Everest 2018: Interview with IMG’s Greg Vernovage

This interview is one of an ongoing series I do each season with Everest climbers and guides. I welcome suggestions for anyone climbing in 2018 that I should interview. My last interview was with climber Patrick McKnight. This is with Greg Vernovage, International Mountain Guide‘s (IMG) Associate Program Director & Everest Expedition Leader.

If you have been to Everest on the Nepal side since 2010, you most certainly felt Greg’s presence. He along with IMG’s Ang Jangbu Sherpa not only operate IMG’s Everest expeditions with precision, they also help coordinate all the activity on the mountain from rope fixing to rescues. They have helped 141 members summit Everest since 2010 and almost 500 members, Sherpas and guides from 1991.

Greg Vernovage - Everest 2011
Greg Vernovage with Alan Arnette- Everest 2011

Greg began guiding in the Eastern Sierra 14 years ago.  Most of his early guiding was on Mount Whitney and on the Palisades Glacier, just up the road from Big Pine.  He joined IMG in 2006 when he met and worked with George Dunn on Mount Whitney. When IMG was awarded a concession on Mount Rainier, he moved to the Seattle area permanently.

His first trip to the Himalaya was in 2007 with a small team for a first ascent in Tibet of a 6000-meter peak. Since then has summits of Everest Lhotse and Cho Oyu on his CV in addition to Denali, Vinson, Aconcagua, Ecuador, Bolivia, Mexico and more. Little known is that Greg played and coached collegiate volleyball and was a coach for two US Olympic volleyball teams, winning a Gold Medal in the 2000 Sydney Games.

I first met Greg in 2011 and he was instrumental in helping me summit Everest that spring. He is a positive, pragmatic leader with a clear sense of purpose and makes safety the top priority. He has a degree from Pepperdine University in public relations and applied communications. Of no surprise, Greg met his future wife, JoLee McLean, in June 2013 while guiding a climb in Bolivia. They were married last August on the Isle of Mull in Scotland. This guy gets around!

Now for the interview

Q: The 2018 season is around the corner. I know you have made your CostCo run for food, snacks and surprises for the team. How long does it take to buy, sort, repackage and get all that food to Nepal?
We have the food shopping and packing pretty dialed these days.  We crank the food shopping, sorting and repacking out in about 3 days.  It starts with putting together the strong boxes we use to ship the gear to Nepal/EBC.  From there, we head to a few stores including Costco and load up on food.  After all the shopping is done, it is time to get rid of the unnecessary cardboard and packaging.  We pack the food into the strong boxes and weigh them so they make up a Yak load.  Door to door, the food is in Jangbu’s hands in less than a week.

Q: Out of curiosity, how many boxes of Swedish Fish do you buy? 🙂 🙂 
Swedish Fish-The ultimate high altitude energy candy.  Before your readers’ stomachs turn over with the thought of eating actual fish on the mountain, we should note that Swedish Fish are similar to gummy bears or gummy snacks.  There is really no time in the mountains when Swedish Fish should not be eaten.  One of the best times is when you have an oxygen mask on.  That oxygen has a tendency to dry out your throat.  If you throw a few Swedish Fish in your mouth, they can help keep your throat wet.  To answer your question, I bring about 10lbs over for the Everest Expedition.

Greg Vernovage
Greg Vernovage – Everest 2011

Q: I assume the IMG teams are full this year?
Yes, we have about the same sized Team as past years.  It is a great Team again this year and they are ready to climb.  The IMG Team will start heading to Kathmandu next week. I head over early next week as well.

Q: IMG continues to offer, in my humble opinion, one of the best values for a safe attempt on Everest. Is there a secret you can share on how you balance cost with safety?
Thank you for saying that. We work extremely hard on keeping the cost of the expedition as reasonable as possible for our climbers, without cutting corners.  We have been organizing Everest Expeditions for over 35 years, so we’ve built a strong infrastructure, and have an extensive network of friends and partners in Nepal.  Couple these things with the fact that we have the best Sherpa Team on the mountain, and you’ll start seeing why we are as successful as we are on Mt. Everest. We are also always looking for ways to make the program even better.

Q: How do you address the growing public perception that the Nepal side is crowded and dangerous?
There is no question that climbing Mount Everest is dangerous.  Unfortunately, Mount Everest becomes even more dangerous when there are climbers and operators who put themselves and people in situations that they cannot get out of without a ton of help.  Climbers, and guide services need to better understand the level of risk that they are comfortable with.  The good news is that most of the operators on Mount Everest are doing a better job communicating with each other about when they are climbing.  It is important that we continue to communicate.  We are also working to continue flying the rope-fixing equipment to Camp 2.  Flying the rope-fixing gear to Camp 2 lowers the amount of traffic in the Icefall.  That is huge!  It also helps if we can get the route fixed as early as possible so climbers who are ready, can summit during an earlier weather window.  There is a lot of logistics that go into this planning and the weather has the ultimate say.

Q: I know IMG once guided on the Tibet side, would IMG ever return to that side?
We have been talking about running a small expedition to the North Side again and will absolutely consider going to the North when we find the right Team.

Q: Any thoughts on the Hillary Step? Is it there and just under snow or really changed by the 2015 earthquake?
Great question. I have seen so many photos of that area over the last number of years and have studied photos from before the earthquake and after the earthquake, and I’m still not sure.  You know, they actually used to go up on the right hand side of the step on the snow but then switched over to the actual step.  A few years ago we were at Base Camp all working together to find a solution to the bottleneck and someone offered up the idea of heading back out onto the snow for an alternate route, but the rappel happened instead.  Now we have another puzzle to solve. I believe that if nothing else, the Hillary Step has shifted or is gone altogether.  Did the shift create an area for more snow to accumulate?  Let’s get back up there this year and take another look!

Q: Greg, you have been in this business along time. Why do you think Everest has the attraction and mystic (mystique) it does?
One of the obvious attractions to Mount Everest is its height.  The tallest mountain in the world will always attract climbers, as it should.  Beyond its elevation, Mount Everest is a beautiful mountain surrounded by other beautiful mountains making for an incredible expedition for climbers looking for one of life’s ultimate challenges.

The attraction for me is the opportunity to work with like-minded people with a common goal.  Mount Everest offers different challenges every year and I enjoy navigating those challenges with my Team.  As the Expedition Leader, I find a lot of enjoyment in helping other people achieve their goals.

“Whenever you have the opportunity to be in the presence of greatness, you take that opportunity.”  Mount Everest is Great!

Thanks Greg for your precious time as you were getting ready to leave for Kathmandu. Best of luck this season. You can follow Greg and the IMG team on the IMG Blog

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3 thoughts on “Everest 2018: Interview with IMG’s Greg Vernovage

  1. Thanks Jacqueline. I have all of these listed under the sidebar (near the top) of Climbers with Blogs for quick access. I’ll be reporting on them throughout the season.

  2. Great interview. 🙂
    When it comes to suggestions, an interview with Garrett Madison from Madison Mounteering would be nice. Or Ben Jones (although is not expedition leader.

    Keep up with the good work.

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