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Flying the flag for freedom

We spoke to the man who took the rainbow flag to the top of Russia’s highest mountain, Mt Elbrus…


Keith Tomlinson, 29, has just got back from a sporadic trip to Russia, to raise money for Stonewall against the country’s anti-gay laws.

He climbed to the peak of Mt Elbrus, the tallest mountain in Europe. We spoke to Keith about his expedition and some of his experiences.

So, Keith, tell us about Russia.

“It was good fun! A few months ago I decided I was gonna give it a go, Mt Elbrus, thought I’d try their highest mountain. I sneakily took the rainbow flag with me and popped it up the top when we got there. We got there after a week.”

Did you have any issues getting into the country?

“No, no I didn’t, actually. I was a bit worried before I went because it leaked a little bit out in local papers, but it was all ok, actually. Everyone else I went with had a few troubles, but I lied on my visa.

“Was I linked to any organisations, or raising any money, stuff like that, I just ticked ‘no’. It was easy but other people got called up for other things than that. But I got straight through.”

What was your inspiration for the expedition?

“It was because of their anti-gay laws, I’m a bit of a rebel really. I climb mountains anyway, and so I just thought this was the year to go to Russia and just wind them up a bit. I raised money through Just Giving, and from friends. I’ve raised just over £500 so far, but I’ve had to go straight back to work since I got back.”

What was the toughest part of the whole experience?

“Summit day. Yeah, we had bad weather, and we’d waited two days to get a weather window, but it still wasn’t great. At the summit you couldn’t really see anything, apart from snow.

“There were six of us roped together, and one of us took a fall, which dragged us all down the slope together, about 30 metres down, so that was a bit of a scary one! And that was at 18,000 feet… At that point I didn’t think we were even gonna get to the summit, but the guide was good. His name was Vladimir, which was quite funny.”

Have they picked up on the flag yet?

“I don’t know! It’s still there, tied to a flag… Not many people summated that day, because of the bad weather. But I hope the flag’s still tied to the top of that summit.”

So when you’re not being a massive rebel, what do you do?

“I work in the middle of the countryside training police dogs. (hence the barking in the background) I’d love climbing to be my job, but no, unfortunately not. It’s more just a hobby. I’ve done three marathons this year, so I do a lot of running, I’m pretty fit and healthy anyway.

“It’s hard to train in the UK for mountain climbing, because we’ve got nothing that high. And you have to take into consideration the altitude. The ultimate dream is Mt Everest one day, but that’s a while off just yet. I’ve been to Argentina, I’ve done Aconcagua, Tanzania a few years ago I did Kilimanjaro. The main thing for this year was Russia, because it was a good thing to do.”

What’s the most important message that you want to share about this experience?

“I wanted to show that gay people can just be rebels as well. I heard about all these silly Russian laws, I thought it’s just stupid. It just popped into my head when I was just riding my bike to work one day, and I just decided to take the rainbow flag and put it on a Russian mountain.

“If I can make some money for Stonewall at the same time and campaign to turn silly laws like Russia’s ones around. but it’s hard asking people for money for something that’s your hobby, that’s cheeky!”

Follow Keith on Twitter, @RainbowSummit1.

Words Will Ross, @WillRoss94

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