Eric Alexander defied the odds and scaled Mt. Everest, guiding his blind friend, Erik Weihenmayer to its lofty 29,035’ summit. Alexander tells of surviving a 150’ fall in the Himalayas while training for Everest, the
inspiration he gained from his team, and how he fought against his doubts and fears will be an integral part of this historic ascent.
Excerpt From Chapter 1 of The Summit by Eric Alexander
“There are only three real sports: bull-fighting, car racing and mountain climbing. All the others are mere games.”—Ernest Hemingway
April 14, 2000, Day 29—The relentless storm only added to the drama of retreating that day. With 4,000 feet of air below us, we would descend in what we call “full conditions,” meaning the foulest of weather, over the jagged, rocky, extremely exposed terrain that now had a coat of ice and snow, not only on its surface, but on our ropes as well. It was slick, at least the parts angular enough to collect snow on that steep and often vertical terrain. Rappelling, climbing, slipping, sliding, and banging our way down the ridge in what at times was a whiteout, gave me a new perspective on what it would be like to be in my blind climbing partner, Erik Weihenmayer’s shoes.
The three of us, Chris Morris, Brad Bull, and I, had just grunted our way from the 20,000-foot perch of Camp Two to the lower and more comfortable accommodations of Camp One at 19,000 feet on Ama Dablam. We were tired and very relieved to see our tents just yards away. My tent was one of the farthest from the fixed lines leading us down onto the platform terminating just before camp. My tentmate at this camp would be Dr. Steve Gipe, who had remained at Camp One as the team ascended. Dr Gipe’s intentions were to attempt the summit from Camp One as the team fixed the route up higher, then later rejoin the team as everyone was leaving Camp Three for the summit. As I approached my tent I could almost feel the warmth of my bag and a nice cooked meal, and was already beginning to think of sleep. In fact, I may have been half asleep and daydreaming when it happened. Chris Morris said he thought I was a “goner” and Dr. Gipe kept yelling, “Stop! Stop! ”
“Self arrest!” Brad Bull started to pray. I know God heard his prayer.
Camp One is perched at the top of a 600-foot, mostly smooth, yet steep slabby rock face. If you are familiar with the rock formation outside of Boulder, Colorado, called the Flatirons, it would be similar to this with little blocky features that would give a falling person flight at times. I was ten feet from my tent and scrambling over the rocks, which were scattered all over the top of the face. As I made my final few steps to the tent, one of these rocks shifted, toppled over, and caused me to lose my balance and fall to my stomach on top of it. I was caught off guard to say the least, because I had stepped on this particular rock a number of times before, but it was my heavy load and the thoughtlessness of my step brought on by fatigue that caused it to turn over.
I felt like I was Coyote in a Roadrunner cartoon. My body started to drop, yet somehow my head seemed to linger in space. I hugged the rock and as I did, it started to “slide over the edge with me on top of it. I knew that if I didn’t let go I would tumble some 600 feet down, being crushed by this rock that was now in my arms. So I decided to let go, and take my chances, hoping that I would be able to grab on to the ledge in front of me as my feet began their way down. With gloved hands hitting the loose and partly snowcovered edge, I had no chance as my hands deflected like a soccer ball off the goal post in a botched goal attempt. This wouldn’t be a completely vertical fall. I would, in some moments, be afforded the luxury of abrasive granite shredding me and my clothes.
My head smacked the rock, and as I began my freefall and slide for life, all I could think of was a series of four-letter words. Words like: “Stop! Help! Grab!” And then over again: “Grab! Grab! Stop! Stop! Help! Help!” Perhaps one or two other four-letter words were spoken, but I can’t recall what they might have been. People often ask me what I was thinking in that moment. I have to laugh because it’s not as though I could have paused in mid-flight and reflected on the matter, concerning myself with the various methods I would have employed to bring myself to a complete stop. In fact, I kid and tell them, “I was thinking what anyone would have been thinking: ‘Do these pants make me look fat?’ ”
The fall was sudden and quick, yet it seemed to last all afternoon. I slid, crested a precipice, landed again on my belly not far below, repeating this endlessly during the course of my rapid plunge. Fortunately, I was still wearing my helmet, multiple layers of clothing, and my backpack, which at times padded me from the impact of the hard granite. During the course of this tumble, had I caught my foot on a ledge or begun to cartwheel, I most certainly would have fallen the entire distance to a rocky death below.
I believe very strongly that it was a miracle I landed on the small, coffee table-sized ledge 150 feet below Camp One. It was as though I was surrounded by angels, and the hand of God Himself.