Features & Images » Feature Story

To the top of the world and back

Everest climbers have a whole different perspective


1 comment

John Furneaux has been up Mount Everest three times and after his most recent expedition his life altered forever. His first child, a son, was born soon after he returned from Everest last year.

It was the high-altitude guide's third trip to the Himalayan giant, after reaching the summit in 2008 and 2010.

"It is hard to describe," says Squamish resident Furneaux when he was asked what it was like for him at the summit.

He's driving in his car on the way to an out-of-town business meeting as he recalls his Everest expeditions. With hours of highway ahead, he pauses, reaches into his memories and considers his answers carefully.

"The first time I was up there I hit some amazing weather so I got to enjoy the summit," he says. "It was light winds and blue skies and fairly warm, so it was definitely not what I expected in terms of the weather, but absolutely spectacular."

He describes how, from the top of Everest, the curvature of the earth is visible and he could see all the other tall Himalayan peaks in the area.

"I just had a baby ten months ago and it was close on par with that, but obviously our baby was better," says the proud new father with a laugh.

Furneaux's 2011 attempt to scale Everest would have been his third summit if in fact the guide placed his crampons into the three metres of snow at the top of the highest peak in the world.

All of his three trips to Nepal to tackle Everest were done in conjunction with the Canada West Mountain School and his first priority each time was to get his clients to the roof of the world.

In 2008, Furneaux was able to spend some time at the top and enjoy the experience, but the second time in 2010 was a different story, as he put the experience and safety of his clients ahead of his own experience at the summit.

In 2010, his four clients split up with two making to the summit and two staying at the last stop — a result of the arduous nature of the ascent. Once those clients were set up with Sherpas just below the summit, he headed to the top just long enough to snap a few photos before he rejoined his summitting clients for the trip down.

"I stood on top of the true summit twice and then I didn't summit in 2011 but that's details in my world, I don't care," says the climber his voice almost a mumble.

Furneaux, a heli-ski operations manager, makes it clear that getting up to 8,848 metres above sea level isn't easy.

It only happens for those who truly want it.

"The entire way you are looking for an excuse to turn around," he says. "I don't care what people say of how hard core people think they are, you always have that little voice in the back of your head saying, 'Turn around and go home, nobody is going to think anything of it.' And trying to push through all of that makes the experience special for those who reach the summit."