Storytellers – Alex Korjavine and Eugene Volskiy summit Mt McKinley

The meeting was well attended by over 50 members and guests all keen to hear Alex Korjavine and friend Eugene Volskiy present a talk of their adventures earlier this year when climbing Mount McKinley, the highest mountain peak in North America, some 20,237 feet (6,168 m) above sea level.
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Jackie B took the opportunity at the start to give everyone an update on our good friend Jack Stening who had a serious mishap in the Sunday race. Fortunately for Jack the BBC is blessed with some quick thinking and qualified members who sprang into action to rescue him and pack him off to hospital in record time. The news was good and Jack was up and about after being discharged from hospital and being drained of gallons of Middle Harbour water!

Alex (Mr KGB) is now one of our regular presenters, this occasion being probably his fifth time. Alex showed some video clip and breathtaking photographs of their climb to reach the summit. He spoke of the obstacles they needed to overcome, the extreme cold temperatures that average -20 C at the base and -45 C at the summit, high altitude sickness, and numerous crevasses. As they climbed higher each step became more dangerous, rather like walking in a minefield. Alex and Eugene were attached to a safety rope with the lead climber readying himself in case he suddenly fell down a crevasse, likewise the tail climber would be poised to put the brakes on and take the weight if such a disaster happened. Alex-Korjavine-and-Eugene-Volskiy-bbc-storytellers-650-366

Alex spoke often about the importance of avoiding altitude sickness and issues with acclimatisation, referring to the maxim used by climbers “Climb high and sleep low.” You can climb more than 1,000 feet (305 meters) in a day as long as you come back down and sleep at a lower altitude. This of course makes the climb even more arduous and a challenge. This presents a logistical nightmare too as one has to plan what equipment is left high, what is kept low or remains with the climber. To make his point Alex brought along much of his climbing equipment to show members what’s involved in expeditions of this type; snow saw, ropes, assortment of gloves, pots, pans, shoes, outer socks, inner socks, food … you name it. All in all Alex and Eugene carried about 60kgs each. Can you imagine that walking on the flat let alone climbing in the snow?

As they reached the camp just prior to the last leg to the summit they met a group of climbers. They had reached the summit except for the wife of one of them. It was too hard for her and she was drained so she had returned to the lower camp. Her husband then pleaded with Alex & Eugene to take her with them to the top. This is a most unusual circumstance and not entered into lightly. They didn’t really know how fit or experienced she was. They knew however, that she was desperate to achieve her goal, so after due consideration they agreed to let her join them. This meant some logistical changes, swapping of tents and the like. After a good meal of Eugene’s special noodles she recovered her energy and warmth and joined Alex & Eugene in reaching the summit. Indebted for life!

As confirmed by Kieran Kelly in the Q&A session, this climb is one of the most technically demanding. The next challenge for Alex, when he’s mentally ready and can afford it, will be the 7th summit Mt Everest, which as he’ll have sherpas to assist him should be a doddle (only joking). He’ll need his wife Sondra’s permission too! It was lovely to listen to Sondra and see her beam as she told us how excited she was when she received the call that Alex had made it. She was so proud of his efforts.

A point that we didn’t touch on in the evening was that Alex & Eugene paid for ALL their expedition expenses including equipment, flight tickets, climbing permits, accommodation “off the mountain”, food, etc. In addition they raised money (and flag) for IFAW (www.ifaw.org/australia/about-ifaw) an organisation that fights for the protection of whales and the welfare of other animals.

We all agreed that if any of us were so inclined to climb a mountain (anywhere) we’d want Alex to accompany us. He really is the ultimate ‘climbing man’, physically strong, sensible, experienced, passionate, medically aware and a top bloke (and presenter too)!! It was evident how much Alex & Eugene had prepared for the evening and accordingly received a hearty round of applause.

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