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Climbing the World to End Alzheimer's
May 222011

The route I took from the Balcony to the summit as seen from Lhotse on the same day I summited.

I stood on the summit of Mount Everest at 5:00 AM, malady May 21, 2011. To say this event had a personal meaning is an understatement. To say it had a broader meaning leaves much to be explained. I will write a complete trip report in my usual standard once I get home but for now here is an overview from my summit push.

The weather played havoc with every team in 2011. High winds were forecasted and changed plans but then never materialized. Sudden storms did appear without notice causing great discomfort, > concern and in some cases, frostbite and blindness. So when our IMG expedition leader announced at 9:00 PM May 15, the weather forecast had changed for the positive and we needed to leave base camp in 5 hours, we were skeptical to say the least.

But we moved ahead spending a night a Camp 1 and then moved to Camp 2. But the forecast changed yet again, this time calling for high winds the morning, May 19, we were supposed to summit. While other teams ignored this revision, we stood down and spent another night at Camp 2. Not all bad since this gave our bodies more time to rest, hydrate and prepare for our ultimate summit push. But now our summit was at the end of a 3 day window of low winds so the margin for error was reduced to zero – assuming the forecast were valid.

But we moved forward and on to Camp 3, then to the South Col, a harsh camp at nearly 8000m where the body no longer functions properly. My climb from C3 to the Col was fast, over twice as fast as my previous climb; about 3 hours. The recent snows had made the route over the Yellow Band, a limestone strata that crosses the Himalaya in the area, and on the Geneva Spur slightly easier instead of climb on rock.

Arriving at the South Col is more like landing on a distance planet. The ground is covered with small slate tablets revealing a history of being underwater at some point – amazing. But the overriding feature is the route up the Triangular Face to the Balcony. From there the route follows the Southeast ridge to the South Summit. You cannot see the true summit of Everest from the South Col – but you know it is there.

As we settled into our tents at 9:00 AM, we knew we would leave about 12 hours later – weather depending. Then the call came; the winds which had been forecasted to be calm, were now called to pick up in the afternoon and then die down in the night; when we were climbing. But more unsettling were that extremely high winds were called for the next day – after our summit. The tension mounted as our window became much shorter.

On schedule, the winds started up Friday afternoon. We heard of over 100 summits that same morning with perfect conditions. I was tenting with Mirjam and we just lay in our sleeping bags trying to sleep. My overriding thoughts were of the winds and if they did not stop. IMG was not set up for us to stay at the Col for another day. After 2 months of preparation, it could all come to an end.

But as the sun set, the winds seem to start to calm. At this point there were less than 30 people at the South Col meaning crowds would not be a huge issue. We set a departure time of 9:00 PM. My personal thought was it would take me between 12 to 14 hours to reach the summit, at my pace, putting me there at mid morning on May 21. I lay in my tent, my stomach churned; I was getting more and more nervous with each passing gust.

The summit meant a lot to me given I had tried three times. I had made climbing a priority  and I found great satisfaction from the expedition life to meeting fellow climbers to actually climbing; yet Everest remained a goal seemingly far out of my skills and ability. I had climb just below the Balcony in each previous attempt turning back due to not being strong enough either physically or mentally.

But Alzheimer’s changed my life forever. As my mom spent 8 difficult years with disease, I saw the lack of knowledge in the public, the lack of funding for research, the lack of tools to the disease. More was needed and there was no tomorrow for Alzheimer’s. Outstanding non-profits existed but I wanted to be aggressive with my mission of fund raising, awareness building and education, thus combining it with my climbing, I felt I could reach people otherwise missed or not having an outlet for their personal stories. In the 60 days I would take to climb Everest, 74,057 would be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s just in the US.

The 7 Summits Climb for Alzheimer’s: Memories are everything was born with the support of Janssen AI and Pfizer. I made it to the top of Vinson in Antarctica and Aconcagua in South America and now was laying in a -20F sleeping bag at 26,400′ in gale force winds. My supporters had made it clear that safety was the top priority, however, I knew if I did not summit Everest, the underlying premise of my 7 Summits mission was damaged. After all who got the bronze medal in the 100 meter sprint in the last Olympics?

