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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Climbing Past the Expectations

Written by Kyle Slagley

Earlier this week I read a news story that, while brief, was amazingly inspirational. Eli Reimer, a 15-year-old young man from Oregon, has become the first teenager with Downs Syndrome to reach Mount Everest Base Camp. The South Base Camp in Nepal is at an elevation of 17,598 feet above sea level and the climb is no small feat for even the fittest of adults.

The story got me thinking about all the stories that have come from Everest over the years. According to the website, as of 2011, over 3100 people have been recorded as summiting Mt. Everest, while over 220 have died in the attempt. It is worth noting that the elevation difference between the South Base Camp and the Summit is still over 11,000 feet.

There have been some great memoirs written about Everest and her climbers over the years. Perhaps the most famous climber in Everest’s history, George Mallory, may not have made it to the summit at all. In 1924, Mallory died on the mountain, and since the last time he was seen was 800 feet below the summit, it has never been determined whether he died going up, or was one of the dozens that died in the descent. In Climbing Everest, Mallory takes the reader with him on each of his three attempts to summit the mountain. For the further story, The Wildest Dream is a documentary that was released in 2010 and gives mountaineer Conrad Anker’s firsthand account of discovering George Mallory’s body on the North Face of Mt. Everest over 2000 feet below the summit.

The fatality rate for climbers has dropped dramatically in the past couple decades thanks to advances in the equipment. Unfortunately, however, gear is only part of the equation. Like many extreme sports, the weather is an uncontrollable and often unpredictable variable, and in May of 1996, eight people would die after a massive storm bore down on three expeditions of climbers. Into Thin Air was written by Jon Krakauer, who was on assignment from Outside magazine. His party lost four climbers—one guide and three clients. Published a year later, The Climb was written by guide Anatoli Boukreev, whose party lost one guide that same day.

For a more inspirational look at the attempts on Everest, look no further than Touch the Top of the World by Erik Weihenmayer. In May 2001, Weihenmayer became the first blind person to summit the world’s tallest peak, and this documentary chronicles his life.

Finally, if you happen to have it on the shelves already, pull out The Boy Who Conquered Everest: The Jordan Romero Story, by Katharine Blanc and Jordan Romero. Not only did Romero become the youngest person to summit Everest at 13 years, 10 months, 10 days of age, he also became the youngest person to climb the Seven Summits at age 15 years, 5 months, 12 days. The Seven Summits consist of the highest points of elevation on all seven continents in the world, and it is likely that his record will remain unbroken for the foreseeable future, now that Nepal and China no longer issue licenses to climb Everest to climbers under age 16.

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