am often asked many questions about climbing especially since I
am not a professional climber. So here are the most popular questions
with my answers. This information is based on my experience and
are my opinions so always consult with a professional before
making any serious climbing decisions.
Q: Who are you, Alan? A: I am a regular guy who likes challenges and accomplishments. I was in my mid 40's when I first attempted Everest and 54 when I summited in 2011. I worked 28 years in high-tech before retiring in 2007. I started climbing in 1995 at age 38 with a summit of Mont Blanc being my first big mountain. I don't pretend to be anything special or particularly gifted but I am ambitious and have some common sense. I think I know my limitations and my potential so I like to test myself in many areas. Alpine mountaineering is a great sport for me since it tests my physical, emotional and mental strengths. To clarify, I am not a guide, expedition organizer or a professional climber.
Q: Aren't you too old to be climbing Everest? Isn't that why you didn't summit in the previous climbs? A: In general age is not the primary factor in alpine
mountaineering. The youngest person to summit Everest was an eighth-grade
student, 13, Jordan Romero from Little Bear California from the
north side in May 2010 supplanting Ming Kipa Sherpa, the Nepalese
girl who summited at 15, in 2003. The oldest is Japanese Miura
Yiuchiro, age 80 on May 23, 2013. Tamae Watanabe of Japan is the
oldest woman to summit at age 73 on May 19, 2012. Most big mountain
climbers are in their mid 30's to late 40's. Unless you are a professional
climber, guide or photojournalist it is difficult to get the magic
mix of experience, time and money to attempt 8,000m mountains early
in life. Age has not been a factor in my summits, it was preparation
and metal toughness. However It is clear that you have many advantages
the younger you are.
Q: When did you start seriously considering Everest? A: I first saw Everest on a trek in 1997 from Kala Patar and never even consider it within my abilities. But after Cho Oyu, Ama Dablam, Denali and others, I started to gain more climbing skills and confidence. I started seriously considering climbing Mt. Everest in September 2000 while on the trek out of the Khumbu after summiting Ama Dablam. I climbed Denali in the summer of 2001 and even though I was turned back by bad weather, it increased my climbing interests so in late summer 2001 I made the mental commitment and began training. After my unsuccessful summit attempts, I didn't know if I wanted to return but motivated by my Alzheimer's fundraising, I returned for the forth time and summited in 2011.
Q: How did you get 2 months off for two years in a row and still keep your job? A: Twenty-plus years with the same company is the short answer. There is an short story about "Time & Money", but I am very happy that I stayed with the same company for over 20 years thus earning significant vacation time. I put 100% into my work and cared passionately about our success, so I think I earned the trust and respect of my bosses. Work ethics and loyalty was quite different during my career so staying with a company your entire career is rare. But with careful choices you can create a work and lifestyle that will allow you to be successful in both. The bottom line for me is that while my work was very important, it was not my entire life.
Q: Have you've become one of these people obsessed with Everest? A: I don't think so. OK, well maybe :) I get tremendous satisfaction and enjoyment just being in the mountains. I actually like living in a tent for weeks on end! I enjoy the relationships I build with my teammates on a long climb. I always leave the Khumbu for the better from my interaction with the Sherpa people and their culture. The dangers are real but it keeps me sharp. A common theme you will read on this site is that my goal is to do my best. I have always said that if I turn around without the summit, it will be OK if I did my best. All I know is that when windows open in your life you have to take advantage of them.
Q: Now that you have summited Everest, will you ever go back? A: I would like to climb from the North side one day. That side is so steeped in history and I have always enjoyed my time in Tibet.
Q: How do you get on an expedition to climb Everest? A: Most reputable guides will ask for your climbing resume and require some serious climbing experience. Ideally they want to see at least one 8,000 meter climb such as Cho Oyu but most will accept Denali or Aconcagua. On my climbs, the individual experience ranged from previous Everest climbers to people with Aconcagua as their highest. Clearly those with experience above 8,000m felt more comfortable and had fewer surprises during the climb. However, It was amazing to see people on Everest with little or inadequate climbing experience. Typically they paid a low price to get on a team's climbing permit but never had to answer tough questions from an experienced operator. Unfortunately many climbers with this profile are the ones who get in trouble.
Q: How many Sherpas, guides and climbers are generally on an expedition? A: Most guided climbs have eight to fifteen climbers with an equal number of support staff. Usually there are one or two western guides but not always. An increasing trend is for the large guiding companies to have twenty or more climbers on their expeditions! With so many climbers, they usually have a lot of resources in case of emergencies, but not always. Make sure you understand how they run their trip. The best ones break the large team up into smaller sub teams.
Q: What about the Sherpas, what role do they play? A: The Sherpas are incredible allies in climbing these big mountains. They fixed ropes, carry heavy loads and generally do the hard work. The cooks kept us fed at most of the camps. They melted snow and hauled ice to the stoves at BC, C2 and C4. They dug out tent platforms and set up tents as well as took them down and off the mountain. It was summit night, however, where they really shined. They basically took over and made sure we were properly equipped for the summit bid. They checked our crampons and harnesses, helped with our oxygen and made sure the regulators were set correctly. And of course, they watched over each climber during the summit bid and helped when there were problems. I saw this with all Sherpas for all expeditions all the way from base camp up. If you climb Everest without Sherpa assistance, my hat is off to you
Q: Do I really need to use a guide or Sherpas for Everest? A: It depends on your skills and experience but I would almost always recommend some kind of guide or logistics help on Everest. Long expeditions are a maze of details. You would be absolutely amazed at the amount of gear, food and supplies it takes to climb a big hill. On Everest, there are literally tons of gear. It is a pity to stop your summit bid because you ran out of fuel for your stove or had a tent blow away. I have much more on guides on my Guide page. It is common to hear someone say that a climber was "drug to the summit by a Sherpa". This is unfair to both parties. Sherpas are amazing and do a phenomenal amount of hard work. But they do not force climbers to climb. Climbers put one foot in front of the other and move up under their own power. Sherpas are a partner on a climb.
