Most of us struggle to keep that twice-a-week workout promise, so imagine enduring punishing sessions at the gym, weightlifting and climbing nearby mountains four times a week — and all before going to do a day’s work.
That is a glimpse into the world of Vanessa Archontidou and Christina Flampouri, two self-described “ordinary women” who have already flown the flag for Greece from the highest peaks on four continents and are aiming to add number five to their tally this summer.
It is all part of their ‘Seven Summits’ challenge, something the pair describe as their “Hellenic dream”; the dream of being the first two Greek women to scale these dangerous peaks which have denied so many other hardened climbers.
Having already conquered four peaks in North America, Europe, South America and Africa, the intrepid pair spoke to Greek Reporter in Athens about their preparations to climb the 4,884-meter (16,000 feet) Carstensz Pyramid in Indonesia — the highest peak in Oceania.
Vanessa, a mother of two who works as a marketing director in a multinational company, says: “We try to practice four times a week; either it is indoors or outdoors.
“We try once a week to go to Parnitha or Ymittos [mountains], close to Attica we were live. So, before going to the office we go to Parnitha where there is a 600-meter ascent called the Little Stairs.”
Trained by fellow Greek climber Nikos Mangitsis (who has led more than 42 mountain expeditions to the world’s tallest mountain ranges) Christina and Vanessa combine this time-sapping practice with the gym work necessary to carry 35 kilograms (77 lbs.) of backpack and sleigh.
Both say teamwork is of the essence, in what is often considered a sport of personal records and individual achievement.
Vanessa says: “For us, it’s very important to be honest because we know that mountaineering is a sport that some people see as being very competitive… How important the team mentality is for us is visible in out last expedition [to Alaska].
“We went to Denali, and a few meters under the peak, we decided to hold hands and step on the peak together.”
That teamwork came into play in a more critical way as they descended the frozen Alaskan mountain.
As the weather warmed up the glacier, crevasses in the ice began to grow. While Christina and Vanessa’s guides slowed down to find a stable snow bridge, Vanessa suddenly felt herself “not stepping on anything, and that I was falling”.
“I didn’t have time to react, I just felt the rope making a very intense push on my shoulders and on my waist and I found myself hanging by the rope of the guide. At the time, I didn’t scream, I was very, very silent.”
She had fallen into a large crevasse, and it was only with slow, patient moves and the help of her climbing partners that she was able to recover and get back to safety.
Despite these hair-raising exploits however, both Christina and Vanessa are keen to stress their ‘ordinariness’.
“Because we are not rich, and we do this as a hobby, we try to make this a symbolic action to help other people understand,” Vanessa comments. “When you have a goal, even if it’s not a mountaineering goal, if it’s something that you truly believe in and even if you have obstacles in your way — like being a parent, or ‘I’m working a lot and I cannot do it’ — there is no obstacle.
“You can be happy, you can do whatever you want and you have a program and a vision.”
“We don’t say that we’re superwomen and that we’re super fit and that no one else can do what we do.
“We say that we’re two ordinary women that just have a goal on their mind and by having this persistence and this dream and this goal, we can do everything.”
The women’s main challenge is that of financing their expeditions. With their message that “a woman can be a professional, a mother, a housewife, a climber”, their support network appeals for contributions at http://awomancanbe.com/contribute.
Of course, among the last three peaks is the big one — Everest — which has still not seen a female Greek at its summit.
When asked if they are confident of completing the whole seven summits challenge, Vanessa is candid: “The mountain has the last word.”