Granby adventurer summits Everest
June 20, 2008
Up Hillary Step about 29,000 feet in air ill-suited for living lungs, mountaineering adventurer Al Barrett of Granby made his final steps toward the top of it all on May 21, 2008.
At pause, a view like that out an airplane window, all of earth spread out below.
And although he stood there, the famed summit where only a slivered fraction of humanity has been, Barrett’s adventure on Mount Everest was far from over.
Not until after a south-face rescue attempt and a Khumbu Icefall avalanche, and every second of the descent dedicated to survival and concentration, would Barrett realize later ” talking to his wife Darlene via telephone safe at base ” that he’d actually made it.
“When I talked to her, I was like, ‘You know, I did it.'”
It was Barrett’s fourth summit of the highest mountains on each of the seven continents ” the mother of them all: Mount Everest.
“It was like ‘wow,’ I read about it, read stories and studied the maps … To me it was, ‘wow, I climbed a mountain and it was this mountain,'” Barrett said.
Barrett, who is in his 50s, dedicated 65 days to the goal, having left Grand County at the end of March.
“You don’t look down, you don’t stare around at things, you focus on what you’re doing,” Barrett said of glacial obstacles spanned by several metal ladders tied together with ropes. Ladders are placed ahead of time by Sherpas nicknamed “Ice Doctors.”
By the end of the trip, Barrett and his crew would cross the Khumbu Icefall and its crevasses from an elevation of 17,500 feet to Camp One at 19,500 feet five times to acclimate.
“We got good at it,” Barrett said.
After several trips negotiating the South Face course, from Camp Two at 21,000 feet down to Base Camp and up again, the team ascended what Barrett considers the most difficult sections of the mountain, Lhotse Face, twice, to Camp Three at 23,500 feet.
“It’s debatable, but this is one of the hardest climbs. We were exhausted.”
At Camp Three in subzero temperatures, the summit grew more attainable.
“My thermometer quit at 18 below,” Barrett said.
“By this time, we know, the summit thing is coming. We know we have one shot, one day, 15 hours basically,” he said.
The crew decided to leave the next hurdle ” Camp Four, at 26,000 feet, called Everest’s “Death Zone” ” on the night of the 20th for the summit the next morning.
They would do this starting from Camp Two, allowing four days to make the entire climb during a 17-day window of the Himalayas’ more forgiving weather.
“I was really concerned with how I was going to sleep,” Barrett said, “knowing I was going to the summit in five hours. I put the oxygen on, and I was out like a light. I slept great, I really did. They woke me up at 7 o’clock (p.m.), and I felt like I’d slept for eight hours.”
They would now ascend Everest’s steepest stretch.
“It was a clear, full moon, beautiful night, a little bit of a breeze, but no real wind to speak of,” Barrett said.
Up there, each step requires several slow breaths before the next one. Miles can stretch below on either side.
“All I know is when you drop a rock, you can count to 17 before you hear it,” Barrett said.
Something that was “sobering,” he said, were the few bodies of those who succumbed along the way, the very ones featured in the book “Into Thin Air.”
Barrett made it to the top and back down to Camp Four safely, but two of his teammates, a Fort Collins man who was climbing for Alzheimer’s and an American guide from Argentina, hadn’t. The Fort Collins man descended prior to making the Summit from exhaustion, and the other returned to Camp Four due to a broken oxygen regulator. The guide later decided to try the summit again the next day with another group. On the return, a frost-bitten toe slowed him down. He radioed for help.
Barrett, who is a volunteer with Grand County’s Search and Rescue, went up with another guide to reach him. On their way, they met up with a Swedish climber who was experiencing severe High Altitude Pulmonary Edema, or HAPE.
“One month before I had left I had training on how to bring people down a mountain,” through Search and Rescue, Barrett said, “So I said ‘I can do this.'”
Helping the man, Barrett made it to the camp, but the climber died before anyone could save him. He was attempting to become the first Swede to climb the seven summits without oxygen. Since he was an accomplished climber, the family asked that his body remain on Everest. Fellow climbers wrapped it in a sleeping bag and lowered it more than 80 feet into a crevasse.
(The guide from Argentina made it down safely, Barrett said, and his toe was saved.)
The descent, just as harrowing as the ascent, lasted several more days, and the group narrowly missed an avalanche in the Khumbu Icefall.
“It sounded like canons going off,” Barrett said.
Looking back, the adventurer realizes his fortune.
“All and all, we had a safe trip. I never felt like I was in a situation where things could go south, where I had to go back. And when things happen up there, they happen to where you’ve got to handle it,” he said.
During the excursion, wife Darlene traveled in India and Bhutan to help allay her worry.
“I had wished it wasn’t on his wish list, but because it was, I had to let him go,” she said about her husband’s goal to reach the world’s highest platform.
“When you love somebody, you let them fulfill their dreams. I always had a sense of peace about it,” she said.
From here, Barrett plans to climb Antarctica’s Vinson Massif, Europe’s Elbrus, and Australia’s Kosciusko to complete his seven-summit quest.
But the very next peak on his list is Colorado’s Mount Bierstadt, with his son-in-law.
” Tonya Bina can be reached at 887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.