By the time you read this Alex Jones will be dangling off a rock face in Utah. She will be hundreds of feet up and probably looking green around the gills – as she was when RadioTimes.com caught up with her with one week to go.
The One Show presenter had just scaled a 100ft tower at the Castle climbing centre in north London. She flashed a courageous smile for our camera but inside – she confided – she was feeling very wobbly.
“I find it difficult to trust the ropes. I’m sitting in the harness and everything feels really heavy – there’s a clacking noise where the grips are moving, the rope is creaking – and you think: something is going to give here and I’m going to be on the floor. Ultimately my safety will be my own responsibility, which I didn’t really understand when I began this.”
This was only Alex’s second training session inside. Her first took place in torrential rain in Pembrokeshire – anxious parents looking on – and didn’t exactly go to plan. “You’re trying to put all these new skills into practice but you’re being battered. It knocks your confidence a lot.”
In Utah, she will attempt to climb 12 times that height: the 1,200ft Moonlight Buttress in Zion National Park. Her feat is expected to take three days and will involve different types of climbing, from negotiating awkward crevices to hauling herself up using upper body strength alone. Her instructor recommended at least six months’ training but Alex has had just seven weeks.
However, it’s not the physical challenge that now worries her. “If you’re moving, it’s ok. It’s the sitting there and waiting, and then your mind starts to wander and you think, ‘Oh god, we’re really far up here’.”
She gulps. “Today was the first time I’ve had a taste of the mental challenge – of what it feels like to be suspended in mid-air. And I can’t say I massively enjoyed it. At all.”
What’s more, the mighty climb is only half the challenge. Last night Alex slept on a ledge and tonight she will kip on a portaledge – a tiny platform suspended from the rock face. “I presumed the portaledge would be solid but it’s just a piece of flimsy material. If you stand on one end the other catapults into the air.”
She also has to eat and go to the loo in the air. Alex pulls a face. “Oh god, I don’t even know how that works! I think I’m just going to deal with it when I’m there…”
Her instructor has recommended a She Pee (a device that allows women to urinate while standing) and taking a course of laxatives as a pre-climb cleanser. Another pained face: “I’ll take any tips I can get but I think that sort of going to the toilet is not going to be an issue when I’m so far up!”
Last but by no means least there’s the climate to contend with: it’s forecast to be a sweaty 25 degrees-plus plummeting to a chilly minus seven at night. Nor is there the prospect of a cold beer when she’s finally back on solid ground – “Utah is a dry state. Can you believe it? Does it get any worse?”
Yet Alex never considered saying “no” when Sport Relief came knocking, and she’s more determined than ever after a recent trip to typhoon-ravaged Tacolban in the Philippines – one of the destinations of donations. “I really didn’t know what to expect because the typhoon hit in November and it disappeared from our news pretty quickly.”
“But it looked as if it had happened two days previously. It’s a mess: burnt out cars, huge ships in the middle of the street where they’ve come in off the sea, kids who are now orphaned and homeless running through all this glass without anything on their feet…It’s awful.”
See how Alex gets on in The One Show (7.00pm, BBC1) and in this Sunday’s documentary, Alex against the Rock for Sport Relief (3.15pm, BBC1). To donate, visit sportrelief.com