• Heather O’Neal


Everest 2002

Yes, the hype over Mt. Everest annoys many people. Why must some men and women risk their lives and endure several days of misery to get to the top? Why? Why? There are over a hundred unnamed mountains above 21,000 feet that no one has ever climbed. Yet climbers still head straight for Everest. Why is this? Could it be that this mountain is a symbol? Nothing in the world is bigger except the world itself. Mountains in general lure people. They are poetic. Thought, emotion, and meaning are vivid in the rock. Climbing leads to new vistas, new views, new realities one never knew existed before taking the next step, before peering over the next ridge. In about 300 BC Socrates reflected on what is called the Socratic Curve. Man climbs a mountain, slowly slowly, until he finally reaches the top. Here he rejoices in his accomplishment — yet only to discover from his perch that there are several more mountains to climb on the other side. While trekking in Nepal I philosophize my way along the trail and through the villages. My mind is in full swing, my body is working, sweating, breathing, alive. My emotions are sharp, abrupt, distinct. I am in the present, surrounded by the moment, at my very best! If I could share this feeling, I would and I can and I do. I invite you to come with me to Nepal next spring. You will see.

I was telling a friend about all the amazing things that have happened since I started my little company two years ago. I was explaining that my next trip to Nepal will be as part of an expedition on Everest (just to base camp for me). I told my friend about the climber, Sean Swarner, who plans to summit Everest in the spring 2002 with the help of Of Global Interest LLC. My friend said, “If he’s not blind or missing legs no one will pay attention.” Though he was joking, I was able to respond: “Well, as a matter of fact, he has survived two rare forms of cancer, he’s had Hodgkin’s disease and an Askin’s tumor. He was given two weeks to live once and three months another time. He is 26 years old, has been in remission for eight years and is training in Colorado as we speak.” Then I said, “He is determined to be the first cancer patient survivor to climb Mt. Everest and is dedicated to helping and inspiring cancer patients to do great things.” Sean told me, “I want to change the attitude toward cancer. It’s about adventure and adrenaline!”

An expedition is expensive. The government of Nepal charges the group about $70,000 for a permit. For one climbing team about 250 porters (equivalent to 125 Yak) are needed to carry all the tents, gear, rope and food for two months — kerosene, camping stoves, pots and pans, oxygen bottles, toilet tents, everything — a major undertaking. All the equipment must be new, only the best. Climbers must hire the MOST experienced climbing guides, usually Sherpas, the local people of the region who were born at high altitudes and have amazing lungs and skill in this terrain. This elite group of guides have been to the summit of Everest maybe seven or eight times. They are super human in my eyes. All in all, the price tag is big. The book, INTO THIN AIR, and others written about Everest, question which climbers should be on the mountain at all. Eric Weihenmayer, the blind climber who summited last spring was criticized by others. “A blind man should not be on the mountain,” they said. “He puts other people in danger.” Eric responds, “Who are they to say? Perhaps this is a decision best left for the mountain gods.” (Outside Magazine, Dec. 2001, p.131) Anyway, at some point, everything is controversial. Is Everest the ultimate challenge for only a select few? It is, no doubt, risky. Those involved assume the risk. Only about 50% who try, actually reach the top. No one ever hears about the climbers who turn around and go home, nor do we hear about the climbers who get to the top of Peak 5886, a mountain like many others with a number for a name. On whichever side of the mountain you stand, the fact remains, so well expressed by George Mallory in the 1930s, people climb Everest “because it’s there.” Sean has been working hard. He applied for funding from the Keep Walking Fund, an affiliate of Johnnie Walker Whiskey. The fund was established to help entrepreneurs start socially oriented businesses that help people. Sean fits the profile well. His nonprofit CancerClimber Association is devoted to helping and inspiring cancer patients, funding research and ultimately finding a cure. And a bonus for Johnnie Walker: It is a tradition to drink a shot of whiskey when one reaches the summit of any mountain! A few months ago Sean wrote saying he was one of twelve finalists (!) for the $500,000 that the Fund was giving away. A few weeks after that, he wrote again to say that Johnnie Walker was flying him to New York City on September 9. It was an all-expense-paid trip for each of the finalists. Sean explained that on September 11 there would be a gathering at the headquarters in Manhattan where each of the finalists would give a five minute presentation in front of the board of directors. That evening — the winners would be announced. I woke up on September 11 thinking, “Tonight I will know if Sean has the money.” I proceeded to put on my wogging (walking and jogging) shoes and headed out for a trek through the neighborhood. As I came past the garage where a car mechanic works, I expected to hear the usual heavy metal music blaring on the radio. The music was not blaring that day as I came down the sidewalk. Instead, as I neared the big garage doors, I heard the rock and roll radio announcer’s voice. I heard panic: “The Pentagon is on fire!” I stopped in my tracks. The mechanic in his green suit was nowhere to be seen. There was NO traffic in the street. The world was mysteriously beautiful, very sunny and all too quiet. Not even one bird chirped. I hightailed it, dashing into a mad sprint — all the way home. I wished I could go faster! Faster! At home I turned on the TV. And you know the rest of the story. So Sean was somewhere in Manhattan. It was his big day. Where was Johnnie Walker’s headquarters? I scanned the internet hoping he would write. Finally I couldn’t wait any longer so I e-mailed his mom. Sean was okay. He was in his hotel on Park Avenue when the world changed. Needless to say, the big event scheduled for the finalists was canceled. Sean was soon back in Colorado where he continues to train, climbing every mountain in his path. Now the twelve finalists each had to create a five minute video to send to New York. Thus, Sean had to wait. A month went by. Then another. Just two weeks ago I was in New York City for the NYC marathon. My father ran it for the 17th year in a row (!) and I cheered him on. The streets uptown were their usual busy selves. Everyone came out to high-five the runners. It was a beautiful day. The day before, my father and I took the subway to Ground Zero. As we came out of the tunnel, I immediately noticed a stillness in those city streets. There was definite sadness in the breeze. The fire was still burning, and the smell of burning rubber filled my lungs when the wind blew just right. We knew we were close. It was another beautiful afternoon, and my father and I walked clear around where the Twin Towers used to stand. I have been to that neighborhood before when the towers were an undeniable landmark. Now there was a big hole. I thought there would be a pile but it was a sixteen acre crater. Two months later and the trucks were still leaving the site, around the clock, every five minutes, 24 hours a day. Each 18 wheeler was full to the max with more and more debris. The workers were amazing. They were working hard. They were taking care of business. Fences and construction zones kept us about a block from the scene all the way around. But down each street was a different view of the mess. The buildings next to where the towers stood were missing windows. One was shredded and exposed beams hung out over the street. The shops we passed had hand-painted posters in the windows that said, “Welcome Back!” and “We’re Open!” Others had signs that said, “Coming soon. We’ll be back!” Every fence that kept us from the site was covered with posters, letters, notes, messages, American flags, signatures, letters from around the world. It made me cry. I wasn’t the only one who was feeling bad. Everyone felt it – equally.

