ESSAY: Why I Am Here John Race - Basecamp Thu, March 22, 2001 11:00PM
This is my second attempt to climb Everest, and my fourth expedition to an 8000 meter peak (summiting Cho Oyu in 1996). I reached 28,200 on Everest in 1994. At the time I was 25 years old and was climbing to reach two climbers who had spent the night on the summit. My highpoint was the last place were I felt confident I could return safely from the mountain. Turning around was the most painful decision of my life, but turned out to be the right one.
And now I'm back. This expedition is an exceptional opportunity to climb with good friends. In particular this is a chance to climb with the person who introduced me to climbing. I grew up in Worthington, Ohio and had an restless urge to be outdoors. Midwest mountaineering is nonexistent so I made do with long distance cycling, backpacking, and summer trips to the West. During my senior in high school an eccentric character named Andy Politz moved into the cabin across from my mother's house. He drove a small pickup with a sea kayak atop it, and had just returned from an attempt to climb K2. He was training for a 1988 expedition to the Kangchung face of Everest with a guy named Ed Viesturs and recruited me for some endurance training bike trips. Biking was the one place where we were equally matched, and after some gear rides he asked me to climb Mt. Rainier with him in the summer following graduation.
I joined him in Paradise, WA in July of 1987 and we climbed Rainier in fairly miserable conditions. That climb rerouted my entire life and led, two years later, to the start of my present career. I spent summers in college guiding for Rainier Mountaineering, and by graduation I was leading Denali programs, and had been invited to climb Shishapangma with Eric's company, International Mountain Guides in the Spring of 1993. Whether dumb luck or making good choices, meeting Andy landed me squarely on my chosen path.
The historic side of this expedition irresistibly hooked me as a team member . What Mallory and Irvine accomplished in 1924 is staggering by today's standards. We climb with the benefits of high tech gear, known routes, advanced communications equipment, and many of the old (and controversial) benefits of supplemental oxygen and Sherpa strength and Mt. Everest is still "out there" physically and a damned scary place in bad weather. There are more difficult ways to climb Everest, but given our search mission, we will still have our hands full.
Respect, admiration, awe, and amazement are all inadequate words to describe what I think about the accomplishments of George Mallory and Sandy Irvine. Jochen Hemmleb has provided us with a solid idea of where to look, and Eric Simonson has provided us with a solid organizational base. I hope that my efforts up high can add to what is known about the early attempts on Everest. This is still a dangerous place, but I am not sure many people can comprehend how wild it would have been in 1924.
I am looking forward to spending the next two months climbing in search of past heroes, in the company of friends and mentors, on the slopes of a mountain that has in many ways defined my adult life. With luck and hard effort we will learn more about Everest's early history, and Jake, Tap, and myself may even safely reach and return from the summit of an exquisite mountain.