell Pike, England’s highest mountain.
The relentless hospitalisations “battered” his mental health - but the chemo seemed to work.
“So far, it seems like the little sucker’s gone - dead,” he said.
“There’s probably traces of it somewhere in my brain, but for the most part, it’s gone.”
How adventure helped Matt cope with brain surgery
But ever since his diagnosis, it’s been more than a diversion - it’s a way of living life to the fullest.
“There’s a quote I like to live by. It’s ‘people say you only live once. For me that’s rubbish. It's you only die once - you live every day’,” he says.
“I want to make the most of today, instead of worrying about tomorrow or yesterday.”
At the same time, he insists that it’s important not to “push yourself too hard.”
Everyone’s journey with brain injury is different and everybody will be physically capable of different things.
“Brain injury is a journey, not a sprint,” he says. “Take it steady, there’s absolutely no rush.”
Matt learnt this the hard way. The young adventurer first attempted the Mount Toubkal trek - run by travel company Much Better Adventures - in June. But altitude sickness forced him to turn back just before he reached the summit.
“I could start to feel myself going dizzy. I wanted to keep going but I didn’t want to pass out, and the team agreed,” he said.
“It sucked. But if you push yourself too hard, you can put your health at risk. I’m trying not to do that anymore.”
How is Matt’s fundraising going?
Matt has raised more than £700 of his £1,000 fundraising goal - you can find the link to his fundraising page here. He has also published a book: A Trip Down the Rabbit Hole: My 10 Year Journey with a Brain Tumour - a journey he discusses further in this interview with Much Better Adventures.
The Mount Toukbal challenge is mostly about raising money for charity. But it will be personally cathartic too, Matt says.
“This time, the idea is to get to the top and shout f*ck you brain tumour!” he laughs.
“Yeah, I think that will feel pretty good.”