Q: How much does it cost to climb Mt. Everest? A: A car. The Nepal Ministry of Tourism will charge $10,000 per climber. The permit on the Tibet side was increased for 2012 to around $8,000. There are three options for a climb: 1) organize your own expedition, 2) an 'unguided' commercial expedition and 3) a guided commercial expedition. The one on your on is obvious: you do everything including lining up Sherpas. There are companies in Katmandu that will help you. An unguided expedition is one where a company organizes all the logistics: food, group gear, transportation plus Sherpa support but does not provide traditional western guides. More companies are offering these type trips to cater to the price sensitive or experienced climbers. The guided expedition is all of the previous but with full Sherpa support and usually Western Guides. These are 'full service' trips and are most appropriate for first time Everest climbers. The cost vary widely. On your own can be as low as $30K if you really skimp, Personal Sherpa Guide around $40K and Group Western guided from $50 to $65K. Then there are custom trips where you have your own western guide plus your own Sherpas. Expect to pay $100K for this trip.
Q: What is the difference between an Everest expedition for $65K and one for $30K? A: Often it is simply how much is bundled into one single price versus services offered as options. The Nepal and Tibet governments control much of the costs today with their requirements on wages and treatment of Sherpas, cooks and porters. Sometimes it is the availability of resources: western guides, back up supplies (ropes, oxygen bottles, etc) medical facilities, communications and profit for the operator. But this is difficult to compare. When you look at the "what's included and what's not included on a companies' web site they read almost identical. This is why you must do more research. As for price, the best advice is to shop around. Prices range widely but be very careful when comparing services. The larger companies include everything in one fee. On low cost offers understand if oxygen and food is included. Ask about in-country flights and meals. Understand tips and how much is expected. You will get what you pay for but be careful not to pay too much!
Q: How long does it take to climb Everest? And why so long? A: The entire climb takes six to nine weeks. The first week is used to arrive at base camp with a trek from Lukla for the south or a drive from Katmandu or Lhasa on the north. Next you spend three to four weeks going up and down the mountain to establish camps with food, fuel and oxygen. The average time from arriving at Base Camp to reaching the summit is 40 days. On most climbs it is the Sherpas who are doing the heavy carrying so you are acclimatizing your body to the high altitude. However you are still carrying a 20lb to 30lb pack with personal gear. The acclimatization process cannot be rushed. The summit push is about one week and then another 4 to 6 days to get home.
Q: How do the traditional routes compare on Everest: North Ridge or Side Col? A: Neither is easy, just different. The south has the dangers of the Khumbu Icefall where most deaths have occurred since 2000. And there is the Hillary Step and the slabs below the South Summit on the south which are challenging for some. The north is a little more technically difficult with rock climbing around the two steps on the ridge - even with the ladder on the 2nd Step. The camps on the north are 1,000-2,000' higher than similar camps on the south thus making summit day shorter. But your body degrades faster at higher altitude so there is a tradeoff. The north can be colder and get more snow than the south. Finally the ladders in the Khumbu Icefall are only maintained through the end of May thus giving a definite end date to the season. There is no such deadline on the north and climbers can stay as long as the weather holds for a summit bid. See my pages on routes for a more complete description of the routes: North and South.
Q: How do you communicate back home and updates?
For details on my expedition communications, please see this tutorial. Cell phones are most common today. Foreigners can buy a SIM card from NCELL in Katmandu for under US$50 and pay on US$0.06/minute for calls to the US as of spring 2011. However, coverage was a bit spotty and I could rarely connect above Base Camp.
However for reliable on mountain calls, satellite phones are the most common method. I use Thuraya which transmits both voice and data (including email) from anywhere within their coverage area. Expedition companies always have sat phones and charge around from US$3 per minute so charges can rack up quickly. The Hughes phone for Thuraya cost about $800 US and $1 a minute or less. If you will use more than 800 minutes and go on multiple expeditions, buying a phone makes a lot of sense. The Thuraya satellites only covers Europe and Asia and not the US or South America. Iridium is the other option but it does not perform as reliably in my experience.
I have also used a Bgan satellite modem which offers faster connection speeds and charges by the usage, not minutes. This is better for blog posting but can still be expensive. See the technology section on my gear page for details. For details on my expedition communications, please see this tutorial.
Q: What about web site coverage for climbs? A: Almost all large guide companies post updates on their commercial sites but it is more PR than real updates. You will rarely read any bad news or details about difficult situations on these sites. The most candid and honest dispatches come from individuals who do their own postings. David Tait and Bill Burke were great examples. A few commercial sites repost expedition dispatches in summary manner but offer little to no insight into what is really happening. I was disappointed how one well known site claiming to be a leading Everest site, heavily edited my dispatches thus proving that you cannot rely on this one for accuracy and objectivity. For all my climbs I posted almost daily dispatches on this site at Everest Dispatches 2003 and Everest Dispatches 2002 and again for 2008 and for the 2011 summit. For details on my expedition communications, please see this tutorial.
