Seven summits: climbing to the top of the world

Finnish national and UAE resident Atte Miettinen is just two mountain peaks away from joining the ranks of an elite group of climbers. Vision caught up with him as he prepared for his next ascent

Atte Miettinen’s spiritual home lies somewhere above 16,000 feet. Nowhere does he find greater peace and contentment than when taking in the view from one of the world’s highest peaks.

“I started mountain climbing with Kilimanjaro almost 10 years ago,” he says. “The whole process of pushing myself and getting to the top kept a fire burning in my stomach, and I found myself thinking about what the next mountain would be.”

Miettinen the conquerer

In the past 12 months, the 36-year-old telecom executive’s ambitions have scaled new heights and this July he will endeavour to become the first Finn, and UAE resident, to conquer the most challenging mountain ranges of them all, dubbed The Seven Summits. “I am quite ambitious, so to me climbing them is a way of testing my limits and capabilities – similar to what I liked to do at work and in other aspects of my life,” he says.

Having climbed Kilimanjaro in Tanzania for the second time in 2006, Elbrus in Russia two years later, plus Argentina’s Cerro Aconcagua, Carstensz Pyramid in Indonesia and Antarctica’s Vinson Massif in 2011 – Miettinen recently embarked upon the last leg of his adventure after recharging and refuelling in Dubai.

“The hardest and the coldest mountain so far was Vinson,” he says. “We enjoyed awesome weather, by which I mean -35°C with sunshine and low winds. It is truly one of the last untouched wildernesses in the world.

"Indonesia, on the other hand, was the most technical as we were basically rock-climbing the whole way. And on Aconcagua, we had a different challenge again because it was very hot – around 30°C for the first couple of days – and up at the summit it was around -25°C.”

Just two peaks now stand between Miettinen and his dream: Mount Everest in Nepal and Denali in North America.

“Everest will be both a huge privilege and a huge challenge,” he says. “It’s the highest mountain in the world – almost 9km high, so the combination of altitude and the physical aspect of the climb taking two months will probably make it the toughest for me. I will be taking oxygen to make the climb a little easier on myself.”

Mental toll

Aside from the perils of frostbite, sunburn and avalanches, the mental toll of mountaineering – with only a guide or small group for company over long periods of time – is not to be underestimated, says Miettinen.

“It requires a certain type of preparation to be ready for the isolation, and I often find I return from a mountain very calm.

"You’ve had time to process things and the experience seems to give you a clear idea about your work and personal life.”

To keep his mind occupied during the bleak, expansive evenings the intrepid climber pens a journal, chats with family on his satellite phone, and relies upon a gadget now almost as prized as his high-altitude GORE-TEX boots.

“iPods have become so important to mountaineers all over the world,” he says. “I listen to some music or I might watch TV programmes about skiers in the South Pole to keep me in the spirit of adventure, and also to keep my mind entertained about other potential things I might do in the future.”

Despite the huge physical exertions of the day, sleep doesn’t always come easy on a cold, hard mountain face and Miettinen’s thoughts inevitably turn to home comforts. “In Antarctica there was 24-hour sunlight and my body struggled to realise it should be sleeping when it was night. And over the years, my appreciation of basic things has shifted – sleeping in anything like a bed, sitting on a sofa instead of a rock and taking hot showers are real luxuries when you haven’t had them for weeks.”

Training programme

Although Miettinen, a Dubai resident since 2007, relishes the experience of being home for two months – his training programme continues unabated to ensure his peak physical condition for the remaining mountain ascents.

“I have built my own training programme, making the most of Dubai’s assets – including its high buildings. I have spent endless hours climbing the stairs of my apartment block which has 55 storeys. As part of my training regime, I put on a 25-kilo backpack and go up and down for about four hours at a time and it tends to be pretty good exercise.”

Fit, focused and following in the hallowed footsteps of famous explorers like Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay – the first to reach the summit of Everest on the Nepal-Tibet border – Miettinen is poised to become a member of arguably the world’s most exclusive club, with just 336 members.