Since 1953, when Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay successfully reached the summit of Mount Everest, explorers and adventures from around the globe have set their sights on the world’s tallest mountain.
At 29,035 feet, Mount Everest has claimed the lives of almost 300 people since 1923 when George Mallory and Andrew Irvine perished on the mountain. The climbing seasons were suspended in 2014 after an avalanche in the Khumbu Icefall killed 16 Sherpas and again in 2015 after an earthquake triggered an avalanche killing 19 people at Everest Base Camp.
With 2016 being a successful year on the mountain, we interviewed mountaineer Alan Arnette and mountaineer and guide Garrett Madison (Madison Mountaineering) to find out just what it takes and how it feels to reach the top of the world.
Related: Tenzing Norgay
Alan Arnette is a speaker, coach, Alzheimer’s advocate and mountaineer. On July 27, 2014, he became the 18th and oldest American to summit K2 at 58. With over 35 major expeditions since 1994, he has reached 50 million people and raised over $300,000 for Alzheimer’s research.
Garrett Madison began guiding professionally in 1999 on Mount Rainier, and is now America’s premier Everest climber and guide. As Expedition Leader, he has personally lead 44 climbers to the summit of Everest over the last 8 years without serious injury, more than any other guide. In 2011, Garrett led the first expedition in history where climbers succeeded in the Everest – Lhotse combination, reaching the summit of two 8000 meter peaks in less than 24 hours (while personally guiding one climber peak to peak in 21 hours), and again repeated this “double header” in 2013. Garrett is currently the only climber in the world to repeat this “peak to peak” combination, and holds the record for guiding climbers (4) in this endeavor. In 2014, Garrett led the first ever successfully ‘guided’ ascent of K2, arguably the hardest and most dangerous mountain in the world, reaching the summit with 2 climbers and 3 Sherpas on July 27, 2014. Garrett also regularly guides many “7 Summits” expeditions such as Aconcagua, Vinson, Kilimanjaro, Elbrus, etc., during the year. In addition, Garrett is regularly involved with film productions on Everest, participating in 4 different features over the last 3 years.
What does it cost to climb Everest?
Alan Arnette: The average price paid in 2017 will be around $45,000. The price range for a standard supported climb ranges from $28,000 to $85,000. A fully custom climb will run over $115,000 and those extreme risk takers can skimp by for well under $20,000.
Typically, this includes transportation from Kathmandu or Lhasa, food, base camp tents, Sherpa support and supplemental oxygen. But with such a wide range, there are many caveats such as a personal Sherpa, western guides, tips, food and tents on the upper mountain.
What is the estimated cost of gear needed for the climb?
Garrett Madison: If you want to make the trek to Everest Base Camp (EBC), you would need approximately $2,000 in personal gear. Click HERE to see that list gear list from Madison Mountaineering.
If you want to make a bid to reach the summit of the world’s tallest mountain, you will need to spend between $6000-8000, depending on the quality of items such as down suit, sleeping bags, boots, etc… Click HERE to see that list.
What is a typical day like at Everest Base Camp?
Alan Arnette: The average Everest climb from the Nepal side is about 40 days once you reach base camp. Of that, around 15 are spent above base camp so there is a lot of time to kill with rest and waiting for good weather.
In many ways it is Groundhog Day where each day feels the same. It starts with breakfast of eggs, toast and jam then many people take a few hour hike to continue their acclimatization.
Then it is time for lunch of spam and vegetables. The afternoons are spent checking email, perhaps a shower, and shave for the men, taking a nap or visiting the neighbors. Late afternoon, teams often gather to watch a movie on a laptop or socialize before dinner of rice, noodles, sometimes meat.
Most people go directly to bed after dinner but some teams will show a movie on a screen from a laptop in the dining tent.
Alan, we understand that you climb for a purpose. Do you mind sharing with us what motivates you?
I climb to raise awareness and funds to find a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease. It took my mom, Ida Arnette in 2009 and I was shocked to learn it is 100% fatal, often destroying the lives of families was much as the individual who has it. There is no cure and the number of people getting AD is exploding as the world’s population ages.
I took early retirement to be with my mom the last three years of her life and since have dedicated all I do to honor her and find a cure.
What has been one of your most unique experiences while at Everest?
Alan Arnette: This is not unique but on the trek from Lukla to Base Camp, I am always happy to spend time with the kids in the villages. They play with sticks, walk to school and laugh easily. The simplicity of their lives is something to be admired.
Garrett Madison: Reaching the summit last May with my team. After the tragedies on Everest in 2014 and 2015and being very involved in both, it was great to return last season and have a great expedition!
Describe the feeling you had when you reached the summit for the first time.
Garrett Madison: I was so happy and thankful. I called my parents on the satellite phone and broke down in tears as I thanked them.
Alan Arnette: I attempted Everest 3 times before making the summit in 2011 on my fourth try. Everest is a special spot on the planet. For all the negative press Everest climbers receive, to summit it is unique and something one is proud of accomplishing.
The summit is small, about the size of an average living room. It’s covered with prayer flags and on a clear day you see other 8000 meter mountains including Cho Oyu, Lhotse and Makalu plus the curvature of the earth. To think you are standing where airplane fly is humbling and takes away your breath.
When I summited, I was overcome with emotion, not just because I finally summited but to be able to honor my mom and all those impacted by Alzheimer’s.