Darren Rogers stopped at the body lying alongside the climbing route. It was the second one the Sheridan climber passed and it wouldn’t be the last as he made his way to the summit of Mount Everest.
Rogers paused, grabbed the gloved hand and held it in his own for a moment. He wondered who the climber had been and what had happened? Was it human error? Physical weakness?
“I didn’t think of my mortality in that moment,” he said. Nor did he think of his mortality as he climbed past Camp I where on April 25 of last year he’d lain in a tent as a 7.8 magnitude earthquake shook avalanches down the mountain around him.
When Rogers found himself suddenly hanging from a fixed line by his jumar, his hands stretched above him on the rope and 6,000-feet of nothing below, he didn’t think about dying then either.
Thoughts of death would come later, after he’d run the last few feet to the summit and descended back to Camp 2. There he finally could sleep and consider the rest of his descent, including through the Khumbu Icefall still below him, one of the most dangerous parts of the mountain.
Rogers, 46, isn’t a climber who had always dreamed of summiting Mount Everest. He grew up in Colorado and scaling 14,000-foot peaks never challenged him the way it did others. The chemical engineer moved to Sheridan in 2003, and he kept pushing himself, curious how his body performed at higher elevations. In 2007 he trekked to the Everest base camp — higher than 17,000-feet. In 2014 he climbed Cho Oyu, a 26,906-foot summit. He felt great on both trips and set his sights on Everest.
Rogers was on the mountain last year during the earthquake and what would become the deadliest day on Everest to date. Sixteen sherpas died that day. During the 10 days he was on the mountain this year, five people died.
Rogers knows the risks, but even after the earthquake he knew he would return. He received an insurance reimbursement for his aborted trip last spring, and signed up for another expedition within a month.
He left Sheridan April 16, planning a faster-than-normal trip that included a helicopter ride to basecamp, a guide service, and a personal Sherpa so he could climb at his own pace.
After the earthquake delayed his first attempt, his anticipation had only grown. He savored each ascent of the Lhotse Face while acclimating and moving between camps on the mountains.
“That’s what you are there for,” he said. “It’s not about putting a notch on your belt. It’s about the experience of it, and too many people are there for the notch.”
After so many injuries and deaths, and the frequent climber traffic jams, some have argued that climbing should be limited on the world’s highest peak.
Rogers doesn’t have a solution, but said the hardest part of Everest isn’t the climbing. It’s dealing with so many people. In good-weather windows there can be 200 climbers stacked one behind the other. After cold weather turned him back on his first try this year, Rogers had to stay an extra four days at Camp 2, waiting for another turn in the summit-attempt rotation.
He started his final push at about 10 p.m. May 22, and found himself slowed by other climbers. His boot heaters stopped working and the slower pace didn’t allow him to warm up. The trudge did give him plenty of time to think about his cold hands and feet, though. It was miserable.
About 100 feet from the summit Rogers finally passed the climbers in front of him. He ran the last few yards and arrived just as the sun rose at about 5:20 a.m. May 23. His frustrations melted away as he looked out at the horizon and nothing rose above him. He could see climbers far below him on the mountain. It was an intense and beautiful moment.
The euphoria dissipated that night at Camp 2 when he realized he wasn’t done. He still had the treacherous Khumbu Icefall below him, where crevasses can suddenly appear, or large seracs of ice can unexpectedly fall.
“That’s where I thought about mortality,” Rogers said.
He moved quickly and carefully the next day over the lateral ladders across the crevasses and arrived at basecamp on May 24. He was home in Sheridan late the night of May 27, 41 days after he left.
He plans to rest before he thinks about his next goal.
“I might do some fishing for once,” he said, “instead of going to the highest point.”