It's Been 10 Years!
20 October 2020 | Crested Butte, Colorado
What has happened to you over the last 10 years?
I got to thinking about the past decade, because itâ??s been 10 years since I reached the top of Mt. Everest and the completion of my world record â??Save the Polesâ?? expedition. To this day, I still can't believe I pulled it all off. On October 15th, 2010 I stood on the summit of Mt. Everest. I was elated but also knew we needed to hustle. A storm was approaching and I thought, "I hope we get down before those clouds and snow rolls in". We didn't. It was a total whiteout by the time we got to the balcony and a little while later, I had to get down on my hands and knees to search for tracks leading to our camp on the South Col. It wasn't until I got back to Base Camp the next night that I allowed myself to relax. We had done it: a small team of sherpas and I managed to summit Everest in Fall. The five of us were the only team on the entire mountain. It is a feat that has not been repeated since. I got lucky that's for sure. But I also laid it all out, too. I threw my heart over the fence in the hopes that the rest would follow.
The financial side of things was crazy, too. For the North Pole leg, we used one of my expedition partner's house mortgage and his son's college fund as a rescue deposit. In the Khumbu, I remember being at Everest Base Camp and calling sponsors asking them if they had mailed their checks yet. I was flat broke and used my last bit of credit (on my credit card) to buy a new camera (a surprisingly good decision) before I left. Still, there was no huge financial reward when it was all said and done. I was 60 K in debt and really tired from over six months of expeditions.
Surprisingly, I don't think about Everest that much (or talk about it for that matter). It was an amazing journey but I've been on a lot of amazing and challenging adventures both before and after. It's only when these bigger milestones come up that I stop, look back and marvel. The thing that is most impressive is simply the inevitable passage of time and the changes it brings.
I'm a lot of the same person I was back then, but I'm also substantially different. I still love camping, cold and bikes (that's actually been a constant for 40 years). But I'm older, wiser (just a little). I'm not as brash as I once was and I like that about myself. I've seen trends come and go and even been on the leading edge of a few (very few). I had another knee surgery. And I got my first broken bone (but healed) of my life just this summer. I actually own a house (versus living out of my car). I have a wife and two kids. After Everest, I moved out of northern Minnesota (a place I loved) permanently to Boulder, Colorado. Then to Crested Butte (which I love even more). I wrote a book (with a lot of help) and made a film about our 2014 North Pole expedition (with even more help). Iâ??ve done more polar training courses and cold weather expeditions than I can count - four more times to Antarctica and the South Pole (I guess I can count). More to the North Pole. Iâ??ve also done a lot of smaller adventures as well. When I tally up my expedition successes and failures, they're pretty even.
I'm still restless, however, and I spend a lot of my time when I'm home thinking about expeditions and most of my time when I'm on expeditions thinking about home. I've lost a bit of that new sheen and enthusiasm however as the result of being in a lot of difficult and stressful situations. I've spent YEARS of my life in a tent. Every once in a while, I think back to that wide-eyed perspective of some of my first adventures - when being on the trail for just two weeks was an adventure and route, gear and menu planning were more experiments than anything. I miss that feeling of novelty a bit and I envy the first steps I see any new adventurer taking. Lighting Out Sigurd Olson called it.
Most importantly, Iâ??ve found peace of mind and fulfillment as a father and partner. To me, this has been by far my greatest success and anything I do or see now is only viewed through this filter. I love being a dad.
Regardless, I canâ??t help but think of what it meant to reach for those lofty goals and push forward with everything inside of me in hopes of achieving them. Everest in the Fall was dicey and I was pretty scared most of the time. But I was supported by friends and family and my bigger message of documenting climate change.
While so much has changed in 10 years in my own life, the worldâ??s last great frozen wildernesses have also changed. Glaciers and ice caps have continued a dramatic decline in both extent and volume. It is sad to know that the last 10 years have not seen significant progress on reducing carbon emissions and our climate continues to warm at an alarming rate.
Spending nearly six months in the worldâ??s most extreme environments taught me a variety of valuable lessons. Solving big problems and challenges can be overwhelming. Oftentimes there is no â??bestâ?? path forward and the most important action is just taking that first step.
Here's to the next 10 years!
Image: Crossing a large crevasse on the way to Camp 2!