Two men with Spokane connections dared to climb 29,035-foot Mount Everest this spring. Roughly 500 climbers reached the summit from Nepal to the south and about 150 from Tibet to the north – a possible record when the numbers are verified. At least nine climbers died, including four Sherpas. Local resident Dawes Eddy, 70, attempted to become the oldest American to climb to the highest point on earth. Mead High School graduate Aaron Mainer, 32, of Enumclaw was guiding a group of 21 clients who paid $40,000-$55,000 apiece for the service. Here are their stories.
Aaron Mainer: High responsibility
Being in shape for climbing Everest was not an issue for Aaron Mainer, who scales mountains year-round for International Mountain Guides based near Mount Rainier. He’s climbed Washington’s highest peak more than 100 times and made a dozen ski descents on different routes.
“Actually, my goal was to go into Everest base camp a bit out of shape, if you will,” he said in a telephone interview Wednesday, a day after returning from Nepal. “I did the ‘cinnamon roll training plan:’ put on about 10 extra pounds to counter the 15 pounds or so I knew I’d lose on the mountain.”
Mainer, the son of Stacey and Mike Mainer of Spokane, wasn’t just planning to climb the mountain. He and five IMG staffers were responsible for 25 clients.
The group included the U.S. Air Force Seven Summits Team, seeking to bag the tallest peak on each continent. In leading those climbs, Mainer has scaled Aconcagua in Chile, Denali in Alaska and Vinson Massif in Antarctica.
“But Everest is on a completely different scale,” he said, gasping as though the mountain suddenly loomed above him. “It’s just so much bigger. It’s my longest expedition by a long shot. The Himalayas are unto themselves.
“Being a guide is hugely different from simply climbing a mountain,” he said. “There’s more pressure to be strong and positive and make good decisions even when you’re brain doesn’t want to work at altitude.
“If I were climbing independently, I’d probably do things differently. You have to be a lot more conservative with clients; you can justify a little more risk when you’re on your own.”
He suffered pulmonary edema on one of his ascents to Camp 3 but was able to medicate himself with Diamox and nifedipine and descend to recover. He went back up and on to the summit two days later.
“A guide deals with all sorts of variables, which is why you leave margins even though everyone has invested a lot of time, effort and money to reach the top. The bottom line is the trust your clients put in you to keep them safe.”
Mainer and another guide succeeded in leading 14 clients to the summit via the southeast ridge on May 18.
“It’s still sweet on the summit, exhilarating to reach the highest point in the world, even for a guide,” he said. “It was a first for me. There’s no discounting that.”
But the group had only a few minutes to hang out and enjoy the top of the world. Then it was back to work for the two guides.
“The summit is only halfway,” he said. “The other guide and I put a new rope down the Hillary Step to eliminate waiting at the bottleneck. It was steep and exposed but preferable.
“One of the greatest dangers on Everest nowadays is getting stuck in line.”
They won the race to get everyone down to the South Col before energy and oxygen bottles ran out. “I got to camp and celebrated my 32nd birthday,” he said, noting that it took three days to get off the mountain.
The other big difference between a guide and most climbers is what they do when they finally get home from a two-month expedition.
Rest and recuperation is rare for a full-time guide.
Mainer was home three days before departing Friday for Alaska to climb 20,328-foot Mount McKinley, the highest peak in North America.
“A client with me on Everest wants to use that acclimatization to try to go up and down Denali quickly, in a week,” he said, chuckling and adding, “It’s going to hurt.”
It’s safe to say their boots will be broken in.
DAWES EDDY: Going for age record
In 2009, Dawes Eddy of Spokane became the oldest American to climb Mount Everest, a title he held for just two days before it was claimed by a year-older Californian, age 67.
“That record certainly was on my mind when I made the decision to go back,” he said Monday after returning from a second two-month Everest expedition at the age of 70.
Eddy felt every bit as healthy and strong as he did four years ago when he topped the mountain from the South Col route in Nepal with International Mountain Guides.
This time he booked with Asian Trekking for a shot at the summit via the northeast ridge in Tibet.
“Both companies are good, but I wanted to see what the north side was all about,” he said. “The group was much smaller this time and I prefer that.
“Hiking into base camp on the Nepal side is more interesting. In Tibet we rode in trucks to base camp at 17,500 feet. We still had more than a week en route to acclimate, stopping at villages along the way.”
Himalayan weather delivered the usual delays and the weeks on the mountain began to tick off.
“I can’t explain it, but my aerobic capacity never got up to speed,” he said. “I was eating good energy-rich food and eating well, but I was still losing weight.”
Eddy weighed 133 pounds when he left Spokane, a lean machine that wouldn’t render enough fat to grease a skillet. He weighed 114 pounds when he returned last week.
“I was losing muscle,” he said.
When the weather window opened, the five climbers and four Sherpa guides in his group reached the North Col camp at 22,700 feet.
But the next day, while three Sherpas and four climbers headed on to eventually reach the summit, Eddy lagged. He climbed toward Camp 2, reaching about 23,700 feet – higher than the tallest peak on all the other continents – when he and his guide, Phurba Sherpa, made the decision to turn back.
“The wind was around 50 mph all morning and the weather was deteriorating,” he said. “I was taking four breaths per step. My Sherpa said we were going to get into trouble at that pace. He was right. Some other climbers were coming down, too. The winds were hitting 90 mph up higher.
“I’d shed 14 percent of my body weight in the four weeks at base camp or higher, and as a rule of thumb your chances of reaching the summit are drastically reduced if you lose 10 percent.”
Four years ago, he spent about the same time on the mountain but lost only 8 percent of his body weight.
Eddy said he was disappointed as he descended. “I didn’t even consider that I might not be able to summit,” he said.
“But it was totally worthwhile. I learned more about myself, pushing myself to my limits and seeing magnificent scenery only a very few people are privileged to see.
“This was a one-shot deal. I promised my wife (Mary Kay) that I’d give up high-altitude climbing after this and look for other ways to have fun.”
The couple was downtown Wednesday. Dawes had several bags of different kinds of food under his arms in their car, including cookies and carrots.
“I’m in recovery mode for the next few weeks,” he said.
“He’s eating all the time,” she said.
“No more mountaineering,” he said. “It’s just too hard on the body.”
“I bought him a guidebook, ‘Day Hiking Eastern Washington,’ for his coming-home gift,” she said.
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