A climber based in Limassol has climbed five of the world’s highest mountains, and as Alix Norman writes, the challenge is to get to the top of two more summits and raise the flag of Cyprus on them.
The Seven Summits is the mountaineer’s Holy Grail: the ascent of each continent’s highest peak. It’s a considerable feat, achieved by just a handful of people since 1985, when American Richard Bass was the first to climb all seven.
Since then, just 100 or so adventurers have conquered all of the summits. But many more are well on their way – driven by their love of the world’s highest places. Limassolian Evgenios Staroselskiy is one.
A professional mountaineer and mountain guide (now retired), Ukrainian-born Cypriot citizen Evgenios has just returned from Alaska, where he climbed Denali, the highest peak in North America.
It’s the fifth of his seven summits: he’s already climbed Africa’s Kilimanjaro, Europe’s Mount Elbrus, South America’s Aconcagua, and Asia’s Everest; some, more than once!
But his most recent ascent of Denali was a first for this intrepid 60-year-old who, in the course of his lifetime, hopes to raise the flag of Cyprus on each of the seven peaks around the world.
“The idea is to have the flag of Cyprus on the highest peak of each continent,” he explains. “It’s something I’ve been doing for years, ever since I moved to the island in 2011. I also raised the flag of Ukraine,” he adds,” in support of my people.”
As the founder of the Seven Summits Club Cyprus, which encourages locals to take on the heights of the world, Evgenios is an ardent supporter of promoting mountain climbing across the island.
Though retired from his professional career, he still guides groups up many of the world’s major peaks – amateurs and professionals alike. But his most recent ascent was undertaken almost alone: just Evgenios and a fellow mountaineer from Kyrgyzstan.
“Yes, last week I climbed Denali,” he says, as if an ascent on the most northerly of the seven summits is commonplace, something you do over a long weekend. “It was quite difficult actually. It’s 6,190 metres in height, well over 2,000 metres lower than Everest, but technically a more challenging climb. It’s also remote: there are few services out there, close to the Arctic Circle; it’s not like Everest, where you have designated camps and Sherpas and guides. This is a wild route, and you must climb it alone.”
The ascent took Evgenios eight days – six less than the average. “We raised our flags on the peak on June 2, having pushed on thanks to a weather window,” he reveals. “You have to think not just of the ascent but the descent too – will the weather hold while you make your way down, or will you be plagued by the dangers of snow and cloud?”
Sponsored by Cyprus Duty Free and the Yiannis Georgiades Law Firm – “mountaineering is expensive!” Evgenios adds. “Sponsors are our angels” – the Denali climb is considered the most difficult summit.
“I’ve climbed Elbrus, the highest peak in Europe, about 25 times,” smiles Evgenios. “Honestly, it may be more; I can’t remember. And I’ve done Kilimanjaro four times over the years, starting in 2017 when I took a group from Cyprus. Elbrus,” he adds, “is considered the easiest: just 5,642 metres in height, it’s a friend to me; it’s like taking a walk in the park. Kilimanjaro is similar: it’s almost like hiking Troodos!”
Aconcagua, he notes, is a little more challenging: “I’ve only climbed South America’s tallest mountain once, in 2019. It’s not too technical, but it is a long way away from Cyprus.” And Everest is the hardest of all. “Raising the flag of Cyprus on the highest point in the world was the culmination of a dream for me,” he reveals. “I’d planned an ascent in 1991, but political turmoil in the region prevented the trip. So finally reaching the summit felt like a huge achievement: the whole journey took 43 days, with the final ascent starting at 10pm on May 23…”
Reaching the peak at 5.30am on May 24, and watching the sun rise over the roof of the world was a singular experience, says Evgenios. “It felt so good! The weather was clear, but the temperature was below -40 and the wind chill severe. So I raised the flag of Cyprus, took some photos, and we headed down for the long descent.”
With Kilimanjaro, Elbrus, Denali, Aconcagua and Everest under his belt, just Vinson Massif and the Carstensz Pyramid remain. Evgenios has good reason to leave these two to last.
“Vinson Massif is possibly the hardest of all,” he suggests. “It’s not the height or the climb, though it is considered one of the top three most challenging summits. It’s the logistics. This peak is in Antarctica; not only do you need special flights in and out, you also need to raise over €40,000 for your expenses! But I’ll probably do it within the year,” he adds. “If not in 2022, then 2023.”
The same goes for the Carstensz Pyramid in Papua New Guinea, which Evgenios hopes to ascend this year. “Technically, the highest of Oceania’s peaks is the hardest climb after Everest. But at just 4,884 metres in height, it’s the lowest of all the summits, and the route is very short, so I know it won’t trouble me.”
And then? What happens when all Seven Summits have been conquered? “Honestly,” says Evgenios, “mountaineering has been my whole life. I’m hoping to start a mountaineering museum in Limassol, and I will continue to take groups from the Seven Summits Club Cyprus and raise our flag on the peaks. And, in between training” – Evgenios likes to run up Troodos for fun! – “I’ll just keep on climbing. I’ve been a professional guide since 1979; I’m not about to give up now. Once you’ve done one mountain, you want to do them all; I’ve climbed over 120 peaks in my time. And if there’s one thing I know, it’s that mountaineering is addictive!”
Alix Norman is the Chief Features Writer at Cyprus Mail.