It’s Everest season again, and two of our First Ascent climbers are headed back to the Big One to tackle the tallest peak on Earth. Melissa Arnot, who is looking to up her record tally from five successful summits, is already en route to Nepal. But Dave Hahn, who has summited Everest an incredible 15 times—with 12 consecutive summits in 12 years—just checked in from his iPad during international layovers with this report about what he has planned for this season and how to avoid the excess bag fee on his long, familiar journey to Nepal.—LYA Editor
Words by Dave Hahn, Images by Hahn, Kent Harvey and Grayson Schaffer
My 23rd expedition to climb an 8,000-meter peak started out right. While hoisting my loaded duffel bags onto the conveyor, the ticket agent said several times that she liked my Eddie Bauer First Ascent bags. I thought she was just being polite, trying to lessen the sting of hitting me up for excess baggage from Albuquerque to Kathmandu, but when she said one more time, “It is a good design for a bag,” well, I couldn’t resist and had to say, “Thanks, I built these . . .,” causing her to smile and chuckle (but not to upgrade me to business class). She thought I was joking . . . and in a way, I was. I didn’t really feel like a gear designer/tester just then, and not so much like an Everest expedition leader and climbing guide.
Coming off three months of ski patrolling in Taos, with my hair scraggly and my goggle tan prominent (perhaps accounting for why I didn’t rate a spontaneous upgrade), I felt in transition. Maybe when this jet gets close to Kathmandu and Everest becomes visible off the starboard wing tip, I’ll feel like a guy who has been to the top 15 times . . . but more likely it will be a few expletives coming from seat 52i and some familiar amazement and trepidation that a mountain can be so high and pointy.
I’m tackling the mountain as a guide for Rainier Mountaineering, Inc. We’ll be three guides, seven climbers, and ten climbing Sherpas. And our success will stem, in large part, from how well we are able to come together as a team . . . which is where my talents for leadership could be put to the test. There is a lot on the line, as usual.
While patrolling these past months, I was asked over and over how (or whether) I was going to train for Everest. Folks asked that question while snow and wind were battering my face on chairlifts. They asked it while altitude and uphill were maxing out my lungs on the daily hike to summit 12,481 ft Kachina Peak. And, most annoyingly, they asked it while I was chowing down plates of enchiladas and swilling margaritas.
Most folks I encounter at the ski area don’t see me “training” on other tough expeditions in the course of a normal year, since those trips take place in the remote and far-flung locales that glaciers flow through. But what they see me doing at Taos Ski Valley in the immediate run-up to Everest is just as it has been for twenty-plus years of Himalayan guiding. I figure my body will be exactly ready if I patrol and ski hard, never passing up a chance to hike the ridges above our lift-served terrain. I figure I’ll be good enough at suffering if my face and fingers are getting numb and cold a couple of times a day. My guess is that pre-dawn starts on avalanche control mornings—breaking cornices and throwing explosives—simulate the pre-dawn fear and excitement of taking on the chutes and ladders of the Khumbu Icefall. I bank on the theory that scrambling to be the first patroller on scene to manage busted bones and concussions will keep me sharp for the normal Everest grab bag of scary medical mayhem.
And I swear the enchiladas and margaritas have an essential and under-appreciated role to play in prepping me for the big hill. Everest has gotten a hundred times more comfortable and convenient to climb in the last twenty years. But go figure . . . I still find it to be a ridiculously hard and mean sufferfest. In my view, ten weeks of deprivation on the opposite side of the planet should be anticipated pre-trip by eating every last enchilada on the plate, by skiing powder on sunny, easy days, and by hoisting particularly good beverages with friends while laughing a lot. In the coming months, on the off-chance that Mount Everest does get mean and difficult, I intend to have a rock-solid image in my head of just how sweet and easy life can be elsewhere. That kind of training has always helped me keep track of priorities . . . so far.
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