In the last couple of weeks, several people have died trying to climb Everest, the tallest mountain in the world. In at least some cases, Sherpas were telling the people to get down off the mountain, but they went ahead to the summit and died on the way down.
Last fall, we took on a Personal Challenge trekking to Annapurna Base Camp in the Himalayan Mountains to the west of Everest. While our trek was only to 4,000 m (Everest is 8,000 m) it gave us a small taste of altitude sickness and the challenges of trekking day after day. While most people think Everest is the most dangerous of the 8,000 m peaks to climb, statistically it is not. A higher percentage of climbers have died trying to climb Annapurna.
In his book, The Will to Climb, Ed Viesturs recounts not only his three attempts to summit Annapurna, but numerous other attempts over the years. Ed is the only American climber to summit all 8,000 m mountains in the world. His advice is simple — the goal is not to climb mountains and summit their peaks. The goal is to get to the top and to get back down safely. When you are at the peak you are only half way there.
The people who died on Everest recently lost sight of Ed’s advice. Some were so committed to getting to the peak of Everest they pushed themselves too far to make it back down safely. As a goal driven person, these events and our experience in the Annapurna Sanctuary remind me that I need to choose goals where we can make it all the way to the end.