How beauty queen Gemma Garrett survived a gruelling trek in Canada's Rockies
The former Miss Great Britain has just climbed the Canadian Rockies in memory of her beloved granny Mary McCreedy and to raise funds for Marie Curie charity, which looked after her in her final days. She tells Karen Ireland about the epic trek and woman who inspired it.
Model and make-up artist Gemma Garrett has been keeping her Facebook friends entertained with her updates from the heart of the Rocky Mountains. Despite her hilarious antics, though, there is a serious side to Gemma's campaign, which has seen her raise more than £10,000 for a charity close to her heart.
Gemma decided to trek the Rockies at the start of March, just a few short weeks after her beloved grandmother Mary passed away.
"Granny spent the last six weeks of her life in the Marie Curie Hospice and as a family we were overwhelmed by the care and attention she received," says Gemma, who lives in Belfast with her dogs Stella and Buddy. "Nothing was too much trouble from the staff either for her or for the family.
"I would visit granny every day and I was blown away by the staff in the hospice. I know the health service is extremely understaffed and pushed to the limits, but the care my granny received was second to none. She wanted for nothing and every little detail was taken care of.
"My mum was the primary carer and looked after granny all the time and I just tried to support her.
"Even the smallest things, such as having someone to give you a hug after a hard day or asking if you wanted a cup of tea, made all the difference.
"Mum made some great friends with the nurses and still goes to visit them now, and I know they have all been rooting for me throughout this trek."
When her grandmother passed away at the start of February Gemma pledged to make Marie Curie her dedicated charity and to take on a huge personal challenge in Mary's memory.
Little did she know, however, just how big a challenge she would face.
"I saw details about the trek at the start of March and applied to do it," she says, speaking from the town of Banff, where she is celebrating Canada Day at the end of her seven-day trek with a rare and much needed day off.
"People sign up for these treks up to two years in advance so I knew I wasn't leaving myself much time to get the money in," she explains.
An ever-determined Gemma wanted all the cash she raised from friends and family to go to the charity, so she decided to self-fund the £2,000 application fee for the trek. "I was very fortunate as I donated the first £500 and Newcastle United Football Club donated the rest of the cost, so any money I raised was all going to the charity, not to my trip away," says Gemma, who now works as a freelance make-up artist.
Over the course of the seven-day trip Gemma trekked 58 miles and climbed to over 10,000ft.
"Anyone who knows me will know this was completely out of my comfort zone," she laughs.
"I love my luxuries and I love my bed. So the idea of camping was alien to me. I know a lot of people love camping and do it for fun, but not me. I like a good warm bed."
Gemma adds that when her rucksack was unpacked at the start of the trek and her camp mates saw her lotions and potions and all her Jo Malone creams they joked with her that she was going high up into the Rockies, where no one would see her, let alone smell her.
"I began to think that maybe I should have packed more wisely," she admits.
Happily, all essentials had been taken care of by mum Margo.
"She was a real lifesaver and packed all I needed to survive - and I'm not talking about fancy clothes or creams," says Gemma.
Perhaps surprisingly it wasn't coping without her usual high maintenance beauty regime that hit Gemma the hardest - instead it was the physical challenges of camping that she found most difficult to contend with.
"I just couldn't get used to sleeping on the cold, hard ground," she admits.
"I hated it, and the nights were the hardest."
Trekking with a total of 20 in her group, Gemma reveals that there were people of all ages from all over the world doing the challenge for their own personal reasons.
"I made some lifelong friends along the way. Together we have raised over £115,000, which is unbelievable. And of course I made sure I made best friends with the medic just in case I was going to need him - and I did.
"My feet are covered in blood from the blisters, I also have mosquito bites everywhere, and we got caught in a huge hailstorm on the last day and I didn't have time to get my waterproof gear on. The hailstones were massive stones and they left me covered in bruises.
"But I survived - and I made it to the finish line. Quitting was never an option, as I told my wee gran when I was up there. However, I am glad that I trained a bit at home to prepare myself for this before I left Belfast. I worked with a personal trainer, Ian Young, and he got me outside walking up hills and steps and got me used to carrying a backpack.
"Some of the people in my group were really fit and did it at a fast pace, others just took their time and did it at their own pace, and I did it in my own way. I got the 'hare' award on the last night and we all know the story of the tortoise and the hare. But I did it." Gemma admits that she did have a bit of a diva strop one night when, after hardly eating anything all day and feeling cold and tired as she hadn't slept the night before, she got into her tent only to discover a huge jumping spider.
"Bears and coyotes I could cope with, but not these huge jumping spiders," she says.
"So I cried like a baby until they let me sleep in the catering van. It wasn't any better than the tent but at least I knew there were no spiders in it. Then, when it reached daylight at about 3am, I went back into my spider-free tent. After the tears and the tantrum we all had a good laugh at what a diva I was."
There were more tears to come on the final day of the trek when they reached a memorial point and everyone placed a stone in memory of their loved one.
"After that we ended up in a wee hut sheltering from the rain and I thought I wouldn't be able to do the last 10k. I thought of my granny and I just burst into tears. I looked round and everyone was crying. We had all been on such an emotional rollercoaster and this was such a poignant moment for us all. It connected us all together."
Reflecting on the close bond she shared with her gran, Gemma says: "I have such fond memories of my granny as I lived with her for a couple of years after my grandad died until she got used to being on her own.
"She was the nicest wee woman. I never heard her say a bad word about anybody and if any of us came home with a negative story about someone she always tried to turn it round and see the positives in it.
"She had nine children and before she died, aged 92, she had buried six of them. She was a strong woman and that particular quality about her character kept me going when times were tough during this challenge.
"It really has been the experience of a lifetime. I was able to speak to my mum a couple of times and that was very emotional as we are so close and I miss her so much.
"Only one person from the family was able to do this challenge in memory of granny, but I couldn't have done it without the support of the rest of the family."
Of course, Gemma does admit to missing her babies - Stella and Buddy.
"They are in doggy-daycare and the lady who owns it has been sending me pictures, so I am able to keep up to date on how they are doing."
Gemma adds: "Honestly, this has been a fantastic experience and I am so glad I pushed myself and did it, but I can't wait to get home and get a huge hug from my mum, see my dogs and get into my own bed and sleep."
- Gemma's next challenge is closer to home and she is calling on everyone to join her when she will do a 10k walk around Stormont in September for Marie Curie, this can be walked or ran. For details log on to www.mariecurie.org.uk