In 2003 during a holiday trip, Atte and some friends successfully scaled Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, the highest mountain in Africa. Naturally, since then he has surmounted the mountains of Elbrus (Russia), Aconcagua (Argentina) and Kosciuszko (Indonesia) and Vinson Massif (Antarctica). Geography enthusiasts may have noticed a correlation between the aforementioned summits in that they are the highest mountains for their respective continents, others that they are all of dubious pronunciation. Of Finnish origin, Atte is attempting to become the first of his countrymen to complete the Seven Summits Challenge, of which he is only two summits, Mount Everest (Nepal) and Mount McKinley (United States of America), away from completing.
An endeavour of such an extreme nature evokes equally extreme emotions and reactions. He describes it as an almost spiritual experience, one that makes you realise your limitless potential be it on a mountain or in the workplace. Furthermore, it predicates a relationship with nature in that is practically impossible to emulate in the routine and banality of modern life. He regards meeting peoples whose lives are interconnected with nature as a privilege, one that is humbling and enriches his own through the profound alteration of his perspectives. Speaking from personal experience, he says it opens the mind and influences your outlook, allowing you to derive satisfaction from experiences rather than materialistic objects. During his travels, he has cultivated an altruistic flair which is reflected by volunteering to teach disadvantaged children in Nepal with his ever supportive wife.
Atte describes mountaineering as a personal act, one that allows for a reflection on life and unlocking potential that would otherwise be undiscovered. The process of creating goals and objectives allows for one to gauge their self-betterment whilst simultaneously working out your limits. An anecdote he provided was when he initially attempted Aconcagua, an incident whereby he was forced to discontinue due to developing a serious throat infection. However, he admirably returned to Argentina and successfully conquered the mountain, which I personally believe reflects that even limits have limits.
The contrast between nature’s serenity and perils allows you to feel enriched and augmented, complimented by the euphoria associated with reaching the summit. A disconcertingly amusing story he revealed to us is that after an arduous trek, one mountaineer was so relieved upon reaching the summit she exclaimed her happiness and fainted from oxygen deprivation (he ensured us she was okay). Subsequently, it develops a respect and appreciation for nature and the environment which he feels is being overlooked, a feeling I couldn’t help but identify with as I observed people hurriedly exchanging Visas for Frappuccino’s whilst absorbed with their smartphones.
The inherent difficulties and complexities involved in undertaking such a feat nurtures an almost unique relationship with fellow travellers. He describes a particular breed of friendship that is created when you entrust your life into the hands of others, one that isn’t dissimilar from military comradeship; likewise, a universal characteristic shared by those involved is the compulsion to better themselves through physical and mental exertion, allowing the most diverse people to be united through a single cause. It teaches you the merits and importance of collaboration, attributes which can be translated into both your personal and professional lives.
However, there is the omnipresent element of danger involved in all of his expeditions. Before he even gets near a mountain, months of physical training must be undertaken to ensure an adequate level of stamina and endurance. Being of a humorous disposition, he recalls the odd glances exchanged when residents of his apartment block caught him running up and down the fire escape, or when he runs down a beach at ridiculous o’clock with a tire strung to his back. This danger is most infamously observed at Everest, where 219 climbers have tragically lost their lives since the original expedition in 1922.
Likewise, he must envision and strategies for hypothetical scenarios that may arise to ensure that he is prepared for the eventuality of a crisis. He emphasises that preparation is a keyword, reminding me of the old adage failing to plan is planning to fail. Choosing reputable companies and experienced mountaineers is an essential towards mitigating the chance of failure or even crisis, advice which he says isn’t heeded by many and causes unnecessary tragedies. Timing is critical with short windows of opportunity that allow for safe ascents. An example of this is again Mount Everest, which can only be reasonably summited during the monsoon period in May.
He has seen profound changes in mountaineering over the years, notably in the demographics and constitution of those whom attempt it. It has become more mainstream, with a proportional increase in women, youth, the elderly and even families. However, he cautions against those who irrationally assume that they can scale a mountain with little or no training. A certain machismo blinds some into thinking that they are sufficiently prepared to ascend (and descend) a mountain. He notes that this not only endangers themselves but those unfortunate enough to be travelling with them, since each member’s life is interdependent on the unit.
Mount Everest remains his ultimate goal, touching upon the mysterious ‘magical’ qualities that attracted him to it. He believes that youth should be exposed to not just mountaineering, but general areas of enrichment that enhance the value of their lives. His departing message to us is that people can do anything they want to do, to not be afraid to dream and to realise these ambitions through grasping every opportunity that is presented to them. And at the end of the day he is probably right; although academia and our careers matter, when we reflect upon our lives we won’t recall our report cards or management feedback, it will be the moments that gave us purpose and the experiences that took our breath away. For being the living embodiment of that sentiment, I tip my hat in his general direction.