Queenslander Michael Groom (pictured) had decided that climbing would be a big part of his life at an early age. With a grandfather like Queensland wilderness pioneer Arthur Groom and a father like Donn Groom, he probably had little say in the matter! By the early 1980s, was well advanced in his quest to climb the highest mountain in the world. It all started at age five when he was looking at Mt Barney with his father, Donn, who explained that Mt Everest was about six times higher! In 1982, Groom made several trips to the Himalayas with Australian climbers Tim McCartney-Snape, Lincoln Hall, Geoff Bartram, Greg Mortimer and Andy Henderson and following a season in the French Alps in 1986, he found himself on Kangchenjunga (8598m). But a decision he made to turn back close to the summit probably saved his life. The following year, he and his climbing partner John Coulton reached the summit of Kangchenjunga in a howling wind. A nightmare descent began as, snowblind and hallucinating, they stumbled along in the darkness. When Groom removed his boots, the ‘black rot’ of frostbite had reached the arches of both feet. For most, it would have meant the end of a climbing career—but not for him: ‘Losing my toes really changed my outlook on life in that unless you experience a situation where everything that’s so important to you is very nearly taken away, you don’t really appreciate how much it means to you.’ He realised that somehow, he’d been given a second chance and that’s when he decided to take up mountaineering with a vengeance.
The five highest mountains in the world
Groom joined Rick and Jane White’s expedition to Cho Oyu in 1990 and they attempted a new route before retreating. With the rest of the team suffering from either altitude sickness or exhaustion, Groom climbed to the summit alone up the standard route. His determination to climb Mt Everest (8848m) was rewarded on 9 May 1993 when he stood on the summit of his dreams. The following year he climbed K2 via the Abruzzi Ridge and 12 months later, became the first Australian to climb Lhotse (8511m). In 1996, he was back on Everest as an expedition guide when a huge storm swept across the region. In its wake, eight climbers on the south side of Everest died, including his employer, New Zealand climber Rob Hall, and another of Hall’s guides, Andy Harris. It was three years before Groom returned to the Himalayas. At noon on 16 May 1999 with partner Dave Bridges, he climbed the last few metres of solid ice to the tiny pyramid summit of Makalu (8481m), becoming the first Australian to climb the world’s five highest peaks.
Illustration: Michael Groom on the summit of Cho Oyu, The Courier-Mail, 1990.