Q: I read that Everest is a "cake-walk" these days and anyone can summit. Exactly how hard is it? A: It is tough. I submit that anyone who calls it a 'cake-walk' has never been there. The Khumbu Icefall is dangerous and challenging. It is a long climb in the beginning but becomes easier as you get acclimatized. The Lhotse Face is steep with hard ice and a long climb with loads. The traverse from C3 to C4 and to the South Col can be challenging given the altitude. The Yellow Band was moderate rock climbing (at 24,000') and the Geneva Spur was much higher and steeper than I thought. The last section was 50' of 5.2 rock. Everest itself starts from the South Col with a 20-40 degree slope with fixed lines. In bad weather, this would be difficult. The climb from the Balcony to the South Summit was my biggest surprise. Bottom line is that Everest is one tough mountain with the length of time it takes, the logistics and the altitude.
Q: What if I just want to trek to Everest Base Camp? A: For me this is how it all got started, climbing that is. I went on a trek in 1997 and was hooked forever. You can read about my trek and also visit the Everest Base Camp Trek Frequently Asked Questions page updated on April 2010 on common questions about trekking in the Khumbu and to Everest Base Camp
You’re about to spend $10,000 or even $50,000 to climb the mountain of your dreams – but are you ready? Summit Coach's consulting service can help climbers of all experience levels better prepare and increase their chances of a positive expedition. Based on Alan Arnette’s 23 years of high altitude mountain experience and 30 years as a business executive, we help aspiring climbers throughout the world achieve their goals through a personalized set of consulting services.
Q: How do you train for Everest? A: I have a complete page devoted to this question based on my own experiences. In general, I focus on aerobic capacity, muscular strength, balance and attitude. I prefer real-world training such as long days climbing with a pack over running, or indoor gym work. I am glad to live in Colorado and regularly climb 14,000 mountains to get this "real-world" miles underneath me. My training for my successful 2011 summit primarily consisted of climbing Colorado and California 14ers with a 40 to 50lb pack. I summited over 30 in preparation climbing almost every weekend in all types of weather.
Q: Can you prepare for the altitude and how did it affect you in previous climbs? A:Not really. The common approach is to move slowly up the mountain (1000' a day maximum) spending your days at a higher altitude than where you sleep up until your summit bid. The human body simply does not function well at high altitudes and especially above 8000m (26,300'). As you go higher, the barometric pressure decreases, although the air still contains 21% oxygen, every breath contains less molecules of oxygen.
The lower oxygen stimulates chemoreceptors that initiate an increase in breathing, resulting in a lowering of the partial pressure of CO2 and hence more alkaline blood pH. The kidneys begin to unload bicarbonate to compensate. Though this adaptation can take many days, up to 80% occurs just in the first 48 to 72 hours. There are many other physiologic changes going on, among them the stimulus of low oxygen to release the hormone, erythropoietin to stimulate more red blood cell production, a physiological and still acceptable form of blood doping that enhances endurance performance at low altitudes. Adaptive changes are not always good for one’s health. Some South American high altitude residents can have what’s called chronic mountain sickness, resulting from too many red blood cells; their blood can be up to 84-85% red blood cells. The increased blood viscosity and sometimes associated pulmonary hypertension can result in right heart failure.
You cannot do much to acclimatize at low altitudes but there are companies that claim to help the acclimatization process through specially designed tents that simulate the reduced oxygen levels at higher elevations. I have no personal experience with these systems but you can find more details at the Hypoxico website. They cost about $7,000 or can be rented for about $170 a week.
Outside Magazine posted an article in 2013 questioning their effectiveness.
Q: Did you use bottled oxygen? A: Yes on all climbs. Bottled supplemental oxygen is common on Everest but interestingly not on all 8,000M peaks. Almost everyone uses oxygen above 7,700M or 25,500 feet. I used O's on Everest and Cho Oyu. It simply makes sense not to take any chances. At base camp on Everest there is 50% of the oxygen at sea level. At Camp 3, about 40% and at the summit, there is only 33% - it is like climbing stairs and holding two out of every three breaths. Everyone on our expedition, as well as most of the others I observed, used bottled oxygen including climbers, guides AND Sherpas on the summit push. The extra oxygen makes you warmer but only reduces the impact of the altitude by 3,000 feet. So at 27,000' your body stills feels like it is at 24,000'.
The oxygen tanks look very similar to what you see scuba divers use. Bottles are measured by how much oxygen they hold, usually 3 or 4 liters. A 3 liter POSIX bottle weighs about 5.7 pounds each. You use a oxygen mask and a regulator. The mask I like best is made by Summit Oxygen and not the old Russian Posix version which fits terribly and leaks. The mask covers most of your face from your nose down. Climbers usually run the flow at 2 or 3 liters per minute meaning a 3 liter bottle will last about 6 hours, 3 hours at 4 lpm. Most climbers will need at least 4 bottles or maybe 19 hours of supplemental oxygen because sometime they will run the flow at 3 or 4 lpm. This does not including bottles for sleeping at C4 and spares.
