European born, Bahamians at heart, Peter Wirth, Senior Relationship Manager Credit Suisse, and Harry McPike earlier this year successfully returned from climbing Lhakpa-Ri, one of several 7000m plus peaks in the fabled Himalayas. Conquest of this peak could qualify one for a climb of Mt Everest.
Overcoming extreme conditions, frostbite, bitter cold, oxygen deprivation, medical challenges and months of training, the pair took The Bahamas flag to the top of this 23,100 ft peak.
“It all started at a dinner party,” said the Bahamas’ two adopted sons, who settled and have raised their families here. “There was a woman who was retelling her story about how she hiked up the 19,341ft Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
“On the spot we decided to take on the challenge!” they laughed. “Mountain climbing is not considered a priority spare time pursuit of the majority of Bahamians,” said Mr Wirth. “So we gave ourselves a unique challenge!”
“It was quite a challenge just to train in the Bahamas for our goal. We did a lot of cardio training (cycling) and strength endurance in the gym, with an emphasis on leg weights,” Mr Wirth explained. “We have now climbed a 5,000m peak in Africa (19,341ft Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania), a 6,000m peak in South America (20,720 ft Mt Chimborazo, in Ecuador) and now a 7,000m peak in Tibet (23,100ft Lhakpa-Ri peak near Mt Everest)!” Mr McPike’s eyes sparkle with the thought of the conquest. “It basically took about three weeks to go up and come down Lhakpa-Ri. We started in Lhasa, Tibet,” said Mr McPike.
“It takes about five days to reach the Chinese Mt Everest Base Camp at 5,300m (16,892ft),” he said. “You have to go up in stages because your body needs to acclimatize itself to the high altitude and extreme cold!”
“We go through four more camps as we make our way up Lhakpa-Ri, resting days between our six-hour hikes in order to get our bodies acclimatized to the bitter cold, the altitude and lack of oxygen!”
“At sea level (here in the Bahamas),” explains Mr McPike, “we have 20.9 per cent oxygen in the air! Lhakpa-Ri has only 8.6 per cent – which is 40 per cent of what we have here in the Bahamas!”
“This means that every step is extremely slow and that you have to adjust for the lack of oxygen otherwise you will get terrible headaches and altitude sickness!” Mr Wirth adds. “The biggest challenges are not the physical challenges. They are how one handles the lack of oxygen. Going 100ft is exhausting,” they both agreed.
“You don’t have that much appetite. Even if you do eat you simply cannot eat enough to compensate for how fast your body is consuming energy!” Mr Wirth said. Added Mr McPike: “With my diabetes my doctor was very much opposed to me going up.
“It’s very difficult to control the higher up you go,” he explained. “I was losing about 2 lbs a day of body weight. I lost 25-30 lbs during the trip. Your metabolism increases so much to burn the necessary fuel to keep the body going!
“I am most proud,” he continued, “that to the extent that I have given an example and been a role model for others that we should not allow our medical challenges – within reason – to control our dreams and goals, but should aim to overcome them in order to achieve success,” Mr McPike said. “We ultimately reached Mt Everest Advanced Base Camp at 20,795ft where we prepared for our summit climb of Lhakpa-Ri. Up here there is no cold water, no hot water and temperatures below zero degrees fahrenheit.”
“Whenever we are climbing we are roped together for safety for the crevasses, avalanches or visibility dangers.”
“There’s always frost inside the tent because of the condensation from our body heat!” they laughed.
“At these low temperatures and high altitudes there’s frostbite very quickly to any exposed skin,” Mr Wirth said.
“One of the funny things the guides told us is that if you have to go to the bathroom do it in a sprint fashion. Like…Quick! It’s (zero degrees fahrenheit) so everything freezes in less than five minutes,” Mr McPike chuckles.
“We took our last three hour climb to the High Camp and rested there for our final summit. The last 300 meters are very tough,” they both admitted. “It’s very steep, climbing up at a 45 degree angle, hardly any oxygen, rocks, using ice picks,” Mr McPike recalled.
What’s the feeling like once you reach your goal?
“Well, to be standing 23,100 ft up near the top of the world on such a gorgeous, perfect, crystal clear day was indescribable for me,” said Mr McPike, “it was an unforgettable moment.”
“To see five of the 10 tallest mountains in the world was breathtaking!” added Mr Wirth. “It was so worth it.”
LESSONS IN LIFE:
“The lessons in life? It’s a bonding experience. It’s a common goal. We have to organize ourselves; have the commitment to succeed and the determination to achieve – despite the obstacles – no matter what,” Mr Wirth explained.
“It takes a lot of focus, commitment, accountability and teamwork to achieve a goal like this,” Mr McPike added.
“In an experience like this, the extreme environment; the sharing, giving up the comforts of home, such as not bathing for two weeks, you come to appreciate, understand and trust a person,” Mr McPike explained.
“While each person must overcome the odds; train and dedicate themselves to the goal, I believe it is the collective determination, your teammates, the friendships that provide that inspiration into both winning or losing!” adds Mr McPike.
“No matter how many contacts you have, how much money you may claim this is an achievement you have to earn,” says Mr Wirth.
“Absolutely! Life is not measured by moments, or minutes. Life is measured by moments in Time that take your breath away and lasts for a lifetime!” said Mr McPike.
“This is an out-of-the ordinary achievement that I shall remember for a lifetime!”
“As an adopted Bahamian I have been taking the Bahamas flag wherever I hike. So far we’ve been to the highest African peak, a Latin American 6000m plus peak and a Himalaya 7000m plus peak. Last year it was to the most isolated extreme part of the Earth, the South Pole. We skied 100 miles to the South Pole,” said Mr McPike.
“It is far more difficult than Mt Everest. My son Alex – born in the Bahamas – was the youngest person to ever have skied 100 miles to the South Pole!” said the proud father.
“The last barrier is 8,000m hikes, but the risk is too high! On the most difficult peak in the world K2 the risk/danger is entirely too much. It’s somewhere in the region of 30-35 per cent who don’t come back. There one is just left on the mountain in an ice grave. So we’re going to retire from hiking!” said Mr McPike.
“We haven’t decided on the next adventure yet. We’re enjoying the moment,” added Mr Wirth.
Who knows: Space – The Final Frontier?