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Climbing the World to End Alzheimer's
May 212014
Alan on the summit of Everest May 21, 2011 5:00AM

Alan on the summit of Everest May 21, 2011 5:00AM

On May 21, shop 2011 at 5:30am, I stood on the summit of Mt. Everest.

I felt small, tiny, and insignificant as I watched the sun rise over the world’s tallest peaks. I felt grateful as I hugged a down covered Kami Sherpa (Ang Chhiring Sherpa – Pangboche).

I felt sadness and inspiration as I dedicated the summit to my mom, Ida, and the millions of Alzheimer’s s and their caregivers around the world.


Standing on the summit of Everest, provided fuel to my passion and purpose in life.

Today, May 21, 2014, marks the three year anniversary of that summit. But it is a time of immense sadness in the Everest climbing community. This year we saw the deaths of 17 Sherpa on the Nepal side of the mountain. 16 died in the single worse tragedy as a piece of ice released from a serac on the West Shoulder almost immediately killing the Sherpa waiting for a ladder to be repaired in the Khumbu Icefall.

Once again, Everest garnered the world’s attention for the wrong reason.

Climbing mountains is dangerous, you can be killed. This is not a secret or a mystery or even an epiphany to anyone, non-climbers included, who struggle with why someone would climb and are generous with their harsh judgments and conclusions. Most climbers just let the rhetoric roll off their shoulders knowing you cannot convince someone who is not open to listening, steeled in their world of superiority.

Death in the mountains cannot be defended or explained.

Looking for logic is a pointless exercise. There is no logical explanation as to why these Sherpa died the way they did. Yes, there is a physical explanation but ask each of them why they were there, and you would get a variety of reasons but the common theme would be it was their job.

The member climbers, or as the most judgmental of the critics like to call them – tourists, are quick to receive the blame for the deaths with hyperbolic statements like the Sherpas wouldn’t have died if the members hadn’t been there.

I received an email from one of my blog readers calling me a murderer. I assume he was blaming me for all mountain deaths because I climb mountains. He wasn’t specific in his spew of hatred. While I understand his anger, his aim is misplaced.  Climbing can be made safer, but the burden rests primarily on each individual.

I have been on 35 major expeditions since I started at age 38, all with Sherpas for the climbs in Nepal and Tibet. My respect for their culture grew as did my own experience in climbing. I am proud that I summited Ama Dablam with Lhapka Sherpa, Manaslu with Pasang Ongcho Sherpa last year and Everest with Kami three years ago, but I’m more proud that I have new friends for life. I am proud to again be climbing with Kami, this time on K2.

Our relationship is built on mutual respect.

I climb mountains because I love the connection with nature, the spirit of adventure and the challenge of a difficult objective. My ethos is one of preparation, self sufficiency, respect for the mountain and appreciation for those who help me in my quests. I could not climb the mountains I do alone, unsupported or independent. This is my reality and one I say with pride.

The support I receive enables me to aspire to greater goals than just a summit: to tell the world that Alzheimer’s must be stopped and caregiver support must improve. It is an means to an end, an environment of mutual dependency, of mutual gains. It is a relationship born of needs and desires.

The member climbers of Everest 2014 struggle with a confluence of guilt and desire. They ask rhetorical questions of should they have been there in the first place, what was their role, should they go back to pursue their dream. The critics are quick with a quip, a piece of satire or an insensitive judgmental reply damming their ambitions to Hell or worse.

Today, I mourn the deaths of the Sherpa. I mourn the deaths of all die in pursuit of making a better life for their families, those who work to survive. This dream has fueled ambition and risk since the beginning of human existence. It is life, and it is death.

Death is a fact in the mountains. It is a voluntary endeavor. Those who choose to climb, accept the risk.

I will continue to climb, accept the risk, accept the support I receive from those around me. We will climb together, benefiting in different ways for different purposes.

I am proud to be called a climber.

Climb On!
Memories are Everything

  69 Responses to “I am proud to be called a Climber”


    This is a late reply, I’m sorry about that 🙂

    I am in my late teens, and climbing is something I’m just starting out in, with the 7 summits as my eventual goal. I have been discouraged in all kinds of ways, from friends telling me I’ll never be able to make it, adults telling me I should really just go to college and get a normal job, the risks involved, and the “haters”.

    This post was so inspiring to me. I’m not sure I can be called a climber, yet, but with people like you as my role models and inspiration I hope I can get there soon. Thank you.


    Thank you Alan, as usual you have inspired and put things into perspective with your well written article. When I first decided to attempt Everest, I luckily found your blog when I started my research and since then you’ve never disappointed Sir! Climb On!


    People climb because they Love to Climb , Its in there blood so to speak , I say Climb ON , Karen


    Very nice and well written and from-the-heart piece.


    When I was eleven years old I read the following quote in a magazine, memorized it as best as I could and tried to live by it. “it is better to know the sweet smell of success and the bitter taste of failure, than to live in the grey twilight of those who know neither success nor failure.” – Theodore Roosevelt. Keep on climbing and live life to the maximum!


    I fly airplanes, I ride bicycles, I climb mountains. I have had friends in all three disciplines die while engaging in their passions. Yet I do these things and have done so for the past 45+ years. Each time there is an adverse event people I know will ask for my “expert opinion.” There is not a clear answer for most of these events, yet people want a sound bite to justify their own prejudices generally. Few actually want to learn.

    Alan, I understand the passion for your climbing cause and for your quest for solving the dementia sweeping through the world. Please continue both.


    Alan, it a nice piece, but it’s too late. You should have written it earlier. I know the haters are out in force on this one. I understand as a climbing blog you might feel you need to justify why you climb, and why it’s OK. I have the luxury to only say, I climb. Thanks for standing up for the charity, compassion and positive impact climbers have made in Nepal. Lets hope the industry interests, particularly the expedition companies, government, and Nepalese, too provide encouragement and support to climbers.


    a sherpa cooperative insurance foundation/company should be created.


    every mountain outing is a risk & only YOU can decide that. the way that i see you climb via the internet, i think that you still have many more summits & treks ahead of you. once you have covered most of Colorado, there are some NICE peaks down here in New Mexico. And Im not talking Mt.Wheeler either; altho thats a great one (but fairly easy 1) too.


    The critics – especially the person who emailed you Alan – are usually those stuck to their armchair, their computer, their TV, their newspaper, their local bar. They never venture anywhere out of their comfort zone. They have no relevant experience to be able to enter this debate. Their comments should be disregarded as they carry no weight. They have a little knowledge about most things but a lot of knowledge about nothing.