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The height of passion

Following a personal quest, a Dubai resident has taken leave from work to climb the highest mountains on each of the seven continents. He's already scaled four

  • Atte Miettinen flashes awinning smile as he ascends VinsonMassif in freezing weather conditionsImage Credit: Supplied
  • An uphill task, literallyImage Credit: Supplied
  • Atte, second right, with his teamat Uhuru Peak, Mount Kilimanjaro, in TanzaniaImage Credit: Supplied
  • Atte does a double thumbs upas he prepares to take on Vinson MassifImage Credit: Supplied
  • satellite gearImage Credit: Supplied
  • Image Credit: © XPRESS / Ador T. Bustamante
XPRESS

DUBAI: A Dubai resident has put his life's savings into an unlikely cause - to conquer the highest mountains on each continent.

A senior executive at a private company, Atte Miettinen, 36, has taken a sabbatical until June 2012 to embark on a journey of The Seven Summits - a term coined by its first challenger Richard Bass. It refers to ascending the highest mountains of each of the seven continents.

“I am very ambitious and competitive. I climbed my first mountain [Mount Kilimanjaro] during a holiday trip to Tanzania in 2003. I returned to Kilimanjaro again in 2006 and I've been dreaming of climbing the Seven Summits ever since. I like to push my limits. The Seven Summits will cost me $200,000 (around Dh734,000) for just the trips. It will be from my savings”
-Atte Miettinen
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They are Mount Kilimanjaro (5,895 metres) in Tanzania, Elbrus (5,642 metres) in Russia, Cerro Aconcagua (6,962 metres) in Argentina, Carstensz Pyramid (4,884 metres) in Indonesia/Australia, Vinson Massif (4,897 metres) in Antarctica, Denali (6,196 metres) in North America, and Mount Everest (8,850 metres) in Nepal. Conquering them is regarded as a mountaineering feat.

Only 334 have achieved it.

Atte has already conquered four of these mountains. Should he succeed in scaling the remaining three, he will set two benchmarks - to be the first Finnish citizen and the second UAE resident to conquer the Seven Summits.

"I am very ambitious and competitive. I climbed my first mountain [Mount Kilimanjaro] during a holiday trip to Tanzania in 2003. I returned to Kilimanjaro again in 2006 and I've been dreaming of climbing the Seven Summits ever since. I like to push my limits. The Seven Summits will cost me $200,000 (around Dh734,000) for just the trips. It will be from my savings," said Atte in a telephonic interview from Chile where he's taking on Cerro Aconcagua - the highest mountain in South America. Atte hopes to scale it by the year end.

He scaled Mount Kilimanjaro on January 3, 2007 - the second time in four years - and followed it with Mount Elbrus on July 7, 2009. This year has been particularly successful for him. He scaled two mountains - Carstensz Pyramid on May 3 and, more recently, Vinson Massif on November 26. 

Pushing the limits

Atte said mountaineering challenges attract Type A personalities - people who are aggressive and push their limits to reach new heights. "During my recent trip to Vinson we had a doctor from Germany, a chef-cum-restaurant owner, a Jamaican American engineer, a Brazilian real estate entrepreneur, and a couple from Texas. They all came from different backgrounds but had one burning desire - to climb mountains."

Teamwork is essential in climbing, said Atte. "We have to put aside our competitiveness and help each other as a team. An average day in the mountain spans between six and 10 hours. The nights are all about sharing experiences and concerns with the guide and team members. "Mountaineering establishes very strong bonds between team members. The friendships made during a climb are everlasting."

Atte said he feels privileged that he is able to go to places where very few people have been.

"Some time back, we went to this small village called Sugapa in Indonesia that was discovered only 60 years ago. It was a revelation that its inhabitants did not know the existence of a world outside until 60 years back."

Atte's backpack weighs around 35 kilos and includes a tent, protective clothing, specially designed double boots, climbing gear, satellite and camera equipment, water bottles and high-energy food.

"Food is primarily prepared by guides although everyone tends to pitch in. We eat a lot of high-energy food. It's mostly pasta, chicken and energy bars. It's important that we drink a lot of water as our bodies need it to acclimatise to the low oxygen levels at high altitudes."

