DROMARA'S conquering couple of climbers, Noel and Lynne Hanna, have arrived back home after successfully scaling Mount Everest together - and Noel already has a fresh challenge lined up.
Noel and Lynne, who flew into George Best Belfast City Airport on Friday, where they were greeted by cheers from family and friends, made history as the first married couple from Northern Ireland to reach the summit of Everest, the highest point on Earth.
Long-time Ulster Cancer Foundation supporters, the pair are using the climb to raise a mountain of cash, 150,000, for the Foundation's Personal Everest Project.
The UCF laid on a reception committee of grateful officials to welcome the couple as they arrived at the airport. Head of Appeals and Marketing, Joyce Savage, said, "We are thrilled to welcome Lynne and Noel back home again; it's great to see them looking so fit and healthy after their incredible achievement." As one of the waiting photographers asked the pair to kiss for the cameras, Lynne answered, "He wouldn't kiss me on the top of the mountain, so I don't think he's going to kiss me here." She later explained, "I asked him for a kiss on the summit and he said, 'Don't be silly, keep that oxygen mask on' and I realised just how cold it was and just where we were."
Led by legendary Russian climber and guide, Nicholay Cherhy, Lynne and Noel reached the summit Thursday, 21 May, sharing it with fellow climber, Canadian Patrick Singh and Russian guide, Maksim Bogatirev.
The expedition was the couple's second attempt at reaching Everest's summit as a husband and wife team. In 2005 Lynne abandoned her summit chance when Noel was diagnosed with retinal haemorrhaging, causing six weeks of blindness. Noel himself did, however, return to Everest and reached the summit in April/May 2006.
As awe-inspiring as reaching the top of the world must have been, the couple's reception at Belfast was in its own way over-awing too.
There are so many people and so much noise," said Lynn. "It's hard to take in and makes you realise how quiet it is up there."
Lynn said she was glad to be home and was looking forward to a bath, a bed and some relaxation.
"It's very hard being around all men all the time and I really missed being with women and talking to my sisters," she said. "I'd just go off and go into my tent and put on my iPod – Noel and I never fell out or anything, it just made me realise what being with my sisters means to me.
"Only 30 women were due to summit this year, so I was pretty much on my own. You all camp together but you are in your own tent, so it could be kind of lonely, but I'm thrilled to have done it.
"It hasn't really sunk in yet – when I get home I'll be able to sit down and have a think about it."
Noel revealed their ascent to the summit was all the more memorable for the fact that explorer and adventurer Ranulph Fiennes arrived just after them on his first ascent, and they all met up on the roof of the world.
Noel said, "I know Ran well, but it was great that he was there at the same time. I got to the top first and then Lynn arrived a few minutes afterwards and then Ran came along. He even took our photos for us, which made it even more special."
This adventure behind them, what then lies ahead for the couple.
Lynn is going to take some time to decide on her next challenge but Noel has his already lined up.
"I'm planning on going down to Antarctica in December, around Christmas," he said, "and will set a world record for the fastest, highest peak-to-sea-level climbs ; that'll be my last one of the seven continents."