Canberra mountaineer Rick Agnew's amazing story of seven summits in seven years
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Canberra mountaineer Rick Agnew's amazing story of seven summits in seven years

As Canberrans toasted another year, few would have reflected on biting Antarctic winds, breathtaking South American slopes or staring death in the face on Mount Everest.

Canberra's Rick Agnew can attest to all this and more.

Rick Agnew has climbed the tallest mountain on each continent.

Rick Agnew has climbed the tallest mountain on each continent. Credit:Rohan Thomson

He might not have done it all in 12 months but the mountaineer is the only person in the ACT to conquer the seven summits, climbing the tallest mountain on each continent.

He returned from his seventh and final peak in Antarctica, Mount Vinson, a few weeks ago, ending a seven-year feat with numerous other climbs in between.

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Rick Agnew has climbed the tallest mountain on each continent, including Mt Vinson in December.

Rick Agnew has climbed the tallest mountain on each continent, including Mt Vinson in December.

The adventure has opened up a breadth of fascinating cultures and lifelong friendships.

But at times the gruelling expeditions have hurt - physically, emotionally and financially.

Mr Agnew's 2.5-month Antarctic adventure encompassed warm ups in the Himalayas and South America; a $42,000 flight on a private Russian ex-military aircraft to the chilly continent; and the climb up and down Mount Vinson.

Agnew and his fellow climbers trekked through a harsh, fluorescent white landscape in temperatures as low as -49 degrees that transformed their breath into fluffy ice.

Canberra's Rick Agnew climbing Mt Everest in 2010.

Canberra's Rick Agnew climbing Mt Everest in 2010.

"That was a big surprise ... how cold it was," he said.

"It's freezing. You blow your nose and all the hairs in your nostril break off and you think, 'this is disgusting'.

"It's not technical, it's not hard, but it's bloody cold."

The senior risk consultant "stumbled upon" the seven summit challenge amid regular climbs around the world, particularly in South America.

Mount Everest in 2010 cemented the attempt.

"Mt Everest was number three or four of the seven summits," he said.

"I thought, 'well, I've done the hard one, I might as well do the rest'."

Some of the more gruelling experiences occurred in the unforgiving Himalayas. During the Mount Everest expedition it wasn't uncommon to hobble past the body of a climber who succumbed to the harsh climate or see a conqueror lose a finger or toe to frostbite.

Mr Agnew resuscitated one climber. He saw another fall to their death.

"It's classic risk management - you've got to back your judgment," he said. "I was lucky not to lose any fingers or toes - or die."

But he came close. The day Mr Agnew's rope was cut is etched in his memory.

"It's like the classic touching the void," he said.

"You're screaming. The whole of Tibet would have heard. I thought, 'this is it'.

"Luckily, I was sliding down and I stopped, I had an ice axe and I self arrested. Somehow I managed to get out."

Every climb has its unique set of challenges; for some it's the height or the weather, for others it's the technical aspects of climbing or even fellow climbers.

During the seventh adventure Mr Agnew dropped almost 20 kilograms. Even the simplest day-to-day actions proved a challenge.

In Antarctica, nothing could be left behind - including anything emptied from the nose or bowels.

"Everything is carted out - everything," he said. "They dig it all out, put it in containers and fly it out."

Mr Agnew plays down the seven-year feat. But completing the challenge atop Mount Vinson in December did tug a chord.

"I was a lit bit emotional, I"ve got to admit. I thought, 'sheez, I've done it'," he said.

"Then I thought, 'hang on, I'm only halfway, I've got to get out of this place'. It hasn't hit me."

But Mr Agnew's adventures do not stop there with plenty of mountains still to ascend. The cost is worth it.

"It gets addictive," he said.

"I need a fix - which is probably why I did Kosciuszko [on New Year's Day].

"I go without; I choose to not go to the pub, I don't have a flash car. It's the call of the mountains."