I made it back alive
and in good shape from my 2002 attempt.
So now I am going back in 2003.
How do I tell my wife? My parents? How can I justify going back to the
death zone? Your son, your daughter. They leave on a trip from which
they may not return. What do you do, stop them? Change their mind?
It was only days back from the 2002 climb. I was still hurting
badly. The lung infection had not gone away. I was tired, very tired.
I slept as much as I could but couldn't. Sitting on the floor, Ashley,
Cathy and I spoke quietly about what had happened. They looked at me
the way you look at a dying parent in the hospital.
I told them them whole story. Every detail. Every joy. Every
hurt. We laughed together. Tears welled up in our eyes as I told them
of summit night. Being alone. Vomiting. Gagging. Thinking of them.
Wanting to go on and wanting to turn back. They understood like no
others. And they never asked me if I wanted to go back. After an hour
we stopped talking about Everest and didn't speak about the climb for
Several days later I went on a business trip. My expedition
had broad coverage in my company so thousands of people knew about
my journey. People approached me with excitement and curiosity. They
asked "How was it?" "Was it hard?" And then, most everyone asked the
question even stronger than "Why?":
"Will you go back?"
My public answer for six months was the same: "I'm not finished with
this climb yet." And it was true. I was hurting, not physically, but
in my mind I thought about summit night so often that I became worried
that I was obsessed and needed professional help. But the more I replayed
the events, the more I became comfortable with what had happened.
A month later, in a conversation with Cathy I said the obvious "I want
to go back" She looked at me deeply and said "I'm glad"
With that I began my plan to return to Everest in 2003 or
2004 to finish what I had started in 2002. A visit with my parents
had a similar outcome. mom asked me when and I said 2003. Neither my
Mother nor Father were surprised. Probably the two most emotional moments
were with my Brother and Ashley.
Summer 2002. Kenny came to visit and I showed him the digital
pictures on my computer. He looked with an intense concentration I
had rarely seen in him. After we finished he simply said "I had no
idea how close you got and how difficult it was, I am glad you are
Thanksgiving 2002. During the traditional turkey feast, Ashley
spoke up about my plans to return. "I am so proud of you for wanting
to go back. You are not going to give up. This is awesome!" With that
my resolve was fixed. I was going back
I cannot emphasize the importance of family support in climbing
big mountains. It is not optional, it is mandatory. I would not go
back without the unanimous support of the my family. They provide the
grounding and objective view for my adventures. I trust their judgment.
I trust their confidence in my abilities. And I trust my own judgment
in my own abilities. Together we make better decisions. I will always
listen carefully to their advice and to their comments.
After all this is not about me, it is about us.
"When were you going to tell ME?", my wife asked with
a smile on her face. "I didn't commit to climb Everest,
I just asked Guy to add my name to the list." I weakly explained. With
that, Cathy knew I was serious about climbing the highest mountain
on Earth. I had mentioned it from time to time but never actually
said I wanted to climb Everest. After all, I was not a professional.
It took two months. It cost a whole lot of money. And, people die up
After a great Ama Dablam climb and some discussions with my
Guide who had been on the Big Hill a few months earlier, I seriously
began to consider it. But no commitments - not even to myself, much
less to any of my Family. Cathy and I had spoken openly about Everest
ever since Cho Oyu in 1998. I think that deep inside she knew I would
try it one day. Maybe she, or I, was hoping that the day would never
come. But we both share the same philosophy on life.
People would always ask me if I would climb it. My standard
answer was "probably not, it is the big leagues and I started late
in life." Cathy got the same question. As did my Brother and Parents.
They probably said I never would.
My Parents are visiting and my Mother, in a Motherly way,
asks the simple question. "What is your next mountain?" Never, never,
never ever lie to your mother: "Everest", I said quietly glancing
at Cathy for support and approval. It was out. Now mom and dad knew.
My dad looked at me through his 82 year old eyes. It was a mix of
pride, approval, envy and fear. Fear that his second son would not return.
mom simply thanked me for telling them.
That was a milestone.
They had developed a bad habit of thinking every climb was
my last. The stats: 172 deaths, 1415 summits since 1922. The best year
for Everest was in 1993, when 129 reached the peak and eight died at
the ratio of 16:1 and the worst year was in 1996 when 98 stepped on
the peak and 15 died at the ratio of 6.5:1. I didn't mention that I
had thoughts that went beyond Everest.
Funny, I was almost more nervous tell Paul, my local rock
climbing partner, that I was off to Everest than my Parents. While
Paul had never climbed these big mountains, he clearly understood
the risks and what it took. Over breakfast, I broke the news. "Wow, that's
great. When? Who are you going with?" and more questions. Not one comment
on my ability or sanity. Thanks Paul!
When I finally told Ashley, the only question she asked was "When?".
Kenny had a similar reaction but with more words.
What can I say about Family and mountaineering? I have heard
from many guides about busted marriages caused by their obsession
one more". Is it an addiction? Is it a drug? Can you stop without ending
your life? When is enough, enough?
"Put one bullet in the chamber. Put the revolver to your head. Pull
the trigger. If you accept that proposition, you accept Everest." Beck
Wethers on National Geographic Explorer's Savage Mountain television
special. He had a stump for a left arm and a mass of flesh for a
right hand. His nose has been grown on his forehead with tissue from his
ears. Cathy and I watched it together. We neither spoke nor exchanged
a glance during his interview.
How can a wife support her husband for such a risk? I simply
cannot answer that question. I do not go to Everest with the intent
nor desire to leave my body in a snow drift. I go only to do my best.
Saying good-bye to your spouse to go climb a mountain is nothing
like sending your loved-one away to war. Perhaps similar risks. Maybe
similar sad results. But one is out of duty and another is out of obligation.
Ignoring the call from within is denying your essence.
With a couple of weeks to go, a very private conversation
between Cathy and I puts it all in perspective and peace - for both
Thank you, my family, for your unquestioning support of my
wildest dreams. Thank you for defending me to strangers. Thank you
for you unlimited love - it will sustain me during the hard times.
Thank you my wife for being you.
I love you all.