EVEN though he’s just climbed to the top of the world’s highest mountain, Steve Graham doesn’t think of it as “conquering Everest”.

“It might sound a bit corny, but you don’t conquer the mountain, it allows you to climb it,” says the unassuming North-East father-of-two. “I was just fortunate that the weather window and conditions enabled us to get to the summit.”

It’s hard to believe that just a week and a half ago, Steve was standing at just over 29,000 feet, and now he’s home, relishing time with his wife Hollie, sons Sam, 16, and Max, and Rocky the family dog.

The dangers can’t be underestimated. During his expedition, three people Steve met lost their lives on Everest. He also survived two avalanches, cracked a rib due to the notorious Khumbu cough, and overcame an acute shortage of oxygen.

But he is rightly proud of having raised more than £12,000 for St Teresa’s Hospice and Prostate Cancer Uk, as well as inspiring children from three Darlington primary schools – Mowden, Abbey and Reid Street – who supported him.

Steve chose the charities because his grandad died of prostate cancer and spent his last days in St Teresa’s Hospice in Darlington.

“I just seemed to tie together and I’m glad I’ve been able to help them by raising a bit of money,” he says.

Steve, 45, a self-employed heating engineer, has been away from home since March but there were emotional scenes at Heathrow Airport last week when his wife, sons, and mum were there to welcome him home.

“It was really nice to see them. The truth is, everything I want is at home, sometimes you just need perspective to remind yourself,” he says.

Having lost 12 kilos, and understandably feeling tired, he’s now recovering physically and mentally back home and steadily working his way through a list of the food and drink he missed most – with fillet steak and a glass or two of Malbec top of the list.

He’s also brought back some precious mementos in the form of stones from the mountain, including one from the summit that has already been taken into Sam’s geology class.

“It’s been an incredible experience. I can show photographs and I can tell stories, but you can never really explain how awesome the mountain really is,” he says.

Steve, who has now climbed five of the seven highest mountains, spent around half an hour on the summit before making his way back down to Camp Four, the highest base camp.

“I’m normally quite an emotional person but with this one I wasn’t because it had been such a long expedition and you’re concentrating so hard on just moving and breathing,” he says.

Due to a combination of weather conditions and the number of people attempting to reach the summit on the day Steve was making the final climb, he and other members of his team ran low on oxygen – so low that his tank was empty when he got back down to Camp Four.

He also told how he and his team survived two avalanches during the climb: “You hear them coming before you see them,” he explains. “With the first one, we knew it was a powder avalanche with little chance of rocks and ice, so we went down on one knee and turned our backs as it came over us, like a white hurricane.

“The second one was much bigger, and we had to lay on the ground, hold onto each other, and dig in our ice-axes while it went over us. The danger is that it can pick you up and dump you in a crevasse.”

Steve is extremely grateful for all the messages of support he’s received, both during the expedition, and since his return home to Darlington.

“It meant so much to get the messages of support, from friends, family and even people I don’t know. It’s been really humbling.”

Now, it’s a question of rebuilding his strength, enjoying some home-comforts, and going back to making a living as he contemplates fulfilling his ambition to climb the seven highest mountains. There are two more to go and he aims to have lived up to his nickname of “Steve Summit Steve” by the time he’s 50.

Climbing the world’s highest peaks is an expensive business so Steve would love to hear from any companies interested in sponsoring him on future expeditions. There is also still the opportunity to make a donation in recognition of his climb up Everest by going to www.virginmoneygiving.com/7summitsteve.

“For me, the most important thing is raising money for the charities and inspiring the children to get out there, think big and aim high,” he says.

The fact that he came back with all his digits – or was allowed to keep them by the mountain – is seen as a bonus.