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Climbing the World to End Alzheimer's
Dec 262014

Icefall SeracWhile at a holiday party this week, I struck up a conversation with a gentleman who had recently attempted several peaks in Peru. He told me of his struggles and how he turned back around 6000 meters not sure of himself. He went on to proudly tell me about his 2008 trek to Everest Base Camp and how he had amazing views from Kala Patar of Everest.

I asked him several questions about his experience and tried to very, very briefly share a bit of mine wanting to let him know that turning back from a summit was a wise move in many cases. I mentioned my experience on Everest in 2008 turning back after losing my “Mojo” just below the Balcony.

Later in the evening, he looked at me during a pause in a group conversation and said. “I understand you climbed K2.” I smiled and replied “Yes, it was quite the experience.”

A few minutes later he said to the group. “I would never climb Everest. Standing in line below the Step. Besides, it’s too expensive. You know, it’s just not my thing.” Few if anyone in the room acknowledged his comment.

Later I pondered our conversation and his declaration. This was not the first time, someone felt compelled to declare to me their non-intent with respect to Everest.It seemed to be a popular party game to diss Everest, her climbers – past, present and future.

Maybe it makes them feel better about themselves that attempting the world’s highest mountain was off their plate. Maybe they felt superior knowing they would not suffer at altitudes where planes fly. Perhaps they felt uncomfortable climbing with trusted teammates, drawing on a collective strength when they wanted to turn back. Maybe they knew deep in their heart they lacked the ability and willpower to push themselves to a place few go and survive.

I rarely get drawn into the tired old arguments around Everest. You know the ones – did you use oxygen, what about the crowds, the trash, the guides, the Sherpas, the risks, the deaths, the selfishness, the lack of challenge, how easy Everest has become – I have heard it all by now.

There are answers to all these points, but not what someone wants to hear after half a bottle of wine. They know the answers already. They read “Into Thin Air”, after all.

All I know is that I am proud of my four climbs on Everest, three resulting in “non-summits”. When I did stand on the summit, a clear morning just after sunrise on May 21, 2011 with Kami Sherpa, it was a magical moment that instilled pride and deep satisfaction in me that I carry to this day. It was that experience that I leveraged to summit K2, three years later. It was that experience that I will take as I attempt over the next five years the remaining eleven 8000m mountains I haven’t summited.

No, Everest isn’t the most technical climb in the world, in fact 90% of the South Col route involves steep snow slopes. Yes, Sherpas carry tents, food and fuel to the high camps and chop out tent platforms on the Lhotse Face. Yes, 97.3% of all climbers, including Sherpas and guides, have used supplemental oxygen.

Yes, of all the 8000m mountains “only” 267 people have died, a mere 4% of the summits paling in comparison to Annapurna with a staggering 35% death to summit ratio.

And yes, the self adorned “elites”, many who have never been on Everest, refuse to call anyone attempting Everest a “climber”.

Those who climbed decades ago seem to carry the flag that Everest is not what it used to be, conveniently forgetting to mention their own use of oxygen, Sherpas and fixed ropes. Instead of using their own marvelous experiences to encourage others, they protect their egos with condescending remarks on those who admire them and to relive their experiences with their own eyes.

But try telling these facts, stats and slurs to the families back home as their climber goes to the summit. Tell their friends that it is a cake walk and the Sherpas will “drag them to the summit”. Tell them not to worry, after all they just paid $65,000 so what could go wrong.

By now, you, the Everest 2015 climber, know different. You have done your research. Yes, you too have read “Into Thin Air” but you read between the lines, letting the struggles sink in as described by Mr. Krakauer. Your have internalized that people, world-class guides to members, die on this mountain each year.

Your experience on other mountains have taught you not to paint everyone with the same brush, that some will not belong on the climb, others you will befriend knowing they might save your life.

Some of you will be returning after non-summits in previous years, or worse not getting a chance in 2014. You are hungry, you have learned to focus on your training, research and preparation; ignoring the uniformed shots from the cheap seats.

