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American Sean Swarner takes on Everest: A Cancer's Survivors Journey to the World's highest Summit

Sean Swarner: He has done it !!!!

The Q&A: Questions from readers of

Question: What was it like ? I mean compared to climbing in Colorado, it must have been huge?

Sean: It can't compare to climbing in Colorado. Well it can, but in a much more elaborate and intense way. The rocky mountains are in their own category and compared to the Himalayan range, it's like climbing in the book "The Hobbit" or climbing in my dreams. It was spectacular. I want to go back just to enjoy the solidarity and return to the complete serenity and beauty of the mountains.

Question: Why do you think you made it the first time when so many others fail ?

Sean: Why do I think I made it the first time when so many others fail? One word... luck. as others have said, you don't climb Everest, you sneak up on it, then run like heck ;) without the incredible weather, it would have been impossible to summit. and as for my luck? Well here's an example... camp 3 on the summit push, we were supposed to go to camp 4 on the 14th and then summit on the 15th. I was so sick on the 14th I couldn't put one foot in front of the other. I couldn't concentrate enough to do it and really thought it was over and I was heading back down unsuccessful. HOWEVER as my luck would have it, everyone who went up on the 14th didn't summit. The weather turned bad and not one person made it on the 15th. The 15th came around and I felt incredible. We made it to camp 4 and then the summit on the 16th. again... luck. another aspect was the incredible support I felt from not only my brother but everyone else who was around me and everyone who was in my heart pushing me forward. and last but not least, to quote Sir Edmund Hillary, "I think motivation is the single most important factor in any sort of success. Physical fitness is important, technical skill is importantů But a sort of motivation, the desire to succeed, to stretch yourself to the utmost, is the most important factorů"

Question: Did you get to meet to meet Pete Athans? Apa Sherpa? What were they like?

Sean: I did meet Pete Athans and Apa Sherpa. Pete was very down to earth and very nice. I passed him a couple of times in the icefall and met him again at camp 2. He was nothing but hospitable and encouraging, as was Brent Bishop. Without the nat geo team, I wouldn't have had a spot on a climbing permit and this wouldn't have been possible. Apa... let me tell you a couple of things about this guy. He's freaking unbelievable. He and I got to be pretty good friends. We met through Tashi Tensing. He's Tenzing Norgay's grandson. Apa is a very reserved, quite, fun-loving person who is incredibly humble. If someone over here in the states had the status he does over there, they'd be incredibly arrogant. Not Apa, he is humble...

Question: What "prepared" you for this ?

Sean: What prepared me for this? to be honest... my entire life. There are a number of things I did that "prepared" me for this climb such as lugging 150 lbs up Longs' peak once a week and over 200 up and down steps every other day. I also did a lot of visualization and positive self-talk. However, I really think my entire life of experiencing rock bottom, the worst odds, and always pulling out of it ahead, and my never-say-die attitude attributed somewhat to the success of the expedition ;)

Question: What would you recommend for the rest of us dreams that want to go, but don't do it?

Sean: what would I recommend for others who dream of doing it but don't? plan something and do it. Put your dreams up there with the stars and go for it. I've been told that it's better to make huge dreams and goals and fail than it is to make small goals and succeed. if you can't do Everest, do something that is YOUR Everest...

Question: Is Everest easy now? It is the Yak route, with the Sherpas doing the route and hauling the gear?

Sean: I wouldn't say that Everest is the yak route and easy... if it were, people wouldn't have died on it. In fact, my Sherpa told me that back near the early '90s the icefall wasn't that bad and it was just a slab of ice and not all the seracs. Not sure if he was just telling stories, but still. there are a lot of things that can go wrong on Everest which could end up killing you. It's also very psychologically and emotionally draining. But again, the Sherpas do not get the credit they deserve. They are the ones who really climb the mountain. They set up camps on the mountain and haul equipment from B.C. to higher camps. I WILL admit however that I tried to do whatever I could to help them out. I helped set up the camps and I carried as much as I could. Towards the end of the trip, they were calling me Dawa Dorje. I was born on a Monday... Dawa, and Dorje means power, strength, luck...

Question: Did you ever feel like you were going to die?

Sean: I never felt like I was going to die, but I DID seriously think about it. When peter legate tumbled to his death, it was the first time death was real to me (mountain-wise). I thought, "god, this could happen to me!!!" Other times throughout the climb, however, you can't think about it. You have to remain positive and focus on what's going on now and not what could happen... that could make me slip-up enough just to have something happen and make me second guess myself if something DID go wrong. That split second could cause me to not react correctly and then... well.. no more me.

Question: What was it like in base camp when Peter Legate died?

Sean: and on that note... when peter died, the people I was with became very solemn and it was really a wake-up call that it could happen to anyone. my friend Randy and I ended up crying as I'm sure a lot of people did. Because like I said, it was the first time death was incredibly real. We made a memorial of his death the very next day in the Everest memorial between Lobuche and Tukla. It... very eye-opening.

Question: Was climbing Everest a spiritual experience for you? If so can you try to share those times?

Sean: Was climbing Everest a spiritual experience... Wow, that's a really tough question to answer and then explain. Without a doubt, climbing Everest was an incredibly spiritual experience. I don't think you can even travel through the Himalayan range... nay... even fly over them w/o having an experience like that. I can't begin to explain how alive it made me feel. knowing I was going to make it to the summit of the highest peak in the world was something I will cherish for the rest of my life. I saw the peak and knew I was going to make it and that at that moment nothing seemed to matter. I didn't worry about my debt. I didn't worry about what was going to happen in my future. I had no concern for everyone suing everyone else in the states. It didn't even cross my mind. When I stood on top of the world my eyes were full of the happiest tears I've ever had. I had so many people pushing me to the top and so many people for whom I was doing this. It re-opened my eyes to what was really important, loving people around you, treating those as you'd like to be treated. Going out of your way to help people and not expecting a thank you. Doing things because you like helping and because you know that person may eventually help someone else. Smiling to strangers and trying to make them feel comfortable. Not being hung up on small things, and not worrying about what others think about you... all this was reinforced into my belief system while I was in Nepal. and it was the most incredible experience of my life. I recommend traveling to Nepal and up into the Himalayan mountains before you die... to EVERYONE.


Q&A with Sean. 

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