As the winds dyed, I filled my thermos with hot water and turned on my batteries for my foot warmers. I put hand warmers in my gloves, pulled on my wool cap, positioned my goggles around my down hood and stepped out of the tent and onto the South Col. In the total darkness, the stars shown brightly in between the strong gusts.

At this point we were a team of 14, 7 members and 7 Sherpas. With full down suits, oxygen bottles in every pack, headlamps on; we left the South Col at 9:20 PM on May 20. My heart pounded. I felt the pressure. I felt the strength. The comments on my website had been a source of continuous encouragement not only for the climb but more importantly for the cause. I felt the strength of a million legs.

The climb from the South Col to the Balcony starts steep and continues. A fixed line was already in place set by a team of Sherpas a few weeks earlier. As the wind gusted I put my goggles on but the moisture from my oxygen mask created fog or condensation thus obscuring my views. Why didn’t I the small fan for my goggles?

We started at a reasonable pace and I was shocked to find us, Kami and I, passing people who were standing in place with 1000 yard stares; not that I could see their eyes. I climbed steady putting every thought of my past experience out of my mind – but then embraced them as lessons and putting them in practice real time. I focused on my breathing – steady, not gasping. I was diligent with my foot placement taking advantage of every footprint in the soft snow.

I practiced my mantra: 1 step, then a second, take a third; consider where I was and why; while taking a few extra breaths – and start over.

The climb to the Balcony was long, longer than I remember. The winds had brought new snow up to our calves. Sometimes a step would take you lower, causing an involuntary gasp that comes with using big muscles in your leg. Our team was in the lead breaking trail. I followed Kami carefully knowing that perseverance and patience would pay off. And then we arrived at the Balcony, a snow covered flat spot the size of house living room. With headlamps aglow, it looked like something out of the movie Close Encounters.

I looked at my watch – we had left at 9:20PM and it was now 1:00AM – 3:20 minutes! I had counted on 6 at a minimum. I told Kami and he just shrugged. Seems Sherpas have a different time system.

Once again, the Sherpas went into action. Every climber needed a new bottle of supplemental oxygen. That required taking the current one out of the pack, unscrewing the regulator, putting it on the new bottle that a Sherpa had carried, testing it for leaks and putting it back in the pack. More than one climber had an issue with this process, not unique to IMG, not unusual with sub zero temps that caused the hard metal moving parts to freeze. But the Sherpas have centuries of collective experience with their 5, 10, 15 respective Everest summits so they know what to do.

I took a drink while my bottle was being changed. I only had a moment to consider this was my personal altitude record – it felt good. I looked up at the South Summit, slightly illuminated by the half moon. It looked high, far way and very steep. I felt nervous. Could I really do this? One step, two then a third.

The first section seemed doable, it was on fresh snow. I kind of hoped that breaking trail would slow Minga, the Sherpa in the lead, down a bit; but that hope was in vain. I was now forth in our conga line behind Minga, Mirjam and Kami. How in the world did I end up in this spot?

The route took a turn, not in direction but in slope, the steepness went from 20 to 40 degrees and continued. We continued at a steady pace. I looked around could see another 8000m mountain silhouetted to the East, Makalu. The other high Himalayan mountains looked like solders standing individually and proud. Stars shown brightly in the rarified air void of the contaminates of modern day life. But my momentary sightseeing came to a quick halt.

As I climber higher, I knew there was a section know as the slabs below the South Summit, but honestly, I was not prepared for what I encountered. This section of maybe 300 feet was covered with smooth rock, sometimes in 10 to 30 feet uplifts. While there was a fixed rope the climbing required all my skills. The primary issue was the fogged goggles and the protruding oxygen mask, I could not see my feet or where to step. It was climbing blind, literally.

I would watch Kami climb a section and try to put my feet where he did. But more generally, I would simply put my front crampon points on a small outcrop of rock and either push with my legs or pull with my arms to lift me to the next section. I was glad I was doing this in the dark, sometimes ignorance is bliss.

The slab section came to an end but then I saw the South Summit and it required a climb on a relatively simple snow slope however the angle was now over 60 degrees and that is steep. One step, two then a third. Then I saw it.

