Summit of Everest - Celebrating 15 Years

Today, May 25, marks the 15th Anniversary of my team and I reaching the summit of Mt. Everest.  It was a momentous achievement, but I don’t think that any of us could have predicted how powerfully the experience would alter the course of our lives. This past year I have been working on my third book, entitled No Barriers, which in many ways chronicles my experiences beyond Everest.  Although it’s been a daunting and intense process, it’s also been a fun opportunity to look back over the last 15 years and reflect on what an adventure it has been. I think that this excerpt from No Barriers is very fitting fitting for today: 

       After a last crevasse, we kept walking downward. Streams ran in little gullies over the ice, and then the ice morphed into expansive slopes of snow.  With the last of the icefall behind me, and I now knew I was going to live. Just then, as I could hear the hoots of our team, our team leader, Pasquale (PV), strode up next to me. He grabbed me by the shoulder, stopped me, and I felt him stare into my face for a long time.

“Your life’s about to change,” he said, patting me on the back. Then he laughed, but I knew he was serious when he said, “Don’t make Everest the greatest thing you ever do.”

“Don’t make Everest the greatest thing you ever do.”

Those words sunk into my brain and rattled around. At first, I was taken aback. I had just done something that many critics thought was impossible. They’d said I’d be a liability, that I’d subject myself to tremendous risk, that I’d slow my team down, that I’d draw the whole mountain into a rescue. They’d said a blind person didn’t belong on the mountain. The secret was that, at times, I had been one of them, doubting, wondering, and second-guessing myself. I was almost as bad as the naysayers themselves. The difference, however, was that I managed to shove out some of that clutter, to train hard and not count myself out, and to move forward step by step – regardless of what my brain was telling me. And so I found myself at the summit with my team, standing on an island in the sky the size of a two-car garage. And although my body was there, my mind hadn’t caught up. A voice kept asking me, is this really true? Are you really here? Standing here? Later, a reporter had said I’d shattered the world’s expectations about what was possible, but what he didn’t know was that I’d shattered my own expectations even more than the world’s.

      So, not even down to base camp yet, how off-putting for PV to get in my face and try to ruin the achievement. Or at a minimum, it represented terrible timing. I pushed his words out of my mind. It was easy, since the next six months were a constant blur of celebrations reliving the triumph. I was on the cover of Time Magazine, and our entire team met the President in the Oval Office. We went to Disney World where I climbed the outside face of the Matterhorn, roped to Mickey Mouse with Goofy belaying us. My photo was 50 feet tall in Time Square, and I received an ESPY Award, meeting celebrities like Tom Brady and Derek Jeter. I even got to shake hands with Muhammad Ali and have a beer with Carl Lewis.

2001 The Summit of Mt. Everest

Photo Credit: Michael Brown

2001 Meeting George Bush

2001 Climbing the Matterhorn at Disney

Times Square, NY

Back home in Golden, Colorado, I was chosen as the Grand Pooh-Bah of our Buffalo Bill Day’s Parade; my wife, Ellie, my one-year old daughter Emma and I got to ride in the front of a horse-drawn carriage waving to the crowd and throwing candy to the kids. On one of my media tours, I was in a fancy restaurant hotel eating breakfast. I’d lost over 40 pounds on the climb, so when I felt a chocolate croissant on the buffet table, I snapped it up. I finally stopped after seven of them. I was so busy; there wasn’t much time to reflect on the future. I was also speaking to a lot of groups. It was weird, because before Everest, people constantly asked, what’s next. I’d make a joke, like, “My next climb will be to climb into bed for a nap.”

But after Everest, not many asked me the “what’s next?” question, as if to say implicitly, of course there’s nothing else to do, there’s nothing bigger on Earth.

But, the world is full of opportunities for grand experiences. You just have to reach out and find them. Here are some highlights from the past 15 years in my life. 

2005 Summit of Mt. Kenya  

Photo Credit: Hans Florine

2008 The Summit of Mt. Losar in Nepal  

Photo Credit: Rob Raker

2013 Kayaking the Rio Apurimac in Peru

Photo Credit: Skyler Williams

2015 Climbing the Marmolada in the Dolomites, Italy with Timmy O'Neill and Rob Pizem 

Photo Credit: Manrico D'Ellagnola

2012 Exploring Zion Narrows in Zion National Park, Utah with Skyler and Jeff  

Photo Credit: Jeff Evans

2010 Skiing Torrey's Peak, Colorado 

Photo Credit: Ben Witherell

2013 Kayaking Rio Usumacinta, Mexico

Photo Credit: Skyler Williams

2015 No Barriers Warriors Expedition on Gannett Peak, Wyoming 

Photo Credit: Didrik Johnck

2013 Family River Trip on the Main Salmon River, ID

Photo Credit: Skyler Williams

2015 Finally reached the summit of Mt. Huntington, Alaska with Dave Shuman and Mike Gibbs

Photo Credit: Dave Shuman

2015 Skiing Mayflower Gulch

Photo Credit: Skyler Williams

2013 Kayaking Rio Maranon, Peru

Photo Credit: Harlan Taney

2006 Closing the NYSE, NY

2012 Climbing Machu Pichu, Peru with my family

Photo Credit: Rob Raker