Everest 2017: Interview with Markus

Me on West Buttress Route on Denali (2014)

When is the expedition?

MXH: Roughly around the end of March. There’s a window of opportunity in spring and another one in fall. The whole trip is going to take about a month and a half, 6-7 weeks.

When did you decide that you were going to do this?

MXH: Well, I’ve always been into climbing, but I never thought about Everest. My choice of mountain was always more about picking one that was really interesting, either particularly beautiful or had some challenge in climbing. Everest is different: believe it or not it’s actually a mountain that does not involve particularly technical climbing, but hey, it is the highest. Climbing Everest was an idea that grew over time, it wasn’t something I originally had in mind.

Where else have you climbed?

MXH: I am from the Munich area in Germany. My parents had a passion for mountains so they were always dragging me up hills at an early age; I started loving it. The mountains just kept getting bigger, then eventually the really big ones like Denali in Alaska, I’ve been to that area twice. South America has some enormous mountains, I’ve been there too, they just keep getting bigger – well obviously not after this one.

Once you’re at base camp and that window of opportunity presents itself, how long does the actual climb to the summit take?

MXH: Believe it or not, it’s very quick, it’s just a couple of days. Base camp is relatively high up already, it’s an environment where humans can still do reasonably well, there’s air to breathe, temperatures are reasonable, you’re somewhat protected from risks and dangers. Once you move out of there, elevation becomes an issue, humans just aren’t made to be that high up. Inevitably, no matter what you do, once you go further up you deteriorate every day. People typically spend a couple of days to climb to the summit and then it’s over – it’s quick. It’s a now or never thing and if it doesn’t work out, you have to come back the next season.

The expedition is coming up pretty soon, in March. How are you preparing physically to ready yourself? Are you doing any special training?

MXH: I’m writing a lot of patent applications – laughs. That’s actually a bit of a challenge. What most people do is quit their job and prepare for this; I’m still working. I am going to the gym to get as physically strong as possible. It’s important to be as healthy as possible in order to reduce the risk of getting sick. If you get sick there, it can be a huge problem. The best preparation for me is mountain biking. Soon I will do more exercise in the local mountains here.

Besides the obvious essentials that you have to take, what would be a couple of personal items that you would never climb without?

MXH: I never climb without my Kindle. I don’t have time to read books when I’m working, but on the mountain there’s a lot of time, there’s bad weather and periods when there is nothing to do – this is my opportunity to read books. I like to read classical French literature. It also challenges the mind, it’s the perfect way to keep your brain busy while waiting until the storm is over. That Kindle is really essential, I don’t think I’ve ever been on a mountain without it actually.

What else?  Gummy bears! That sugary stuff is perfect. At that altitude your metabolism doesn’t work that well. Pure sugar is something your body can still handle, at least based on my experience.

When you’re on the mountain, you’re suffering and miserable, what is the thing you’re most looking forward to when you get back?

MXH: That is such an easy one – a hot shower! For the whole duration of the trip there’s just no such thing; there’s no cleaning or washing or changing clothes for most of the expedition, so when you come back a shower is the most important thing.

It must be amazing, being so high up and far away from the rest of the world. You’re in a situation where all of a sudden it’s just you and nature.

MXH: That is exactly what I always find is the most dramatic change, you’re out there and you’re looking around you and there’s just this huge, essentially empty, space. You’re this tiny little person, completely negligible in this enormous environment. That’s a very unique feeling.

Do you think it changes your perspective on life or realigns your sense of priorities? Or is it just a momentary thing when you up there and then once you’re back, you’re back?

MXH: No, it does have implications. This type of activity is a much better ‘reset’ from daily life than anything else. Physically you’re exhausted, but mentally it’s a very refreshing experience. It really changes your perspective.