Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Team Geared Up and the Sunday Times Adventure Article

This is an article from last weekend's Sunday Times written by Richard Oakley, reproduced here with kind permission of The Sunday Times. I will be linking here from Team Geared Up.

Mission Possible:

This weekend in a tent high up on treacherous Mount McKinley in Alaska,
an Irishman is preparing to set a world record. Ian McKeever, a lecturer
from Bray, Co Wicklow, is about to shatter the fastest time for reaching
the top of the seven highest mountains on each continent.
His quest began on January 25 when he stood on top of Mount Vinson in
Antarctica. Since then he has climbed Aconcagua in Argentina,
Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Carstensz Pyramid in Indonesia, Everest in
Nepal and Elbrus in Russia. Early this week, possibly tomorrow, he
should make it to the highest point in North America and shatter a
record set last year by Daniel Griffith, a Canadian, of 187 days.
Six months of gruelling and exhaustive climbing, six months of living
out of a rucksack, more than 40,000 vertical metres climbed and McKeever
should break the record by a month.
Such is his speed he even has time to claim another world title. There
is a combination of the seven summits that substitutes Mount Kosciuszko
in Australia for Carstensz Pyramid as the highest mountain in Oceania.
Succeeding on either peak, plus the other six, is enough to complete the
challenge. McKeever has the chance to set the fastest time for both.
The record, with Kosciuszko, was set last year by Mastan Malli, an
Indian, who completed it in 171 days. McKeever has until July 15 to
reach the top of this comparatively easy 2,228-metre peak.
By any measurement what he is about to achieve is extraordinary, but it
is all the more so given his ordinariness. He only turned to
high-altitude mountaineering last year and his previous experience
amounted to running to the top of much smaller mountains. He was part of
a team that set a record for completing the five highest peaks in
Britain and Ireland in 2004 and the following year he scaled Croagh
Patrick in Mayo seven times in 17 hours to set a record for the most
mountains climbed in the fastest time.
As McKeever completes his most difficult speed challenge yet, he joins
the growing list of Irish people who have tackled extreme challenges in
a bid to reach personal goals and set records. He joins an expanding
club of people who achieve impressive, sometimes barmy, firsts taking on
adventures that others were glad to survive. Years ago, climbing the
seven summits was the target. Now the challenge is doing it in the
fastest time. With world firsts apparently running out, what on earth is
left to achieve?
"WHEN I started doing what I do, there were very few Irish people
involved. Now there are loads," said Mark Pollock from Holywood in Co
Down, whose hobby is running marathons in some of the world's harshest
environments.
"Years ago, people just wanted to get to the North Pole. Now you can fly
in and run a marathon. The world is smaller, equipment and techniques
are better and there are more opportunities for ordinary people to get
involved. Irish people are being tempted to train and undertake
challenges instead of going to the pub," he said.
Other Irish people are excelling in Pollock's chosen sport. Five years
ago Richard Donovan, a Galway ultra-runner, won the South Pole marathon
and then ran another at the North Pole, becoming the first person to
complete the distance at both ends of the Earth.
Pollock set his own record recently when he became the first blind
person to complete the Everest marathon, the highest in the world, and
the Dead Sea marathon, the lowest. A former international rower, he lost
his sight in 1998 at 22. Both runners have received acclaim for their
achievements, but such feats are beginning to fail to attract much media
attention. With more people completing challenges, those seeking to
reward sponsors or drum up publicity need angles to sell to the media.
The international competition is fierce. Last October, Kit DesLauriers,
an American, became the first woman to climb all seven summits . . . and
ski down them afterwards. Last month, Bear Grylls, a British adventurer,
was the first person to paraglide a lap of Everest's summit and William
Tan, a 49-year-old from Singapore, completed the Arctic marathon in a
wheelchair. When Dawson Stelfox became the first Irishman to climb
Everest in 1993 it was a huge story, but now Irish people who reach the
top of the world can do so almost anonymously. Around the same time
McKeever topped out on Everest in May, three Irish doctors reached the