Q: How much supplemental oxygen did you use on Everest? A: I climbed in 2011 with International Mountain Guides who use their own, larger capacity, oxygen bottle design. They hold 1800 liters of oxygen and weigh about 17 pounds with the regulator. This is enough for 10 hours at 3 LPM, 15 hours at 2 LPM, 30 hours at 1 LPM. I bought extra oxygen in the form of a bottle brought to the South Summit so it broke down as one bottle shared at C3 at 1lpm, climbed to the South Col at 2lpm with a new bottle and rested using the same bottle for 12 hours at 1 lpm. A new bottle to the Balcony at 4lpm. New bottle to the South Summit at 4lpm. New bottle to the summit and back to the Balcony at 4 lpm and on to C2 at 2lpm. I had plenty of oxygen left.
Q: Isn't Everest dangerous? A: Yes. In 2014, 16 Sherpas were killed from the
release of an ice serac off Everest's West Shoulder onto the Khumbu
Icefall. In 2015, 19 people were killed after a 7.8 magnitude
earthquake, a hundred miles away triggered an avalanche off the
Pumori ridge above base camp.
In general Every year 3 to 12 people die on
both sides. There have been deaths on every one of my Everest
climbs from falls down the Lhotse Face, to heart attacks. I have
also seen severe frostbit where amputation was required and blindness
due to wind or bright snow conditions. In 02, I twisted my knee
coming down the icefall, fell into a deep crevasse and contracted
a severe lung infection that stopped my summit bid.
Q: What kind of gear do you take? A: Mostly I use the same gear I use on other big mountains. Usually it takes two 50lb duffle bags. My strategy is based on lot's of layers. My personal technical equipment included a long handle ice axe, harness, carabineers and crampons. It is always critical to protect my toes, fingers and face since these were most susceptible to frost bite. As for warmth, I always wear a knit cap and at least liner gloves when I get the least bit cool - regardless of the outside temp. I use a 3 layer system of Merino wool base layer (top and bottom), heavier fleece as in the Mountain Hardware Power Stretch (a Farmer's John kind of suit) or just my Patagonia Guide Pants depending on how cold it is that day then my top wind or warmth layer. When the winds pick up and the temps drop below 0F, I add my Feather Friends 850 Fill down jacket plus my mitts. For summit night, I wear a full down suit. I have a gear page for reference. I am very pleased with all my gear but had a few standouts that I note on my gear page.
This video is of me explaining my gear before my 2011 summit.
A 10 Step Plan to prepare for an Everest climb:
Often people will ask what it takes to climb the highest mountain in the world. It comes down to a few areas: skills, experience, fitness and commitment. Many people focus on the money, and of course that is important. Look to budget, including travel, at least $35K for a north side climb and $45K for a south side climb assuming you are looking to go a couple of years from now. Go with a quality organization, not the lowest price one.
Here are ten key factors to consider for planning an Everest expedition:
Build your climbing fund: create a plan to prioritize climbing expenses in your overall income and expense plan.
Find like minded climbers with similar goals you can train with and count on in difficult times: Join a club
Get in shape - you need a basic level of fitness to start climbing including stamina and aerobic conditioning: Interval training, long runs and climbs, anything that takes several hours is good training: A good program can be found at Body Results or PowerFit
Accumulate the best quality gear you can buy. Don't skimp because it could mean your fingers, toes or your life at 8000m: AAI has an excellent gear and brand suggestion list.
Climb mountains that limit your risk but still allow you to learn such as Rainier or difficult 14ers in Colorado or California
Test your skills on a high mountain such as Aconcagua and a tough snow mountain like Denali: Go with a proven guide who will teach you as well as guide.
Climb to 8000m on Cho Oyu before Everest to experience expedition life, extreme altitude and understand how your body performs: Ideally, go with the same guide you will select for Everest
Work on your mental toughness by pushing yourself in harsh conditions: Run in the pouring rain, climb on the coldest and windiest route at night you can muster, cycle when dead tired, climb with a pack heavier than you will use on your next climb
Hone your climbing skills to be as self sufficient on every climb as possible including knots, crevasse rescue, winter camping techniques, cooking. Practice every chance you get
Q: Why did you return to Everest after 3 previous attempts? A: To raise awareness and research funds for Alzheimer's. Everest was my third climb of The 7 Summits Climb for Alzheimer's: Memories Are Everything® where I am climbing the highest peak on each of the 7 continents in one year. After my mom died from it in 2009, I felt I had to do something given the lack of progress towards finding a cure and the public's poor understanding of the disease. So I searched for two years to find willing partners and was thrilled to secure International Mountain Guides as my climbing partner and the funding and support from the Alzheimer's Immunotherapy Program of Janssen AI and Pfizer.
Q: Why did you select IMG and how did they perform? A: I had climbed Cho Oyu in 1998 with them. Eric Simonson had developed one of the leading programs on the south side of Everest since then and he offered several types of climbs from 1:1 western guide to Sherpa led teams. After my poor experiences with Western guides, I wanted a solid Sherpa team and to be as self sufficient as possible but still needed professional, world-class logistics and a flexible oxygen plan. Eric understood not only my requirements but the broader goal for Alzheimer's.
They performed very well and met all my expectations. The food was good, not over the top like some companies are trying. The group gear was solid. I had a radio on summit night. And I liked their oxygen program. Their Personal Sherpas were outstanding. Kami Sherpa (Ang Chhiring Sherpa – Pangboche) climbed with me and became my friend. He was a key to my summit.
