By Agnes CONSTANTE
In May, Gary Nelson stood more than 29,000 feet above sea level. After days of trekking through snow-covered mountains in Nepal, he made it to the top of the world’s highest peak: Mount Everest.
“I’d been thinking about [climbing Everest] for a long time,” Nelson said. “A year ago I realized, given how old I was and the fact I fall out of shape so fast … that it was either now or I probably wasn’t going to do it.”
At 52, Nelson, a lawyer specializing in trademarks, is an avid climber.
“He climbs mountains because with every climb, there is a goal which is to reach the top,” his wife Sherrie said. “The satisfaction of reaching the top is what drives him to climb more mountains.”
In addition to Mount Everest, Nelson has tackled Mount Kilmanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa; Denali in Alaska; Aconcagua in South America; and Mount Elbrus in Russia.
The La Crescenta resident began preparing for the climb last summer when he scaled Mount Baldy. He also worked out regularly on a stepmaster.
Nelson’s ascension to the peak of Mount Everest involved going up the mountain and coming back down three times to help his body acclimate to the change in altitude. There were a total of five camps where trekkers would rest before continuing their way upward.
He reached the top of Mount Everest at 7:45 a.m. on May 19, beginning his final ascension at 9:45 p.m. the previous day.
“Summit day was pretty fun. [It] was pretty spectacular,” he said. “It felt great. The weather was perfect. There was no wind, and it can get vicious up there.”
Although Nelson was physically fit enough for the climb, he developed a mild case of pulmonary edema, a condition in which fluid builds up in the lungs. The buildup in Nelson’s lungs was due to the rising altitudes. He had to see a few doctors, but the damage wasn’t permanent.
“What [the pulmonary edema] does do is probably make me more susceptible to it [in the future], should I go up that high again. And so it’s something I have to worry about now if I ever climb [Everest] again,” he said.
He added that he didn’t observe symptoms of the condition unless he was higher than around 23,000 feet. He does intend to take precautions for future climbs by bringing medication along.
Scaling up thousands of feet in the snowy slopes of Nepal where temperatures dipped below freezing required Nelson to wear a special suit that weighed five pounds. And while ascending with the extra weight posed a challenge, he found going back down more difficult.
“Coming down you have more opportunity to fall,” he said. “That’s why it’s easier to get hurt.”
In fact, during the climb Nelson fell into an ice crack covered by snow, causing his left knee to twist. He also banged the same knee against the Hilary Step, a rock face well known to climbers near the top of the mountain. Yet despite this injury and the pulmonary edema, he successfully made it to the top of the mountain, back down and returned home in mid-June.
“Once he made the decision to take on this climbing challenge, I knew very little would prevent him from achieving this goal of summitting Everest,” Sherrie said. “He doesn’t back down from anything in life unless there is a really good reason.”
Making it to an altitude of more than 29,000 feet may seem a daunting goal, but for Nelson, it serves as a useful reminder.
“I need to constantly remind myself that I can do things that I don’t necessarily think I can do when I first think about it,” he said. “Climbing … eliminates your excuses of why you can’t do things.”