Article Types News Meet the BMC member climbing the seven summits, from sea level

Meet the BMC member climbing the seven summits, from sea level


BMC member Madalin Cristea, known as Cris, from Romania, has become the first person to summit both Aconcagua and Kilimanjaro from sea level and back again. He is currently attempting to be the first person ever to climb up and down each of the world’s seven summits (the highest mountain on each continent) from sea level - climbing every metre of the mountains up and down.

For Aconcagua, this meant walking 500km across Chile and Argentina. He even had to cross the Andes mountains. For Kilimanjaro, it meant walking 800km across Tanzania and camping in the savanna. We asked Cris about his fantastic challenge to find out more about the adventure so far and how we can all follow his progress.

What gave you the idea?

In my early twenties, I felt very lost. I was stuck in a job I hated with no plans or prospects for my life to improve. Only when I read Bear Grylls autobiography did things start looking up. Bear’s story of climbing Everest inspired me to want to climb the seven summits - the highest mountain on each continent. A few years later, I was climbing my first ever mountain.

For the next seven years, I was driven by the idea of climbing the seven summits. But over covid, my goal started to evolve. Climbing the seven summits had become very popular. It now felt like the guiding companies were doing much of the heavy lifting to help their climbers reach their goals.

I wanted a bigger challenge so I doubled down on my goal, opting to start and end at sea level. A feat never done before.

What is your hiking background?

I grew up in a small town in Romania on the foothills of the Carpathian mountains. I used to hike with my parents weekly, but it wasn’t until I was 23 and living in London that I climbed my first mountain, Mount Olympus (2918m) in Greece. I met my now-wife later that year, who became my adventure buddy. We would go on hikes together at every chance we could.

Four years ago, we started a YouTube channel to help raise money for my goal. Since then we’ve hiked and climbed around the world including; Slovenia, Slovakia, Guatemala, Mexico & Italy.

In July last year we climbed Switzerland’s highest mountain, Dufourspitze (Monte Rosa) and in August one of Georgia’s highest mountains, Mount Kazbek at 5,054m.

How did you train for Aconcagua and Kili?

Living in flat London, it is hard to prepare for the mountains. My training involved doing multiple strength and long, slow cardio sessions a week as well as regular hikes with a heavy backpack.

How long did each one take?

Aconcagua was my first mountain. I flew to Chile on New Year's Eve and started by the sea in Concon on 1 January. The hike to the entrance of Aconcagua park took seven days but climbing the mountain took much longer. I summited and walked back to the sea in Concon by 28 January. All in all, I hiked over 500km.

Only a few days later on 3 Feb, I set off for Tanzania. It took four flights and an eight hour bus to reach the seaside town of Tanga. The walk from Tanga to Moshi (the town at the base of Kilimanjaro) took 11 days, the mountain only six days. I finished back in Tanga on 2 March, having hiked over 800km.

Did you take any learning points from that to improve for peak two?

Many! On my way to Aconcagua my backpack was too heavy.  At 12.5kg before food and water I could feel the weight taking a toll on my body on top of the daily mileage and incline. On my Aconcagua trip I also didn’t eat enough. By the time I finished, I had lost 8kg. My family and friends were shocked when they saw photos of me.

Which one was the harder of the two?

Aconcagua for sure. I struggled with the altitude, lack of sleep and exhaustion a lot on the mountain. Kilimanjaro felt like a holiday in comparison due to the amazing support of our mandatory guides and porters.

How are you managing to this all alone?

I chose to start with Aconcagua and Kilimanjaro as they were possible to do alone. I saved up for several years and planned my routes very carefully so I had safe places to sleep and restock almost every day. My wife Viv was a huge support. She met me at the base of each mountain with my mountaineering gear and all the supplies we needed. She also sorted out permits while I walked.

How much do you have to carry?

A fair bit! But I tried to keep it minimal. In my walking pack, I would always have the minimum amount of clothes, waterproofs, my camera and drone, some emergency food (e.g. Huel) and my sleep system: tent, sleeping bag and sleeping mat. This was around 10-12kg. I would then add water and supplies like bread and peanut butter.

What did you eat?

In Chile and Argentina, I ate a lot of empanadas (stuffed pastries). The deep-fried ones in Chile are now one of my favourite snacks. In Tanzania, I also ate a lot of local food. I’d stop at street stalls along my walks but most of the time due to the language barrier I didn’t know what I was eating. On both walks I also ate a lot of peanut butter and jam sandwiches. They are mine and Viv’s go-to mountain meal. Huel’s instant meals were also very handy in the uninhabited regions of Tanzania.

Where did you stay?

On the walk to Aconcagua, I camped a fair bit in camping grounds and fields. Sometimes it was a bit sketchy. The other nights I found hostels or guest houses. In Tanzania, I mostly stayed in guest houses. These would vary from hotels to rooms in someone's village home. A few nights I camped.

I had originally planned to camp the entire way but when I arrived in Tanga, Tanzania and saw how overgrown the land on the side of my walks was and was warned about the crocodiles, I knew I had to make a new plan.

How many pairs of hiking boots are you getting through!?

Only two so far! I actually wore my running shoes the whole walk from Chile to Argentina and back. I made the mistake of re-buying the same pair and wearing them new for Kilimanjaro. New shoes and long hikes are never a good idea! Especially in the heat and humidity of Tanzania. My feet were destroyed.

What was the biggest challenge on each trip?

On my Aconcagua trip, it was dealing with exhaustion on the mountain. After seven days of hiking and only one rest day, I started the climb. My wife and I were attempting it unguided, using only a mule to base camp for support. With all the food and equipment we needed, our bags still weighed over 20kg on our hike in and on the multiple rotations up. The altitude and high winds also made sleeping quite difficult. Two nights before my first summit push the wind gusts went up to 80 km p/h. We stayed awake all night holding onto our tent for dear life.

On my Kilimanjaro trip, my feet were the biggest issue. My new shoes, the humid weather and several 40km days wreaked havoc on my feet. It felt like there wasn’t skin left. Thankfully when I met Viv in Moshi she had an emergency foot repair kit ready to help.

What was the greatest highlight on each trip?

Walking through the rural areas in Chile was incredible. I loved every minute.

Seeing Viv when I came down from Chile into Argentina. She met me at the border to walk the last 10km with me until the park entrance. The nature and the people on my walks between Tanga and Moshi. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming to me.

How does it make you feel to have completed two but know there are still five ahead?

Really excited. I’m itching to go out again.

What is the biggest challenge that you see ahead of you?

The logistics for Vinson Massif (Antarctica), Denali (Alaska), and Punkak Jaya (New Guinea) are going to be very challenging. Let alone doing them. Vinson and Denali will be huge and unique expeditions that will require a lot of funding and climbing Punkak Jaya from sea to sea is currently almost impossible due to the political instability in West Papua.

Which summit  are you most looking forward to?

Elbrus (Russia) and Denali (Alaska). I’m planning on doing Elbrus from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea - literally sea to sea - and I can’t wait to see those rural areas. I’m also very excited for both the approach and the climb on Denali.

How long will it take to do the next five?

I’m hoping just the next few years but it currently depends on the political situations in Russia and in West Papua. Everest will be my next one so I will be working on getting more experience in high altitude climbing this year.

Where can people follow your progress?

I’m making documentaries on each of my climbs. You can find the latest one here on my YouTube channel. You can also follow my progress on Instagram and Strava at the same handle. If anyone is interested in joining for one of my next trips, i’m looking for team members. Just reach out.

Watch the video of Cris climbing Aconcagua from sea level