THREE West Cork men climbed Kilimanjaro in storm conditions on a night that claimed the lives of three others – to raise money for charity.
Clonakilty brothers, Eoin and Sean Mullins, with brother-in-law Brendan Phair, Shannonvale, are just back from summiting the world’s highest free standing mountain in what was an experience they’ll never forget.
Eoin and Sean, both guards, and Brendan, an electrician, would describe themselves as ‘outdoorsy’ types who would have been used to the likes of climbing Carrauntwohill, completing triathlons and adventure races.
‘But we were novices in the grand scheme of it,’ says Eoin.
Their group included two other Clare based gardai who work with Sean and the gang initially planned the trip to Africa purely as an adventure holiday.
However, after covering all their expenses themselves, it evolved into a fundraising climb for Eoin and Brendan with Eoin choosing Crumlin Children’s Hospital and West Cork Rapid Response and Brendan choosing Bumbleance and Make-A-Wish Ireland.
The five set off on October 17th and with guides and sherpas spent the following days adjusting to their new environment, moving to a higher altitude every day.
‘We were moving to camps at 2,000; 3,000 and 4,000m high but felt fine and only suffered a touch of altitude sickness,’ said Eoin.
They arrived at Base Camp on the sixth day, at around 11am, and just like the movies depict, were met with a sea of tents.
‘We were apprehensive enough at this stage as the weather wasn’t great and was beginning to get very windy. We slept for a while and had something to eat and then began the summit at midnight,’ Eoin recalled.
This is a typical departure time as the idea is that people climb through the night and make it to the top at dawn, and descend in daylight.
‘At this stage winds were around 50 or 60km; it was -17 degrees with a windchill of -15 which made it -32 altogether and there was a lot of sleet and snow.
‘Just one hour after we left, they actually closed Base Camp,’ said Eoin.
The climb is a steep trail and the men were either moving through a foot or two of snow in places or climbing up an ashy, gravel surface.
‘The weather was getting worse the higher we went, but no one wanted to admit that it might have been a bad idea even though lots of people were turning back at this stage,’ said Eoin. ‘You could see a lot of people were struggling with altitude sickness and were being helped with oxygen.’
Brendan said it was a matter of putting all their trust in the guides.
‘It was full on from the moment we left our tents and was tough going. We did exactly what we were told. I could see people getting confused around us but four hours in, I knew that I definitely wasn’t confused as I realised how crazy what were doing was!’ he said.
Seven hours after they left Base Camp, they arrived at Summit Peak or Uhura Peak at 7am having only stopped twice, very briefly, on route to refuel.
It was simply too cold to take breaks of more than a few minutes, and despite wearing the best of gear, their hands were in pain trying to unzip their bags; and besides their food and water were beginning to freeze solid.
Eoin said: ‘At that stage our tanks were well and truly empty. There was no view to be had; just bright white. We took a picture and high tailed it back down half jogging, half collapsing as things were still getting worse.
‘By the time we got down we had a touch of frost bite to our noses, they were burnt and we were feeling it in our hands as well.’
Brendan said: ‘It was hard to believe that a few weeks earlier Irish people had been able to puck a sliotar about on the summit and take photos.’
Their three guides later told them it was the worst conditions they had perhaps ever seen on the mountain.
Eoin, married to Yvonne, said they had all gone through different stages during the climb from excitement to thinking it was madness.
But when they got back their immediate concern was to let loved ones know they were safe, get warm and get a few hours sleep before they had to pack up and face into a two hour hike to another camp for the night before they flew out the next day.
The men didn’t tell their families how bad it really was until they got home and admitted it was quite sobering to realise three people lost their lives while they were on the mountain.
But they would recommend the experience, provided people had the right fitness and gear; used a reputable tour operator and were aware of the risk of life.
Eoin said: ‘I’m still getting my head around what we’ve done – I’ll never complain about the weather again!’
Brendan, a father of two married to Margaret, added: ‘We’re all still talking to each other although nobody has admitted whose idea it was!’
• Search GoFundMe under ‘Eoin Mullins’ or ‘Brendan Phair’ to donate to the men’s funds.