“Everyone’s happy,” Irish mountaineer Ian McKeever wrote on Facebook, three days into a climb of Africa’s Mount Kilimanjaro, in which he was leading a group of 20, and during which time it had barely stopped raining for a second.
He was killed on Wednesday night in a lightning storm on the mountain that left others in the party with minor injuries. According to the many friends that paid tribute to the well known, record-breaking mountain climber from Ireland, his happiness was an extremely difficult thing to conquer.
The 42-year-old was struck down in a freakish tragedy as he led his hikers in the direction of the Lava Tower, a celebrated site on the top of Africa’s highest peak.
Others in the group – mostly from Ireland – also hit by the lightning storm needed medical treatment for minor burns and shock, but their injuries were not thought to be life-threatening.
The Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny knew Mr McKeever, and was among the first to pay tribue to him. “I had come to know him over recent years and I admired him not only for his own achievements and charity work but also for his work with young people in challenging them to achieve their full potential,” he said.
Mr Kenny recalled getting text updates from Mr McKeever when he led an expedition of students from schools in the Taoiseach’s native Castlebar to Kilimanjaro’s 5,895m-high summit.
“He was extremely passionate about what he did and driven in his belief that everybody can achieve their potential,” he said. “Ian said to me once that there was no place he would rather be than in the mountains.
“I would like to extend my sympathies to his fiancée Anna and his family, friends and fellow adventurers.” Anna was with him during the climb.
Arrangements are being made to make Mr McKeever’s remains available to his family, some of whom are travelling to Tanzania.
“Torrential rain all day,” he had written, the day before they moved in the direction of the Lava Tower. “Spirits remain good even if drying clothes is proving impossible! We pray for dryer weather tomorrow – the big day.” But the weather deteriorated further.
A lecturer and broadcaster from Lough Dan in Co Wicklow, Mr McKeever regularly mentored hikers, including many Irish schoolchildren, through his Kilimanjaro Achievers organisation.
He was the former holder of the record for climbing the highest peaks on all seven continents in the fastest time, which includes Mount Everest.
The latest expedition set off to Tanzania from Ireland on 28 December and began the ascent the day before New Year’s Eve.
The adventurer was known for many feats, including scaling Mount Everest. In 2008, he helped his then 10-year-old godson Sean McSharry become the youngest person in Europe to reach the top of Kilimanjaro.
More recently he had been attempting, along with African climbing guide friend Samuel Kinsonga, to break the record for the fastest ascent, as part of their anti-racism Black and White Makes Sense Campaign.
He was the author of two books Give Me Shelter and Give Me Heroes and was working on a third book Give Me 28 Days.
Pat Falvey, renowned Irish explorer, said Mr McKeever was “a dreamer” who “followed his dreams with conviction and inspired others”.
“I am absolutely shocked to hear about the death of my friend Ian,” he told the Irish Independent newspaper.
“It was a freak accident and a complete fluke. I have lost two friends in lightning strikes, including one on the Himalayas – but they are very rare on Kilimanjaro.”
Mr Falvey continued: “Ian has done the Seven Summits – the highest mountain on each continent – and this is the easiest one to do.”
“Any normal person can climb it, and more than 20,000 people do so every year. I’d like to pay my condolences to his family.”
On his Facebook page last night, a statement said: “It is with deep regret, that we, Ian’s family, fiancée Anna and friends, advise of his sudden death on Kilimanjaro, today, doing what he loved best.”