Hungarian mountain climber reaches the top of Elbrus mountain in Russia – grounding the vegan flag.
“Raising the vegan flag
at the summit of each of the Seven
is my contribution to the movement.”
Márton Fodor has achieved his goal of reaching the Elbrus peak (5,642m), that is one of the Seven Summits challenge that he was determined to accomplish.
Vegan Flag International had the opportunity to ask Márton a few compelling questions about his journey to the top:
Where were you born and raised?
I was born (24/7/1978) and raised in Pécs, Hungary in an Ashkenazi family. I would identify as a jewish Hungarian.
What other languages do you speak?
I speak English at a very decent level (having lived in the US for a year and now in the UK for 8 years. I also speak Spanish, French, German to some basic degree and a few words in Hebrew.
When you were a child what did you want to be?
As a child, I wanted to be a lot of things, from fireman to pilot and engineer. I actually started pilot training at 14, but had to drop it. Ended up becoming an engineer.
How many brothers and sisters do you have?
I have one older brother, who lives with his family in Enfield, London.
How did your family react when you announced the news to climb?
My family is supportive in general about everything, both veganism and mountain climbing and the dozen other crazy things I have done in my life. My mother, of course, is constantly worried.
What was the turning point that led you to veganism?
Me becoming vegan is a bit of a story.
I was diagnosed with pituitary tumor well over 10 years ago now. That tomor messed up my endocrine system and made me really obese. For many years I lived like that while undergoing treatment. Eventually, the treatment brought things back to normal, but that didn’t mean I was just going to lose weight as well. Three years ago I had a work colleague who became a close friend as well. She was already vegetarian going vegan. Her relentless dedication and love of making the most of life inspired me to change my life around. I went mostly plant-based overnight but still ate seafood for a while. Started a rigorous workout routine as well and quickly dropped weight.
In a year’s time, I went from 123kg to doing the London Triathlon and have continued with challenges ever since.
When did you accomplish your first big climb? and at what point in your life did this become a dream?
My first big climb was Mt. Kilimanjaro in 2017. I did that to support a friend who wanted to go for his own very respectable private reasons. I have been vegan for two years just now in August. So on Kili, I was already vegan.
There and then I just fell in love with mountaineering and decided I wanted to climb the Seven Summits
I have climbed a number of peaks since, but Mt. Elbrus was my second of the Seven. So now I am in a very peaceful competition to make the Seven as the first vegan
Have you ever hiked on your birthday?
This was the first time I’ve climbed on my birthday. Expeditions aren’t typically organized around that as you can imagine.
Do you travel alone or with a team?
MF: I went with the same company as to Kili, Action Challenge. I’ve joined a small team of 7 climbers whom I’ve never met before. This is quite usual.
GH: How long did you train for this mission?
I’ve not really changed my training regime, maybe only a bit for the climb, I normally run 5K every morning or more and I do calisthenics for strength training. When I have the chance I also do yoga or tai chi. Before the climb, I started swimming as well to increase my lung capacity. I never had a doubt I can do it, but I also never anticipated how hard was going to be.
How much equipment do you haul with you?
On Elbrus, there are no porters with the team (unless you hire one on the spot) so you need to haul all of your equipment up to High Camp. about 24kg altogether. That’s sleeping bag, technical clothing, snacks, boots, crampons, ice axe, harness, mattress, everything. We did two trips up from Basecamp to High Camp to take our shit up.
What form of communication did you have with the world while climbing?
As typical, usually you’re cut off from the world while on a trek like this, so I didn’t expect to be able to contact anyone during the trip. The team lead always has a satellite phone, but that’s for the daily check in with HQ and emergencies only. To our surprise there was reasonably good wifi at High Camp for a price, so we ended up posting pics and messaging friends and family from 3800m
Do you write in a journal to chart your day?
I don’t keep a journal, but I did take my gopro and far too many batteries and sd cards, so I have footage. About ritual, mantra and feeling one with the universe: (Gad, this is great, I think? Does he have video of this, you can insert here?)
Do you feel one with the universe when climbing?
One of my main reasons to climb is because there the rest of the world ceases to exist. None of societies false problems matter, there it’s you, the mountain and your team. It really helps one realize what’s really important and drop the veil of the false reality of modern daily life. I reach a state of constant mindfulness up there. So yes, I do feel one with the universe.
Are you ever afraid, you will not make it back?
Things are so simple up there. You pay attention and you experience new limits, strength, the power of nature and its beauty, but one wrong step and you die. It’s not even an exaggeration, Mt. Elbrus is one of the deadliest mountains on Earth. So yes, I did think about not coming back and I had to make arrangements in case I didn’t. Facing your own mortality is liberating though. Once you realize you’re going to die you can start living. Memento mori!
What about human waste, how do you store and dispose of the contents?
MF: Typically on expeditions, people respect the place and don’t litter or leave waste. Most national parks it’s strictly regulated as well. There were toilet facilities at high camp if you can call two metal shacks hanging over a cliff with a hole in the floor that. When up on the glacier you don’t have such nice amenities. So you just do what you can. Sometimes while being roped up 4.5m from your teammates.
GH: Have you ever been injured while on a hike?
I never had any major injuries, of course, smaller falls and bruises lots. So far I’m happy to say that on each of my extreme altitude climbs it was acute mountain sickness that affected some of my teammates the most. On both of my high mountains at least one teammate had to bail or be rescued due to severe symptoms.
If I wanted to climb a mountain what are three tips you could give me that would save my life?
There are some basic rules on any expedition if you want to make it. Drink lots of water. At high altitude that’s 4-5L a day easy. Above cloud level, the air is very dry and you lose 2-3L a day just breathing. The second one is acclimatization. Take the mountain slow, allow your body to acclimatize or you’re never going to make it. Hygiene is also important. You’re in foreign lands with foreign bacteria. We made sure all our food is cooked and popped chlorine tablets into our water religiously. Most importantly go with a good local guide. That makes or breaks it! No preparation can replace local knowledge of the mountain. Respect the mountain as it has its own will. Each one has its own weather, often deadly. Without the experience of a local guide, you may not stand a chance.
When you reached the top what was your celebratory drink, meal, song, dance?
When we reached the top after a gruelling 11.5h climb we were all overwhelmed with emotion. We only had about 10 minutes to spend up there partially because there are other climbers waiting for their Instagram fame and also because it’s not safe. You need to get down as soon as possible. So we would take pictures in a hurry while hugging, shouting, screaming into the wind all crying behind our expedition sunglasses. To show our respect to our youngest member, a 19yo Scottish lad we all shouted ‘Freedom!’ for one of our team pictures.
you can imagine we had plenty of celebration both when we got back to High Camp and later down back in town.
Why did you choose the vegan flag as your arrival to the top marker?
I can’t say I am an ARA, I never stood in a Cube of Truth. Raising the vegan flag at the summit of each of the Seven is my contribution to the movement. If it helps spread the word or dispel the notion of the weakling vegan I’ve done my part. Unfortunately, you can’t leave the flag up there.