Climbing Everest is a strange phenomenon. You spend more money than a really nice car costs, you train for a year, then you leave your family for two months with no guarantee that you will summit, and about five people die each year. So why do this? And don’t give the “because it’s there” answer! 🙂
I am always intrigued to learn when people first thought of climbing Everest and how that thought became reality. For me, that moment is etched clearly in my memory.
Ama Dablam – No Way
My first introduction to the Himalayas was in 1997 on a trek to Everest Base Camp. As I often say, it changed my life. I was hooked and wanted more so I trained on Mont Blanc while living in Geneva Switzerland and reached 8000 meters on Cho Oyu in 1998.
In spite of not reaching the true summit, my passion for alpine climbing was set. I joined an Adventure Consultants team for Ama Dablam in 2000.
Learning from my mistakes on Cho Oyu, I trained hard in Alaska, the Grand Teton, Ouray and New Zealand. I honed my rock and ice climbing skills plus now understood how my body reacted to altitude.
I remember that summit on Ama Dablam and a conversation that set my life on a new course like it was yesterday.
Leaving High Camp at 5:30 am I was nervous and apprehensive because of my experience on Cho. Could I do this?
Only a few years earlier, when I first saw Ama Dablam, I laughed out loud “Does anyone climb that?” I was told yes, many professional climbers have. And with that, I dismissed this beautiful peak as something far beyond my capabilities.
Now, in the dawn light, three years after first seeing Ama Dablam, I was almost to the summit. I paused to look around. The view was breathtaking. I was climbing Ama Dablam. I was climbing a peak I never thought was within my ability. My gaze dropped to my boots as I let this sink in.
I was making steady time up the steep snow slope just above the infamous Dablam. In 2006 six climbers had died when it released. I picked up my pace. I felt good, not tiring as quickly as I had on Cho. The snow was firm and supported each step. The sun has risen but we were climbing in the mountain’s shadow and it was very cold.
I looked down the slope and saw Dave Hiddleston, the lead Adventure Consultant’s guide. He smiled, pointed up and shouted “summit”. I smiled back, and gave a thumbs up. I then knew that I would summit. The emotions were growing.
Another steep slope and I could feel the summit. I continued to take each step carefully. Suddenly my left leg went limp in a patch of soft, deep snow. This is not what I needed when I am so close. I gathered myself and reset my position on firmer snow. I focused and became very deliberate with each step and then it was over.
On the summit, the top, no higher to go.
At 10:30 am on October 26, 2000 I summited Ama Dablam, only three years after seeing it for the first time and declaring it unclimbable for me. I hugged my teammates and looked around. Makalu was standing proud, an 8000 meter mountain. The view was filled with seemingly hundreds of snow covered 20,000 foot peaks. And as I looked to the North, I saw it. Everest.
In 1997, on my trek to base camp, I saw Everest from the top of Kala Patar, an 18,500 foot trekking peak. My eye followed the skyline, wondering what it would like to even try the world’s highest, but was grateful to just see it in person, albeit from six miles away.
I dismissed any dream of climbing Everest – too high, too much time, money and I lacked the skills. It was impossible for someone like me.
Now from the summit of Ama Dablam, I looked more carefully at the profile. Again, I traced the route from Tibet and from Nepal. I closed my eyes to let that image become part of who I was. I smiled, let out a deep breath and was satisfied with my summit. I needed nothing else in that moment.
We returned to base camp and began the trek out. As Dave Hiddleston and I were hiking the high ridges in the Khumbu we paused for a break. Dave then said the obvious. “So mate, you did well on Ama, now it’s time for Everest.” And with that the seed was planted.
The Seed is Planted
Sadly Dave died on Mt Tasman a few years later but I never forgot that moment. He believed in me, felt my love of the mountains and understood that anyone who climbs in the Himalayas has a good chance of wanting to climb Everest.
Only two years later, I found myself hiking up the Khumbu, with Dave, on my way to attempt Everest for the first time.
That first Everest attempt did not go well. I underestimated that 22,494 feet on Ama Dablam did not translate to the upper flanks of Everest. In hindsight, I should have trained harder, but more importantly, I lacked the mental discipline to summit Everest.
As I talk about in presentations, there are 1,000 reasons to stop and only 1 to go one. I focused on the 1,000. After two more attempts, I finally summited on May 21, 2011 at age 54.
So, what is your story? When did you first begin to dream of Everest and tell us the moment that dream became reality and what is your plan? Please leave your thoughts as a comment.
Memories are Everything