Ready for the risks, Steamboat’s Eric Meyer again targets Mount Everest
April 11, 2013
Steamboat Springs — You want to ask right away, but it probably would seem rude or too forward.
"Are you scared of dying?" isn't much of a follow-up for "Hello!"
Fortunately, the topic is a trip to Mount Everest, so there is no shortage of questions with which to lead off.
Steamboat Springs climber Eric Meyer, who set out Saturday from his home to attempt to reach the summit of the world's tallest peak for the second time, has no shortage of answers.
"It's great to be headed back," he said, considering his fourth climbing trip to an 8,000-meter peak.
It's probably not even a fair question. There's so much that is interesting about Meyer's trip that the death question seems a silly thing to dwell on.
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Consider this: He wasn't able to start for Nepal as early as he'd hoped, and much of his climbing team already was there when he pointed the car toward Rabbit Ears Pass on Saturday.
He was going to miss out on about a week of acclimatization, which is a key — the key — to successfully summiting any peak in the region. So Meyer adapted.
"I've actually been sleeping in an altitude tent," he said. "It simulates high altitude at night, so for the last week, I've been sleeping at about 16,000 feet."
Interesting, and certainly worthy of a few questions. Here are the answers: It looks like any two-man mountaineering tent. It plops right on his mattress. It’s sealed tight and has a hose that comes out to maintain air pressure.
After waking up and unzipping to a measly 6,700 feet, "it feels pretty darn good," he said.
It's still not time for The Question. There are so many interesting angles here.
Meyer, a doctor in Steamboat, will spend much of his time on the trip focused on what's become a specialty in high-altitude medicine. He's serving as the team doctor for his group, and he's also going to lend a hand to a team of medical researchers from California's Stanford University and Sweden's Umea University.
They plan to dig into the effects of high altitude on decision making.
OK, that's a pretty compelling topic.
"High altitude is sort of a real-world laboratory," Meyer said. "It will be interesting to study decision making cross-culturally, how decisions regarding climbing, weather and logistics are made by people from different cultural and geographic backgrounds."
Here are some more answers: They quizzed climbers-to-be to develop pretrip baseline responses, and they'll compare that data with information gathered on the climb.
Also, no, it isn't exactly Meyer's area of expertise, but he's been involved in similar studies before, and he's looking forward to comparing all the results.
You can go on for a long time asking questions and getting interesting answers from Meyer.
There's not a Starbucks at the Everest base camp, but there is wireless Internet.
His team only reluctantly decided not to haul in a sauna tent.
He's heading in from the more popular south side this time, as opposed to the north Chinese side, which he climbed to the summit in 2004.
The south side used to be dramatically more expensive, but now they're closer to even.
The view of the summit while climbing is better from the north.
Eventually, though, the conversation gets more serious, working toward The Question.
Is it as big of a deal to summit Everest a second time?
"Definitely," Meyer said. "There's a lot that can happen up there, a lot you can't predict. You have to be prepared for a lot of issues."
Meyer actually is going to help lead a group of climbers this time, along with Chris Klinke and Sherpa Chhiring Dorje. Both are close friends of Meyer's, brothers on the mountain and men he trusts beyond words.
They'll be leading a group up Everest while other guides will lead several clients up neighboring Lhotse.
"There's a lot of joy in helping other people attain that," Meyer said. "I get a lot of satisfaction out of helping others try to accomplish their dreams and goals on a mountain."
Slowly, the whole conversation, the whole trip rounds into focus.
Death in the Himalayas certainly isn't a secret, and it's not foreign to Meyer. It's his brushes with death, his stories of survival, that have made his previous trips so desperately compelling. Those experiences color his plans and attitude even now, as he prepares for another climb.
He was coming down, away from the summit of Makalu, in 2010 on his last visit to the region. The world's fifth-tallest mountain had proven too much for Meyer that day, and he decided not to press his luck and push on. Soon, he ran into Lakpa Sherpa, and he was in bad enough shape that Meyer took on the task of helping him down to the nearest camp. After surviving a miraculous tumble on Lakpa's part and several near-death experiences as Meyer searched for his friend, they made it.
Now Lakpa is back, climbing again with Meyer, Dorje, Klinke and the team at Everest.
"I know he would do the same for me under any similar circumstance," Meyer said. "One thing you have to go into it with is that notion that no matter what, you’re going to take care of each other and be safe."
With that crew, Meyer said, he feels safe.
So, now we're there, primed for The Question, but I still dance around some of the hard words.
"Scared" is out. "Nervous" is subbed in.
So, people die on Everest. Are you nervous?
And, in an answer, it all comes together. The tent on the bed in Steamboat and the study of the debilitating effects of altitude, the joy of helping others, the sibling-strong bonds and the willingness to make the trip, even for a second time, all make sense.
And, yes, the prospect of death comes into focus, as well.
"The reason why I climb, it's in the experience itself," Meyer said. "The beauty of the climb is in the experience, not the summit, the people you meet, the way you're put in touch with your own frailty. You're forced to dig down deep, and there is tremendous teamwork and camaraderie involved in pulling something like this off and coming back in one piece.
"Nervous? You definitely have that down deep inside you, that knowledge that you're in a very alien, extreme environment and that when you combine the altitude and the cold and the exhaustion, the wheels can come off."
The answer to The Question is “yes.” Meyer has extensive experience on the world's tallest mountains. He travels with some of the planet's best mountaineers, and he prepares as well as he possibly can. And he gets nervous.
Sometimes it scares him, but it doesn't stop him.
"There's nervousness, but it's balanced by excitement, too," he said. "You have to be prepared for all of that. You have to be realistic about the environment you're in and the chance that you might not come back. But it's such a special place, and I'm so very fortunate to be able to do what I'm doing."
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com
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