Saturday 19 August 2017

Aoibhin husband suffering night terrors after conquering Everest

Aoibhin Garrihy welcomes home husband John Burke. Picture: Arthur Ellis
Aoibhin Garrihy welcomes home husband John Burke. Picture: Arthur Ellis
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

The celebrations have been ongoing in Co Clare since local hero John Burke, husband of Aoibhin Garrihy, conquered Mount Everest.

But though still riding high on her husband's achievement, Aoibhin has shared the tough realities John has faced since leaving the 8,848m mountain - including night terrors and coping with the stress of seeing dead bodies.

Six people have died this climbing season attempting the summit, and four bodies found in a tent last week are thought to be those of climbers from a previous season.

"It's been a tragic year for mountaineering," said Aoibhin. "It's only since he arrived home safely and more news has emerged about others that you realise how lucky he was."

She also revealed that John met mountaineering legend Ueli Steck only days before the Swiss climber fell to his death on nearby Nuptse.

"It's quite a spiritual place and when we were there, before John started the climb, we met a lama - a Buddhist priest - who performed a ritual and gave his blessing to the climbers," Aoibhin added.

"During the ceremony Ueli came in, and John had looked up to him so much. They chatted for a while and got a picture together."

While John was on the mountain, news reached the outside world that 40-year-old Steck had died when he hit trouble at almost 25,000ft.

This wasn't John's only experience of death on the mountain. "Beyond a certain altitude they can't rescue bodies as it's just too dangerous," Aoibhin explained. "I think once you pass the death zone at 8,000m they have to leave people where they fall. That's where John came across his first dead body.

"He took time to reflect and pray - then he realised the man was wearing the same type of boots that he had on his own feet. He remembered the day those boots arrived and how excited he was, showing them off to his family - and he wondered if that dead climber had done the same.

"That's when he realised he needed to dial in. He needed to keep his wits about him so as not to be that guy. That kind of thing really put him on high alert."

Since returning home, John has also had some psychological side effects from the life-threatening climb.

Aoibhin said: "It's a lot for the body to go through. There's always some trauma after something like that. You spend so much time trying to survive. He has been waking up during the night, he doesn't know where he is and he is reaching out and grabbing, like he is about to fall.

"He is human, not a machine, so there is definitely a case for thinking that fear has to subside."

The couple are founders of the charity Elevate, which promotes mental well-being in young people. John said he hoped to inspire young people to reach their goals and he hoped he had proved that there is "something for everyone" to work towards.

Aoibhin, who is a judge for the Killashee Irish Tatler Style Icon competition at The Curragh at the Tattersalls Irish Guineas Festival today, said: "We all go through tough times, and times when we feel low. We hope this programme in Clare will work towards supporting youth wellness."

Sunday Independent

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