The record for climbing Jacob’s Ladder has been broken by less than a second – by a “runner” who went up on all fours.
Graham Doig cleared the 699th step of the St Helena landmark in a time of 5 minutes, 16.78 seconds, using feet and hands. Then he rolled on to the ground at the feet of spectators.
The previous record was 5 minutes 17 seconds.
And island resident Martin Squibbs set a new record for others to try to beat – five ascents of the Ladder (and four descents) in a time of one hour, 14 minutes and 4 seconds, with the clock running throughout.
Martin is an outdoor enthusiast who has made a practice of climbing the notorious flight of steps out of Jamestown at least twice a week.
He had previously managed three ascents in succession before deciding to set himself the five-climb challenge.
School student Charlotte Hubbard also completed three ascents, but her overall time was not recorded because organisers had not known in advance that she would do so.
Graham is a visiting consultant working for engineering firm Fairhurst, due to leave the island on 25 January 2013 after a two-week visit. He is a keen mountain biker.
He passed up on the technique used by most Ladder challengers, who use the wide handrails to pull themselves up, and instead pitched forward and placed both his hands and his feet on the steps, as though climbing a fireman’s ladder.
The same approach could be adopted by future runners – especially those with short arms.
In all, 24 people took part in the Ladder Challenge in aid of New Horizons youth centre – many of them members of the organisation. Chairman Derek Richards and his wife Linda joined the climb, as did manager Nick Stevens.
Ten-year-old Josh Benjamin managed the climb in 9 minutes and 28 seconds, six seconds faster than Aiden Yon-Stevens – Nick’s son – who was the youngest challenger, aged just seven.
Every participant was asked to raise at least £5 in sponsorship.
All pictures by Tina Yon-Stevens
Each of the Ladder’s 699 steps is roughly 11 inches high and 11 inches deep, making an incline of about 1:1. But cruelly, it’s much steeper at the top.
There used to be 700 steps. The bottom one is now below ground.
Jacob’s Ladder was originally built as an inclined railway for hauling animal dung and guano out of Jamestown, and to lower fresh produce into the town. Construction was supervised by Lieutenant G W Mellis during the governorship of Brigadier-General Dallas. Trucks were pulled by ropes linked to a capstan, powered by donkeys. The railway fell into ruin when the East India Company lost control of St Helena.
Island children learned to slide down the rails of the ladder, extending their arms along one rail and using their feet to brake against the other. It is said they carried hot food down to soldiers, on their stomachs.
The original Jacob’s Ladder appears in the Book of Genesis in the Holy Bible. It led to Heaven. The St Helena Jacob’s Ladder leads somewhere else.
Several other places around the world have flights of steps called Jacob’s Ladder. They are found in the UK at Sidmouth, Cheddar Gorge and the iconic Kinder Scout hill, and in Massachusetts (USA), Auckland (New Zealand) and Perth (Australia).
Andrew Gurr, governor from 2007 to 2011, climbed the Ladder regularly. He invited islanders to join him on his hundredth ascent, and many did.
Ladder challenges are staged every two years as the final event in the St Helena Festival of Running. If it was the first event, runners would suffer “ladder legs” and be unable to manage the run up Diana’s Peak.
Records are now kept of the fastest ascent times, but they do not include the results of a challenge staged for the first Governor’s Cup yacht race carnival in 1996. For the record, a yachtie from New Caledonia won a crate of beer for running up in 5 mins, 33 secs. Second place – and no beer – went to the future editor of St Helena Online, with a time of 5 mins 45.12 secs. Chris, a UK half-Saint from Portsmouth, was third in 5.52.
Matty John, a legendary squeezebox player in the mid 20th Century, would climb the Ladder every Saturday night after sessions in the White Horse. Once, near the top, he fell, but was saved when his braces got snagged. He was spotted by an inmate in the prison below, and rescued.
When first-time climbers think they’re half way up the Ladder, they’re not.
Twenty four people took part in the Ladder Challenge on 21 January 2013. With the eight ascents completed by Martin Squibbs and Charlotte Hubbard, the total number of steps climbed was 20,970.
For more Jacob’s Ladder facts, visit John Turner’s St Helena website