I turned 70 years old April 18, 2017. Since completing the Seven Summits (highest mountain on all 7 continents) in 2014, I have increasingly felt the urge to take on a new and biting challenge. My first thoughts were to climb more 8000 meter mountains. But I just didn’t see the point unless I intended to climb all 14 of them. I wanted something new and different and especially me. I stumbled upon the VOLCANIC SEVEN SUMMITS late in 2016 and it clicked immediately that it was exactly right for me. I wanted to make the start of my 7th decade something special that connected with my past challenges. I would attempt to complete all 7 volcanoes in one year only.
I made contact with an company in Austria Furtenbach Adventures to organize the logistics, particularly for Iran, Papua New Guinea and Antarctica. My first plan was to climb Mount Elbrus in Russia and Mount Damavand in Iran late April and early May 2017. However after several months of applying for the Iranian visa and realizing it was not going to happen, I decided to climb for the second time both Elbrus (5642m) and Kilimanjaro (5895m) back to back late May and early June 2017. I say for the 2nd time since I had already climbed both for the 7 Summits in 2012. Elbrus and Kilimanjaro are the highest mountain and highest volcano in Europe and Africa respectfully. The next 5 are different. Also, it was important for me not to ride on my coattails of already having climbed them. It had to be all 7 in one year. I summited Mount Elbrus on June 2nd and Mount Kilimanjaro June 11, only 9 days apart. It may be a record!
By the middle of June I started a new visa request for Iran to climb Mount Damavand (highest volcano in Asia). I bought flight tickets in and out arriving 14 August. I waited and waited to hear but finally on the 10 of August the visa was denied. Upset but not deterred I planned to go to climb Mount Giluwe in Papua and Pico de Orizabo in Mexico. Out of the blue about 10 days later my logistics partner Lucas Furtenbach and team managed to get me a 6 day visa for Iran. September 26 I arrived in Tehran and early next day my local guide Babak Kheirjoo and I left for the mountain. At 5610m, Damavand should take a week to acclimatize and summit. With the pressures of winter weather and timing I managed to push to my extreme and summit in only 2 days and descend on the 3rd day. Lucky for me because the winds were 150 km the next day and summitting would not have been possible. With luck, I beat the odds. I had absolutely no issues in Iran and the people I met were warm and hospitable. Politics is one thing – people are another.
I immediately flew from Iran to Papua New Guinea to climb Mount Giluwe (4367m), the highest volcano inOceania. Arriving a bit sick from my long flights and weak immune system, I took a few days rest to recover at the foot of Mount Hagen. At last a local guide, some porters, and I headed up through the jungle and equatorial highlands during a long, wet 11 hour day to make camp near the foot of Giluwe. Next day in clouds we summited on 60+º grassy and muddy slopes. Frankly it was a blast climbing a mountain that seemed to come straight out of a fairy tale. Not to mention the truly wonderful yet unprepared local guys I was with. I had now achieved 4 out of 7 of the volcanoes.
I am writing this dispatch December 3 2017, as I am scheduled to leave December 15 for Mexico to climb Mount Pico de Orizaba and hope to be back before Christmas. January 6 2018 I will be flying again to Punta Arenas at the bottom of Chile to fly in a Russian cargo Ilyushin plane to Antarctica and attempt to climb Mount Sidley (4285m). After coming off the ice continent I hope to climb Mount Ojos del Salado (6893m) on the Chilian/ Argentinian border.
I have a lot on my plate.
It has been an extremely hectic 3 months since this last post. I did succeed climbing Pico de Orizaba December 21st 2017 and flew home just in time for Christmas. We summited Mount Orizaba (5636m/ 18491m after 5 days of acclimatizing on volcanoes Iztaccilhuatl and Orizaba herself. It was a long 18 hour day climbing from high camp (16900′) up the glacier to the summit and back down to low camp in the dark. The glacier was very icy and we needed to belay down the 1500′ to the rocks. I must admit I had nothing left in me at the end. Team:Michael Hamill, guide; Tim Igo; Zav Mahlum; Clint Kugler; Mat Wood; Kent Stewart; Andrew Gregory.
Next, success on Mount Sidley (Antarctica). #6 on my challenge to climb all Volcanic 7 Summits in one year at 70
After 30 hours of flights from Montreal to Punta Arenas, Chile – then a Russian cargo plane (Iluysian) across the Antarctic Ocean to Union Glacier. Next a Canadian built Twin Otter prop for 5 hours across West Antarctica (a fuel cache re-supply half way) to the Executive Committee Range and rarely visited Mount Sidley. An extraordinarily beautiful shaped quarter -moon volcano rising majestically above the endless flat ice plateau of the Antarctic Continent. Pilot extraordinaire Russ Hepburn, Co-pilot Tyron So and engineer Kevin Bouwsema landed the small craft directly in the snow sastrugi-crusted crater. In all my years of climbing on multiple expeditions I have only had 1 woman teammate, but this time I was the only male plus Nate Opp as our guide. My three teammates all very accomplished climbers from Australia; Kate Sarah who has already done the 7 Summits and now just completed the Volcanic 7 Summits on Sidley. She is only the 13th person in the world to have climbed all 7 Volcanoes. Cheryl and Nikki Bart – mother/ daughter team have also climbed all 7 Summits together. Great teammates and great goal oriented mountaineers.
Mount Sidley has only been climbed about 35 times. It is so remote to reach (even for Antarctica) and there is little chance of support if something goes wrong. There are huge snow mushrooms on the summit ridge that I am not sure if anyone knows exactly why they form. Up there in the low visibility you feel you are in some super-natural world. We were able to summit in the late afternoon.
I last posted February 4 that I was climbing Volcano Ojos del Salado. It has been quite a ride since then. Ojos is a huge mountain at 6893m (22615 feet) and very tough – weather, altitude and climbing. Together with teammate Michael Halbig from Germany and our formidable Chilean guide Ismael Sepulveda we first climbed 3 mountains to acclimatize for Ojos – Siete Hermanos 4890m, Mulas Muertas 5300m and San Francisco 6018m.
We pushed our Summit Bid forward 2 days to February 14 because a big snow storm was predicted later the same day. However the mountain had already been blasted with 65 centimeters of new snow since the last few days and the climbing was slow and extremely tiring. There were 17 climbers on the mountain from different countries and only 3 of us made it to the summit crater plateau but not the true summit itself. We were about 75m below the last rock technical section. The final climb is to climb a chute and then scale a rock wall.
Reaching the crater at 1pm with very little energy left and past our turnaround time with a snowstorm coming in we had no option but to descend. It was extremely hard but the right decision. Safety first.
Finally my 2nd attempt February 23 climbing Ojos del Salado has failed. She is proving to be a very tough nut to crack. My first attempt February 14th I got within 75m from the technical summit (6908m) but was turned back by an impending snowstorm. February 23rd at 11pm my Chilean guide Ismael Sepulveda and I left high camp Tejos(5837m) and started our 2nd summit push. It was minus 25 degrees with a nasty wind in our face. We climbed all night and realized at around 6500m we were both suffering hypothermia. We were on a steep slope unable to rest and warm ourselves. Besides that I realized I had lost too much acclimatization since the 1st attempt. Even though I had taken steps to keep acclimated, they were not enough. I felt my lungs and body screaming for more oxygen. We sadly realized it was not to be.
I love challenges and Ojos del Salado is no exception. I have, I can tell you, a huge amount of respect for her. This challenge is not over. 7 of 7 is still in the cards.