Mountaineer, climbing guide and engineer Neal Beidleman (58) joined forces with fellow climber Adrian Ballinger’s Alpenglow Expeditions for a two-peak expedition in the Himalayas. In May they managed to successfully climb both Cho Oyu (sixth tallest peak in the world) and Mount Everest in only 23 days. A time period with rapid highs and lows.
Neal has been no stranger to high altitudes, having grown up in Aspen (Colorado), a very mountainous place. “My dad climbed a bit,” Neal recalls. “But the schools are also really active in teaching kids how to safely go into the mountains, with respect for nature. I started climbing when I was about twelve years old and I immensely enjoyed that. The freedom and independence it gave me in particular. I was also pretty good at it, so that helped my evolvement and love for climbing.”
Over the years the Aspenite has climbed numerous peaks all over the world, such as the infamous K2 (the second highest peak in the world, on the Pakistan-Chinese border) and Makalu (the fifth highest peak, situated between Nepal and Tibet). Neal became well-known in 1996, after guiding on Everest during the tragic events that happened during a descent in a blizzard high up the mountain. In 2011 he went back to Everest, to bring closure to that chapter of his life.
Two peaks in three weeks
This year Neal returned to Everest again, this time climbing the north side of the mountain together with Adrian Ballinger (another Everest veteran), North Face athlete Jim Morrison, Walmart chairman of the board Greg Penner and a team of Sherpas . “I met Adrian years ago in Aspen. Two people I climbed with wanted to ascent a beautiful -but technically difficult- vertical peak called Ama Dablam, which is near Mount Everest. So I contacted Adrian about this and since then we went on a few really cool trips together. For this one Jim, Greg and I helped him improve his ground breaking Rapid Ascent climbing technique, so we were able to climb both Cho Oyu and Everest in 23 days. I think in the coming years more people will adopt some of these strategies, because this enables them to spend less time acclimatizing and they feel better and more energetic as a result.”
Acclimatizing at home
“To prepare for our trip we had to work on increasing our stamina with regular workouts. But on top of that we also had to sleep in a hypobaric chamber for about a week before actually going on the expedition. This way our body could adapt to the lower oxygen content, because the equipment sort of recreates the altitude level of high mountains,” Neal explains. “I’m lucky to live in a place which is already quite high, so it took less time getting used to the thin air. This pre-acclimatizing process allowed us to go to upper base camp a day after getting off the plane, without having to do a two week trek to base camp and acclimatize. We felt great and could start climbing right away.”
Close to the summit of Everest however the team got a big scare, when a number of the oxygen regulators started to malfunction. “There was a loud hissing sound as the oxygen escaped from the tanks, like a small fire extinguisher going off,” he describes. “With our headlamps we could see the gas being released. It was strange because it wasn’t just one random isolated incident, but it happened to many of us at a very high altitude within a hundred vertical metres of each other. That resulted in a dangerous and scary situation. Because once you run out of oxygen so high up the mountain, you only have a few minutes of clear thinking before you’re really struggling. So we had to descend.”
Strength and willpower
“It was frustrating because we knew we had the strength and the willpower to reach the top. One of our climbing partners had to be back home by a certain date because of work obligations. But we managed to work out an extremely tight schedule and went for a second summit attempt. On May the 20th we managed to get to the top and for me that was the most rewarding part of the expedition. We had a great time and even though we didn’t set out to break any records, thanks to our tight schedule and rapid ascent we may have broken one: fastest climb of two eight thousand metre peaks by a group coming from another country.”
Third time’s the charm
This was the third time Neal had summited Everest, but is it also the last time? “I think so,” he smiles. “Three times seems like enough. These expeditions are a lot of fun for me, but nobody can convince me that it’s a very healthy thing to do, especially not if you want to live a long and healthy life! I wouldn’t want to do this every year. There would have to be an unusual set of circumstances. Luckily there are still plenty of peaks I’d like to climb closer to home… But first I’m going to spend the coming weeks working, cycling and recovering from this expedition!”
Thanks to technological development it’s possible for climbers to go online and post pictures on social media. This way family, friends and people all around the world can follow the summit attempts and high altitude undertakings of many mountaineers. You can follow Neal Beidleman on Instagram to keep up with his athletic endeavours at home in Colorado and abroad.