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Author Topic: Jeff Mathy back to Everest  (Read 4308 times)

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Jeff Mathy back to Everest
« on: Mar 29 2003, 17:03 »

Tuesday, March 25, 2003
Unfazed by unrest abroad, Fullerton climber Jeff Mathy is eager to try again after last year's aborted ascent of the famous peak.

The Khumbu Icefall yawns and creates a crevasse that can swallow climbers. It stretches and knocks over towering chunks of ice without warning.
The frozen obstacle course is in constant motion, a carnival funhouse without the fun. Negotiating this moving glacier is considered the most difficult part of climbing the tallest mountain on earth. More lives are lost in the Khumbu Icefall than on any other part of Mount Everest.

"This is pretty much a graveyard for a lot of people," said Jeff Mathy, a Fullerton climber who knows all about its dangers.

Memories of the icefall will accompany Mathy when he leaves for Mount Everest on Saturday to complete a mission he was forced to abort last year because of illness. Mathy said he isn't worried about terrorism or the effects of the war in Iraq, although the U.S. State Department considers travel to Nepal dangerous. "I will fear my short time in Bangkok, and being on a plane, of course, Mathy said. "I have always been afraid to fly. But Nepal is not a worry for me at all." Mathy again will join a climbing team from Alpine Ascents and attempt to summit the 29,035-foot mountain.

Fifty years ago this season, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first to summit Everest.
If he succeeds, Mathy, 24, would become the youngest American to do so, unless one of two younger American climbers planning an ascent this season succeeds, too.
Mathy could also become the youngest American to conquer the Seven Summits, the tallest peaks on the seven continents.

What he is on the verge of achieving pales in comparison to his accomplishment as a member of Boy Scout Troop 93 in Fullerton, when he was about 14.
The troop, at his urging, climbed the "nine peaks," a three-day, 25-mile hike along a ridge trail in the San Gorgonio Wilderness in the San Bernardino Mountains. It was as a Boy Scout that Mathy was introduced to back-packing. At 10, he went on his first campout. Six months later, he went backpacking and hated it. But the more he went, the easier it got and the more he grew to crave it.

After graduating from UC Davis, Mathy visited a cousin in Alaska, and they climbed Bold Peak. It was Mathy's first high-altitude and winter mountaineering experience.
"I was hooked," he said. "I wanted to climb bigger and better stuff."

He went to mountaineering school in Seattle, set his sights on Kilimanjaro and today is zeroing in on Everest and the Seven Summits.
The records, a focal point for Mathy last year because of his sponsor, are irrelevant this time because he has no sponsor.
His $70,000 expedition bill is being paid for by loans from family members and donations from companies and people with a rooting interest.
So the pressure is off.

"I'm focusing only on getting to the summit and back safely," Mathy said. "I won't be heartbroken if I don't break the records."

Returning safely means successfully negotiating the Khumbu Icefall six times, including acclimatization climbs and the summit bid: three times ascending, three times descending, weaving through dangerous chunks of blue ice that can topple unexpectedly.
"The icefall is the scariest thing in the world to me on this climb," said Mathy, who has been through it four times. "I'm really nervous this year."
This time he said he has "memories that I can fear." He knows what to expect.

The icefall is between Base Camp and Camp 1. It takes eight hours to climb. Aluminum ladders are used to get over crevasses as deep as 200 feet and ice blocks the size of boulders and four-story houses.
For longer obstacles, ladders are tied together. Climbers walk on the ladders over crevasses. Ropes pulled tight on both sides act as guide lines.

Mathy was two hours into the icefall last year when he was forced to abort, overcome by illness as a result of tainted lemonade.
At a trekking outpost below Base Camp, Mathy had consumed a large quantity of lemonade inexplicably made with untreated water. Mathy figured the staff in the kitchen forgot to treat the water in their haste during a busy time.
"It was just bad luck," he said.

Within two days, he was violently ill. His team departed on the summit bid without him. Guide Mike Roberts stayed behind, planning to catch up with the team later with Mathy at his side.
Mathy tried, but one of the strongest climbers on the team was suddenly one of the weakest. His fatigued body told him what he already knew. He would not make it to the top.

He convinced Roberts to go ahead without him, and Mathy, who hadn't eaten in six days, returned to Base Camp. On acclimatization climbs, the furthest Mathy had climbed was just beyond Camp 3.
"My goal is to just get above Camp 3 again and make an actual summit attempt," Mathy said.

As always, safety will be a top priority for Mathy. Taking chances is unwanted baggage he intends to leave behind.

"It's not worth it," he said. "This is still a hobby for me. If I got the same kind of enjoyment building model trains, I would do that. But this, I think the danger is appealing in a way, but to the extent where I want it to just be dangerous. I don't want it to be deadly."

By DAVE STREGE
The Orange County Register

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"He who climbs upon the highest mountains laughs at all tragedies, real or imaginary." -- Friedrich Nietzsche
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