Ian McKeever: Mountaineer and adventurer


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The Independent Online

Ian McKeever was a leading member of the Kilimanjaro Achievers Team, a group of experienced climbers that lead expeditions to the top of the mountain in Tanzania, which at 19,341 feet high is considered the easiest of the world's highest mountains to climb, with more than 20,000 people doing so every year.

One of Ireland's most famous adventurers and a world-renowned mountaineer, McKeever was killed after being struck by lightning while climbing Kilimanjaro. He was leading a charity group of more than 20 climbers from Ireland on the third day of their ascent when he was struck and killed instantly. He was 42. Three other members of the expedition, including his fiancée Anna O'Loughlin, who he was due to marry in September, were also injured during the storm and were later treated for burns and cuts.

The attempt on Kilimanjaro began 30 December, but immediately ran into unseasonal bad weather. McKeever had given followers a series of status reports on the expedition via his website, noting that "the group was above 13,000ft but that conditions had been terrible throughout the climb." His final posting read: "Torrential rain all day. Spirits remain good even if drying clothes is proving impossible. We pray for dryer weather tomorrow – the big day."

The ill-fated trek was due to ascend to the Lava Tower, a key point of acclimatisation at 15,000ft, before descending slightly to sleep before pushing higher towards the summit, which they aimed to reach within two days. They were nearing their overnight spot when the tragedy occurred.

Born in 1970, McKeever studied Social Sciences at University College Dublin before becoming an AA Roadwatch broadcaster on Irish radio, while also working in public relations and later as a life coach. Unfulfilled, he turned to climbing relatively late in life. Aged 30, he decided to give up the safe and sedate world of traffic bulletins and follow his dream and become an extreme-sports adventurer.

He took easily to mountaineering and in 2004 set a world record for the 5 Peaks Challenge, climbing the five highest peaks in the British Isles in 16 hours and 16 minutes. Two years later, he climbed Ireland's 26 highest peaks in 98 hours. A successful ascent of Mount Everest followed. He was no stranger to difficult conditions during his climbing career, suffering from snow blindness on his descent from Everest and frostbite on a later trek on Mount Elberus in Russia.

In 2007, McKeever began a series of three world record challenges, on mountains, at sea and on land. He hoped to illustrate that through properly channelled belief, motivation and the right preparation, regardless of age or background it is possible to achieve one's goals. He gave himself five years to complete all three records.

In June that year, completed the mountain leg, setting another world record in the process by scaling the seven highest mountains on seven continents in 155 days, knocking 32 days off the previous record, established in 2006 by the Canadian Daniel Griffiths. In 2009 he was part of the team that attempted to row the South Atlantic Ocean in under 30 days, but 11 days in and 250 miles ahead of the world record, the boat lost its rudder and the attempt had to be abandoned. A year later, upon turning 40, McKeever set himself the challenge of beating Eamonn Coughlan's four-minute mile for a person over 40, which he had set aged 41 in 1994. McKeever's mile time dropped from seven minutes to 4min 20sec in 22 months of training.

McKeever was no stranger to Kilimanjaro, having scaled it on many occasions; in 2008 he helped his 10-year-old godson, Sean McSharry, become the youngest person in Europe to reach its summit. Last August he led a group of 145 Irish teenagers, along with their teachers and fundraisers, to the summit of Kilimanjaro, which set a Guinness World Record for the largest group of people to reach the top – and raising money for various charities including Our Lady's Hospital in Crumlin and Chernobyl International.

Recently McKeever had been attempting, along with his African friend and climbing guide Samuel Kinsonga, to break the world record for the fastest ascent of Kilimanjaro, as part of their anti-racism Black and White Makes Sense Campaign.

McKeever was the author of two books, Give Me Shelter and Give Me Heroes, and had been working on a third, Give Me 28 Days.

Ian McKeever, mountaineer, lecturer and broadcaster: born Lough Dan, County Wicklow, Ireland 13 February 1970; died Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania 2 January 2013.