On the west side of the disaster men wore hazmat suits. They were cleaning out a building that faced the explosion. They unloaded computers from a laundry bin on wheels into a truck full of hundreds more. The next truck was overflowing with office furniture. Business would continue elsewhere. Along a stone wall near Battery Park, hundreds – no thousands of teddy bears were stacked with photos of the missing. There were poems, letters, notes. We passed the area where the workers were eating lunch. It was warm outside. The outdoor tables and loud music made me think of the Ann Arbor Art Fair. I saw a few smiles here. The workers chatted over bowls of chili. I was glad I went to Ground Zero. After completely circling the horror, I came away with a feeling of peace. The mess, the problem was being taken care of. The nation was in good hands. I felt an amazing strength from those workers. Life goes on. The panic situation replayed on TV a million times was now finally put to rest in my mind. The people I saw had control of the situation now. Everything would be okay. The wound would heal. Then just a week ago Sean wrote: “Johnnie Walker awarded me the money! Not what I asked for, but it’s a start and it’s a good one at that!” Hooray!! Sean and I, and YOU maybe, are on our way to Nepal next spring for an adventure of a lifetime. Sean says the recent events make him even more determined. I have no doubt he will climb Everest, he will come home and he will do great things for people with cancer. He is ready to go. Sean will be a member of an expedition that is already being organized in Nepal. The man leading this team, Wongchu Sherpa, was the lead Sherpa for David Breashear’s IMAX expedition in 1996 and the lead Sherpa for Göran Kropp, the Swedish man who rode his bike from Sweden to Nepal, climbed Everest and rode home. Sean will be in good hands. Cabela’s, the outdoor outfitting chain (one of which is located just off US 23 in Dundee, Michigan) is sponsoring Sean for this climb. Sean said, “It’s like Christmas. I have two huge down jackets in the closet and one full-body down suit for summit day!” Sean is climbing and YOU could be cheering him on and trekking to base camp with him. I am organizing two Support Team Treks for this expedition. The first group will trek to base camp with the climbers, stay a few nights and trek back to Kathmandu. The second group will trek to base camp, stay a few nights, hopefully at the same time Sean summits, and will trek back to Kathmandu with the climbers. Each trip means about 27-28 days away from work – but imagine the stories you’ll tell. Note: It is hard to coordinate with an expedition. The climbers will be on their own schedule. Their estimated summit date is May 10, 2002. However, they will have roughly 20 days to choose from. Everything must be exactly perfect for success. The weather, the health and strength of the climbers, acclimatization must be just right.

Here are the dates: Support Trek One leaves the US March 19, 2002, and returns April 15. Support Trek Two leaves the US on April 24 and returns May 20. The climbers will spend up to 72 days and thousands of dollars. For trekkers, $2,300 is a deal! To learn more about Sean, his climb, the Summit List, and his nonprofit association visit . To learn more about Mt. Everest visit To learn about joining the support team treks call or e-mail me.

Sincerely, Heather O’Neal Of Global Interest LLC (734) 369-3107

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