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Climbing the World to End Alzheimer's
May 212012

An 18 year old summits Everest fulfilling a dream and then experiences the trauma of passing newly perished bodies on the descent. A 70 year old, turns back from the summit choosing family over a summit as the relentless winds force an obvious but still difficult choice.

Summit or not, young or old; Everest remains significant for every person who steps foot on the route.

Over this past weekend we have witnessed the harsh realities of climbing the big Himalayan mountains like Everest: attempts, success and death.

It was a difficult journey for those on the mountain, and for those home watching their loved ones. For those on the sidelines it was a lesson in life. For those who don’t understand, they never will. And that’s OK, the rest of us do.

Over 300 people accomplished their dreams, some had an easy time, others barely made it and four did not.

The early window was fraught with ambitious and aggressive climbers. They worked to get in position to maximize their chances and many won. It was difficult, standing in line at 28,500′, controlling each breath of bottled oxygen as if it was their last, cursing the crowds and then straining to look beyond, to the see the next anchor, to see the top of the world. And then they celebrated, forgiving the pain it took to get there.

The next wave added an element of difficulty beyond understanding. Those teams with the most experience, climbed as a team, constantly checking in with one another, moving as a group; the brotherhood of the rope. They climbed together, summited together and descended together. Now they celebrate together.

But some who climbed that night felt the harsh reality of altitude. The sudden onset of fluids on the brain, in the lungs; the instant feeling of weakness, of bliss, of sleep. Those around tried anything, everything in their power; but it is never enough.The simple equation of life, of death.

Phone calls were made, reports filed and the grieving began. The questions without answers, the blame, the guilt. The process is unforgiving. And it will happen again.

Climbers climb for the same reason teacher teach, writers write and dreamers dream. Without goals that challenge your essence, provide satisfaction from the pursuit itself and feed the smile at the end of the day; the questions of life often have empty answers.

The next set of Everest climbers are on their way. They will move to the High Camps, rest and focus. Then they will move to the stating gate and stare at the snow capped peak in front of them and wonder, is this my time?

We will never now the precise details of what happened to Dr Ebehard Schaaf, a generous doctor who wanted to see everyone accomplish their dream. Or Shriya Shah who said proudly “This is my dream and passion, and want to do something for my country. Nothing is impossible in this world, even the word ‘impossible’ says ‘I M POSSIBLE’!

And the others who remain on Everest, remain a mystery.

But if the work of those who summited or those who didn’t are simply dismissed as a moment of entertainment, real life reality; we have all missed the point, and missed an opportunity.

Climb On!
Memories are Everything

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  37 Responses to “Everest 2012: The Significance of Everest”


    stumbled upon this app,absolutely tremendous.The author would write a great book I dare say he already has. wished I could be there



    help me understand this better

    could you please clarify how you have validated that the folks who summitted actually did. 300 sounds like a difficult no to me to complete on any day on any summit anywhere in the world above 8500 meters, you mean more than 10 to 15 people per hour were negotiating the hillary step and making it to the top, never mind the weather window. being a climber myself, with all due respect, i wouldnt discount the possibility of climbers making a claim to something they havent experienced. especially when the stakes are as high as what they are now. i presume a big no have turned around without. i may stand corrected, i’d like to know the exact nos though.


      Not all the climbers are on the same route to the summit.
      With all due respect you may need to recalculate the per hour number.


    Again a nice post!


    Alan, thank you for this summary. You couldn’t put it any better. There are many negative coments on climbing Himalayas, especially Everest from people who don’t understand anything outside their own world. I’m so happy that Margaret (Altitude Junkies) turned back when she did, so she didn’t become another statistic. Don’t know the details yet where she is and how she is, only that she got sick on the last push and descending back.


      Tad, we know she gave it all. She clibmed in horrible conditions, worst of the last many years. Hug her, hold her and love her from the moment she steps off that plane back home. The teamwork continues and she needs you now more than ever. Well done by all.


    Jim… everyone down here wishes you the best on your climb! be strong…


    As I have already commented the excitement and success of the earlier climbers has been over shadowed by the very sad deaths already noted and I rather expect there might be more.Emotions are running high and it appears that a few watchers don’t understand and are too quick to criticise.I thought your blog tonight was so apt and quite beautiful. You manage to sum up a situation and write accordingly.I tend to agree with Mone and Billy L on much of their comments. Regarding the young wounded from the UK and being British myself I realise how disappointed they all are.Monies spent,and effort cast aside they will feel it’s another knock back in their young lives. I have no intention of criticising Himex for their early decision, they had a very experienced leader who cared for his team of hard working Sherpas as well as their members who have all gone safely home to family and friends. They thought they were doing the right thing and we will never know.Thanks again Alan Kate S



    there is nothing more to say. An impressive description which in some kind makes me feel being part of this year’s Everest season – despite just sitting in front of my computer. I really do agree with you. Thx for your Blog. And let me say: I have a dream… going to Everest!

