Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

This 24-year-old adventurer climbed 28 mountains in three months – on a whim 

Originally published through Esperanto Magazine 

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It’s late afternoon on the slopes leading to Grossglockner, the tallest peak in the Austrian Alps. Vitaly Demidov, a 24-year-old adrenalin junkie from Russia-via-Sweden, is not dressed for a snowstorm. He’s fitted out in shorts, thin rain pants, a shirt made of merino wool, and a jacket. He’s also soaking wet; it’s been raining all day. He’s woefully underprepared for the thick flurry of snow, icy winds, and increasing blackness that is descending on the mountain.

“I have never experienced that darkness before,” Vitaly remembers, warm and dry months later in a Perth apartment. “It was complete darkness. I thought I would die within the next hour.”

“I couldn’t walk anymore. I had to run because I was freezing to death. I stopped once to adjust my gear, and I started shaking so much. I realised that if I stayed standing there, my muscles would completely seize up.”

Even after the snow stops falling, conditions don’t improve much for Vitaly on the mountainside. Thick clouds block the moonlight, and a new layer of crisp whiteness covers the bright markings that usually indicate safe paths. He is left to wander blindly around the slopes, trying to stay warm.

“Eventually I realised I was walking down the mountain, not up. It was low enough for trees to grow,” he recalls. “I was so happy, I was laughing my ass off! I was so happy that I actually survived this shit.”

“When I got back the woman who’d seen me off the day before started yelling, ‘oh my god, oh my god, where have you been?! I called the police, I called the mountain guide, I can’t believe you survived!’” He laughs fondly at her exhortations.

For a lot of people, such an experience would be the most exhilarating they’d ever had. Vitaly, on the other hand, is someone who decided to climb 28 mountains in three months on a whim. Each was the highest peak in a different European country, where he collected a small jar of water as a souvenir of every achievement.

After hitchhiking through Macedonian farmland in the mouth of a bulldozer, flirting with old Ukrainian women for cheap accommodation, and learning to dive in the deep blue waters of Montenegro, nearly dying several times was a matter of course.

“I didn’t do any training before I started doing this,” he explains. “I just packed my backpack, got all my gear, picked a flight, and started climbing.”

“When I was travelling, everybody was telling me that the stuff I’m doing is crazy, that I’m crazy, that it’s impossible, and that I would get myself killed. The funny part is that when I was travelling I had absolutely no insurance whatsoever. Now, looking back at all the times I almost died, how close to death I was…you do realise how stupid what you’re doing is, but it advances you as a person so much. It increases your experience of life so much. I realised, I can’t allow myself to not do it. I have to do it.”

Prior to his three-month mountain climbing expedition, Vitaly was occupied with the Swedish army. The military took him to several exotic places, where he had the opportunity to climb mountains in Egypt and Sicily. His curiosity whetted, he began researching, and soon heard about groups of thrill-seekers who made a mission of climbing ‘the Crown of Europe,’ the continent’s highest points.

‘Why couldn’t I do that?’ he asked himself. A few weeks later he was in the Czech Republic, shivering his way up the first peak of his journey.

“The first week felt like ten years, there was so much to experience,” he says.

In that time alone, he reached the summits of the highest mountains in the Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovakia. The next week it was Hungary, Ukraine, and Moldova. He’s not done yet, either – out of the 48 mountains in Europe he’s done just over half. Not a bad accomplishment for three months; but he’s quick to assure, he’ll be back. There’s something about mountains that just draws him in.

“Every single mountain is very different, it’s unique in a number of ways. The nature is different; vegetation, all of the flora and fauna, the animals, the weather, the conditions, it all changes so much,” he describes.

“It changes the experience so much. You can’t compare them. Every time you go up there are different obstacles. The diversity of the whole thing, I didn’t realise how different they all are.”

“You think, is this really worth nearly dying for? But then I realised yes, it is.”

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