Would you quit your job to climb Everest? If your job was slow, stalled or dead, mind maybe. But what if you were a successful cardiologist in a growing practice? Ellen Gallant did just that. Ellen leaves for Everest in 6 weeks.
Ellen lives in Salt Lake City and today is spending her time training. Similar to many people, including me, her love affair with climbing and Everest began on a trek to Everest Base Camp.
She began climbing on rock in 2000 and found it fed something deep inside of her. But when she read “Into Thin Air”, the fire was fueled. On that trek to EBC in 2002 she met an all women’s team going to Everest and the fire raged inside of Ellen.
With that motivation, Ellen went on to climb Aconcagua, Denali, Cho Oyu, Vinson. She felt at home with multiple climbs in the nearby Teton Range and in Ecuador. But her favorite was the climbing in the lower 48, Mt. Rainier. She has now climbed it five times by four different routes, including the infamous and difficult Liberty Ridge.
Ellen was raised on the East Coast, obtaining her medical degrees in New York. She moved to California for her fellowship in Interventional Cardiology. She never looked back East as she felt at home on the West Coast and near the mountains. She loved her job but also felt the call of the mountains.
Like many successful professionals, she struggled to live her life to the fullest while trying to balance her professional requirements along with her passions. She felt guilty and selfish taking the time and money to go climbing. But she also felt alive being on a long climb. Finally it was a conversation with International Mountain Guides’ Phil Ershler on a trek in Bhutan that brought it all into perspective.
She returned from that trek and fully committed to Everest, including quitting her job in order to take the time to train properly.
An emotional person, she does not hold back. As she neared the summit of Vinson, the tears flowed as she felt an overwhelming sense of satisfaction and confidence. Everest would be next.
This quote may sum up Ellen:
“After reading “Into Thin Air” in 2001, I decided I had to see Everest base camp. Perhaps not a normal reaction to the book, but I’m not a normal girl.”
Please meet Ellen.
Q: What is your motivation to attempt Everest?
A: For me a lot of what I have done athletically is about finding my limits, both physical and mental. Competitive swimming and track, marathons, short distance followed by Ironman distance triathlon, rock climbing, back country skiing, mountaineering….where do I cry “uncle”? I have not found that limit yet.
I honestly do not know what will happen on Everest. I quit my job to climb Everest. I train for hours a day now and will be physically ready for this adventure, but I do not know if that will be enough. I have done some pretty painful things athletically. I intellectually know that summit night will be the most painful event of my life. That said, I think the reality is going to be beyond what I have imagined or read about. Will I be strong enough? I just don’t know but am looking forward to finding out the answer to that question.
Q: You quit your job as a cardiologist last summer in order to climb more. What is the story behind that decision?
A: Briefly, I went to Bhutan in the fall of 2012 for 2+ weeks trekking with a great group of people. Phil Ershler was our guide. Over the course of the trek, Phil and I chatted about what I had climbed and gradually about my Everest aspirations and my hesitations. I had created a story in my mind about why I should not climb (too much money which could be better used/donated elsewhere…. too dangerous…. too self-indulgent). Phil helped me debunk all of these excuses, and I came back to the US having decided to commit to the climb in spring 2014.
Only problem was my job as an interventional cardiologist. Hard to get big blocks of time off. After talking to my partners, I realized what I wanted was not compatible with the needs of the group. I either needed to give up on this adventure or resign; I chose the latter. I shall never regret having resigned to climb Everest; I genuinely believe I would regret not having resigned to give it a shot…..
Q: One of your climbs was the Liberty Ridge on Rainier, serious route! How was it?
A: I have climbed Rainier 5 times by 4 different routes. Liberty Ridge is my favorite. I had the pleasure of climbing a few years ago with the amazing Olivia Cussen as head guide. Liberty Ridge is a fun climb because you are really climbing. Nothing easy about summit day. I am much stronger now, but Lib Ridge was another piece in the training plan/puzzle for Everest.
Q: I always say that the trek to Everest Base Camp will change your life. It seems to have done that for you in 2002. Tell us about that.
A: I read “Into Think Air” around 2001 and planned a trip to Asia in 2002 to just see EBC. Spent time in Thailand and Cambodia first followed by meeting some friends in Nepal for a trek to EBC. I arrived in Kathmandu a few days before my friends and decided to take that little plane ride along the Himalayas. While I was at the airport, I met Mark Tucker (I had no idea who he was or what a guide did….). He told met quite a bit about climbing, and he was heading to Everest.
Over the course of the next 14 days or so, friends and I trekked toward EBC. Monasteries along the way. Namche Bazaar. The beauty of Everest from the top of Kala Patthar. Conversation with a group of American women at Gorak Shep (they were trying to be the first female American team to the top of Everest). The climbing “bug” came out of these experiences. In addition, I started exploring Buddhism.
Q: You are quite the competitive athlete including an Ironman Triathlon? Is this part of your overall training for high altitude climbing?
A: I have been a competitive athlete my entire life. Swimming, running, cycling led to triathlons, including several IM distance triathlons. Currently my training includes cycling, BC skiing, hiking (with a heavy pack filled with kitty litter…..), running, rock climbing (outside until last fall, now at the gym), working out with an amazing trainer where I do nutty things like pulling truck tires across the parking lot. I also sleep in an altitude tent.
Q: It appears that Everest will have a lot of activity other than climbing this year, for example a wing suit flight off the summit. What are your thoughts on this?
A: I think this plays into the “shit show”/circus environment of what Everest climbing has become. I went to the Telluride Mountain Film Festival last May. There was an evening session called something like “Everest these days….WTF!”. It was about the circus environment that exists.
I have worked hard to get here. I just want to climb. I want to stay away from people who shouldn’t be on the mountain, all documentary films, and people who want to do something nutty like soar off the top of the mountain in a squirrel suit while Discovery channel films.
Q: You are climbing with IMG. Why did you select them as your Everest guide?
A: I have climbed loads of mountains with IMG. I think they do a great job with logistics, and I trust the guides. I think the world of Greg Vernovage who will be in charge of the 2014 expedition. Big expedition like IMG versus small group like RMI?: this is always the question. IMG runs a relatively large expedition but I think if “shit happens” on the mountain, they will be able to intervene to help
Q: Any other thoughts?
A: I am humbled by what this adventure is. I have no idea how it will end. I have no idea if I am mentally strong enough to handle summit night. I am fairly certain it will be the most painful experience of my life, beyond what I can even imagine or have experienced up until now despite some pretty crazy adventures already.
I have done all that I can to maximize chances of success and at this point I leave it up to the goddess of the mountain. Of late, I have dreams of standing on the summit of Everest, and I cry. I pray that I am able to do something this spectacular that will always belong to me.
Thanks Ellen. We’ll be watching you along your journey and pulling for you. You can follow Ellen on her Facebook page
Memories are Everything