A lot of you have been exceedingly curious about my highly successful expedition to the summit of Mount Everest, the highest mount on Earth. Quit pestering me, dammit!
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single schlep.
–Me, paraphrasing Laozi
In the world of video games, there is a concept known as the voluntary challenge. It basically means, “I’m so bad ass I can win this thing while restricting myself in some way.” For example, you might try to win Mario Kart without using a vehicle. Or successfully ascend to the status of demigod in Nethack while adhering to a strictly vegan diet. Eating corpses left behind by mobs is a great way to pick up intrinsics that are vital to winning the game, so this is no small achievement.
This is my post about the time I climbed Mt. Everest. It is not a story I often share. And because I’m not that flamboyant, I decided there would be no recognition of voluntary challenges of any kind.
People have their own
demons reasons for climbing Everest. Those few who are successful often talk about how it felt to stand on the highest point on Earth, how they were changed by the experience and the singularity of the moment. For a few minutes, they stand above all other human beings on Earth. They are quite literally one out of seven billion.
You think that would be enough for most people. But, for some, they need more. Many try to complete the journey without the aid of oxygen. If standing on the summit of Everest is a very elite group of people, then those who are able to do it without oxygen are an elite subsection of that group. The Super Leet or Leet on Steroids.
But it doesn’t stop there. One guy wanted to be the first paraplegic without legs to accomplish the feat. Another wanted to be the first asthmatic and do it without oxygen. He accomplished one out of two of his goals. But I did happen to notice he still took his meds. I guess that would have been one voluntary challenge too far. Another fellow wanted to summit with a metal spine, etc. The possibilities for voluntary challenges are absolutely endless.
Many have also been bitten by the “first” bug. When Everest is involved this is a bit more significant and dangerous than being first in the comments section of a YouTube video. “First!” Of course there was the first ever on Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary. He actually tied for first with Tenzing Norgay, a Sherpa mountaineer who didn’t cover the publicity angle quite as well as his partner.
There’s also a drive among people to be the first in their own categories. First woman, first American, oldest, youngest, etc.
Voluntary challenges? I think they are foolish. I can’t help but note that most who climb Mr. Everest these days do so with the safety ropes already put down by someone else. And they also have Sherpa support. Sherpas prepare the route, take up supplies, carry them down to safety when necessary, and even accompany them on the journey. If you want a voluntary challenge why bother with all that?
For that matter, why not go for some extraordinary voluntary challenges like not using a tent, or going up in your bare feet? Hell, why not be the first stud muffin to do it while completely naked?
And, by the way, what the hell? Why not start the summit from the front door of your own home? In my book that’s the only summit experience that even counts. The rest should have asterisks. Did you use a car to drive to an airport? Did a plane take you to Nepal? Why didn’t you swim that fucking ocean, you cheater? Without flippers! And you claim to be after a voluntary challenge?
When it was my turn I, of course, eschewed all of that stuff. I just wanted to get ‘er done.
My plan was simple. Helicopter up, climb down a rope ladder, hang loose for about five minutes, then boggie out. My plan was foiled when I learned that there isn’t enough atmosphere for a helicopter to claw purchase at that elevation. Damn.
Plan B was to hire about 80 Sherpas to carry me to the summit. My calculations showed I’d need about 60 to lift my bulky mass and another 20 or so to handle the logistics involved with the extension cords to my space heater. Oh, I’d also be enclosed in a hyperbolic chamber so I wouldn’t get the sniffles.
Since voluntary challenges don’t mean shit, at the summit when they carefully put me down on my own two feet I could honestly say, “I climbed Mt. Everest.”
Standing atop Mt. Everest was the greatest moment of my life. A life all about failure. And I documented the journey in photos. I apologize for the way they look but they have aged over the years.
A Sherpa talisman offering
The summit is obscured by a fierce Everest storm
The treacherous path to Base Camp
With a break in the weather the summit finally comes into view
Alas, the bitter freezing cold up there wreaked havoc with the rechargeable batteries so the rest of the journey remains undocumented. Also, about five minutes later I was coughing so hard I was cracking ribs and spitting up blood, so I turned back. But the journey was a rousing success so I can still say, “I climbed Mount Everest.”
I’ll be appearing in the Starbucks adjacent to Barnes and Nobel at 2:00pm signing copies of my book, “If You Can Imagine It You Can Claim It’s True.” See you there!