    Andy from Germany



    thank you for such wonderful words. I’ve been following your blog for more than a year now from far away Germany. You are always a source of inspiration and a feeling of „never give up“.

    I can understand why people want to climb Everest. It is the „highest“ goal you can achieve on earth. Personally an physically. But today I’m feeling sad, angry and despaired. Everyone knows about the tragedy in 1996. Too many people on the mountain, many inexperienced climbers, most of them too late, long time in the death zone without enough oxygen and then the storm.

    And today? The same picture. Every year. Have they learnt nothing from it? I know it’s all about money. But it is very very sad. Not only for the people who are dying but also for this wonderful mountain. Our highest place on earth. The top of the world!

    Everyone should watch the IMAX film from David Breashears from Everest. Even if you watch it on your Laptop you can see the quality of the great pictures.

    Sorry for my English. I know I have to improve it. But I hope you understand my intention.

    Greetings from Germany



      Hi Mone,

      I feel the same (and be assured that I could understand you very well 🙂 ).

      I think the climbers should know also the risk themselves and they should have known where they were going to, especially in this condition. And I believe the most of them did know it and just took the risk.
      For most of them it worked fine, for others not.

      So it is there own risk and they pay for this expedition knowing that it might be the last thing they do. That’s okay, so far.

      But it is not okay, because they do not put only their own life on risk but especially the life of the Sherpas. And that”s not okay.
      I agree with Kammerlander who said that only people should climb Mount Everest who can climb it themself/autonomously, without having a 8km “via ferrata” from the bottom to the top (quote Reinhold Messmer).
      Otherwise, what do they accomplish while climbing this mountain?

      Three sherpa’s already died this season preparing somehow the climb of the others. While you are reading now all about the Westerners who died last weekend in the news and can watch about there tragedy in TV and questioning “who is responsible for their dead”, no western newspaper was talking about the Sherpas who died a few weeks ago.
      Nobody asked “Who is responsible for their dead” back then…


        Hi Billy,

        thanks for your kind words. I’m always a little bit unsure about my English. Writing a sentence, thinking about it five times, deleting it, writing a new one and so on. 😉

        I totally agree with you what you wrote about the Sherpas. It’s a problem of how the Westerners think and behave.

        That’s why I like the style how Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner and some others are climbing these mountains.

        But for now let’s wish the remaining climbers and Sherpas all the best for their next attempt. And that they will all come back safe and healthy.


          I don’t think many climbers would be so callous and uncaring for anyone on their team, or another team, be it other climbers and especially Sherpas who are there at your service. I was just in EBC and have have no qualms about how vital, and on your side all the folks there are. If Sherpas are not mentioned to the same degree in your local press its just because the local press want local angles and people relative to their audience, not that climbers see themselves as more important than these local heros. You’d probably not meet a more friendly, professional, well humored workforce than the local Sherpas in the Khumbu. And everyone of them means something to someone.


    Donal, best wishes to Cian over the coming days for a safe summit and return. Fingers crossed for all.



    I have always been struck by the work of the Sherpas. In all the books that I have read on Himalayan mountaineering (I have not personal experience of being there), they are the “eminence grise” of all expeditions – commercial, private, whatever.

    As you and others point out, they do get mentioned and acknowledged in most of these writings.

    But I would appreciate it greatly if you, or anyone else, would suggest a book or two (in English preferably, but I would also read French) describing their lives, culture and especially, their “sine qua non” work in Himalayan climbing.



      I can reccommend a book called “Tigers of the Snow” by Jonathan Neale. It tells you the history of Himalayan climbing from the Sherpas point of view. It tells you how they went from being high altitude porters to team members and responsible climbers. Escpecially the 1934 German-led Nanga Parbat Expedition had an impact on the role of Sherpas on expeditions.
      I loved reading this book 🙂


    Wonderful description of the events and feelings of the climbers. I am feeling sadness for the losses and joy at the same time for the ones who completed the journey to the top and for those who went as far as they did. There is something so awe inspiring about those that climb Evererst or attempt to climb to the top. Hard for me to put into words.



    You have provide us context and perspective.

    I can not believe there is another summit push now starting. Even from here at home I am not prepared emotionally for any more loss. I am sure you are exhausted by this roller coaster of a year on Everest.

    I sit here with all of the comforts of home and wonder what the HIMEX team is feeling after their long trip home and these latest tragedies. If nothing else I hope the HIMEX Team can take pride in not having added to the congestion. An immeasurably painful sacrifice on their part.

    I imagine the HIMEX Team feels like their dreams were stolen from them. I hope when some of the pain fades away that many of the HIMEX Team members find a way to go back to Everst and that they are able to continue to the TOP, or turn around on their own terms.

    IMG Hybrid Summit Team 2010.