Q: What route did you take and how were the conditions in 2011? A: I climbed from the Nepal side, South Col route. 2011 was cold and snowy in April, very unusual. The global economy discouraged the usual crowds and only 122 western permits were issued instead of the normal 300-400. The route through the Icefall was easier with only 15 ladders, not the normal 30 and high up on Everest there was a lot of fresh snow which made the climbing a bit easier.
Q: Why did you summit at age 54 in 2011 when you did not on three previous attempts starting in 2002 at age 45?
There were several reasons for my performance that I have broken out below:
A:PACE: Thanks to advice from many people (John Dahlem) and my own experience of pushing too hard and succumbing to the pressure of the guide clock; in 2011 I climbed at a pace I was comfortable with. IMG never put any pressure on me to meet climb times between camps and Kami’s favorite word was “slowly”. Obviously I knew that I needed to be able to go fast through dangerous sections or if the weather turned but allowing my body to acclimatize naturally was a huge advantage and I did not waste energy competing against the clock or other climbers.
Also when I got sick, I gave myself permission to be sick and get well. This was critical in that I did not stress over schedules and got the necessary rest, food and hydration my body so desperately needed. As my friend Brad Jackson commented, it was better that it happened early in the expeditions than later. Allowing myself to recover allowed me to enter the final acclimatization rotations strong.
A final factor in pace was that I employed every trick and technique I new throughout the expedition from sleeping to gear to eating, drinking, foot placement (simple, small steps), clothing layers, attitude, who I hung out with, etc. One proof of how it worked was that I never lost my appetite, rare for me.
PREPARATION: My fitness was at a different level than on the previous attempts even though I was 9 years older. In the previous 18 months, I climbed over 30 14,000 Colorado and California mountains with 30-50lb packs. Also climbed Vinson and Aconcagua in the prior 4 months. I lost about 10 pounds before coming to EBC then lost another 15 pounds (mostly muscle mass which is usual) in the early expedition time; which was a bit too much.
It is said you have to be in the best shape of your life to climb Everest. Well, I thought I was before but now know I had to be in Everest shape to climb Everest. In 2011, I always stayed at Camp 1 around 19,500′ on each rotation. The standard program is to stay there once, but I found by staying there each rotation, I was able to manage my energy more evenly and not wear myself out trying to go from BC to C2 in one big push. Also, I pushed the envelope a bit by staying at Camp 2 three nights instead of the normal two on the first rotation.
Reviewing my own prior performance, I changed my supplemental oxygen plan. I was very glad that IMG used the TopOut mask instead of the old Posix one that leaked 50% of the air. Also, I used an extra bottle of oxygen on the final summit push from the South Col. These two factors, mask and O’s, allowed me to climb using 4lpm flow from Col to Summit and back instead of a leaky 2lpm in my previous climbs – this was a huge difference.
PERSONAL SHERPA: This should be no surprise to anyone who followed my climb. Kami (Ang Chhiring Sherpa – Pangboche) was a perfect match for me. At age 46 with 12 Everest summits, K2, Cho Oyu, Ama Dablam, and many other climbs, he had the maturity, experience and personality I needed. We spent time getting to know each other with local climbs, shared tents, meals and became friends. He understood the importance of this climb to me in spite of the culture and language difference. His gentle touch yet strong focus was what the Doctor ordered. He inspired confidence as did many of the IMG Personal Sherpas.
PURPOSE: In looking back at my other climbs, I hit my mental wall way before my physical wall and quit too soon. I never understood how much reserves my body really had. Again, many people talk about mental toughness but a simple note one time from Clive Jones, a climbing friend, and discussing directly with Jim Davidson, a dear climbing friend, about his Rainier tragedy (www.speakingofadventure.com) showed me how far one can push their body if the mind is willing. So in the last few years, I have been working on mental toughness. When the time came on Everest to push my body, my mind was willing.
But the biggest difference was the inspiration and motivation that came from watching my mom struggle with Alzheimer’s. She did it with class, dignity and humor. She never let on how much it hurt. Her strength and courage kept me going every time I felt weak – physically or mentally. In addition, knowing that there are millions going through the same struggle inspired me knowing that all of you were watching me. I simply could not let you down. So perhaps the pace went a little quicker.
Q: Tell me more about Alzheimer's. A: Alzheimer's, is the most common cause of dementia, afflicting 24 million people worldwide. It is a progressive and terminal disease for which there is currently no cure. In its most common form, it occurs in people over 65 years old (although a less-prevalent early onset form also exists). It usually begins many years before it is eventually diagnosed. In its early stages, short-term memory loss is the clearest symptom: this leads to confusion, anger, mood swings, language breakdown, long-term memory loss, and the general 'withdrawal' of the sufferer as his or her senses decline. Gradually the sufferer loses minor, and then major bodily functions, until death occurs. Although the symptoms are common, people commonly experience them in a unique way. The duration of the disease is estimated between 5 and 20 years
Q: Tell me more about the fund raising and your mom. A: It was frustrating to see all her life memories just slip away. While she was comfortable and never complained, she slowly lost her short term memory, then long term memory, the ability to care for herself, her identity and eventfully her life. While there is excellent research underway it is to late for my mom. Funding is the key to research and that is why I am trying to raise $1,00,000 with the Cure Alzheimer's Fund - a non profit where 100% of ALL donations go directly to research and zero to their overhead or to my climbing expenses.
