From sea to summit and back to sea

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Cris at sea level in Tanga as he began his hike

What you need to know:

  • The goal from sea level to summit and back to sea is Cris’ target, however, his wife Viviana, also a mountaineering enthusiast, joins him at mountain bases and hike starting points and together, they scale the mountains.

They say chance happens to us all, but what they don’t always add is that you best be prepared when chance happens to you. When Cris Cristea was 20-years-old, he moved from his home in Romania to London in search of better opportunities. In London, he ended up stuck doing a job he hated and could barely afford his rent.

As chance would have it, one day, his brother came to visit and brought him an autobiography of a mountaineer named Bear Grylls. This chance reading and Grylls’ experience in climbing Mount Everest was the spark Cris needed to begin to visualise a goal that would reshape the trajectory of his life.

Nine years ago, while working as a personal trainer at a gym in Kensington, London, Cris met his wife Viviana, who at the time worked as a receptionist at the same place.

Starting off as friends, they quickly learnt that they shared a passion for adventure, travel and hiking, and overtime, got into mountaineering together and began challenging themselves to bigger and bolder goals.

“After reading Bear Grylls’ autobiography, I was inspired and his [Grylls] story gave me a goal of my own. I wanted to climb the 7 summits, each continent’s highest mountain,” Cris shares.

“Over the Covid-19 period, I noticed that these 7 mountains had become very popular, with companies now doing much of the ‘heavy lifting’ for climbers such as offering flights straight to the mountain’s start line,” he narrates, adding: “But I wanted a real adventure and to see more of the countries themselves.”

“So, I decided to make it a harder challenge by starting my climb at sea level (0 metres), trek to the summit and end back at sea level, climbing every meter up and down,” Cris shares.

The plan was to climb Aconcagua (the highest mountain in South America) from the sea and back to the sea in January 2024 and then immediately fly into Tanzania after and climb Kilimanjaro the same way in February.

Throughout 2023, the couple climbed many mountains in preparation for Aconcagua and Kilimanjaro.

Most notably, they climbed the highest peak in Switzerland, Dufourspitze and the highest peak in Mexico, Pico de Orizaba and then made it a point to train 5-6 days a week.

Having done Aconcagua in South America and Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, the next summit is Everest in Asia, which will be done in September of 2025.

In March or April of 2026, Cris aims to embark on mount Denali in North America, followed by Elbrus in Europe in August of 2026 and closing off 2026 in December by summitting Mount Vinson in Antarctica.

The last summit on his goal is the Carstensz Pyramid in Oceania, an endeavour that will be determined by the political landscape.

“For the whole of 2023, both Viv and I worked nonstop to save enough money to climb Aconcagua and Kilimanjaro. We sold many of our things and even left our home in London. We now own only 4 backpacks between us,” Cris shares.

While the decision to sell off their things and move wasn’t a shocking one to families and friends, the bold goal to summit these seven mountains from sea level, up to the summits and back at sea level was a shocker for many in the couple’s circles.

The goal from sea level to summit and back to sea is Cris’ target, however, his wife Viviana, also a mountaineering enthusiast, joins him at mountain bases and hike starting points and together, they scale the mountains.

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Along the hike to Kilimanjaro

The plan was to be in Tanzania for 30 days and four flight transits later, a sleep-deprived Cris landed at the Julius Nyerere International Airport and immediately took a bus to Tanga.

“The next morning, I went to the sea, put my hand in the water, set my clock and GPS on Strava and began my walk out of Tanga and towards Kilimanjaro,” Cris narrates.

The goal was to cover at least 35km each day, going from one village to the next. However, some villages were further apart and saw Cris do up to 45km more at times.

This was also an unsupported walk so Cris had no medics or any other form of crew with him, compelling him to survive on wits, his backpack and the good deeds of the people he met along the way.

“I had planned to camp for at least 4 days along the way but the day I arrived on the bus from Dar es Salaam to Tanga, I noticed that the vegetation was super wild and my camping idea wasn’t going to work. Fortunately, I found some guest houses to stay in along the way,” Cris shares.

“I was also meant to do a 10-day walk from Tanga to Moshi but I extended this to 11 days so I could reach more villages along the way. Of all the villages I passed through, Mombo was my favourite. The nature in that area is spectacular. I wish I had the time and energy to visit Lushoto,” he adds.

“However, the people from every single village I went to were extremely friendly. I made many friends along the way. I don’t think I was ever close to quitting, but by the end of the very first day, I definitely had doubts that I would be able to make it,” says Cris.

He shares that the hardest part of the whole challenge, including climbing Kilimanjaro, was the walks - especially the closer he got to the coast because of how humid it is.

“The walk from Tanga to Muheza felt brutal to me because of the heat and humidity. I have never experienced humidity like this before. On day one, I walked 38 kilometres and my heart was beating out of my chest,” he narrates.

“Although Viv only joins me to climb the mountains from their usual starting places, she supported me immensely with all of the preparations, and throughout my walks, I couldn’t have done it without her.”

“What kept me going was that in my mind I wasn’t walking to Moshi, I was walking towards Viv. Climbing the mountains with Viv was a big help for me mentally, seeing her at the end of each of the walks from the sea was a big motivator to push on and so summiting Kilimanjaro and being on the roof of Africa with her was the happiest moment of the year so far, for me,” Cris shares. “We loved our experience on Kilimanjaro. It is one of our favourite mountains so far and the people we met along the way made it an exceptional experience,” shares Cris, adding that “Knowing there are coffee shops in Moshi helped.”