Fergal Hingerty celebrating after reaching the summit of Mount Ararat last month.

The ups and downs of a 5,000m peak

‘The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.’

That quote, by Jack London, was on Fergal Hingerty’s mind after the prolific Westmeath-based mountain climber competed his latest accomplishment: reaching the 5,137 metre summit of Mount Ararat.

Mount Ararat is located in eastern Turkey, near its borders with Armenia and Iran and Fergal, who lives in Mullingar, joined an expedition there last month. He made it to the top, in minus-13 degree temperatures, on the morning of Sunday September 12.

Fergal had flown to Istanbul, and after some sightseeing in the capital city where, he quipped, traffic was almost as bad as in Mullingar, he met up with the others on the expedition.

They then flew to the city of Van, from where their bus journeys were interrupted by a number of army checkpoints.

“These were due to proximity to the border with Iran, a large Kurdish population, and also the relative closeness to the Syrian border. It reminded me of the dark days in the northern end of our island,” said Fergal.

The group, accompanied by horses to carry supplies and equipment, started their climb with a mixture of excitement and nervousness.

“We lashed on the factor 50 sunscreen. The starting point was 2,200 metres and the first base camp was at 3,200 metres, so there was a bit of climbing to be done.

“After five hours, we reached the first base camp, which was in a rocky walled off area with a toilet tent, two mess tents and our tents assembled,” explained Fergal.

“Towering over us all the way was the mighty Ararat and, despite climbing around 1,000 metres, it seemed we were getting no closer to it!

“In many ways, the horses were the heroes of the hour. Whereas we struggled in the heat and dust and thin air along the track, they sailed up majestically to the upper base camp with our second bags and water. A case of two legs good, four legs better!”

Fergal said that during the final stages of the climb, “we could feel the grip of the air tightening on our chests with each upwards step.

“This, alongside the cold air getting colder and colder, meant each break for a rest and a sip of hot tea was gratefully appreciated.

“The cold water was also vital, as dehydration is a major problem, especially when you have so many layers on to keep out the cold.

“Without exception, and in different ways, we all suffered some effects of the altitude, which were, in no particular order, headaches, stomach problems, difficulty breathing in the thin air and a general feeling of malaise.”

A few hundred metres of ascent later, they climbed out on the final narrow ridge that marked the 5,137-metre summit.

“A great sense of euphoria swept over us. For those who had done 5,000 metres before, in essence, a quiet sense of satisfaction ensued.

“However, for those whose first 5,000-metre mountain it was, there was a mighty but ever-so-brief celebration.

“Everybody was conscious that getting to summit was optional but to descend afterwards was always mandatory. We all realised that this was only the halfway point, we still had to descend and in many ways that is always the difficult part – ‘Ascending is physical but descending is mental’, as the old saying goes.”

A sheet of ice on the descent made it particularly challenging and Fergal said it was only the crampons (traction aids attached to footwear) that kept the group on the mountain.

The expedition was arranged by Ewa Stachura from Mountain Freaks Mountain Travel and Adventure Agency based in Georgia.

Scaling Mount Ararat is another milestone for Fergal, who climbed Mount Elbrus, in 2018, and, this year, became the first person to climb every hill and mountain on mainland Ireland.