Your motivation is clear. You know why you are climbing Everest. You don’t need to explain it to anyone now. You are not an elitist. You are following your dream. And everyone’s dream should be nurtured, encouraged and fed. Everest is not about summits, it’s about dreams.

So, Climbers, continue your training, finalize your gear, connect with your future teammates; be clear with your family, leaving nothing left unsaid.

When you go to your next party and someone asks you what are you doing next year, smile inside and softly tell them, “I am off to do some climbing.”

Climb On!


Memories are Everything



  38 Responses to “An Open Letter to Everest 2015 Climbers”


    An excellent piece, the sentiment and content which is all too familiar to me. All the best to this year’s climbers and their families.


    Alan, NOBODY can take away or diminish your successful summit – YOU DID IT. And even if you hadn’t made it to the top – to try, to continue against all odds, and then to finally say “not this time” – that’s a victory, too. We’re all glad you summited, and that you’ve reported on others’ attempts to climb Everest. We’re all glad you successfully climbed K2, and told us about it. You have a huge group of people rooting for you.


    This was a marvellous piece of writing and feeling Alan, thanks.


    U r great like Everest.
    God bless u and best if luck.


    Oh, my goodness, Alan! Your best post yet! I cried. “I am off to do some climbing….” I pray for our safety and success in 2015. Ellen G. (SLC)


    Interesting read Alan. I am not a mountaineer and will never be one, but I love the mountains. Have started trekking though and working upwards tougher treks in Ladakh and one day will hopefully do EBC. I have a bunch of cynics who constantly are negative about my attempts and remind me that I am on the wrong side of 40, but your article is s shot in the arm for those who want to go off the beaten path and do the extraordinary.


    Hi Alan
    I just saw this on the BBC. Surely it’s nonsense? Permits apparently slashed from $25k each to $11k???



    Well done! Thanks for saying what many of us think about the challenge of Everest and the defense of our actions. I hope the point of your piece does not get lost in the shuffle as critics continue to belittle our personal choice to unplug, exercise, and climb. Thanks again.


    I have read many of your posts and while informative of the attitude and opinion of many climbers, I have often felt you portray a simplified view from a single perspective. I have not commented previously.

    But your use you anecdote and weasel words (as Wikipedia would call them) has prompted me to weigh in.

    There is such a terrible arrogance about you and others towards dose of us who don’t climb, but we understand life & death, and exploitation and our opinions are just as valid as yours.

    The repeated use of straw man arguments about why you should have been allowed walk over the dead bodies of the missing sherpa (or rather, why the hired sherpa should have climbed over their own dead), as though Nepal is your playground is disgusting, no other sport tolerates such behavior. And, no, climbing is not that different.

    You (climbers) excuse your own behaviour and complicity in the deaths of impoverished people and moan and moan about lost chances to climb a mountain. Big deal! No rich person died on Everest in 2014.

    And of course, yours is an echo chamber of people who think like you and reinforce your thinking.

    I could go on to argue point by point with your post, but I believe I’ve made my opinion clear. We have no common ground, so expect no further comments from me.

    I hope no one dies on Everest this year.


      Thanks Tom for your comment and representing the view outside the echo chamber. My argument is not with those who chose not to climb but with those who criticize those who do with uninformed views.

      As for your other comments, I might need to visit Wikipedia to understand what you are trying to say. 🙂

      Finally, sadly there will be deaths on Everest this year, there always are. And in that we have common ground in hoping for the best.

      I just hope those who do are not victims of poor advice, unpreparednesses or unskilled support.


      Tom, if you are not climbing, you better shut up about life and death on mountains. The fact that you think only rich people climb Everest makes clear that you don’t know sh… about mountains and expeditions. I guess you also still believe the earth is flat. But, you know, you should listen to people who climb big mountains: we have seen that the earth is a… ball, with our own eyes – we don’t need Wikietc. for that.


