Rob Mortell gets the Person of the Month award from Mary O'Riordan, with Elaine Ryan and Aine Fitzgerald
A TWENTY SIX-year-old adventurer, who became the youngest Irish man to stand on the top of the world by climbing to the summit of Mount Everest, is the latest recipient of the Limerick Person of the Month award.
Rob Mortell reached the summit at 6am Irish time on Monday, May 23.
“It’s wonderful to accept this award and to have this achievement recognised by the Limerick Leader and the other sponsors here. It’s a wonderful bonus to the whole expedition,” commented the University of Limerick graduate who was accompanied at the award presentation at the Clarion Hotel by his proud father John.
It was John, an accomplished skier, who sparked Rob’s interest in adventure and introduced him to the Alps at the age of three.
Little did the boy from Clonmacken know that 23 years later he would embark on one of the most gruelling and dangerous undertakings imaginable; succeed, and make history in the process.
“Mountaineering, unlike most sports, has claimed many lives and will continue to do so on a regular basis, and while this project was personally fulfilling for me, it came with meticulous research and preparation as any error out there can cost a life - not something to be taken lightly,” Rob explained.
“While base camp is relatively mild and easy to access, the harsh environment of Everest's upper flanks is indescribable.”
The threat of avalanches as well as altitude sickness and exhaustion means that the trip to the summit is fraught with danger no matter how much preparation goes into it, but Rob was determined to ensure that he left nothing to chance when he set out to climb the “formidable and unforgiving mountain”.
His achievement had been four years in the making and followed successful expeditions in the Alps, the Matterhorn, Denali - the highest peak in North America, and Ama Dablam, a technical mountain in Nepal.
Everest, he says, was never going to happen unless all the jigsaw puzzles fitted into place and he was certain his body was up to the task.
Rob trained consistently almost every day of the week. No workout was less than two hours. Some workouts were six hours, depending on his routine.
The entire Everest expedition meant that Rob, a former student of Villiers School, was away from his nearest and dearest for 11 weeks.
The first three weeks involved acclimatisation and preparation in Nepal followed by an eight week stint in Tibet.
The group started with 11 members but one person left due to a blood clot in his leg.
The 10 remaining members completed the expedition successfully.
In terms of food, the group dined on dehydrated meals on the upper mountain. On the lower mountain they could have local produce delivered to base camp.
Sleeping bags were rated to -40 degrees.
While he isn’t sure just how cold it got, “it got to the -30s”.
Having spent most of summit night climbing on his own in the dark with just his head torch in the moonlight and nobody nearby, Rob almost turned around only 50 metres from the top.
“This final push - from high camp at 8,300 metres to summit at 8,848 metres - took 12 hours of constant climbing and I had run out of energy with only 50 metres to go -a fatigue unimaginable at sea level,” he explained.
At this point, Rob set a benchmark of one 10 minute rest to allow himself to recover before attempting to complete the climb to the top.
“If I needed a second rest, that break would be my final turnaround point as my life was worth more than reaching the summit. This was a difficult situation to come to terms with, but I had to discipline myself as nobody else was in a position to save me if I ran into trouble.”
Thankfully, he summited after that one break, and didn’t need a second.
The group reached the summit at different times. Rob had brought the Tricolour with him.
“The first thing I did was sit down,” he smiles of reaching the top.
“There were three or four of us there at the same time. We pulled out the flags, took our photos and enjoyed the summit. I had a look back on the timestamps from my photos and I can see that I spent about 40 minutes up there.
“My tent buddy got there maybe 20 minutes before me. I could see him on the summit which was nice.
“You could see all around the Tibetan Plateau. There was an amount of cloud cover below but it was broken that day so we could see the mountains around us.”
While on the summit he learned the reason for his exhaustion was that his oxygen mask was no longer functioning, and was actually hindering his breathing.
“I had no idea how long ago it had stopped working, but I promptly removed the mask while on the summit and fixed it before I began the long descent. As it happens, it malfunctioned again a few minutes later so I spent another significant amount of time descending with no oxygen.
“Some six hours of descending later, we were confined to our tents in high camp at 8,300 metres again due to bad weather conditions which prevented us from descending further. It was an uncomfortable night with blizzard conditions both inside and outside our tent.”
Ultimately, he spent approximately 40 hours above 8,000 metres elevation, aka the Death Zone.
Rob did suffer from frostbite on summit day which caused a number of his fingertips to go numb and black.
“I was very fortunate to recover fully from my frostbite injuries within a few weeks of returning home. This was a worrying period however as no medical intervention can improve the body's recovery chances from frostbite. Some of my fellow climbers weren't so fortunate and will be losing some fingers and toes.”
Rob who is the son of John and Mary Mortell has one brother, Daniel. While he was reared in Clonmacken he now resides in Dublin. Having studied law and accounting at the University of Limerick he now works with KPMG.
“I particularly want to thank KPMG my main sponsor, and Volvo Ireland,” says Rob who is “taking stock” before deciding on his next adventure.
“It took a massive commitment over the last number of years so before I commit to a project like that I want to be certain that I’m willing to give what it takes.”