Q: Why didn't you donate the money you spent on climbing instead of on your climbs? A: I discussed this at length with the Cure Alzheimer's Fund and my sponsors. We all agreed that awareness was equally important as money at this point. I hoped that by having 100,000 hits a day to my website during the climbs that the awareness of Alzheimer's is increased and that will lead to donations now or in the future.
Q: Are you still accepting donations for Alzheimer's fund raising? A: Yes, thank you. You can make a donation on-line at Cure Alzheimer's Fund. All donations go to research - zero to the Fund's overhead or my climbing.
Q: Why did you select Adventure Consultants in 2002 and how did they perform? A: Reputation on Everest and my personal experience with them on Ama Dablam in 2000. Guy Cotter runs a solid operation with a full time office staff. He uses the same Sherpas and cooks for most of his Himalayan expeditions. They performed well. It was large team that included researchers from Brown University. At one point we had 30 people in base camp. The base camp staff, with Chhombga as the cook, were excellent as were the climbing Sherpas. The pre-trip interaction with AC out of Wanaka New Zealand was excellent. All question were answered quickly. Guy was there and served as the base camp Manager and made sure that everything went smoothly. There were two Guides, a dedicated Doctor plus a very experienced Sherpa staff of Climbing and Expedition Sidars. AC kept a full time cook at Camp 2 and at Camp 4 which was a great benefit after long days. Among the climbing Sherpas was Ang Dorjee Sherpa (Pangboche) who has summited 8,000 meter peaks 12 times and Lhakap Dorjee (Syare) and Phu Tashi (Pangboche) who I climbed Ama Dablam with in 2000.
Q: Which route did you take and how were the conditions? A: The South Col. After the 30 mile trek from Lukla to base camp - acclimatizing along the way, we climbed through the Khumba icefall five times. This was the most dangerous part due to the shifting glacier. It can move a foot a day and can release house-sized blocks of ice without any notice. There were four High Camps at 19,500; 21,000; 23,500 and 26,300. All towards the summit of 29,035. See the page on the South Col Route for a concise series of pictures and route descriptions.
It was Hot, cold and windy! It was warm in 2002. We regularly saw high temperatures above 80F. In the direct sun on the Western Cwm, it reached over 100F. We had to be extremely careful about severe sunburn. At night, temperatures reached -30F. The winds were one of the biggest problems that year and flattened many tents at Camp 2 during one storm. As happens every year, the jet stream takes a break in early May that opens a window for summit attempts. Usually this is around May 10, but in 2001 it was around May 23. In 2002, it happened around May 15.
Q: How did you do in 2002? A: I reached about 27,200 feet (8250m) just under the Balcony. I developed a lung infection that dramatically reduced my ability to transfer the little oxygen available from my lungs to my muscles. The very short story is: We left the South Col about 10:30PM, May 15. I was out about three hours when I started to cough. My cough was continuous and extreme. At the end of each episode, I felt as if I wanted to vomit and I in fact dry heaved and gagged at the end of each coughing session. I know this is distasteful, but it was what happened. I continued this way for about an hour. With a Sherpa behind me, I never felt in jeopardy. I did know, however, that my summit bid was at serious risk. Moving slowly, I was the last person of the AC team on the Hill. I drank some water and took some concentrated carbohydrates to see if it would revive me. I rested. But it was not to be. I thought deeply and carefully about turning around. My decision was based primarily on not getting better and considered my ability to safely descend after gaining more altitude. Please see the Everest 2002 page for a complete trip report.
The 2003 Climb
Q: Why did you go back in 2003? Wasn't that too quick? A: Ahh, the question everyone asks and the one that is hardest to answer. The short story Everest 2003 - Unfinished Business tries to shed some light but I think it boils down to I just wanted to. I need five stars to align for me to try something of this magnitude: support from my employer, time off, money, support from my family and a deep personal desire. They were there for the '02 attempt and re-emerged for '03. I thought about the night of May 15, 2002 a lot. What went well, what didn't. What would I do different if I had another chance and so on.
Q: Why did you choose Adventure Consultants in 2003 when they didn't get you to the top in '02 A: Interesting question of who is responsible for making the summit or not. It is perfectly clear for me. The Guides are there to give you the opportunity but it is ultimately up to the individual climber. I was happy with AC on the Ama Dablam climb in 2000 and again for Everest in '02. I appreciated their professionalism and attention to details. The group gear they provided was first rate and their Guides are world-class with all the experience you would ever need. They use the same Sherpas on each trip so there are few surprises. Again, I considered International Mountain Guides, since I climbed Cho Oyu with them and they share many of the same strengths as AC. On Everest '02, I saw many expeditions that were understaffed or seemed to have guides climbing for themselves. Dave Hahn with IMG's American Women's expedition was a clear exception. He is truly first class. I was overall pleased with Guy Cotter and the AC team in 2002. The logistic were very well done. The food at base camp was outstanding and the Sherpas second to none.
Q: So how did Adventure Consultants perform in 2003? A: We had a small team. In fact, Guy wanted to cancel the trip two weeks before we were to leave since the turnout was so low. But another climber joined thus keeping the trip viable. The climbing Sherpas were the same as in 2002: Ang Dorjee Sherpa (Pangboche) who has summited 8,000 meter peaks 12 times and and Lhakap Dorjee (Syare) and Phu Tashi (Pangboche) who I climbed Ama Dablam with in 2000. All the Sherpas had stood on top of Everest at least once and Ang Dorge 8 times! I knew everyone one this trip except for my two fellow climbers.
