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14 August 2008 Edition

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Who's up for the Mourne Mountain Challenge?

Banjo on Everest 2003

Banjo on Everest 2003

 

 

 

 

Up a mountain with a Banjo


BY ELLA O’DWYER

Everest climber Terence Banjo Bannon from Newry is organising a 26-mile hike over the Mourne Mountains, County Down for 4 October this year to raise funds for the O’Donovan Rossa Heritage and Cultural Society. Participants will climb in teams of four walking over 12 mountain peaks with panoramic views of some of Ireland’s finest scenery. It will be a tough hike but nothing so gruelling as the climbs Bannon has made. Here Banjo talks to Ella O’Dwyer about his remarkable climbing exploits having reached the summit of Mount Everest in 2003 and undertaken the challenge of climbing K2 in 2005 and 2006.
Terence Banjo Banner (40) from Newry started his climbing exploits on the trees scattered around the local countryside when he was a boy. He got the name Banjo when he was heading into a boxing match with another youngster who’s mother grabbed him by the ear and told him that if he hit her son she’d ‘Banjo’ him – meaning she’d give him a slap. “I was always into adventure” Banjo says, “into climbing trees and walking. I was surrounded by mountains as a youngster, mountains like Slieve Gullion and the Mournes. The first long walk I did was when I was 14. I walked from Newcastle to Rostrevor, about 26 miles. This walk we’re organising on the Mourne Mountains on 4 October will also be 26 miles. We’re doing it to fund-raise for the O’Donovan Rossa Heritage Centre and Cultural Society in Rostrevor which is a great facility for young people. They’re taught Irish dancing and music.” Some experience of hill or mountain walking is necessary for the Mourne walk and a training schedule is accessible on the www.feilechamlocha.com website.
But while the Mourne hike is not for the fainthearted Banjo’s exploits have been utterly hair raising having incorporated a successful climb of Mount Everest in 2003 and two attempts of K2 in 2005 and 2006.  “I reached the summit of Everest on 31 May 2003.  I started the expedition in April so it took me all in all about two months to complete the whole excursion. You fly to Katmandu and then onto Tibet. You carry your own food – high energy food  – and your own equipment up the mountain. You’d lose about a stone and half on a climb like Everest.”
Besides the physical challenge there’s the mental challenge of persisting in the climb despite the hardship and there’s also the trauma of witnessing frequent fatalities and coming across dead bodies en route. “There’s an ethos of mutual support amongst climbers. You never leave a comrade in trouble on route although some selfish people have left people in trouble and kept climbing. You have to remember it’s only a mountain. You never leave a comrade behind – that’s the bottom line. Part of the mental challenge is to push out the limits and see how far you can drive your body. It’s 70% psychological. Ordinary people can do extraordinary things.”
In July 2005 he decided to climb K2. Although second in size to Everest it is a much more difficult climb and is considered the most dangerous mountain in the world with winds of 160mph and a higher fatality rate than Mount Everest. The recent death of Irish climber Ger McDonnell on K2 showed that the dangers are very real.
Banjo decided to do the climb K2 without oxygen. Part of the mountain climbing experience, like any challenge, is handling disappointment after the euphoria of having completed a climb. In 2005 Banjo had to turn back on his climb up K2 due to bad weather and then in 2006 an avalanche prevented him from reaching the summit. In fact four Russians who were on the climb with him in 2006 lost their lives in the avalanche and Banjo only survived because he was pushed to one side of the downfall and his rope held. “While it was disappointing not to make the summit there’s mixed emotions. At least I survived. Self-preservation kicks in at a time like that and it can be all a bit surreal. You really appreciate life after something like that.”  He’s not really interested in climbing Everest again but as for K2? “Never say never” he laughs. “I’d like to try Nanga Parbat in Pakistan – another dangerous mountain. I like a challenge.”
A mountaineer must be capable of determination, commitment and even sacrifice, it seems.  “It’s a kind of a reflection of life’s journey”, Banjo says.  But for the Mourne march Banjo is flexible and wants it to be an enjoyable if gruelling enough occasion. “It will take about ten hours in all to complete but I want people to enjoy each other’s company. The prize, £3000 or €3000 depending on the currency of the entry fee you pay,  is not the important thing. I want us to enjoy the Irish countryside together. People should wear good walking boots – not new ones – and woolen socks.  But the most important thing to bring is a good sense of humour. They’ll bring their own food.  Showers and refreshments will be available in St. Bronagh’s GAA Club in Rostrevor afterwards.”
Mountain climbing has been a very central feature of Terence, Banjo Bannon’s life and has obviously brought him a lot of happiness. He even met his wife on a mountain. “I met my wife on Everest, she’s American. I’m a very happy person. Of course fear is a factor in a dangerous activity like mountain climbing but fear can be harnessed. It can be positive. It can actually sustain your energy and if you lose the fear your energy can wane a bit. It’s surprising how your body can rise to a challenge. As they say believe and achieve.” 

 

Anyone wishing to participate in the Mourne climb should contact: Declan on 0872657265 or 07761576458 or email:[email protected]

An Phoblacht Magazine

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