It started in December 2005 when Karen Birnie gave me the book, “Into Thin Air” for Christmas.  I was just finishing the seven continents (marathons) quest and the book captivated me for the possibility of Everest and the seven summits.  Today, as I am getting reacquainted with my former life and having summited almost two weeks ago, the whole process and achievement is somewhat surreal.

Though it sounds trite, the Everest Experience is an ultra-marathon that seems never-ending when you are in the middle of it.  All of the mundane stuff wears on you every single day when you wake up in the tent with hoarfrost coming down on you and temperatures below zero and you wonder if you will ever be back in your own bed and creature comforts like heaters, toilets and showers.

Every single day was both a blessing and torture.  There were some moments that I will never forget like being at base camp and leaving the dining tent and a full moon lighting up the surrounding peaks, stars burning brightly and the Himalayas in full spectacle from Lthose to Nupse to Ama Dablam to Pumori.  I remember standing outside of my tent and just drinking it in.  From my tent I could look out the vestibule and see the Khumbu Icefall right ahead and I was terrified of what it would be like going through the most difficult climbing maze in the world where 100 ton seracs are just waiting to fall on you. Every night you could hear about a dozen avalanches where the icefall was just collapsing.  I had never crossed a ladder over these 1000′ crevasses before and to say afterward that I crossed the 25 or so ladders six times up and down is unreal.

Every step on the ladder required a deep breath, concentration and carefully placing each boot and crampon between the rungs while looking down and ahead and being confident in one’s ability to do so.  One time, coming down, I was wearing my iPod and this song by Nickelback came on while crossing a long ladder (“If today was your last day”) and I was kind of laughing inside at the absurdity.

Every time we left for a short or long climb was an ordeal to remember to bring just the right gear and not bring too much or too little.  Everyone knows that I am a notorious list maker and super-structured like at work – I try to leave nothing to chance.  I would lie awake and arrange everything the night before our 5am departures and fret over every single piece of clothing or equipment.
One day, before our 9 day sojourn to spend the whole time over 20,000′ and attempt two nights at camp three without oxygen at 23,000′, I had all the stuff ready the night before.  I got up, got all my gear on, crampons attached, harness on, helmet ready and got my hand warmers in my gloves as everyone was leaving.   Until I saw that I had pulled out two similar gloves that were both right-handed!  I go back to the tent in the dark and can’t open the lock on my tent (which I then cut) and was completely flustered before taking off.  It reminded me how every little thing matters.
Twice in the icefall, I stepped off the “trail” to allow other climbers to descend (being a nice guy) and stepped into mini-crevasses up to my waist.  After that it was Alice Cooper and “no more mister nice guy”.

We also laughed a LOT.  I believe that humor will get you through most anything and even though I could be pretty grumpy at times (who isn’t), the team would never let one wallow in their thoughts too long before bringing them back to earth.  And we were all superstitious.  We had two pujas (prayer blessings) from the local lamas that had their funny moments.  The first old Lama at Tengboche had a massive head cold and kept coughing and sneezing into our faces and into the rice he threw at us.  The second Lama’s mobile phone rang in the middle of the ceremony and we believe it was his wife telling him to not forget to bring home milk and bread.

And then there was the Fizz-Wizz.  Did you ever have this as a kid?  Little packets of carbon dioxide flavored crystals that pop in your mouth?  One of the trekkers brought us five packets as a joke to base camp.  We each took one, had them blessed and we all carried them to the summit along with the infected rice that the first lama gave us.  For me, I had recurring dreams of escaping the guides (guards) and being back in California but always having to return to the mountain.  It was a like a prison sentence that would never end.  After the summit, my recurring dream is still climbing and having to go to 30,000 or 31,000′ and never getting there.

And when I reflect now and re-read the accounts of Mallory and Hillary and know that we followed their footsteps up the icefall, along the Western Cwm, up the South Col, across the Yellow Band and up the Geneva Spur to the Balcony, to the South Summit, traversing the Hillary Step and the final climb along the ridge with massive drop-offs to Tibet and Nepal, it all seems kind of dream-like.

I read recently that when Hillary and Tenzing summited in 1953 they offered sweets to the gods at the summit in appreciation for attaining their goals.  When Lakpa and I got there, I was starving and so thirsty.  But Lakpa took my pack of sport beans from Jelly Belly and tossed them on the prayer pile.  They were cherry and all I kept thinking was how good they would taste.  But we got down safely so they must have worked.  Every day, I give my own prayers for those that died this year and give thanks every day for the opportunity to be alive, healthy and have good fortune and karma in our quest.