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Winter 2019

Life Above the Death Zone: Survival Over 26,000 FT.


David Roskelley, of Alpine, Utah, has done something few others on this planet have ever attempted––he has climbed the Seven Summits, the highest mountain on each of the seven continents. The inspiration for such a feat came from his uncle who climbed Mount Everest. As a twelve-year-old boy, David was traveling with family friends from his hometown of Chicago through Wyoming. He remembers the first time he set eyes upon the Rockies; seeing them unlocked a desire in him to someday climb them. After coming to Utah to attend Brigham Young University, David began spending time climbing smaller mountains. After a few years, he reached a summit of significance for the first time in his life: Mount Timpanogos (11,753 feet), located in Utah.

David Roskelley on the summit of Mount Everest with the United States and Alpine, Utah, flags. (David Roskelley)

Training and Preparation

With Mount Everest being the definitive challenge, David knew he had to begin his training and preparation early. Fortunately for him, Utah is the perfect state to train in because of the cold weather and the high altitude. His preparation included running in twenty-degree temperatures and at altitudes of up to 11,000 feet. David says you cannot train to only climb Mount Everest; you have to work your way up by training on the other mountains first.

David Roskelley (left), Stephen Pearson (right) on the summit of Everest with the Book of Mormon. (David Roskelley)

Physical Challenges

As David climbed each additional mountain, he learned lessons that would help him on the next summit. David used Mount Rainier as a training climb for Denali. Rainier is often referred to as a “mini Denali” because it has the same crevasse and icefall hazards, just on a smaller scale.

David says that as you climb each mountain, the experience brings a new level of confidence and sense of accomplishment. He became more comfortable as he tested his body at higher elevations and in colder temperatures. Once he successfully climbed 23,000 feet (on Aconcagua, Argentina) he knew his body could handle the stresses and pressures of higher elevations.

Each mountain produces its own intense physical challenges that need to be respected. Some can be climbed in as little as a week, while Everest typically takes up to two months. High elevations demand that you acclimatize your body by climbing in what are called “rotations.” This means that you begin by climbing high and then sleeping low.

For example, you would go to camp one, spend the night, and then return to base camp and rest for about three to four days before ascending again. After that, you would go to camp two, and do the same thing––return all the way back to base camp for a few days. Then you might repeat that again, slowly but surely adapting your body. This is the reason it takes so long to reach the summit of Everest. If you tried to ascend Everest straight from the bottom to the top, without doing the rotations, you would die because your body wouldn’t be able to handle the differences in air pressure.

Climbing Mount Everest, in particular, is extremely challenging on your body. Your blood will not flow normally because of the altitude, and your body will burn an unprecedented 30,000 to 40,000 calories in a twenty-four-hour period. David claims to have lost nearly twenty pounds of muscle mass on his Everest climb.

What do the climbers eat?

Climbers do not consume certain kinds of foods nor even certain amounts of calories. David explained that on most of the Mount Everest climb, he felt like he had the flu. He knew he had to eat, so he would consume anything set in front of him. On the lower mountain, he ate a lot of protein to help build muscle, but as he ascended, he found himself mostly wanting broth. Because dehydration is a big problem, he had to do all he could to keep his liquid intake high.

View of Mount Everest (Sagarmatha) from the summit of Kala Patthar with Tibetan prayer flags. (David Roskelley)Local Climbing Guides

If you climb mountains in Europe, your guides will be professional climbers. This is not the case in places like Africa and Nepal. In these regions, it is the law that you must climb with a guide company. Many of these guides climb out of necessity. They come from lives of poverty, and many of them do this difficult work in order to create better lives for their children.

David met one guide who climbs so that he can afford to send his two children to a private school. The guide’s children are learning English so that they can break the local cycle of poverty. Some guides do not even like climbing and do not have the expensive clothes and gear that their guests do.

At the end of the climb, after paying the guides monetarily, David and some of the other climbers are known to open their duffel bags and give the guides most of their gear. It is their way of showing appreciation to the guides for the sacrifices they have made to help the climbers reach the top. Future Goals

David isn’t done climbing yet: he still has more goals to achieve. He is currently planning on climbing the Seven Volcanic Summits, which are the highest volcanos on each continent. He has already climbed four of the seven and plans to complete the rest within the next year.

As far as he knows, if he can complete all seven volcano climbs, he will be the first American to have summited the Seven Summits and the Seven Volcanic Summits. He also intends to travel to both poles. Once he has reached both of them, he will earn the coveted “Explorers Grand Slam.” This is defined as completing the Seven Summits and reaching both poles. Fewer than forty individuals worldwide have ever earned this distinction.

“No man is an island”

When David first presented his dream of extreme climbing to his wife, Lynda, her first reaction was, “Not while I am on this earth.” They had three small boys at the time, and Lynda needed David safely at home. After she began to see his love for climbing at a smaller, local level, she thought, “Who am I to stop him from following his dreams? We’re a team.” Lynda feels strongly that David’s example shows all three of their boys that they can do whatever they put their minds to. And David is the first to say that this is not something he could have ever done without the support of his loving, courageous wife, Lynda.

Becoming a Better Person

David believes that his unique climbing experiences have made him a better husband, father, and son. He chooses climbing because it is difficult to do, and because he likes doing difficult things. He also likes setting a good example to others, especially to his three boys. He hopes that he will inspire each one of them to do difficult things in their lives, whatever their challenges may be.

Written by Amy Johnson