The true summit of Everest came into view for the first time since I saw it from Pumori a few weeks ago. I took a moment to let it sink in. And I knew I would make it. The first time in my life, I knew I would stand on the top of the world. The feeling permeated my body, I relaxed and took the cool oxygen deep into my hurting lungs. It felt good.

I down climbed from the South Summit to a small flat section where we changed my oxygen bottle again. All part of the plan that allowed me to run at a slightly higher rate. Lesson from the past climbs coming to life now. But a change occurred, the winds went from breezy back to gale. I became very cold. My toes told me that something had changed. My body was cold since the early climb had generated a tiny amount of perspiration and my down suit did not breath that well so it was trapped and now conducting cold onto my core. I picked up the pace to generate some heat.

The infamous Cornice Traverse came not sight. A short section of maybe 30 feet but at 2 feet wide with thousand foot drop-offs on both side, it is a feared section for many. I am not sure why but I simply walked across, glancing that deadly exposure without much thought. My thoughts might have been of the Hillary Step. Rumor had it that it was easier than normal with a lot snow making the crampon climbing easier.

We came to the base of the Step and there was snow but also a lot of rock. Once again, I climbed blind, in the dark with only my headlamp showing the way. I was clipped into the fixed line and place my front points carefully. Oddly it took only a few moves and I overcame this feature. Once again, reality was easier than apprehension. But there was a surprise. At the top of the step we had to go left around a chair sized rock, not a big deal but it was on a ledge with another thousand foot drop to west (what would you expect on the highest mountain in the world?) A slip would be deadly so staying clipped in was critical.

The final section came into view. I was expecting a nice gentle groomed blue ski slope but this was steep and somewhat narrow. But the big picture was incredible. The true summit remained hidden and the route followed the contours. However it was the wind blown cornices that caught my attention. These snow sculptures created by never-ending winds created an art gallery worthy of the Getty. Gentle curves that looked like cake icing swirled up and down as we gained altitude.

A low glow was just appearing on the eastern horizon. We were the first on the planet to see this dawn. The winds were now gusting to 40 mph. It was cold, very cold. Then I saw them, prayer flags a bit higher and ahead. The summit Mount Everest. I looked at my feet, or actually a bit ahead. Now was not the time to trip. I forgot about the pain in my lungs, my sore legs, the wind, my insecurities.

With one more step and I was standing on the summit of Mount Everest, 29,035 feet, 8850 meters. The summit was small, maybe 10 people could squeeze onto it. While we were the first four that day, three climbers from the North were already there. On yeah, there was another side to Everest!

The prayer flags dominated the summit. Incredibly a small bench had been carved out of the snow allowing people to pose for pictures, I took advantage of this seating to simply rest. I was tired, very tired. We had climbed from the South Col to the summit in about 7:40. Not in my wildest dreams…

As the wind howled, my body core dropped. My toes and fingers went from cold to numb.  I took out my satellite phone and made a brief post to the Blog. I am not sure I could have held it together for anything too long. I dedicated this summit to my Mom, Ida Arnette, and to all the Alzheimer’s mom’s out there. After the call, I heaved with emotion in the privacy of my down hood.

With the wind howling, Kami took a few pictures of me and put away my camera; my only regret. He was ready to go and so was I as I became colder and colder. I looked around. Words or pictures cannot capture the scale of what I saw. In every direction were snow capped mountains, ice white glaciers, frozen rivers and stretches of flat expanses; all lit by the predawn sunrise. In spite of the winds, a moment of peacefulness filled me and I took my first steps away from the summit. Nine years to get here, 10 minutes to stay. While the ratio seems unfair, the memories will last forever.

Retracing our steps, I down climbed the Hillary Step with no serious issues other than my oxygen mask freezing up cause a brief moment of panic when I simply told Kami, “I can’t breath”. A strong beating of the ice formation blocking the intake solved the problem. I honestly don’t remember crossing the Cornice Traverse with it’s deadly exposure. The climb back up the South Summit was straight forward but then we saw the crowds climbing up the slabs below the South Summit. It was like a Zombi movie with people climbing in slow motion or not at all, looking at the steep slabs in the light of day caused me to appreciate the cover of darkness.

