John Burke is the First Co. Clare Man to Reach the Top of the World
John Burke, the first Co. Clare man to reach the top of the world has said that reaching the summit of Mount Everest this week has been a fulfilment of a dream but was not without its terrors.
Speaking today at Everest Base Camp following the successful assault on the mountain on his first attempt, John Burke said that he could see the fear of death in climbers’ faces as they witnessed corpses of those who had tragically lost their lives there previously.
John Burke said that he’s still trying to take in the achievement but is looking forward to returning on Monday into Shannon Airport where a large and vocal welcoming party will be led by his wife Aoibhín before they return to the Armada Hotel at Spanish Point, which he runs, for celebrations.
The 38-year-old said that he took on the challenge partly to fulfil a personal dream but also to raise awareness and funds for the charity, Elevate, John Burke and his wife have established to promote wellbeing among young people and provide encouragement to them to reach their potential and follow their dreams in life.
“I’ve been ten years dreaming of following in the footsteps of some great Irish adventures, people like Pat Falvey, Ger McDonnell and so many more. Their stories have inspired me to take to the hills and test just how far my body and mind can go,” John Burke said the exhausted but elated.
“After preparing over that time on mountains around the world, I figured it was time to attempt the big one! The final plan was 12 months in the making. I treated Everest like a work project; finding the best people to work with, breaking down the action plan into segments to enable me to get to the summit of the world.
“I was fully aware of the risks but focussed only on controlling those things I could control. All in, the trip took nearly two months in total and culminated in the final summit push, which started on May 13th and saw me reach the summit Tuesday last at 9.35am local time.
“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.
“Personally, I never felt beyond my physical limits but I was certainly reaching my max. Preparation was essential, not least spending some time driving out any possibility of self-doubt and it worked well for me. That meant not doing things like how long left or even looking at my watch as these would only fester doubts.
“It’s estimated that on the summit night alone we burn in the region of 20,000 calories. I consumed no more than 300 and had nausea issues for 3 days and it effectively shut down my food consumption and liquids too. You end up feeling like your body is consuming itself, which it does anyway in the death zone above 8000mtrs.
“The descent is actually where most accidents happen the most and this is where you really have to tune into the max. 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.
“As much as the Sherpas would want to do for you, there’s no real rescue opportunity all the way up there. So that small slip would essentially be fatal. The margins are that tight between life and death up there and I had enough focus left to tune in think of that first body we passed on the way up and what that family must have gone through.
“It’s a crazy place to be, surrounded by the most amazing and most ferocious scenery and yet to be that close to tragedy.”
Speaking today also, John Burke’s wife Aoibhin is looking forward to Monday and getting her husband back on terra firma. “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, the time had finally arrived for his dream to be realised. We even got family and friends together for a prayer service in the Armada on Monday ahead of his final push for the summit. I’m so proud of him; it’s an incredible achievement. Only 50% who try succeed but, more than anything, thank God he’s making it back safely.”
The couple has been inundated with messages of congratulations and, according to Shannon Group CEO Matthew Thomas, Monday will be another proud homecoming at the airport. “Shannon has hosted many big homecomings over the years and this is a particularly proud one for us. It’s an incredible achievement and takes enormous commitment and will to do something like that. There’s also the risk involved so we’re just delighted to be welcoming John Burke back on Monday. It should be a special gathering.”
Keep up to date with John Burke’s adventures here
For more on Elevate click here
Check out other Limerick fundraisers here