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.