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DYNAMIC Brit Lizzie Banks and her American husband, John Tinetti, successfully reached another peak in their daring mountain range adventures around the world.
They made it to the summit of Mount Elbrus, the highest mountain in Europe, and at 5,642m, the 10th most prominent peak in the world.
“After we had completed Mont Blanc last year, we discovered the argument as to whether that or Mount Elbrus was the highest point in Europe. It became clear that it was indeed Elbrus and we thought ‘why not’?” explained Lizzie, 50, St Christopher’s School’s head of psychology.
“I sometimes zone out and don’t think about the fact that I have so many hours left to go or that I have to get all the way back down again. I know it’s bad when I start counting my steps though, I can’t deny that didn’t happen a few times on this trip.
“As well as not being able to eat whilst on the move, I also don’t like the feeling of my breath coming back at my face whilst wearing a balaclava - so I took it off.”
It proved to be a painful decision as the bitterly cold Russian weather took its toll. “The consequence of loving the great outdoors – wind-burn,” she explained. “It was not pretty and it hurt!”
And they weren’t the only tears shed. “Before summit day we had met a guide from Siberia,” said Lizzie. “He was such an interesting person. He spoke of there being something spiritual about this mountain and when he reached the top he just burst out crying - something that has never happened to him before whilst climbing.
“Well, the same thing happened to me. Obviously, I didn’t let the men in our group see me and I’m not convinced it was a spiritual experience, I think I was just completely knackered and didn’t know if I had the energy I needed to get back down again!
“So, in terms of elation - not really, that comes after when you hear of people not making it and then you know that you did actually achieve something that not everyone does.
“I will say though that the view is incredible but you just don’t have time to hang about and enjoy it because the weather is constantly changing and you just have to get back down as quickly as you can.”
The couple joined ranks with three Russians, one other female who didn’t make it above 4,500m because of the energy-sapping climb. There was also a doctor in the party who was conducting research on the effects of altitude on blood oxygen saturation.
The group gave him some interesting data as three were taking Diamox, used to treat high altitude sickness, and Lizzie and John were not. Their pulse and blood oxygen levels were measured at each stage of the climb.
“On summit day I was actually struggling with really severe pains below my ribcage,” said Lizzie. “That lasted for the remainder of the trip. The doctor said I had an issue with my kidneys but I am right as rain - it was clearly the food!
“The biggest challenges were the toilet and shower facilities,” said Lizzie. “After basecamp there were no showers. When you are out all day acclimatising etc., it is hard sometimes not to have the option of cleaning off. Baby wipes don’t quite cut it after a few days.”
Lizzie’s mountain climbs are particularly remarkable as she only has sight in one eye because she inhaled a parasite whilst on safari at the Kenyan Masai Mara game reserve in 1993. The damage was the result of the blood-borne carriage of a micro-organism to the eye. She was not aware at the time so did not seek help early enough to prevent the damage. And, as a result, she has no depth perception which can be particularly ‘problematic’ from time-to-time on mountain ledges, as reported in GulfWeekly.
As for John, 51, a Commander in the US Navy, he’s ‘absolutely petrified of heights’ but does it for the love of Lizzie.
Lizzie is back at school now, thankful to her American expat training partner Tina Nixon, and glad to be back in the warmth of Bahrain. “I love being back in the classroom,” she said. “I’m actually ready to get back into some kind of routine as this summer has been crazy. I have literally jumped from one experience to another without having chance to catch my breath. It is nice to stay put for a while.
“It always puts me off doing it again immediately after the climb. But, give it a week or so and without being fully aware, you see that your computer’s history is already showing search engines of mountains closest to me.
“The thing I love the most is the feeling that nature is far stronger than you. You can put months into training for endurance trips and if she doesn’t want you to get up the mountain that day - you’re not going, it’s as easy as that. If you ignore her, you’re the one that pays the price. There is no greater excitement to me than that!
“This is our last year in Bahrain and so we are looking for destinations that will give us the opportunity to train for high altitude climbs and more technical climbs. We are looking at Washington State … but who knows what exciting adventure lies ahead.”