A BELFAST-born adventurer has spoken of his joy and relief after climbing Antarctica's tallest peak – and completing a 20 year quest to scale the seven highest summits on each of the world's continents.
Chris Bell, from the Ormeau Road in the south of the city, completed his arduous ascent earlier this month, before trekking to the South Pole, from where he spoke to The Irish News yesterday by satellite phone.
"It's a mild day today– only minus 27 °C," he said. "We've got midday sun pretty much for 24 hours but it's still freezing."
Today – mid summer's day in the southern hemisphere – Chris hopes to begin the third element of his Antarctic adventure – kite-skiing 1200km to the edge of the continent, a wind-propelled journey that he expects to take around two weeks, with top speeds of around 30km per hour.
First bit by the climbing bug while doing the Duke of Edinburgh Awards scheme while a schoolboy at Methody College, his first excursions were into the Mournes before he left the north to attend university in the Scotland, where he took full advantage of the Highlands.
After a spell in Nepal, Chris settled in London, where the 49-year-old works in venture capital. He's taking extended leave presently, indulging his passion for adventure mountaineering.
He arrived in Antarctica from southern Chile on November 23. It was his second time on the frozen continent – 15 years ago he made an unsuccessful effort to scale Mount Vinson, Antarctica's highest mountain at 4,892m.
This time, the weather was a little kinder and his determination greater.
"The last time I was here the weather was appalling – we didn't even get within 150km of Mount Vinson," Chris recalled. "This time around conditions were much more favourable but in Antarctica it's never easy."
He finally made it to the summit of Mount Vinson on December 8, an achievement that meant over the past two decades he has scaled the so-called Seven Summits – the highest peaks on the seven continents, including Mt Everest, Denali in Alaska, and Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
"Summit day on Vinson was very difficult as it was extremely cold," said Chris. "I had to dig deep and to be honest, if it hadn't been the final peak of the Seven Summits I think I would've given up."
Reflecting on his achievement, he said he was "super pleased".
"It really has been an incredible journey and I couldn't be more relieved and so happy to have made it," he said. "It's as much a beginning as it is an end, because it means I can now start planning my next adventure."
Potential fresh goals include trekking to the North Pole or sailing across the Pacific with wife Lynsey and children Darcy, Piper and Otis.
Chris aims to be back home in London in early January to discuss his plans with his family before returning to Belfast soon after to regale parents Eric and Eileen with tales of his Antarctic adventure.