Trekker finds Everest climb much tougher than advertised
Now that he's climbed to Mt. Everest's base camp, Vern Loehr has ripped up his "bucket list" -- a list of things to do before he dies.
The 68-year-old New Richmond resident no longer wants to put himself in danger.
"My legs will take me wherever I want to go," Loehr said of his relatively good health. "Trouble is, they'll take me places I shouldn't go. This was one of those times."
While he said he's glad he completed an eight-day, 45-mile hike to Everest's base camp (18,000 feet), Loehr said he questioned his judgment in the end.
"I've climbed my last physical mountain," he said with a smile, noting that he expects to climb a few other kinds of mountains as he continues to age.
Loehr isn't a rookie when it comes to physical challenges.
He and his son, Todd, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa in 1999.
"I didn't learn my lesson then," he said. "With any kind of adventure, what you endured you begin to forget."
So when Loehr compared his "bucket list" with that of his son's father-in-law, Doug Moody, they realized that climbing Mount Everest was a goal they shared.
Three years later, the pair flew 36 hours to Nepal for their latest adventure. The trip, which cost Loehr about $5,000, began April 20 and ended May 10.
After a harrowing airplane trip to Lukla, Nepal, served by what many consider the most dangerous airport in the world, Loehr and Moody joined with two nurses from Australia and their guides and porters to begin the trek.
Loehr estimates that as many as 800 people a day land in Lukla (9,000 feet) to climb to Everest's base camp.
"A lot of other crazy people do this," he commented. Some even pay $50,000 for a government permit to climb to the summit of Mount Everest (29,000 feet).
The high season for Everest trekkers is March through June and September through November.
As the group began to make their ascent, Loehr said he quickly realized that he'd gotten in over his head. The hiking was much tougher than his previous trip to Mount Kilimanjaro.
"There's a big difference between the two," he said. "They tell you you should be in reasonable shape to make this trip. I know now, that's just not enough."
Loehr said the terrain on the way to Everest's base camp seemed like the moon. Small trails would often follow a steep slope, where a distracted hiker could easily fall to his death if he lost his focus.
"You can't even enjoy the beauty going up, because you can't make a misstep," he said. "A thousand times you could have easily gone over the edge."
Within days, the affects of the high altitude began to grip the trekkers. The group stopped at 14,000 feet to let their bodies acclimate to their surroundings.
"Your body just doesn't want to be up there," he explained. "Yet people go on."
As Loehr wrote daily in his journal, he began creating a list of "things that I'd rather be doing than be on this mountain." Within a short period of time, his list totaled 85 items. One night later, his list was up to 223.
"Number 206 on the list was to die in my sleep," he said. "It's comical now, but I tell you ... you have those feelings."
It was at that point Loehr was ready to give up. He couldn't sleep, he had no appetite, he developed diarrhea, he suffered incredible heartburn and his mind was playing tricks on him.
"I walked away from the group and said I was going back," Loehr recalled with tears in his eyes. "I hit myself across the face. I knew if I went down, I never would forgive myself."
With some encouragement from his guide and his fellow trekkers, Loehr continued on. It also helped that his traveling companions were nurses, who had brought with them medical supplies for every conceivable ailment.
As the group trudged upward, Loehr forced himself to eat and drink, even though he didn't feel like it. He even became used to his sub-par accommodations, which included restroom facilities that were less than desirable.
"You totally lower your standards," he said. "The facilities were so bad."
By the time the group reached Everest base camp, Loehr and his companions were thrilled. The beauty surrounding them was awe inspiring, but knowing they'd accomplished their goal was the biggest rush.
"It's a very emotional thing when you get to Everest base camp," he said. "It was quite an experience. I'm happy I finished it."
When asked why he decided to attempt the trek in the first place, Loehr struggles for an answer.
"I guess you just want to keep challenging your body and mind," he said. "There's a need inside people to challenge themselves, and I wasn't getting any younger."
It took four days for Loehr and his group to hike down the mountain. When he gained access to a computer for the first time, he immediately emailed his wife.
"I told her to tear up my bucket list," Loehr said, noting that such things as flying a helicopter and taming wild horses in Nevada remained unaccomplished. "She'd already torn it up. I'll never do something this stupid again."
Instead, Loehr and Moody have agreed their next trip will be much more tame. They plan to take their wives on a group golfing trip.