Steamboat Springs Eric Meyer said the feeling was more profound the first time he reached the top of the world, during a 2004 expedition in which he reached the summit of Mount Everest.
“The first time it felt like climbing Everest was a metaphor for life,” the Steamboat Springs doctor said.
His most recent trip, which was capped by a May 23 return to the summit of the tallest mountain on Earth, meant something entirely different, however, and when reflecting on the adventure recently, Meyer said the experience, while not the same, may have been even more powerful.
Meyer served as a leader, guide and doctor for a team operated by good friend Chhiring Dorje Sherpa’s Rolwaling Excursion and Mountaineering company. Making the summit was great, said Meyer, who has logged numerous attempts at the tallest mountains in the world, the 8,000-meter tall behemoths that summon climbers from across the world.
Even better than simply making the summit, however, was helping people to the summit.
“The first time it was just about getting myself up,” he said. “Helping others this time made it a lot more gratifying.”
That attitude — helping others first — defined Meyer’s trip, all the way from base camp to the summit, where he, co-expedition leader Chris Klinke, their team of Sherpas and five of their six clients, reached at 5:30 a.m. May 23.
Along the way, he spent much of his time answering medical questions.
“A lot of (the clients) really didn’t understand the implications of the altitude and had a lot of basic medical questions, a lot of gastrointestinal issues and respiratory issues,” Meyer said.
The team’s strategy of preparation included minimizing passes through the constantly shifting Khumbu Icefall, one of the most dangerous parts of the journey. To help facilitate that, members — and Steamboat’s Bryna Krauth and local doctor Michael Sisk, her brother Brad Krauth and his father Jerry Sisk — summited the nearby peak of Lobuche East, gaining valuable acclimatization in the process.
Back on the mountain, the team managed to avoid many of the problems that have plagued other expeditions in recent seasons. Summit attempts generally are restricted by a break in the jet stream, which usually rips across the top of the mountain. A year ago, a tightened weather window led to the teams getting bunched up, which led to massive delays at bottlenecks on the upper flanks of the mountain. That, in turn, led to deaths among climbers.
This season didn’t see quite the same crowds — about 280 on the south side compared to 380 a year ago — and the Rolwaling Excursion team took care to avoid what trouble there was.
As with any trip courting the type of danger an Everest expedition does, Meyer’s trip was anything but routine. In fact, by all logic, he should have struggled to make the top.
The first setback came when he was unable to leave the United States as early as he’d initially hoped, finally setting foot in Nepal two weeks after his teammates.
Then, while acclimatizing high on the massive mountain’s slopes at Camp 3 and at 7,500-meters above sea level, he developed a cough and what he quickly detected as the first stages of pneumonia.
That’s bad enough at sea level. For anyone hoping to scale Everest’s 29,029 feet, it’s usually a trip-ending game changer.
“We had high winds and bad weather up at Camp 3, and we couldn’t go down for a day and I could feel my energy being sapped,” he said. “That became really apparent as we were descending. I was starting to cough. It wasn’t a horrible cough, but I got it because I was so exhausted, and I was spending so much time above altitude.”
Meyer managed to recover thanks to a quick descent to base camp and a 10-minute helicopter flight to the small Nepalese village of Namche Bazaar, a town 4,000 feet higher in elevation than Steamboat Springs but still 5,000 feet lower than Everest’s base camp.
After six days with a little hiking, some Internet surfing, a bit of eating at the local cafes and a whole bunch of sleep, Meyer was back to full strength and, soon, back on Everest.
“I recognized what was happening. Some people would have stayed in their sleeping bag at base camp,” he said. “I knew my only chance to still summit to was go down and get better quickly.
“I was really lucky that I healed up as fast as I did.”
When the time came for the push up the mountain through the camps, the squad handled it well, making its assault after many other groups already had made the trek up and back.
The whole trip was different for Meyer because this time his team attacked the most-popular, southeast route up the mountain, from Nepal, as opposed to the Chinese north side he climbed in 2004.
When they did reach the summit, spending about 45 minutes on or near the tip-top of the world, he spent much of it treating team members who were feeling the effects of the extreme altitude.
The experience was not lost on him, however.
“The summit morning was beautiful beyond words; darkness giving way to lighter blue, and the faintest orange as we climbed past the South Summit on our way to the Hillary Step, and finally up to the top of the world,” Meyer said. “Looking back down into the Western Cwm from where we had come, over toward Lhotse and Makalu, and over into Tibet was amazing.”
There were plenty of differences between Meyer’s first trip to Everest and his most recent one. The route was different. The people were different. The challenges were different. Even the country of origin was different.
Nothing marked the difference quite as much as the overall approach, however. Nearly a decade ago, Meyer was able to stick the ultimate mountaineering feather in his camp when he summited Mount Everest. This year, he helped others do the same.
“I really helped enable people to get up the mountain,” he said. “Helping someone realize their dreams is very gratifying.”
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com