However, their performance was mixed. The Sherpas and base camp services were excellent as usual. The pre-trip interaction was not in AC's excellent tradition. The expedition became difficult towards the end with the guide becoming abusive. All the climbing Sherpas made the summit but none of the clients or the Guide. I spoke with Guy after the trip and sent him a detailed letter with my concerns. He responded with sincerity and he made some changes to his operation based on my comments and from several other clients.
Q: How did you do in 2003? A: I reached the same spot as in 2002 - about 27,200 feet (8250m) just under the Balcony. My body just did not perform well. I had trouble with the altitude above C2. It started as we went to C3 on an acclimatizion trip. I returned to BC after spending the night at C3 or 23,000' but never really got stronger. I suffered from a chronic cough and fatigue. I never felt I was in danger or was putting my teammates into danger so I continued with the expedition and climbed to the South Col at 8000m. I left with the team for the summit and turned backed at 8250m. Please see the Everest 2003 page for a complete trip report.
Q: Why did you go back when you did not summit in 2002 and 2003? A: Two reasons: 1) raise awareness and money for Alzheimer's research and 2) I wanted to. Now that I am retired different factors enter into my decisions but two are still critical: support from my family and a deep personal desire. My 82 year-old Mother had Alzheimer's in 2008 and was in a full time care facility. I dedicated that year of my life to the Memories are Everything®: The Road Back to Mt. Everest project. It was a 5 climb plan plus fund raising and public speaking. You can read more about it through this link. I know from my previous climbs that Everest draws much more interest than say Denali, for example, so it was the best climb for my Alzheimer's objective of awareness and donations. I usually get over 100,000 hits a day on my website during my big climbs. But also, I really want to stand on top of the world!
Q: Who did you go with? A: Mountain Professionals, led by Ryan Waters. The logistics were mostly organized by Phil Crampton and Katmandu based High Altitude Dreams (HAD). Phil has a reputation of running a great BC and is an experienced Everest guide as well. HAD is a well known smallish logistics operator and guide service similar to Asian Trekking. But they are smaller and give more personal support.
Q: How did they all perform? A: In the end it was really High Altitude Dream (HAD) who managed the expedition. HAD's base camp services were excellent. Outstanding food and tents. Individual North Face 3 person VE-25 per person at BC and 2 per tent at C1, C2 and C3. Their Sherpas were good. My Sherpa, Lam Babu was good. And I think the other team members were pleased with their support as well. Ryan was more of a hands-off facilitator. While I own the fact i did not summit, I was disappointed that my summit night plan did not work out as I had extensively discussed and planned with Ryan.
Q: I understand the Chinese closed the North side just before you were to leave. Was that true and how did it affect you? A: On March 10th the Chinese sent a fax to all expeditions who already had been issued permits asking them to not arrive on Cho Oyu or Everest - North until May 10th. This was too late to acclimatize and summit Everest safely. The reason for the Chinese actions were to prevent any protest on Everest while they were taking the Olympic torch to the summit and doing a nationwide television broadcast. Pure propaganda. Phil Crampton coordinated the change from north to south and without him, my climb would not have happened and I sincerely thank him for that.
Q: What was the impact of all this during the actual climb? A: Significant. You can read all the details in an extensive 2008 recap but the summary is the Chinese controlled the Nepal Government to such an extent that the Icefall ladders went in late, climbing restrictions were in place that prevented a normal year for acclimatization schedules, communications and censorship rules limited dispatches and climbers were threatened at gunpoint to comply with rules. It was frightening at times, disturbing at other and annoying at a minimum. I will never trust the Nepal Ministry of tourism like I have in the past.
Q: Why did you consider the North side this time even though you ended up on the south? A: I thought about returning to the south since I know it so well but I felt that my summit chances as well as my safety were better on the the north. The Khumbu Icefall has become so dangerous in recent years with falling seracs and deep crevasses. Another consideration was that it seems the Icefall Doctors who manage the ladders have become a little sloppy. In 2008, the Chinese were taking the Olympic torch to the summit as part of their Beijing games and have scared a lot of people away fearing over-control. (They were right!!) The camps on the north are higher than on the south thus making the climbing days a little shorter. The North Col is at 23,000, the same as C3 on the south. You leave for the summit at 27,390'/8300m vs. 26,300'/8,000m on the south. See the page on the North Ridge Route for a concise series of pictures and route descriptions.
Q: What else did you do different this time? A: The plan was to have more bottled oxygen thus giving me the option of using it at a higher flow rate or from lower down. I had to be careful about this choice since either way it increases my risk if something goes wrong such as mask or regulator failure. By depending on supplemental oxygen too much my body will simply die without it above 8,000m if it is suddenly taken away and I cannot get down fast enough. Also,I had a personal Sherpa who helped me with the loads for example carrying my -40F sleeping bag to the north col. I still carried the majority of my own gear but he was there when I need additional help. All in all, I felt very confident about this overall plan but it did not come together when it counted.