I was beat, between the pace, the wind, the cold the emotions; I was empty. I arrived at the South Col in 3 hours after leaving the summit. I collapsed in a tent, without taking off my boots feel into a deep sleep. Kami woke me up an hour later and we left for a very long down climb to Camp 2. I Iost the distinction between night and day, standing and walking, up and down; my body was on automatic, my mind numb.

Now back in Base Camp, I am preparing for the three day walk to Lukla, the flight to Kathmandu and back home. It will be good to feel the embrace of my wife again.

I am sure as I walk the trails of the Khumbu, the reality of this summit will set in. I will ponder the question of why this time was so different, so fast, why I stood on top of the world. I will think about how to reach more people with the cause, how to thank so many that took time to send me words, prayers and thoughts of encouragement. How to let people know that their belief in me made a difference.

I want to bring into focus the need to educate people around the world about Alzheimer’s, how it destroys families and finances; and individuals. How we need more money for research, how we need that lucky break in the lab. Standing on top of the world was easy in comparison.

But for now, there is reason to celebrate. Goals are meant to be pursued and obtained. Perservance can be motivating; however doing something for a larger meaning can make the difference between one step, then a second and a third.

Climb On!
Memories are Everything

  93 Responses to “Everest Summit Recap – more than a summit”


    Alan, many thanks for taking me along on your magnificent adventure(s). No account of an Everest climb as moved me more than has yours. I, too, have been following you for a couple of years and share a common bond, with a mother passing with Alzheimer’s.

    Congratulations on the Big One, I will be along for the rest of them. too. Safe trip home and have a well deserved rest. Denali will be along very soon.

    Best Wishes – Climb on!


    Congrats, Alan! Enjoy the moment. Your achievement is truly inspiring.


    Brilliant!!!!! I have followed your every move with shivers!!!!


    Congratulations Alan…!!!!


    Congratulations Alan! I’ve followed your blog for years, and was so hoping that this would be your time! Thanks for all you do, not only for Alzheimer’s, but also for the many of us who follow the Everest climbs, live them vicariously through your blog, but know that we will never get higher than base camp ourselves.


    Congratulations! Reading your description of the achievement you and the other climbers have reached makes me feel as if I were there with you, something I know I will never do. Following your blog on the climb has been very exciting. I have enjoyed looking at pictures of your climbs. Hoping I have the opportunity of hearing more of you, your accomplishments and seeing more of your pictures, I will again say CONGRATULATIONS AND BEST OF LUCK!


    Congrats man..


    Congrats Allan. I followed you on your adventure and you wrote passionately and accurately about your climb.

    I summitted Everest last year with IMG so I am very familar with the players and terrain. You may know me from my popular video on YouTube called: Mount Everest ICE FALL.

    I know very well about the stress and determination one needs to succeed. That you had the personal drive to return 4 times tells a lot about your character and psychology. I was also there before in 1969 for a month alone trekking up to base camp and I can tell you a lot has changed since then. Your cause and portrayal of it has been magnificant.

    My mother also suffered from Alzheimer’s and I lost her while climbing Cho Oyu in 2008. You have truly become an excellent spokeman for Alzheimer’s and I salute you for it. Good luck to you.


    Well done my friend and well written. Safe travels to Lukla and back home to Colorado.


    Congratulations Alan, what an achievement. I don’t know you, but shed a tear listening to your audio dispatch. You need to write a book or get yourself on the speaking circuit. Your story is amazing and I loved reading your adventure. Have a safe trip back to Kathmandu. Climb on!


    Alan!!! Congratulations!!! You so deserved the summit! Extremely impressed at your speed up and down the mountain – you put men half your age to shame!! From Slippers in the Snow to Everest – what an incredible journey that spanned 9 years! Congratulations once more and enjoy your success!!



    Mesmerizing! Can’t wait to read more. I will tell my father all about you, I believe somewhere deep inside he does remember the mountains. Thank you so much.


    Awesome! And congrats! Well deserved and looking forward to seeing and reading more…

    Take care on the way back to Kathmandu.



    Well done Alan and a great write up too. I would love to know what you attribute your fast times this year compared with past attempts? Was it comparatively good health?
    Paul Adler


    Congratulations Alan! I think Mom hand a hand in this one!