summit, as did Hannah Shields, the first woman from Northern Ireland to
do so. The number of Irish people to have climbed Everest is still less
than 20, but their achievements merited only passing mention in the
media.
"The exploration element of adventure is dying away now," said Damien
Hackett of Outsider magazine. "It's about the first person with a
plastic hip to climb Everest or the first person with one eye facing up
and one facing down to do it. It has got to that stage."
What were once extreme challenges into the unknown, he said, are now
more mainstream with companies providing guides and facilities for those
who can afford them. McKeever was sponsored by Ulster Bank and used the
services of Adventure Peaks. It has plenty of experience bringing paying
clients to the top of the seven summits and sorts out logistics,
porters, food, supplies and equipment for mountaineers. It recently
helped two 19-year-olds become the youngest Britons to climb Everest and
last year it aided Jake Meyer, a 21-year-old, to become the youngest man
to complete the seven summits. Mike Barry, the first Irishman to walk to
the South Pole and who was part of the Irish team on Everest in 1993,
agrees there has been criticism of this style of mountaineering and of
records set in this way.
"The key to mountaineering is to be self-sufficient, to survive and
climb in harsh conditions where you are fending for yourself. To explore
places people haven't been," he said. "Some people still climb in this
way and others go the more commercial route. You rarely hear about the
former, because to them it's a way of life. It's just something they
do." So with enough money, time and help can anyone achieve what
McKeever has? Not really, Barry says. "What Ian is doing involves
endurance, stamina and commitment. When I heard what he was doing it
sounded so difficult. I thought there was no way he could do it, but it
looks like he will now.
"One go at any of those mountains would be hard on the body. Doing them
all in the way he did is outstanding." Pollock is also impressed. "I
think it takes a lot of guts to take on a challenge like this," he said.
"To tell everyone in the world that you are going to do it and then
actually do it. You are putting yourself under pressure to achieve what
is already a difficult goal." Pat Falvey, the first Irishman to climb
the seven summits, argues there are serious mountains involved,
especially McKinley. "Ian deserves credit. People talk about the seven
summits being completed by lots of people now, but they are missing the
point. Just because people have climbed Everest ahead of you doesn't
take away from the feeling you get when you stand at the top having
achieved your goal."
TeamGearedUp.com, an adventure blog, covers stories about new world
firsts. One of its founders, Robin Blanford, agrees that the number of
original challenges is dwindling. "In mountaineering we've stood on all
the peaks - at least the significant ones. There are still plenty of
unclimbed mountains, but in terms of firsts what you are seeing is more
people climbing the same things by more difficult routes in faster times
or more unique ways," he said.
According to Barry the "unknown" still exists for more serious
adventurers, but in far-flung places. There are some records waiting for
Irish people, such as being the first to climb K2.
Donovan and Falvey say the future challenges lie at the poles. Donovan
is planning to become the first to run across the Antarctic next year, a
2,500km trek that will involve running a marathon a day for 50 days. "I
wouldn't want to do it if someone else had," he said. Falvey intends to
make it to the South Pole and may also traverse the Antarctic because "I
want to see if I can do it". Elsewhere, other people are inventing new
firsts of their own. Wim Hof, a Dutch iceman, will attempt to climb
Everest from the north side this year wearing only shorts. In Ireland a
group of athletes are trying to run 120km, including 27 peaks, in less
than 24 hours. The Wicklow Round was conceived by mountain runners last
year and has never been completed.
Karl Bushby, a 38-year-old former paratrooper from Yorkshire, hopes to
become the first person to complete an unbroken walk around the world.
His website quotes a foreword from his book, Giant Steps, in which
Frederick Forsyth writes: "There are virtually no undiscovered places
left to find, no unclimbed mountains to scale, no new rivers to cross.
It seems there may be no challenges left to face."
As he sets off to complete the seven summits challenge tomorrow morning
or on Tuesday, McKeever would beg to differ.


copyright: The Sunday Times.

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