One man’s story of being on top of the world.June 19, 2008
For 12 long years, Scott Mortensen had an itch that needed to be scratched. Ever since the Thousand Oaks resident lived in the wild hills of New Zealand, the same land where Mount Everest pioneer Sir Edmund Hillary grew up and honed his skills, Mortensen dreamed of trying to climb the world’s tallest peak.
As Mortensen went about his life, studying film at UC San Diego, surfing big waves at Hawaii’s fabled breaks, putting out blazes with the Oxnard Fire Department, the idea of climbing to 29,035 feet was always in the back of his mind. Last month, Mortensen not only lived his dream to stand on the top of the world, but the 31-year-old also helped rescue someone who could have become another casualty of the mountain that has claimed more than 210 lives.
“It’s a leap of faith that you hope you get to the top of the world,” Mortensen said recently, still battling the jet lag from flying around the world. When you are climbing, “every step has a purpose, and that’s sort of a metaphor for life,” he said.
Mortensen grew up hiking and rock climbing and has climbed Mount Whitney — “it’s the biggest in the lower 48 but it’s just a teardrop” compared to Everest. He started training on a treadmill, searching eBay for used mountaineering clothes, and wrote a $20,000 check to Peak Freaks, a Canadian guiding company. The going rate is $30,000, but Mortensen got a discount because he was shooting a documentary for a nonprofit group.
He chose that company because of its safety record, focusing on getting off the mountain safely and not necessarily getting to the summit. Soon afterward, Mortensen flew to Kathmandu, Nepal, and met the eight other climbers he’d be trying to summit with.
After more than a month of preparing, Mortensen, his fellow climbers, 14 Sherpas and the company’s owner, Tim Rippel, set out for the top on May 20. Everest’s reputation is not for being the most difficult technical climb in the world. “It’s a marathon of endurance more than skill,” Mortensen said.
More than 24 hours after he started for the summit, Mortensen was standing on top of the world on a day of no wind and blue skies. It was awe-inspiring.His view of the horizon was a Caribbean blue sky on top, the blinding white clouds beneath him. He thought he could see the curvature of the Earth. Rows of jagged peaks stared at him like a shark’s mouth.
“I felt like I was complete,” he said, fully realizing how corny that may sound.
Forty-five minutes after summiting, Mortensen started making his way back down the mountain and found a man sprawled in the snow. He was nearly unconscious in what is commonly called the Death Zone, an area above 26,250 feet where accidents often lead to death because of the complications of high altitude and low oxygen. Mortensen thinks the man, who had been climbing slowly all day, was suffering from a combination of dehydration and altitude sickness.
They brought him down and with the drama over all Mortensen wanted to do was get home, and fast. He went to the traditional restaurant in Kathmandu where those who climb Everest are treated to a free meal, signed his name on the wall and caught the first flight home.
Becky Rippel, co-owner of Peak Freaks agreed Everest has become commercialized and too many people with too little experience are climbing it. “There are hundreds of people up there who shouldn’t be on the mountain,” she said from Canada. The price to climb the mountain is getting cheaper, opening the door to many more people who previously were unable to do it.
Mortensen is a changed man after being on top of the world. “The mountain is worth climbing,” he said. “It’s not worth dying for, but it’s worth climbing.”
My thanks to Zeke Barlow of the Ventura County Star who reported this story. We at Xtremesport4u.com have nothing but complete respect for anyone who stands on top of the world. Well done Scott.