The first Co. Clare man to reach the summit of Mount Everest said it was a fulfilment of a dream but was not without its terrors.
John Burke took two months to climb to the top after mountaineering for the past decade, and said he knew he had to attempt ‘the big one’ after following the paths of other Irish climbers who had made the summit.
He finished his climb just days before four reported deaths on the world’s highest mountain were recorded over the weekend. The 38-year-old noted that as well as his own dream, he undertook the challenge for Elevate, the wellbeing charity he and his wife Aoibhín set up to help young people fulfil their ambitions in life.
“I’ve been ten years dreaming of following in the footsteps of some great Irish adventures. Their stories have inspired me to take to the hills and test just how far my body and mind can go,” he said.
“The final night was hell on earth, as I witnessed casualties of the mountain first hand, passing the first body soon after setting off. I could see the fear of death in the faces of some people close to me.
At one stage I had to intervene with a Romanian who seemed to have summit fever, an inability to make a rational decision about turning back.
“Preparation was essential, and not doing things like how long left or even looking at my watch as these would only fester doubts. The descent is actually where most accidents happen.
“I lost concentration a bit on a narrow technical section close to the top. It was about a foot wide but only a drop of 15 feet to the next ledge.
“But I thought if I slip here and break any bone in my leg, that’s it, I’m dead. There’s no real rescue opportunity up there so that small slip would essentially be fatal.
“The margins are that tight between life and death. It’s a crazy place to be, surrounded by the most amazing and most ferocious scenery and yet to be that close to tragedy.”
John arrived back to his family for a homecoming party at the Armada Hotel at Spanish Point, which he runs, on Monday.
John’s wife Aoibhin said: “It’s been a roller coaster few weeks. We focussed on the positive all the time but we were aware at the same time of the serious risks involved in climbing Everest. I was of course anxious but also extremely excited for him.”