    Congratulations on your summit of Everest!
    Wow what an achievement. Thanks for your blog and updates. It is the closest I will ever come to climbing Everest and I did it vicariously through you. I want you to come back to Loveland Sertoma when you get back and talk about your experiences.
    Take care and God Speed my friend. Safe travels home.


    Champion! (on so many levels)


    Congratulations….what a fantastic job! Thanks for the great updates along the way and from the top. They were inspiring. Get home safely and have an easy recovery!


    What a beautiful story of courage and passion……the account is spell-binding for me to read. I am looking forward to reading about your account in more detail with pics also.
    Will be making my next $100 donation to Memories are Everything today.

    So, so, so glad I am able to follow this journey…..Memories ARE Everything!


    Congratulations Alan! I have enjoyed following your journey. Have a safe journey home!


    Well done. II do not know ourselves, but every year I have been following your Everest-Site und your way on the top. You can be very proudly on the achievement. By now I am glad about the report and about the next Everest page. Come well home.


    Alan, great to hear you summited on Saturday. I summited Thursday with AC and had climbed with Kami’s brother. Nice photo too


    I was so excited to read the news on Twitter from multiple sources that you had reached the summit. But I’ve loved reading this summit account more than all the Everest literature I’ve read (several books now). My mom, who is caring for her mother who has Alzheimer’s, has also been following this climb. I believe the positive energy of this 3rd summit will carry in a real way through my mom to my grandmother. Thank you for your courage and inspiration. 4 more to go!


    Finally Alan! Congratulations! You made it for all of us human beings who knowing their limitations still strive for hope and a better future!

    Thank you so much!



    “Ms. Hawley! Paging Liz Hawley…Your record book needs updating….add another name to the list…ALAN ARNETTE!!!!” So proud of you,man.Get home,and tell us all about it.Just one question….Did the dog summit?If not,maybe it should go with IMG and have Kami as its sherpa next time!


    great work, alan! i cried when i heard your audio dispatch from the top of the world. you’re doing great work and even though i don’t know you, i’m proud of you! climb on 🙂


    Hi Alan – what a great post – thank you for allowing those of us sitting back in our homes to share this with you in some small way. I am so glad you are down safely, and I hope the travel home goes smoothly. Congratulations again on such an amazing accomplishment!


    This whole way,Alan,I really felt this was your time.Every step we your supporters would be there,one,two,and three steps at a time in the support of this very big cause.It truely felt as if we where there with you as tears streamed down our faces as well.You have passed on a torch to each of us,to carry out the awareness of Altzhiemers.I to have memories that I share with you now.A fire burns in my heart for you,ALAN,AND ALL THE FAMILIES,AND SO IT SHALL ALWAYS BE SAID….CLIMB ON!!!


    Beautiful Alan! Your journey and fight is incredible. I teared up when I heard your dedication on the summit of Everest. Thank you on behalf of my mom (Bertha Deneau aka “Billie”) whom I miss dearly. She, Ida, and others like them need someone to fight this disease when they are no longer able.

    So glad when I saw the SPOT track back at Base Camp! You arrived safely down!

    I hope you have an uneventful trip back home to Cathy!
    – Valerie (and John from Snowmass)


    Very moving and inspiring Alan! Huge congratulations to you and I look forward to the full report. Thanks for sharing.


    Congrats Alan, what a journey!! glad to read that you made it down safely, reading your blog is truly inspiring!!!
    have a safe trip home.



    Alan: Incredible account of your experience that most memorable day! Thanks for each and every detail and thoughts. I too was following your progress all afternoon and into the night following your movement up the hill. I was also following the progress of other teams behind you as I was getting e-mails and text messages of their progress relayed from messages to Base Camp. Your entire journey the last several weeks has been documented so well and with great enthusiasm. Thanks so much for sharing! Congratulations and safe journeys back home! Gary


    Well done, Alan!!!! I have been following your progress closely these last couple of days and was thrilled to read of your success this morning. A tremendous achievement in so many ways. Thanks for sharing with us. Enjoy what you have done!!


    I got chills reading your blog this morning. All I can say is YOU MADE IT!!!!! so happy for you and your family!!