The climbing gear has many protective layers to weather the tough conditions. "A typical day starts out feeling cold. It quickly changes to a feeling of warmth caused by the strain of climbing. The first thing we do then is put on more clothing. The idea is to ‘trap' the heat we've generated so that we can remain warm throughout the day. The worst thing up high is when you sweat and allow it to freeze. It not only makes for a very uncomfortable day, it also puts you at risk of frost nip and frostbite."

Human waste is taken seriously and there are strict rules on how to deal with it. "Climbers make all natural body functions in wag bags, set on plastic buckets doubling up as toilet seats. We carry it along in a true ‘leave no trace' fashion."

Atte said one of the most important things for mountaineers is support from family and friends. "I am fortunate to have a wife who completely understands my burning desire to climb. I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro with her six months after I met her. Couples learn a lot about each other when they are put in extreme conditions."

Atte and his wife Delanii have climbed seven mountains together - Mt. Kilimanjaro, Mt. Blanc, Elbrus, Aconcagua, Carstensz Pyramid, Mount Kosciuszko and Mt. Ararat.

He recounts an uncomfortable moment with his father when he had to get a sign off on a ‘body disposal form' ahead of his Mt. Everest trek. "I had to make an uncomfortable call to my dad on this. I think I caught him by surprise when I described the worst case scenario. It's not a call that any child should have with their parents - but in this case, it was necessary."

Atte is the eldest of three children. His sister is a nurse and his brother a popular rapper in Finland.

Atte returns to Dubai from Argentina at the end of the year after conquering Cerro Aconcagua. He then prepares for the big one - Mt. Everest. "I will be training vigorously for two-and-a-half months in Dubai before I set off for Mt. Everest in March end. It will be my biggest challenge."

He hopes to complete the Seven Summits by the end of June and resume his job in Dubai as senior vice-president, Business Development with Reliance WiMAX World.

Essential gear

  • Satellite phone: Iridium satellite phone which allows mountaineers to make phone calls, just like a normal mobile phone. It connects via satellites - so calls need to be made outside with line-of-sight to satellites. This is the only real way of communicating in remote locations.

Backpack

  • High energy bars and water bottles
  • Thermal wear clothing, including specially designed double boots
  • Climbing equipment
  • Wag bags
  • Medicines and first aid box

UAE climbers

  • First Arab woman to reach Mt. Everest was UAE-based Palestinian mother, Suzanne Al Houby,
  • Sri Lankan-born Tasneem Taherali, a Dubai-based communications specialist and Pilates enthusiast, trekked to the Everest Base Camp in Nepal this year and Mount Kilimanjaro last year. 
 

Fact Box

The seven summits

There are two seven summits list: the Bass List (includes Mount Kosciuszko 2,228 metres) and the Messner List (Carstensz Pyramid 4,884 metres) - both acceptable to the mountaineering community.

 Mt. Kilimanjaro

  • Highest mountain in Africa, regarded as the most beautiful place in the world
  • Height: 5,895m (19,341 feet)
  • Date of conquest: January 3, 2007
  • Time taken to reach the top: Seven days

Mt. Elbrus

  • Located in Europe and home to the world's nastiest outhouse
  • Height: 5,642m (18,510 feet)
  • Date of conquest: July 7, 2009
  • Time taken to reach the top: 17 days

Carstensz Pyramid

  • Located in Indonesia/Australia. Technically, the hardest of the summits
  • Height: 4,884m (16,024 feet)
  • Date of conquest: May 3, 2011
  • Time taken to reach the top: Three weeks

Vinson Massif

  • One of the mountains in Antarctica and perhaps also the coldest
  • Height: 4,897m (16,066 feet)
  • Date of conquest: November 26, 2011
  • Time taken to reach the top: 3 weeks

Cerro Aconcagua

  • Highest mountain in South America and the highest outside the Himalayan and Karakoram Ranges
  • Height: 6,962m (22,841 feet)
  • Technically an easy mountain if approached from the north.

Mount Everest

  • Located in Nepal, this is the highest mountain in the world. Conditions are so difficult in the death zone—altitudes over 8,000 metres—that most corpses have been left where they fell Height: 8,850m (29,035 feet)

Mt. McKINLEY(Denali)

  • Highest mountain in North America
  • Height: 6,196m (20,326 feet)
  • Some of the world's best climbers have died after being flash frozen while climbing it during winter

 

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