A SOUTH Tyneside adventurer is ready to hit new heights in the New Year - as he closes in on a remarkable mountain mission.
Mountaineer Steve Berry capped off a remarkable 2014 – which has seen him scale Russia’s largest mountain and abandon a trek in tragedy-hit Nepal – with some precious family time over Christmas.
But now the 59-year-old, who landed back in England on Christmas Eve after leading a team of Australian students on a dramatic month-long expedition through Botswana and Zambia, has even loftier ambitions for 2015.
Mr Berry, from Central Avenue, South Shields, is one climb away from reaching the summit of the highest mountain in all seven continents.
Last year he scaled Russia’s Mount Elbrus, having previously conquered Mount Everest in the Himalayas, Mount Kosciuszko in Australia, Argentina’s Aconcagua, Mount Denali in Alaska and Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
He will attempt to make it a magnificent seven in December 2015 by reaching the top of Mount Vincent in Antarctica, but only after he completes some ‘unfinished business’ in Nepal.
In October, Steve and climbing partner Ray Smith were attempting to scale Ama Dablam, in the east of the country, when extreme weather conditions led them to abandon the challenge.
A fellow climber was killed in an accident while Steven and Ray were moving up the daunting 6,800 metre high peak.
Freak blizzards and avalanches struck the Annapurna Circuit, a popular trail in the north of the country, with the death toll exceeding 40.
More than 100,000 trekkers visit Nepal each year and October is generally considered a safe time to travel to the Himalyan region, with weather usually clear and stable.
Steve and Ray will return to the Himalayas to finally climb Ama Dabalm next November, before Mr Berry tackles Mt Vincent.
Steve said: “It was a terrible year for Nepal. First they had the tragedy on Mount Everest in April when 16 Sherpas were killed, then over 40 were killed in October.
“Ray and I both agree that we have unfinished business in Nepal. We want to get it done and now we will know what the climb is all about.
“We will just be hoping for better conditions. The weather in October could never have been predicted.”
After returning home at the end of October, Steve jetted off to Botswana and Zambia to lead an expedition. He said: “It has been a very full year. I freelance as an expedition leader and led a group of Australian students. I was stung by a scorpion. I had checked my boots but a small one must have crept in. I was in a great deal of pain and was in shock as I didn’t know what happened. But as a true Brit, I kept on going.
“When in Botswana we were also chased by elephants and threatened by hippos.”
Despite dicing with disaster, Steve successfully completed the African adventure, returning home in time for another test of human endurance - last-minute Christmas shopping.
Steve added: “I flew back into Heathrow at 5.30am. I was out getting a gift for my wife, Jennie. It was nice to get some family time with her and our two daughters and three grandchildren. Christmas is the best meal of the year and I wanted to make the most of it.”
Next Christmas, Steve could be in Antarctica – adding himself to an elite band of mountaineers who have scaled the seven highest peaks in the globe. Only three British climbers have previously scaled all seven peaks.
Steve needs to raise £16,000 to fund his Antarctica mission.
Steve is offering a unique sponsorship opportunity for firms keen on blue-sky thinking.
He will plant a flag on top of the mountain bearing the names of local businesses.
Firms that wish to sponsor Steve’s mountain mission can e-mail him at email@example.com