Armagh Everest conqueror Linda makes history in Himalayas
A Northern Ireland woman has become the first UK female to conquer Mount Everest and Mount Lhotse just a day apart.
Linda Blakely, who is from Lurgan but now lives in London, climbed both after she was inspired by the disaster film Everest.
"I started climbing as a girl with the Lurgan Youth Club," explained the 44-year-old owner of a children's care home.
"I would have climbed around the Mourne Mountains as a schoolgirl. I loved it and it lit a spark in me for sure. I've climbed 50 mountains all across the world since, including Mont Blanc and Kilimanjaro, all of them getting higher and higher. I've done Everest now, so I think I'm done."
Linda, a European Championship and Ironman medal winner, completed the feat last month, and was back with her family in Co Armagh at the weekend.
She said battling the mountains was one of the toughest challenges she'd ever faced. She is one of only four women in the world to have succeeded.
"I trekked to base camp from Lukla, Nepal, on March 30," she explained. "After an acclimatisation climb of Lobuje and two rotations I left high camp at the South Col at 11pm on May 16, climbing for nine hours through the night, summiting Everest just before 8am the next morning.
"I came back down and had a cup of tea, some noodle soup and set off at 2am once more in the dark to climb for another seven hours, summiting Lhotse at 11.30am on May 18.
"It wasn't a walk in the park. I think the toughest thing about it is probably the living conditions."
She explained how even simple tasks became difficult. "It's the sleeping in a tent, having to go to the toilet in a bottle, not being able to do things with your hands because you've got gloves on," she added. "Everything is difficult. It's not just a case of putting on your walking boots and coat and off you go. Everything is hard, particularly when you are up so high.
"There were times I thought I wasn't going to be able to do it.
"When I was climbing from camp two to camp three the winds were so fierce it took me four-and-a-half-hours to make a journey it had previously taken two hours to complete.
"It was so hard-going that I was completely knackered. When I got to the ropes I thought I couldn't go on.
"We met people coming down and they told us that the weather was even worse where we were headed, so we had to turn around.
"I was so exhausted. I thought that it might be the end of the line and I wouldn't make it up the mountain. But I got up the next morning again and went on and did it and I was extremely happy I did."
She said it is an experience she will never forget.
"The views were totally amazing but I tried not to look too many times," she said.
"Everest's summit is so small that only about six people can be on it at once, and I was more relieved to reach it than anything else.
"There are a few dead bodies littered around that you can see are the result of falls, but Lhotse had a Russian climber sitting just at the base of the summit that we literally had to step over.
"He had been climbing in 2013 without supplemental oxygen and was climbing too slowly. He was 15 metres from the summit when he sat down and died. It was really sad to see him there."
All the time she was climbing, her mum at home in Lurgan was blissfully unaware until Saturday of what her daughter had achieved.
"I didn't tell my mum because I didn't want her to worry," Linda explained.
"She thought I was just trekking in the valley and not climbing anything.
"For the summit push I called home on my Nepali phone and told her I would be walking in an area with no phone reception."
She said she was very proud of her achievement. The feat was the culmination of two years of planning and extensive training involving daily three-hour sessions on the StairMaster.
And she revealed it was all an idea sparked by a disaster film.
"I watched the movie Everest with my friend in the cinema, and even though it is a disaster movie, it just brought it all back to me about how beautiful the mountains were," she said.
"As I left, I told my friend that I had to go and do Everest now. It was always my dream and I had to go back to it. So that was that and I'm proud that I did it."