Happy New Year!
With the holidays upon us, I wanted to send out a greeting along with an Alzheimer's update and a look back at an exciting year in climbing.
Alzheimer's Disease - Progress but More Needed
2008 was the culmination for my Memories are Everything: The Road Back to Mount Everest project. This year long journey included 5 climbs ending with another attempt on Everest - all to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer's research. While I didn't summit Everest, we did raise over $25,000 for the Cure Alzheimer's Fund (CAF) - and that I am more proud of than an Everest summit.
My Mom, who has Alzheimer's, continues to decline. Just today I spoke with her and she didn't remember my visit just a few weeks ago. She didn't know that my Brother was there right now. She didn't remember that her sister, Christine, had died of Alzheimer's earlier this year. At one point in the conversation she asked, "How many people are in your family?" It is heartbreaking to watch her just slip away - not knowing what is happening to her - not knowing that she will probably die a horrible death when her brain 'forgets' how to swallow.
I am very frustrated that I cannot help her. There is no cure for Alzheimer's. There is no way to tell if you have it until it is too late. This is why the research is so critical. However, important progress was made this year. A CAF funded project identified four genes that may significantly increase the risk of the most common form of late-onset Alzheimer’s. But the epidemic continues to moves quickly - a new case is diagnosed every 71 seconds and with the baby-boomer generation aging, the number of victims will become staggering as will the costs.
So I continue to speak to anyone who will listen to this story - schools, foundations, companies. I recently entered into a discussion with the Alzheimer's Association, the largest non-profit for Alzheimer's. In addition to funding research they also serve as an invaluable resource for families and caregivers on education and assistance to help deal with their Alzheimer's challenges. Like the CAF, it is a wonderful organization that I hope to work closer with over the years.
Climbing - Climb On!
I had a great year in the mountains in 2008. In January, I climbed Aconcagua (Argentina) and Orizaba (Mexico) in preparation for my Everest expedition in April and May. As many of you know, I did not summit for the third time but found a sense of satisfaction (and disappointment) at 27,500' (8200m) in that I did my absolute best. As looked over the highest peaks of the world that night of May 21st, I knew the reason for my climb was not to stand on the summit but for a higher purpose - and I had achieved that goal.
Once I returned home and rested up, I spent the rest of the summer climbing my Colorado 14ers with my friends and knocked off another eleven peaks making my total 40 of the 56. However to be honest, while I love my 14ers, I still hear the call of the big Hills :)
Tragedy on K2
Climbing is a complicated endeavor. When you summit, you think about the next peak. And if you don't you sometimes think about retuning. And for some climbers, it seems this conundrum does not end until the mountain takes your life. I lost a good friend, Gerard McDonnell, to K2 in July. Along with 10 other climbers, he died on the second highest mountain. The details are still unfolding but it is known that Ger was killed by an avalanche after summitting. He was the first Irishman to summit K2. He spent his last breaths trying to help three Koreans tangled in the fixed lines at 8200 meters - a true hero.
2009 - Big Plans in the Making
I have big plans for this next year. I am looking at another big project to raise money for Alzheimer's. However the scale of this project is quite large and I need significant assistance to pull it off. So I will spend 2009 seeking out researchers, foundations, companies and anyone who will be receptive to try to launch the project in 2010. I hope to announce more details in January or February along with an invitation for anyone to join me. If you are interested in an early preview or want to help, please contact me.
OK, that's about it. 2008 has been one for the record books in many ways - the economy, the election, research breakthroughs, my own climbs and more. Yes, not every goal was achieved but so such progress was made that 2008 has to be considered a successful year. And I am optimistic that 2009 will be even better.
I will continue to keep this website current including my coverage of the 2009 Everest climbing season and send the occasional update throughout the year. And as always, send me note and let me know what you think or if you have any questions or comments. I enjoy hearing from everyone.
Please don't forget that you can always make a donation to Alzheimer's research either to the Cure Alzheimer's Fund or the Alzheimer's Association. Any amount is sincerely appreciated.
Please remember: Memories are Everything.