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Climbing the World to End Alzheimer's
Mar 302017
Ama Dablam

Climbing Everest is a strange phenomenon. You spend more money than a really nice car costs, you train for a year, then you leave your family for two months with no guarantee that you will summit, and about five people die each year. So why do this? And don’t give the “because it’s there” answer! 🙂

I am always intrigued to learn when people first thought of climbing Everest and how that thought became reality. For me, that moment is etched clearly in my memory.

Ama Dablam – No Way

Ama Dablam

Ama Dablam in 2016

My first introduction to the Himalayas was in 1997 on a trek to Everest Base Camp. As I often say, it changed my life. I was hooked and wanted more so I trained on Mont Blanc while living in Geneva Switzerland and reached 8000 meters on Cho Oyu in 1998.

In spite of not reaching the true summit, my passion for alpine climbing was set. I joined an Adventure Consultants team for Ama Dablam in 2000.

Learning from my mistakes on Cho Oyu, I trained hard in Alaska, the Grand Teton, Ouray and New Zealand. I honed my rock and ice climbing skills plus now understood how my body reacted to altitude.

I remember that summit on Ama Dablam and a conversation that set my life on a new course like it was yesterday.

Leaving High Camp at 5:30 am I was nervous and apprehensive because of my experience on Cho. Could I do this?

Only a few years earlier, when I first saw Ama Dablam, I laughed out loud “Does anyone climb that?” I was told yes, many professional climbers have. And with that, I dismissed this beautiful peak as something far beyond my capabilities.

Now, in the dawn light, three years after first seeing Ama Dablam, I was almost to the summit. I paused to look around. The view was breathtaking. I was climbing Ama Dablam. I was climbing a peak I never thought was within my ability. My gaze dropped to my boots as I let this sink in.

Ama Dablam 2000

Climbing to the summit of Ama Dablam 2000

I was making steady time up the steep snow slope just above the infamous Dablam. In 2006 six climbers had died when it released. I picked up my pace. I felt good, not tiring as quickly as I had on Cho. The snow was firm and supported each step. The sun has risen but we were climbing in the mountain’s shadow and it was very cold.

I looked down the slope and saw Dave Hiddleston, the lead Adventure Consultant’s guide. He smiled, pointed up and shouted “summit”. I smiled back, and gave a thumbs up. I then knew that I would summit. The emotions were growing.

Another steep slope and I could feel the summit. I continued to take each step carefully. Suddenly my left leg went limp in a patch of soft, deep snow. This is not what I needed when I am so close. I gathered myself and reset my position on firmer snow. I focused and became very deliberate with each step and then it was over.

On the summit, the top, no higher to go.

At 10:30 am on October 26, 2000 I summited Ama Dablam, only three years after seeing it for the first time and declaring it unclimbable for me. I hugged my teammates and looked around. Makalu was standing proud, an 8000 meter mountain. The view was filled with seemingly hundreds of snow covered 20,000 foot peaks. And as I looked to the North, I saw it. Everest.

Alan on the summit of Ama Dablam October 26, 2000

Alan on the summit of Ama Dablam October 26, 2000

In 1997, on my trek to base camp, I saw Everest from the top of Kala Patar, an 18,500 foot trekking peak. My eye followed the skyline, wondering what it would like to even try the world’s highest, but was grateful to just see it in person, albeit from six miles away.

I dismissed any dream of climbing Everest – too high, too much time, money and I lacked the skills. It was impossible for someone like me.

Now from the summit of Ama Dablam, I looked more carefully at the profile. Again, I traced the route from Tibet and from Nepal. I closed my eyes to let that image become part of who I was. I smiled, let out a deep breath and was satisfied with my summit. I needed nothing else in that moment.

We returned to base camp and began the trek out. As Dave Hiddleston and I were hiking the high ridges in the Khumbu we paused for a break. Dave then said the obvious. “So mate, you did well on Ama, now it’s time for Everest.” And with that the seed was planted.

The Seed is Planted

Sadly Dave died on Mt Tasman a few years later but I never forgot that moment. He believed in me, felt my love of the mountains and understood that anyone who climbs in the Himalayas has a good chance of wanting to climb Everest.

Alan and Dave Hiddleston on Everest

Alan and Dave Hiddleston on Everest in 2002

Only two years later, I found myself hiking up the Khumbu, with Dave, on my way to attempt Everest for the first time.

That first Everest attempt did not go well. I underestimated that 22,494 feet on Ama Dablam did not translate to the upper flanks of Everest. In hindsight, I should have trained harder, but more importantly, I lacked the mental discipline to summit Everest.

As I talk about in presentations, there are 1,000 reasons to stop and only 1 to go one. I focused on the 1,000. After two more attempts, I finally summited on May 21, 2011 at age 54.

Your Story?

So, what is your story? When did you first begin to dream of Everest and tell us the moment that dream became reality and what is your plan? Please leave your thoughts as a comment.

Climb On!
Memories are Everything

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  5 Responses to “Everest 2017: My First Thought of Climbing Everest, and Your’s?”


    Mike, it would be a dream come true if I could stand on the top of Mt Everest!!! We climbed in CO last year to see how I would do. brutal on my knees, but I made it. I would slow people down, and that’s a major concern. I really want to try the trek and see how I do. I’m not sure if you can go further up once you get to base camp? This is a stupid question, but do they have trekking companies that go a little slower than the average 100% healthy? Thank you for your reply to my post !!!!


      Christine, not sure of you intended this for me (Alan) but you may want to consider hiring a private Sherpa and porter to go at your pace. It is not very expensive and there are many companies that can organize it for you.


    I read all the books I could find on mountaineering as a teenager in the early 1960’s. One summer during college, some friends and I did the classic VW microbus tour of the Western Parks. When at Rainier, I did the RMI school and climbed Rainier ( my guide was Lou Whittaker! ) and fell in love with the mountains. I climbed thru out North America, South America and Europe on every holiday until the early 80’s. Then work, family and other commitments took priority. In the early 90’s, we moved to Colorado for work and I began doing the 14ers. In 2004, I went to a talk by Jake Norton about the expedition that discovered Mallory’s body. A dormant ember became a raging flame. After the talk, I asked Jake if it was just a pipe dream for an old guy ( I was 56 at the time ) like me could aspire to climb Everest. He said it absolutely could be done and pointed me toward IMG. I went on 4 expeditions of increasing difficulty with IMG and in the spring of 2013 was with them on Everest. The experience of being in Nepal, following the footsteps of all my climbing heroes from those books from 50 years before up through the Khumbu, the Icefall, the Lhotse face, yellow band, etc. was enough whether I summited or not. But with a huge thanks to Phinjo Sherpa on May 21, 2013, I fulfilled my lifetime dream and stood atop the world!! Thanks for your fantastic blog, work for Alzheimer’s, and great perspective on climbing and life, your fan, Doug


      Great story Doug. You did it right … built up the experience and skills on the way to the top. Do you know if Phinjo is the Phinjo who is Kami Sherpa’s son?


        I don’t think so, my Phinjo is from Phortse, was 42 years old in 2013, usually works with IMG, was in the monastery for several years as a teenager.