    Just so happy for you Alan. It was obviously your time to have your moment on top of the world. You so deserved to make it and make your cause so well known. Your emotion for your Mom when you summited pulled at my heart strings and yes Memories are Everything….safe trip home and will be waiting for reports of your next climb.


    The tears are rolling down my Alan, I know each of our Mom’s made all the difference this time. I never doubted for one second that you would make it this time. Hope you are having a good trek back and time for some of the great food you described at the beginning of your journey. Sounds like IMG did a great job with the logistics and Special Thanks to Kami & your wife Cathy for allowing you to overcome all the difficulties both physical & emotional! Can’t wait to read more & to see the pictures.


    Congratulations, Alan! It has really been a joy to follow your journey to the Summit from beginning to end. You are such a gifted and thorough writer. Thanks for taking us along on your journey with you!


    I was watching your every step on the “locator”…. constantly thinking of you…. then crying tears of joy along with you while listening to your summit audio dispatch. I am so so so very proud of you Alan. I think you mom had a chat with Chomolungma too… something like: “can you help my son make the summit so he can get this climbing thing out of his system?”….. And my mom was probably sitting with yours saying “well bless his heart”.


    I am more happy for you than words can express. I heard the emotion in your voice from the summit loud and clear. After following your blog for several years; I cried along with you as your Everest dream became a reality. What a prescious memory. My donation towards Alzheimer’s Memories are Everything is on its way. Have a safe trip home to your family. Thank you for taking me with you on your personal journey.


    Congrats and happy to hear you are safely back down!

    Thank for all you are doing – my Mom was one of the Alzheimer’s Moms and we miss her every day. We’ll be sending in our Everest pledge today.

    Safe travels home!


    we’ll all be reading , re-reading and re-re-reading this for a very VERY long time. hope you listen to your own audio dispatches . but — wait till you get home for that. i’d say that when you get back, you take your wife out for a serious nice dinner ! order the good wine… 🙂 enjoy the glow. you earned it.


    Alan, My family and myself have been following you all the way to the top ! Well done ! Such an amazing thing to do ! Incredible ! Amazing ! Many, many thanks for the coverage and best wishes for your future climbs!
    Graham, Wendy, Holly and Jack in Blackpool, UK …..


    Well done Alan, well done. Enjoy your walk down the Khumbu; drink some change for me. Namaste!


    Mesmerized reading your account! Amazing! So, so happy for you! The only thing I hate is that this adventure is coming to an end for those of us who are just reading. Please keep us informed of your schedule for speaking, etc. I plan to be in Colorado this summer and it would give me tremendous pleasure to shake your hand!

    You have endeared yourself to everyone who has followed you, Alan! Climb on!


    Hey Alan! Thats great news-really pleased!!! Dont know if you have seen my comments of support over the years but I hope you get this one… for now and enjoy the celebrations you have always deserved! Mark Sheen


    Congrats, Alan. Dream achieved. Great job done.


    Congratulations, Alan. Enjoy the moment!!


    Alan, I’m afraid I cried again when I read your description of standing on the summit:

    “Words or pictures cannot capture the scale of what I saw. In every direction were snow capped mountains, ice white glaciers, frozen rivers and stretches of flat expanses; all lit by the predawn sunrise. In spite of the winds, a moment of peacefulness filled me and I took my first steps away from the summit. Nine years to get here, 10 minutes to stay. While the ratio seems unfair, the memories will last forever.”

    I so wish I could have witnessed your triumph in person, you standing there with the prayer flags snapping in the wind and your feeling of exhilaration. But you described it so perfectly.

    Thank goodness you safely made it back down, and I’m sure I can speak for the other bloggers here when I write that we can’t WAIT for your full report and photographs!

    I also wish I could personally thank your Sherpa guide, Kami, for taking such good care of you. He’s a miracle and no mistake.

    Come home and write your report! And maybe, just maybe, it’s time for all of your adventures to be put into a book.
    I’d it.

    Have a safe and happy trip back to Kathmandu and then home.



    Congrats, Alan! Well written and what a journey. Look forward to seeing your pics and hearing more of your adventure. Incredible!


    Way to go!!! Congrats to you and your team!!

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