Q: So, how did you do in 2008? A: I did not summit - again - I felt great the majority of the climb but felt it was too dangerous for me to continue and turned back just below the Balcony around 27,000' which was 2035 feet short of the highest point on earth. This was my highest altitude ever reached. In hindsight it was an easy decision but gut wrenching nonetheless. All the details are l covered in the debrief but the headlines include that it was crowded - over 75 people on May 20/21. It was dangerous with large rocks being kicked by the conga line of people - we are lucky someone did not get killed that night. The weather was good - temps near 0F, clear sky and no winds. The masses moved pretty slow but faster than me! The bottom line was that I felt I was moving too slow to summit and return safely. However, I let too many distractions get to me and I counted too much on the western guide to help me when I hit the wall i new I would. But the bottom line was that I needed to be tougher mentally.
Q: Was there Internet coverage of the expedition? A: I posted extensive dispatches on this site but it was interrupted for several weeks when the Nepal Army imposed a communication blackout and confiscated our satellite phones. The dispatches can be read on the dispatch page. This was the main page for all the dispatches for all my recent climbs.
Q: Any regrets on turning around? A: A few. As I wrote this two years later and I feel could have done several things differently. While I trained hard, planned for most everything but in the end my mind said no at the extreme altitude. However, I feel good about the awareness and money I raised but I feel better than I am back home with my family to write about this. I returned in 2011 and summited with IMG.
Q: Exactly where is Mt. Everest? A: On the border between Nepal and Tibet (China). It is in the Himalayan mountain range which stretches 1500 miles from Northeastern Pakistan to Bhutan. There are over thirty mountains higher than 25,000 feet. Of the fourteen 8,000 meter peaks, nine are located in the Himalayas making it clearly the top of the world.
Q: How do they know the altitude? A: In 1841 a British surveyor named Sir George Everest identified the location of the mountain. Fifteen years later using trigonometry and measurements from 12 different survey stations around the mountain 'Peak XV' was surveyed as the world's highest mountain at 29,002 feet. In 1865 it was re-named Mt. Everest and is called Sagarmatha by the Nepalese and Chomolungma in Tibet. In 1955, the height was adjusted to 29,028'. On May 5,1999 a National Geographic Society Expedition put a GPS receiver on the summit. Using a second Trimble GPS receiver at the 26,000' South Col they could make an extremely accurate measurement by running the two receivers simultaneously. The new altitude was 29,035 feet or 8,850 meters. However, the Nepalese still use 29,028' as the official altitude.
Q: What were the standout climbs? A: In 1924, George Mallory and Sandy Irvine made
the first serious attempt. It is still unknown if they made the
summit, but both died on the mountain. In 1953, Tenzing Norgay
and Sir Edmund Hillary make the first successful summit. In 1975,
Japanese Junko Tabei became the first woman to summit the hill.
Austrian Peter Habeler and Italian Reinhold Messner were the first
climbers to summit Everest without bottled oxygen. 1996 was probably
the most controversial year with fifteen climbers dying on the
mountain thus spawning worldwide debate and interest in alpine
mountaineering. But in 2014, 16 Sherpas died in the Khumbu Icefall
when an ice serac released on top of them. And in 2015, 19 people
were killed from an avalanche off Pumori Ridge that was triggered
by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake almost 200 miles away.
Q: How many people have summited and how many people
have died trying? A: The Himalayan Database reports that there have been 8,306 summits (4,333 members and 3,973 hired) of Everest through June 2017 on all routes by 4,833 different people. 1,106 people, mostly Sherpa, have summited multiple times. There have been 539 summits by women. The Nepal side is more popular with 5,280 summits compared to 3,026 summits from the Tibet side. 208 climbers summited without supplemental oxygen, about 2.5%. 32 climbers have traversed from one side to the other. About 63% of all expeditions put at least one member on the summit.
288 people (173 westerners and 115 Sherpas) have died on Everest from 1924 to June 2017, about 3.5%. 71 died on the descent after their summit or 25%. 11 women have died.The Nepal side has 181 deaths or 3.4%, a rate of 1.27. The Tibet side has 107 deaths or 3.3%, a rate of 1.15. Most bodies are still on the mountain but China has removed many bodies from sight. The top causes of death were from avalanche (77), fall (67), altitude sickness (32) and exposure (26).
In 2017 there were 648 summits, 237 from Tibet and 411 from Nepal and 11 didn't use supplemental oxygen. There were 6 deaths.
From 1923 to 1999: 170 people died on Everest with 1,169 summits or 14.5%. But the deaths drastically declined from 2000 to 2017 with 7,056 summits and 118 deaths or 1.7%. However, two years skewed the deaths rates with 17 in 2014 and 14 in 2015. The reduction in deaths is primarily due to better gear, weather forecasting and more people climbing with commercial operations.
Of the 8000 meter peaks, Everest has the highest absolute number of deaths at 288 but ranks near the bottom with a death rate of 1.23. Annapurna is the most deadly 8000er with one death for about every three summits (71:261) or a 3.91 death rate. Cho Oyu is the safest with 3,681 summits and 50 deaths or a death rate of 0.55.
Being able to climb where and what I do is a gift. The opportunity to see so many awe inspiring places, meet amazing people and spend more than a moment in unique lands are the presents. I climb to discover, learn and test - and in those regards, I never fail. I know I am fortunate. I am grateful and try not to take it for granted. Life is precious. Memories are the key. Taking risks make the strongest memories. And it can all be taken away in a flash. Live life. Live a full and challenging life. Make it count. Do it today.
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