    Thank you for this thoughtful article. It is very sad about the lost lives on the mountain. I am glad my Dad decided to turn around. We are still waiting to hear from him at base camp. Lisa


    Thank you for your thoughtful coverage of Everest and my deepest sympathy goes out to all who have perished on Everest. . In America, they advertise crab fishing in the Bering Sea as being the deadliest profession. I think that should be changed to being a Sherpa on Mt. Everest. According to Wikepedia, at least 78 Sherpas have died on Everest. Very few people could summit and then get back safely without the support of Sherpas. Netflix currently has an old National Geographic documentary on Sir Edmund HIllary and his work in Nepal and I recommend that people watch it to get to know the Sherpa people better. Also, if you are an armchair climber like me who is fascinated with the triumph and tragedy of Everest, Netflix currently has the IMAX film about Mt. Everest which happened to be filmed during the 1996 disaster–the story is heartbreaking because, of course, it includes the 1996 disaster, but it is breathtaking too because watching Ed Viesturs climb to the summit in thigh deep snow is incredible. Best wishes to the climbers who are stilling on the their summit bids.


    Looking at that picture of all those climbers in line waiting for the one in front to take a step is chilling. Now I actually believe that Russel made the correct decision by going home. Imagine another 100 climbers in that mess. Who knows how many more lives would have been lost had there been that many more climbers, all trying their best to summit.

    Perhaps limits on the amount of people per season should be looked at?


      Bob, That section in the picture is just above Camp 3 where it turns towards the Yellow Band. It is notorious for slowing everything and everybody down to a crawl. The problem is there is usually one fixed rope so if you get behind a very slow climber (usually a non-Sherpa) everyone gets stuck. That is what this looks like to me with the gap in the upper middle. It is hard to pass them but occasionally someone will scream at them to get off the rope, which is also dangerous given how steep this is; thus the conga line …. Knowing Himex, they would have waited out this window thus avoiding those crowds entirely. Also, the Himex Sherpa’s concerns were primarily of the upper Icefall.

      Nepal had limits on the number of climbers by only issuing one permit for one team per route back in the early 1990’s but there is too much money at stake for Nepal so now everyone can get a permit. I doubt that will change. In 2011, Everest brought in $9M to the economy in a country with a per capita income of $473.


        Thanks for the info, Alan. I realize that there is lots of money involved and that everyone who signs up are aware of the risks. These climbers are a different breed then I am. That traffic jam would literally drive me bonkers to the point I would just mentally give up. And thats just that one spot. Hillary Step would be another place where I would fear…

        I think I will just wait until someone installs a chairlift to the top of the mountain! Maybe have a starbucks up their to!


          I don’t think your last sentence ads anything, but ruins your otherwise very good comment


            I believe Bob’s last comment was a humorous acknowledgement of his own limitations in contrast to those with the strength, endurance and drive to climb Mt. Everest, and was charmingly self-deprecating.


    A beautiful sensitively written post, I am deeply sadden by the news after following everyone so closely this year. My condolences go to the family and friends of those lost.


    Dear Alan,
    Very moving and inspiring story for many of us who so many times ask:WHY you put your self in jeopardy.I am trying for the past two months following stories from the Everest to appreciate your passion. I can finally say : Climb On!!!


    Well put Alan.

    Life is a journey and people need to test themselves and their limits. some might chose climbing Mount Everest others might chose a lesser challenge. In the end people make choices. May those who passed away rest in eternal peace and may the ones that have survived have found their limits and can now move on with their lives.

    Keep up the good work Alan …


    I found you website as I am following my son Sam Elias who is climbing with Conrad Anker up Everest. I too have lost my mom to early Alzheimers. Keep up the good work!


    Thank you for this write up! It’s an incredible journey for all the climbers on the ground, as well as all us, newly connected, cyber audience, fans, loved ones and family members!



    I am sure there was considerable second guessing when IMEX left the mountain but it looks like their decision was correct for them, certainly the number of souls claimed by the mountain this weekend brings the reality that was discovered in 1921, 1922 & 1924 that 8,000 M is a world of danger. I feel the whiplash you spoke of and can only imagine the feel at basecamp after such a conflicting first weekend of summiting, was it worth it? is something left for the familes and friends of those who now reside forever with so many others at the top of the world.

    Great job of bringing the triumph and tragedy into my home in a way I never expected.


    Well said, Alan. My Heart goes to the families of the kind German Doctor , Ms Shriya Shah & all others who are permanently interned in the snow at the top of the world while trying to live their dreams.

    Rest in Peace.


    That was beautifully written.. My condolences to the families of lost, and sincere wishes and support for those about to leave for the summit… Please be safe.


    Thanks, Allen, from one of those climbers that is about to head-up to Camp II in just a few hours. Beautifully said.


      Jim W, make sure to keep a little something in reserve. Just in case you need it. Safe Climbing…


      Good luck Jim!
      Take care and if in doubt, the summit is not the goal, the goal is to come down safe and sound!