    Alan, Your honestly is only exceeded by your eloquence. Wish I could spend some days in one of your base camps. Looking forward to your plans when you feel like sharing. But, it appears that if you plan to do 11 in 5 y you gotta’ do twofers every year. That will be amazing to read about. Which one’s are next? I’d like to start reading about them…


    Well said Alan..I am fascinated by Everest and follow your blog religiously. I used to think you are a young 30 yr old..loll..but first time looked at your pic and I was awe struck. You are fit in body as well as in mind.

    I myself want to climb Everest from very childhood and soon start my training. Am 32 yr old from Delhi and have done only sub 5000 mtr treks. The only thing that puts off my ambition are the scary shots of khumbu icefall. Crossing crevasses on ladders make my heart pop out. I am trying to win my fear over.

    I am also worried that I have about 13 screws and plates in my leg due to a road accident, because of it I am able to trek but cannot strain very much. My treks are short 30-40 kms covered over 2-3 days. I wonder how will the leg hold up in such conditions.

    Lets see and hoping one day I can find myself somewhere on this great mountain, till then your blogs are a source of inspiration!

    Climb on!


    Bravo Alan!


    Insightful and so accurate… And I hope we meet again on some of those 8000ers …


    Right on Alan!


    Thank you for this, Alan. My husband is a 2015 Everest climber. I appreciate that you shared, more than you know. Blessings from Seattle.


    Very well written Alan. . you nailed it. . .I’m a bit of an Ancient when it comes to Everest. I almost made it in 1999 but a combination of weather, accidents and illness caused us to turn back on summit day. It was still one of the most significant things that I have ever attempted and a life changing experience. . but it wasn’t worth dying for ! I was 58 years old, only two years back into climbing after a 20 year absence( I live in the Bahamas) and totally “gob smacked”to be in the same camp as so many of todays great climbers. I felt like a bit of an imposter on Everests massive slopes but climbing Mera, Ama Dablam and Choy Oyu the previous year had jogged my confidence into thinking . . well. . maybe ? Anyway, I didnt make the summit but I gave it my best shot and squeezed out dregs of energy that I never thought possible. The old girl beat me up quite badly and I found out afterwards that I was climbing with three cracked ribs, a torn rotator cuff and without four teeth that I had been extracted by Nawang the dentist in Namche the week before.. I dropped 21 lbs in weight and a week after returning home my face collapsed with Belles Palsy. Despite all this I wouldnt have missed the Everest experience for anything. It certainly didnt put me off and I was fortunate enough to climb Denali and Gasherbrum 2 in the next couple of years and then Lhotse as a 60th birthday present to myself. My own “geriatric”version of the Seven Summits was completed last year and I even dragged myself to the top of Manaslu and made an attempt on Shishapangma. I am 73 next year and just made my 18th trip to the Himalayas and I want to join you in wishing all of the 2015 Everest players the Best of Luck, good weather and a safe trip. The Dreams are Yours so live them to the fullest


    Well said Alan. Thank you for sharing your wisdom…
    “Your motivation is clear. You know why you are climbing Everest. You don’t need to explain it to anyone now. You are not an elitist. You are following your dream. And everyone’s dream should be nurtured, encouraged and fed. Everest is not about summits, it’s about dreams.”

    Best of luck to all the dreamers this year. You are what makes life powerful!


    Lots of truth in there, Alan!


    Bravo, Alan.
    While I am one of those who won’t be climbing Everest (I am an ‘armchair’ climber for many very good reasons!) I have nothing but admiration and respect for those who do. Climbing massive mountains like Everest, even under the best of circumstances, is still a remarkable accomplishment. Each climb is going to be a unique challenge for that climber, and it is no less an incredible experience of hardship, endurance, courage, preparation and extremes whether you achieve the summit or not; every climber will be changed by their experiences on the mountain, however easily or hard-won that experience turns out to be. Why would anyone want to negate any individual’s journey because it less than or more than their own?


    I am so grateful that you write, “Everest is not about the summits, it’s about the dream”.

    Yes, in 2015, “I am off to do some climbing.” Your Letter means a lot. Thank you Alan.


