In a deadly season on Everest, Nova Scotia man completes seven summits
Mike Mulrooney says the overcrowding isn't the problem; climbers overestimate their skills
Mike Mulrooney began the last 10 hours of his climb to Mount Everest in the dark, trusting that his preparation and his sherpa would guide him to the summit when he could hardly rely on his eyes.
And as the early morning light broke over surrounding peaks that once seemed like Nepalese giants, he became the first Nova Scotian to complete the seven summits, the tallest mountains on each continent.
"It's a really strange place to be on the planet because the air's so thin … you're climbing in the dark, climbing with a lot of people around you that you don't know," he said from Kathmandu, Nepal. "But once the sun came out and I knew where I was and I was able to see into China and Nepal … it was really humbling."
It can, however, be a deadly experience.
At least 11 people have died on the mountain during the March-to-May climbing season, a spike that some climbers have blamed on overcrowding at the summit ridge where people have to wait in the thinning air to get to the summit.
Mulrooney avoided those lineups thanks to being part of a team of just four — himself, another climber and two sherpas — and left Everest Base Camp on May 13 when there was a small window of good weather forecast for three days.
But the Nova Scotia mountaineer said he doesn't believe it's the number of people on the mountain that's the issue, but rather the fact that people simply aren't prepared.
He noted that he learned later that two people died when he summited on May 16, when only 30 climbers made the ascent.
"A lot of these people just potentially were not were not real with themselves about what this mountain really is," he said. "It's really sad, of course… but the reality is people are climbing with a level of service that is not compensatory towards their preparation … there are people that are climbing that are expecting somebody to bail them out if things get bad, but they haven't paid for that level of expertise, or one-to-one Sherpa support or [enough] of bottles of oxygen."
The seven summits
Mulrooney spent the last five years of his life preparing for this climb, summiting progressively taller mountains, moving to Mexico City to train and to get used to living in a place that's 2,250 metres above sea level.
Not only did that allow him to climb Everest, but it also got him, days later, to the top of Lhotse, the fourth-tallest peak in the world.
"It did a lot to my body, but I felt strong the entire time," he said. "I felt mentally strong the entire time: I had no altitude sickness, I didn't get what they call the Khumbu cough, which is almost a chest infection that really wreaks havoc on a lot of people.
"I just got extremely lucky."
He did, however, lose 17 pounds, which is something he's trying to rectify with double breakfasts now that his body has enough oxygen to digest food.
Mulrooney isn't yet sure what the future holds.
He's completed "the project" he began five years ago. There are other mountains — someone has invited him to return to the Himalayas next spring to conquer the world's third-highest mountain, Kangchenjunga, but he's uncertain.
'You know, it's hard to believe that this is over," he said. "I'm really proud of what I did. I'm really proud that in retrospect, with knowing a little bit more about the mountain … and what it can do to people, I'm really proud of the training that I did [and] the decisions that I've made."