33 to go: Bilston adventure man Lee reaches highest point in 67 countries
It's been another year of travel and adventure for mountaineer Lee Humphries, who is well on the way to achieving his goal of standing on the highest point in 100 countries.
So far he has crossed 67 high points off his list and his quest has seen him jet off to far-flung destinations in the Caribbean as well as Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait during the past 12 months.
But it's a mission that's not always been easy with complications ranging from five cancelled flights in five days to being bitten by a spider in the Trinidad jungle.
The 36-year-old from Bilston had planned to start 2018 by flying out to the Caribbean to tick off five more high points in just one trip. First up was Mount Jamanota on the island of Aruba, which stands at 617 ft. He had to keep his wits about him during his trek due to the many dangerous critters that could be lying in wait.
"I passed many large cacti and I was heading towards Aruba's most remote area and it certainly started to feel like that. There are quite a few snakes and spiders on the Caribbean islands and many reports of a boom in cobras over recent years in Aruba, in particular, meant I needed to be aware and cautious when sitting, putting my bag down or passing under trees," he explains.
Despite having to remain on his guard, he was rewarded for the effort when he reached the top. "The view was extensive and I could see over to the fantastic blue waters and beaches that surrounded the islands main resorts and hotels," says Lee, who began his challenge in 2015.
He had planned to travel on to the island of Curacao to venture up The Christoffelberg that evening but arrived at the airport to find his flight had been cancelled and re-arranged for the following day.
Lee faced further delays meaning he didn't arrive at his destination until much later than planned and leaving him no time to attempt his next climbed before his next scheduled flight to St Maarten early the following morning.
But when he arrived back at Curacao airport at 7am he was told that his flight had been delayed and no update would be made until 11am. While it was annoying, it gave Lee an opportunity to attempt the climb he hadn't been able to do.
"My plan had originally been to catch a cheap public bus to Christoffel a small town near the highest point in Curacao, but I now had the option now to get back on track if I could gamble and catch a taxi to the national park, make a speedy ascent and then head straight back to the airport before the announcement at 11am," he says.
After negociating a price for the ride and for the driver to wait for him, he set off. "Upon reaching the national park I bought a ticket and convinced the taxi driver to take me closer to the trail head.
"She wasn’t legally allowed to but time was tight. I jumped out of the taxi leaving my bag with her just taking my passport, camera and wallet and said I would be back within two hours. I started jogging down a sandy trail surrounded by tall cacti.
"It was well defined and easy to follow, there were rocky sections and a few sections where scrambling using your hands were required but straightforward nonetheless. I passed several people, mostly westerners, before the steeper final section to the summit which I reached in around 35 minutes.
"The views were extensive but I couldn’t afford to wait around so as soon as I had taken pictures and videos I scrambled back over the large boulders on the summit area and jogged when possible to save time."
His gamble had paid off as when he returned to his airport he found out there still hadn't been any update on his flight. But Lee was forced to abandon his trip and head home after four more cancelled flights, vowing to climb the three high points he had missed at a later date.
In March, he returned to the Caribbean to go to the top of 1,115ft Mount Hillaby, La Soufriere, which stands at 4,049ft in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and 2756ft high Mount Saint Catherine in Grenada.
He also went to Cerro del Aripo on Trinidad and Tobago but ran into a spot of bother thanks to one of the island residents. "I was bitten by a spider during the jungle climb causing my arm to become painful and numb which lasted several days," Lee explains.
After a break, the self-employed roofer resumed his high points challenge in October and headed to Egypt and Lebanon.
In the former, he went to the top of Mount Catherine in Egypt and spent time in a Bedouin settlement. He recalls seeing 'large military presence, roadblocks and spot checks'. "The Egyptian army had killed 51 militants in the Sinai area while I was climbing there," says Lee.
He feared his plan to visit Qurnat as Sawda in Lebanon may have hit a road block because of earlier visits to Israel. But after his passport was thoroughly scrutinised he was allowed to continue on his way.
A trip to Jordan saw him visit one of the seven new wonders of the world - the ancient city of Petra - before Jabal Umm ad Dami, the country's highest mountain.
"The views from the summit looking over towards Saudi Arabia were stunning," says Lee.
His final destinations of 2018 were Jabal Bil Ays, the highest mountain of United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait where the highest point is near the Saudi Arabia/Iraq border.
Speaking about his plans for 2019, Lee says: "I'm planning on quite a few high point trips this year, starting off with a trip to the Caribbean, picking up where I left off earlier last year before the cancelled flights. I have several trips to Africa pencilled in along with a few more Asian high points too."