If all goes to plan over the next eight weeks, there will soon be a Black, Green and Gold flag flying over the highest point on earth – thanks to former Saint Arthur Prestidge.
The 53-year-old’s rugby career ended in earnest 12 years ago, after he hung up his boots for the final time at Bugbrooke RFC.
But seeking a whole new adventure Prestidge bravely turned his attention to the world of mountaineering, and has since scaled some of the highest peaks in the world all in the name of preparing to fulfil a lifelong dream.
The former hooker, who came through Northampton’s colts set-up before earning a first-team cap in 1985, harbours the ambition of reaching the summit of K2 in the Karakoram – which boasts the reputation of being the most difficult and dangerous mountain to climb in the world.
But for now Prestidge is preparing for his toughest test yet with the world’s highest peak, the 8,848metre behemoth Mount Everest, lying in wait over the coming weeks.
“I’ve been plugging away at this for a long time now and I keep surprising myself every time I get to the top of one of these things,” he said.
“Now I’ve decided to pull the trigger and have a go at the north face of Everest, which is much harder than the south.
“I’ve been at this for 12 years; I knew the end was near in terms of playing rugby when I got into my 40s, and I decided I needed another challenge.
“My dream has always been to get to the summit of the K2. I started off climbing in the Andes in Argentina, then I ended up in Alaska on Denali – which I found fairly comfortable given how challenging those mountains are.
“I decided to go even higher and into the Himalayas to summit Manaslu, which is the eighth-highest mountain in the world.
“I was then lucky enough to get invited onto an expedition up Cho Oyu, the sixth-highest at 8,188metres, and we completed that successfully.
“There’s only 14 mountains above 8,000metres high, and those are the ones I’m really interested in now.”
Prestidge flies out to the Himalayas on Sunday to take on Mount Everest with a group that includes a trusted partner-in-crime in professional high-altitude mountaineer Rolfe Oostra.
While for many climbing the highest peak in the world would seem like the ultimate challenge, Prestidge and Oostra view it as a stepping stone towards the main event; K2.
Prestidge added: “Rolfe’s dream is also to have an attempt on K2 – in rugby terms climbing Everest is a bit like playing for England, but getting to the top of K2 is like a British & Irish Lions tour.
“K2 is the final goal, so this trip is definitely a pressure test for me. Everest is just under 9,000metres and the best indicator of whether you can withstand the extreme altitude.
“Once you go above 8,000metres, it’s called the ‘death zone’, and you just don’t know what’s going to happen.
“I want to get on a professional K2 expedition one day; these mountains are very serious, and I have to be very strong on the North Face of Everest to get that invite.
“K2 is a killer with a very high mortality ratio, so you can’t afford to have any weaknesses up there – I’m looking to prove myself over these coming weeks.”
Prestidge became Saint number 1540 back in 1985 when he made his first-team debut for Northampton, an achievement that despite all the summits he has reached still ranks high on the list.
And with his toughest challenge to date ahead of him, Prestidge has vowed to take a Saints flag with him to Nepal so that – if he is successful – everyone at Franklin’s Gardens can share in his amazing feat.
“I came through the Club’s colts system a long time ago in the 1980s, and ended up captaining that youth side and playing a lot for the Wanderers,” he said.
“When I was 19 I got my first-team cap, and then it all started to feel very professional and I didn’t quite make it.
“But I loved my time with Saints and it was at a time where it all still felt just the same as playing for a local rugby club – Piggy [David Powell] was coaching us, that’s how long ago it was!
“He was horrible; there wasn’t much rugby coaching and we spent hours pushing rollers around the field so it was torture at times!
“I’m still associated with Bugbrooke Rugby Club, so I decided it would be a great idea to try and get a Bugbrooke flag on top of Everest, and having had a brief spell with Saints too I want to get a Black, Green and Gold flag up there as well.
“I don’t get down to Franklin’s Gardens as much as I should these days, but I hope the next time I come I can bring the flag from the top of Everest with me and give it back to the Club.”
Good luck Arthur, from everyone at Northampton Saints!