(By Correne Coetzer) During November 2014, Sean Burch reached the summits of 23 previously unclimbed peaks in Mongolia, breaking the former record of 4 ascents by a Mongolian climber. The highest summit was 3566 m, the lowest summit 3000 m, and the average summit height, 3276 m.
He left the his home in the US on November 6 and arrived back December 6. During the expedition Sean established 3 Advanced Base Camps (ABCs) at 2300 m. From there he topped out the mountains, with no interim camps outside of ABCs. "It was too cold and exposed to spend the night out in my one-person tent,” Sean told Explorersweb. Climbing light, he took with him in his backpack one energy bar, water, a camera, tracker, safety comms and equipment.
Exweb caught up with Sean back home in Virginia. He tells about the challenging moments, the magic moments, conditions on the mountains, proof of his summits, why he is a proponent of solo climbing, and gives three top tips learned during the climb.
Explorersweb: Where in Mongolia are these mountains? How did you get the idea to attempt them?
Sean Burch: Sagan Gol, Altai Tayan Bogd National Park. I wanted to visit Mongolia and began researching to see if there were mountains that had never been climbed before….and then how could I logistically get there during the month of November and climb for a month.
Explorersweb: Who is keeping the statistics for the summits? Who held the previous record? How many mountains? What did you have to provide to proof that you have summited each mountain?
Sean: The Mongolia National Mountaineering Federation and Altai Tayan Bogd National Park service keep the stats. I have signed documents from both of them. A Mongolian climber held the previous record (4 peaks). Live tracking provided by my sponsor Delorme.
Explorersweb: Tell us about the logistics behind the climb please? How did you get to where you started climbing? How much food did you take? Could the snow provide sufficient water during your journey, as first thoughts of this country is a dry area?
Sean: Flight to Ulaanbaatar, then flight to Olgii. Transport to hut about 30 km from park entrance, then trek in to BC from there. I placed 3 ABC camps periodically to get closer to the mountain ranges and peaks I was considering. 6 camels for carrying supplies. Frozen rivers in the valley for water.
Explorersweb: Who was your support team? Did anybody climb with you? Did you need any ropes? Where were your Base Camps?
Sean: My main support crew were 2 people (translator/logistics), and a cook. The park ranger and his relative were the camel herders and I’d see them every 5 days or so. I climbed alone. No ropes to reduce weight and time. I am a proponent of climbing solo – I think it’s safer than with a partner.
Explorersweb: Why this time of year (November)? How was the weather, temperatures and winds?
Sean: The weather was some of the worst I’ve ever been in…. Continual sub-zero temps, high winds, deep snow…and it never let up, only got worst by the day. 3 climbing days total with sun. Temp: -40ºF, with wind: -50 to -70.
Explorersweb: What were challenging moments on the mountains? Did you get any injuries/frostbite?
Sean: Falling through an ice river with my snowshoes on approach, avalanches, navigate around crevasses, technical alpine climbing, extremely high winds. Yes, frostbite on my fingertips and toes.
Explorersweb: What were magic moments?
Sean: Visiting with local Mongolian families was wonderful…such warm and gracious people. Another reason why I always go local. I wanted to truly experience Mongolia and the culture, and you never get that from planned tours.
Being totally alone on mountains that have never been climbed before provide a stunning and positive energy experience… it’s something I never tire of. When the sun came out it felt like such a blessing… the vistas were awe inspiring.
Explorersweb: Three to five top tips that you have learned from this expedition?
Sean: Never climb in far western Mongolia in November…pick a warmer month.
Make sure logistics are carefully planned because they can make or break an expedition such as this.
Always have a positive attitude even in minus 40 degree weather and being blown off your feet like a rag doll.
Explorersweb: Thinking of your book, Hyperfitness, staying fit for you is a lifestyle. A few tips to stay fit and on track between expeditions?
Sean: Always have a large goal you are training for with smaller goals behind that to keep you motivated and on track. The answers to complete physical, mental, and nutritional training are all there in my book.
Explorersweb: Anything else?
Sean: Anything of value takes time. Death is certain, life is not, so really the only safe thing to do in life is to take a chance. It’s the only way to truly live life to its fullest. Most mongols don’t like the cold either, but they deal, they adapt and excel. I learned from them…we all can.
About Sean Burch (www.SeanBurch.com)
Burch, winner of National Geographic Channel’s Ultimate Survival Alaska television show, was awarded Goodwill Ambassador to Nepal by their government for aid work in their country. He is currently developing a TV show, is a mental fortitude speaker, and is author of the self-help and fitness book, Hyperfitness: 12 Weeks to Conquering Your Inner Everest (Penguin Group USA).
His previous world records include:
1. Fastest Crossing of Nepal (Completed via Himalaya range): 49 days, 6 hours, 8 minutes
2. Fastest Winter Ascent of Mt. Fuji, Japan: 4:05:42
3. 63 Summits of Unclimbed Peaks in 23 Days, Solo, Tibet
4. Fastest Ascent of Mt. Kilimanjaro: 5:28:48
5. Fastest Time for Northern Most Marathon (First Marathon and wearing snowshoes)
6. Jump Rope at Altitude – 26,181ft.
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