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.



  1. Sherpas are the true heroes of Everest. Without their assistance, very few would reach the summit. To learn more about this amazing tribe, read Beyond the Summit by Linda LeBlanc. Details of Sherpa culture and religion are interwoven in a tale of romance and high adventure. The story has something for everyone: a love affair between an American journalist and Sherpa guide, conflict between generations as the modern world challenges centuries of tradition, an expedition from the porter’s point of view.

    Below are selections from reviews. To read the complete ones and excerpts go to http://www.beyondthesummit-novel.com

    Beyond the Summit, is the rare gem that shows us the triumphs and challenges of a major climb from the porter’s point of view. The love of two people from diverse cultures is the fiery centerpiece of a novel that leads its readers through harshly beautiful and highly dangerous territory to the roof of the world. Malcolm Campbell, book reviewer

    Conflict and dialog keep this gripping story of destiny, romance and adventure moving from the first page to the last paragraph. LeBlanc has a genius for bonding her readers and her characters. I found I was empathizing in turn with each character as they faced their own personal crisis or trauma.
    Richard Blake for Readers Views.

    A gripping, gut-twisting expedition through the eyes of a porter reveals the heart and soul of Sherpas living in the shadows of Everest. EverestNews.com

    A hard-hitting blend of adventure and romance which deserves a spot in any serious fiction collection. Midwest Book Review

    LeBlanc is equally adept at describing complex, elusive emotions and the beautiful, terrifying aspect of the Himalayan Mountains. Boulder Daily Camera

    LeBlanc’s vivid description of the Himalayas and the climbing culture makes this a powerful read. Rocky Mt News Pick of the Week

    A rich adventure into the heart of the Himalayan Kingdom. Fantastic story-telling from one who has been there. USABookNews.com

    This is the book to read before you embark on your pilgrimage to Nepal. The author knows and loves the people and the country, and makes you feel the cold thin air, the hard rocks of the mountains, the tough life of the Sherpa guides, and you learn to love them too. This is a higly literate, but also very readable book. Highly recommended.”
    – John (college professor)

    Memorable characters and harrowing encounters with the mountains keep the action moving with a vibrant balance of vivid description and dialog. Literary Cafe Host, Healdsburg, CA

    This superbly-crafted novel will land you in a world of unimaginable beauty, adventure, and romance. The love story will keep you awake at night with its vibrant tension and deep rich longing. Wick Downing, author of nine novels

    Such vividly depicted images of the Everest region and the Sherpa people are the perfect scenario for the romance and adventure feats narrated. It’s a page-turner, so engrossing you end up wanting to visit Nepal! Not just novel, but perfect for those seeking to get acquainted with the culture of this country.
    By Claudia Fournier (América, Bs. As., Argentina)

    Available through Barnes and Noble, Borders, amazon.com, Chesslerbooks.com, and the web site

  2. […] mouth. … Crazy extreme basketball from turkey &middot Women??s Air Race Classic starts June 24 …https://xtremesport4u.wordpress.com/2008/06/19/one-mans-story-of-being-on-top-of-the-world/Mount Ararat – Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaMount Ararat see section Names for other names is the […]

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