A Clare man’s achievement in conquering Mount Everest was put in stark context with news that the bodies of four climbers were found on the mountain within days of Miltown native John Burke touching down at Shannon.
The 38-year-old hotelier returned to a rousing reception six days after scaling the world’s highest peak. Mr Burke said his biggest reason for the climb was to send a message to young people that the sky’s the limit when it comes to achieving their potential. Mr Burke and his wife Aoibhín founded the charity Elevate to promote wellbeing among young people and encourage them to reach their potential and follow their dreams in life.
“I wanted to send a message to young people that they all have the potential to achieve in life. Research has shown that one in five young Irish adults between the ages of 19 and 24 and one in six young people between 11 and 13 have mental health issues. There’s a variety of reasons for that but certainly social media is one. Social media can destroy young people in an instant, especially those going through a difficult stage.
“As a family we had our own tragedy with a mental health issue and that has spurred Aoibhín and I to establish Elevate. We’re not going to change the world with it but it’s our contribution and climbing Everest has given us a platform to raise awareness in Clare about this issue.”
John was met on arrival from Kathmandu by 200 well-wishers including his wife Aoibhín, mother Claire, sisters Pamela and June, nieces and nephew Callum (13), who had travelled to the Everest base camp with him.
Clearly delighted to be back on home soil, John said, “It took everything I had to get there and it’s bitter sweet also as just this weekend three people lost their lives trying to do the same thing. I know how lucky I am to be here and my heart goes out to their families, not least now I’m back here on solid ground in Clare with mine.”
Commenting on his epic feat, John Burke said reaching the summit of Mount Everest was the fulfilment of a dream but was not without its terrors. “I’ve been ten years dreaming of following in the footsteps of some great Irish adventurers, people like Pat Falvey, Ger McDonnell and so many more. Their stories inspired me to take to the hills and test how far my body and mind can go”. His final plan took 12 months to complete.
John said he treated Everest like a work project, “finding the best people to work with and breaking down the action plan into segments to enable me 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 reaching the summit on May 16th at 9.35am local time.”
Recalling the final night as “hell on earth”, John said he 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.” According to John, the descent from Everest is when accidents happen the most. “As much as the Sherpas would want to do for you, there’s no real rescue opportunity all the way up there.”
That was certainly true for the four climbers who were found dead in their tent at 8,000 metres in the last camp before the final summit. Already this year the mountain had claimed the lives of six climbers bringing the total to fatalities for the season, which is higher than average. Grateful to have her husband back home, John’s wife Aoibhin recalled a rollercoaster of a few weeks and said she is so proud of him. “It’s an incredible achievement. Only 50% of those who try succeed.”