Remembering Michael Tsoukias, Mountain Pioneer

The climbing community is in mourning following the passing of Michael Tsoukias, CEO and founder of Trekking Hellas, and Greek mountaineering legend.

The legendary Greek climber Michael Tsoukias, who succumbed last week to COVID-19, was not just one of Greece’s foremost mountaineers; he was instrumental in establishing the foundations for the accreditation system for Greek climbers, and a pioneer in promoting outdoor activities, co-founding the Greek outdoor sports company Trekking Hellas together with his friend and climbing partner Christos Lambris.

“He was my instructor when I started climbing in the 80s. He is the one who pushed me to do what I love for a living, and he is the one who created the mountaineering educational system, so we could all become professionals. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to thank him” says climber Aris Theodoropoulos.

“It is thanks to his vision that climbing was developed in Greece,” says mountain guide Michalis Vasileiou. “Trekking Hellas was a truly bold initiative. He built it from the ground up, before Greece had any idea of such things. He was ahead of the game, like with the Greek Camel Trophy he organized.”

I remember how impressed I had been during one of our talks. He was frank and outspoken: about families who alienate children from nature by overprotecting them, about the type of mother who sees mud as filth, and about the state that doesn’t cultivate the right attitudes in schools. He was an advocate of life close to nature – he himself lived in the village of Kotylio in the Peloponnese. He wanted to shape nature-loving minds and, as the president of the Hellenic Association of Tourism Enterprises in Outdoor Activities, he spearheaded key initiatives.

As an experienced climber he had led numerous expeditions, the most daring being the first Greek ascent of the Himalayas in 1985, during which two of his companions were killed; he managed to save the life of another, Christos Lambris.

Others recall his trial descent of the Nestos River in 1989 with an inflatable sea dinghy, while others remember him for the pioneering ideas he brought to Greece.

Michalis Vasileiou remembers: “He was a master on the ice and a good man. He was open-hearted and possessed a subtle sense of humor. He was adventurous. He never lost his courage, no matter what. He was solid as a rock and incredibly resilient. He did everything with wisdom and respect towards nature. Whatever he did, he did well. One day I even came across him having taken apart the engine of a Land Rover and working on it – he then put it back together and it worked perfectly. The Amazon, Antarctica… he never stopped. We never expected him to leave us this way.”

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