Dromara man climbs 28,000 foot to reach the summit of K2

Dromara man climbs 28,000 foot to reach the summit of K2

25 July 2018

FOR 20 minutes, Dromara adventurer Noel Hanna stood on the summit of the 28,000 foot high K2 mountain.

After scaling the world’s second highest peak, he became the first man from Northern Ireland to gain the honour.

Yet the intrepid mountain climber says that his relentless pursuit of the most dangerous mountains is not for fame or glory. 

“It’s nice to have the second highest mountain in the world summited and back down safe,” he said.

“A lot of people do it for reward. I do it because I want to do it. It’s not because I want to be the first,  except for the likes of Burke Khang as it was an unclaimed peak,” said Noel from his base camp in the Himalayas yesterday.

Along with three Sherpas, the 50-year-old became the first man to have successfully to summit the previously unconquered Burke Khang. also in the Himalayas, last October.

For him, that achievement has been his best to date.

“K2 would be a tougher climb definitely but Burke Khang probably felt a better achievement knowing that no-one else had been to the summit before. With this one, 300-odd people have been there before you.”

It was a race between the Down man and a Donegal man to see who could first scale K2 over the weekend. 

But it was Noel and his 10-strong team, including a female Swiss climber, who claimed the summit in northern Pakistan early on Saturday morning.

Hot on his heels one day later, Donegal climber Jason Black also reached the top.

It means that Noel and Jason became the second and third people respectively from the island of Ireland to have scaled K2.

Ger McDonnell was the first Irish man to reach the summit in 2008, but sadly died on the climb back down.

He was one of 11 climbers who perished when an ice fall swept away fixed ropes on the peak.

Known to the mountaineering community as Savage Mountain, K2 is equally feared and respected as one of the most dangerous climbs in the world.

Noel revealed to the Recorder that he scaled K2 throughout Friday night.

“We reached the summit at around 4-4.30am GMT, which was 8am local time here,” he explained.

“We were climbing in the dark throughout the night. Obviously you can’t see too much until daybreak around 4-4.30am and you’re just above the clouds at that stage. 

“We were lucky that the weather allowed us to summit. If the weather is bad, then you don’t make summit. It’s as simple as that, so you have to be thankful that the weather was kind to us.”

Noel allowed himself to enjoy a few beers in celebration once he made it back down to base camp.

“I probably only stayed about 20 minutes at the summit as I always think that when you get to a summit, you’re only half-way there. There’s more people die coming down from the summit as there is going up.”

Noel said that a Japanese climber died on the descent on Sunday and a few weeks earlier, a Canadian climber that he was friendly with also lost his life. 

“A lot of people don’t realise that if you put 100% in to get to the top, you’re not going to come back down again.

“I always say put 50-60% in for the summit, as you always need to leave something to come back down again.

“I know myself that there’s no mountain worth risking your life or risking losing fingers or toes to frostbite. 

“I know my own abilities and when to turn around.”

He made his descent to base camp in 12 hours straight, while other climbers choose to break up their descent by staying overnight in camps along the climb.

However, Noel did not make contact with his wife Lynne at their Johannesburg home or his brother Malcolm in Dromara or sister Irene Hunter at the top.

“I would never ring anyone from the summit as you are only half way there. Why ring and let people celebrate only for something to happen on the way down?” he said.

Being the record-breaking adventurer has become the norm in Noel’s 20-year climbing history. He has scaled Mount Everest eight times, twice with Lynne. 

Noel has also scaled Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and the highest peaks in all seven continents.

He was a police reservist for 15 years and grew up on a farm. Farming would have been his livelihood had the family farm been big enough to accommodate him and his elder brother.

And for someone who did not really get into exercise until his thirties, Noel is something of an action man.

He qualified as a fitness and weightlifting instructor in the mid-90s and began to get himself fit before he took on his first epic physical challenge in 1997.

He and a friend took part in the 100-mile stage Himalayan Race when he surprised himself by coming in first.

Aside from his mountain-climbing where he is often employed to lead climbing expeditions, Noel is a qualified close-protection officer and was part of the security detail for former US president Bill Clinton’s visit to Dublin. He’s also trained in combat, weapons and advanced driving.

He further holds the Guinness world record for Maxtrek — which is the equivalent of going from sea level to the height of Mount Everest (8,848m) and back to sea level — in 21hrs 50mins.

In two weeks’ time, he’s off to guide an American father and his 10-year-old son up Kilimanjaro and after that, going with friends and clients to climb Russia’s Mount Elbrus, the highest mountain in Europe.

Noel and Lynne, who still maintain a home in Dromara, will no doubt be home later this year to celebrate his success with their loved ones.