    Never climbed any…but totally in awe of those who have trained and climbed. You are all inspirational. Well written.


    Sounds like the party crasher is a little green with envy… I imagine him thinking how amazing he thinks he is as he has travelled the globe climbing and then a true Mtneer who has REALLY summited some formidable peaks shows up… Sounds like you handled the discussion with class! I would be in awe and probably embarassed you Alan publicly announcing your feats! Climb on Alan…Excited about following you the next 5 years as you climb the rest of the 8000’ers…!


    Right on, Alan. The anti-Everest crusade has worn thin with me. Thanks for making a clear, unambiguous statement!


    Alan, Thank you.


    Very well said Alan! Thanks for writing this.


    What a great piece Alan. There are so many other challenges in life that echo your words, too.

    I am a mountain lover and have been since climbing as a young man in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Many proud summits of Mt. Washington, given the few that were life threatening because of weather.

    When I moved to Texas, I wondered how I was going to climb anything but a tall building and a few pimples here and there. Not that I fancy myself a “climber”, I just like to be on a summit of any piece of ground. I did get on top of that state once, on Guadalupe Peak and several summits of the highly spiritual (to me) Sierra Blanca in Southern NM.

    I got to live in Denver in the late 90’s, early 00s and got to wear myself out on my first love, skiing. Broke the bank at least once 🙂 But, again. Where does the lift take you, but to the summit. We use to go up to Mt. Evans and climb to the bench mark for the “summit”. Alas, those days are likely over as I am now 72 with two new hips and a recent spinal operation that has yet to produce results. The hips are not the problem, but the deterioration is. We have a son in Denver that we visit once or twice a year and Mt. Evans is always on my list. With a camera and optics I can spend a day up there just being, but last year, sitting in the summit parking lot I decided to make one last attempt at that brutal 200′ vertical 🙂 It took awhile, resting at every turn, but I made it and took a picture of the bench mark to remind myself. It had nothing to do with anyone but me. A summit and a high one, the pain and the glory of being on top was worth it.

    I suppose much of this has nothing to do with the subject here, but on the other hand, it does to me. In your posting, wherever they are, I find exhilaration and joy, not to mention the very best in entertainment. Like other, I have experienced the real deal through your reports and writings. All I can say is thank you, for all of this. You are my hero. God speed my friend and stay safe. Would love to meet you on one of our Denver trips.

    Very Best,
    Bruce Jordan
    Lakeside in Chandler, TX


    Thanks for this Alan, and we’ll said. At the end of the day each climber is only left to answer themselves their reasons for getting out.
    Also – did I read that correctly? You will attempt the remaining eleven 8000’ers over the next five years? Maybe in another post you can fill us in on some of your upcoming goals if you are ready.


    Well said Alan.

    I think the media, especially the print media, drives a lot of the negativism towards Everest and those fortunate enough to stand on its sacred flanks.

    You are a noble spokesman for those brave souls who invest so much into realizing their dream, whatever it may be. More important, you are a great spokesman for Alzheimer’s research.

    Best wishes on your quest to climb the other 8,000 meter peaks. I’ll be your number 1 cheerleader.

    Happy New Year.

    “Keep away from small people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that. The really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” Mark Twain


    Amen to that, Alan. Wonderfully written. I hope that holiday party naysayer reads this. He could learn a few things. Happy holidays to you.


    Nice write up! 🙂


    Perfectly said.


    Amazing. Thanks Alan for yet another brilliant post. I’ll gladly direct the naysayers to this article in future as I’ll be pretty busy for the next 92 days!


    If people don’t want to go – fine, that’s great. For those of us eager to try, sadly, overcoming the obstacles just to get there is sometime too much.


    Thank you for writing this> I admire climbers who know when to turn back even after investing so much effort in training and making such an emotional commitment to the climb. I am an armchair climber but I hope one day to journey to Everest Base Camp in Tibet in hopes of getting a glimpse of Everest.


    Beautiful! Thank you.

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