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Wisconsin veterinarian climbs Mount Everest

Alisa Anderson Published on 21 September 2009

On the fifth day of the nine-day hike to the base of Mount Everest, dairy veterinarian Dr. Lance Fox, laid his eyes on the peak that was poking above the clouds.

“I have to admit, I had some tears roll,” Fox says. “I just stood there in awe.”

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Climbing Mount Everest had been Fox’s goal since 1997 when Fox’s son was born six weeks premature. While his son struggled to live for the first 11 days, Fox got his hands on a book about Mount Everest.

Being an avid outdoorsman, he made it his goal to climb Mount Everest one day.

“The Everest hook just sort of took when I picked up that book,” Fox says. But the seeds of this dream were planted years before that.

Fox’s father passed away of cancer when Fox was 16 years old. This event left a lasting impression on Fox, one that was reinforced by his son’s struggle.

“Those two things kind of reinforced to me that life is short and precious, so we should live it to the fullest,” Fox says.

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Setting this goal was one way that Fox planned to live life to the fullest. He began to pursue his goal three years ago when he started climbing mountains in the U.S. and Mexico. His motto became “No place but up”, a motto he had embroidered on the clothes he wore when climbing Mount Everest.

Alpharma Animal Health, Fox’s employer, recognized Fox’s motto as a “good business slogan, and a good reminder that there is no place but up,” Fox says. So the company sponsored his trip to the Himalayas.

Fox flew out of Wisconsin on March 25, almost two months before his summit day on May 21. He met his teammates on March 27 in Kathmandu, Nepal, where they spent a few days and enjoyed the local Nepalese culture. They then flew to Lukla, Nepal, where they began the nine-day trek on foot to the Khumbu Valley at the base of Mount Everest.

They pitched their tents at what is called Base Camp, and they began training for the climb by ascending smaller, neighboring mountains to acclimate their bodies to the high altitude. Fox’s team consisted of 28 people from 12 Western countries.

Traveling with the team was a filming crew from Discovery Channel. The crew was filming a couple of teams, using about five people from Fox’s group as characters, including Fox himself. The TV series, called Everest Beyond the Limit, will be aired later this fall.

Helping them along the way was a large staff of local Nepalese sherpas and porters. The porters pack equipment and supplies to Base Camp on their yaks. The sherpas are experienced climbers who maintain trails and ladders up the mountains.

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Each climber was assigned a sherpa for the ascent up Everest. While he was at the base of Mount Everest, Fox took the opportunity to give back to the locals. Before he had left, Intervet donated some oral dewormer and shipped it to Nepal for Fox to administer.

While they waited in between climbs in the Khumbu Valley, Fox dewormed the yaks that the porters used. The yaks were owned by the sister of the head sherpa or climbing guide, Phurba Tashi Sherpa.

Fox taught Phurba how to deworm the yaks, and then left enough dewormer for Phurba to deworm them again this fall. A total of 200 yaks were dewormed.

“We heard back just a few weeks ago that the yaks we dewormed are actually making more milk for the people,” Fox says.

In late April the group began the gradual ascent up Mount Everest. Fox was assigned to Tashi Tshering Sherpa for the trip. They left Base Camp on April 29 and ascended to Camp One, which is 19,900 feet above sea level.

From there they climbed to Camp Two, then Camp Three, reaching a height of 24,500 feet above sea level before descending again to Base Camp.

This first ascent is also in preparation for making the final climb. Then they wait and rest for several days. During this resting time, several climbers made the decision not to climb to the top, usually because of sickness that generally accompanies being at such high altitudes. Several of them left for home.

On May 16, it was time to make the final attempt to summit Everest. They reached Camp Three in two days, and then went on to Camp Four, the highest camp below Mount Everest at 26,000 feet.

It is there they entered what is known as the “death zone,” which simply means that the body begins to deteriorate because of lack of oxygen. They slept with supplemental oxygen tanks that night.

The next day they started for the summit after dark. The climb lasted about 11 hours. But on this grueling hike Fox had a memorable experience that kept him climbing.

“I was really inspired. When the sun came up, I was standing at maybe 28,500 feet, and you just look around and you’re so high above the clouds already. It was just an amazing view. I definitely knew that I was small in the world at that time,” Fox says.

Fox stepped onto the summit shortly after 9 a.m. on May 21.

“I was thrilled to be there, to know that I couldn’t go any higher in the world. You can see a slight curve to the earth, which is pretty cool,” Fox says.

During Fox’s 30 minutes on the summit, he sprinkled some of his father’s ashes into the wind.

“Then a little Wisconsin pride kicked in. I’d carried my cheesehead hat all the way to the top, so I put it on,” Fox says.

But the two-day climb down was the most dangerous part of the trip, as Fox says that 80 percent of all accidents happen on the way down. Fox suffered from some slight snow blindness, but soon recovered while he was at Base Camp.

Including sherpas and filming crew, 58 people made it to the summit of Mount Everest during that trip, making it very successful. Only seven of the original 28 team members didn’t make it.

Before this year’s climbing season began, 2,638 people had reached the summit since 1953. From 2000 to 2008, there have been more than 3,500 attempts, but only 44 percent of those attempts were successful.

“Every day I had to pinch myself that I was there. It was just an incredible experience from start to finish,” Fox says. PD

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