Listen or read along with Charlie’s interview with Rebecca Long, a local mountaineer and River-listener who recently summitted Mount Everest.
Part 1 – Meeting Our Guest & Everest Prep
Hey, it’s Charlie Wilde here on 92.5 the River and we’re doing something a little different this morning, but it was just such a cool story we had to. We’ve told you about Rebecca Long. She’s 29 years old from Andover. She climbed Mount Everest, and we’re going to grill her with a bunch of questions that you sent in. And I think this is going to be really fun. So, Rebecca. First of all, welcome to the River.
Thanks so much, Charlie. It’s such an honor to be on here. I’ve been listening to 92.5 since I was a kid. It’s always been my go to station just with the reliable beats and the great voices of the hosts, so it’s totally cool to be on here today.
When I found out that you grew up in Andover and you’re a BU grad, I thought, well, we’ve got to have her in here and tell me, did you climb locally? Have you been up to New Hampshire and did you get your start here?
So it just started with my love of nature and fitness. And yeah, I did Mount Washington and the White Mountains. I did a couple of mountains around the world, like the Ecuador volcanoes Arch and Kaguya, Mount Rainier. As a naturally competitive person, I think Everest was always in the back of my mind. And then lately I’ve just had the tendency to seize the day, especially after something like COVID, where you’re just stuck at home for so long.
So you thought, okay, I can’t binge shows like Tiger King anymore. I’m just going to go climb Mount Everest. Is that pretty much how it worked?
Yeah, so just one day I thought that I’m just going to do this and I hoped for the best with my employer because, you know, I’ve been an employee there for a couple of years and they were pretty open minded about my other ventures up until then because they were just a few weeks long. But yeah, once I approached them trying to spin it in a way that could benefit them, you know, I could be your first employee to Summit Everest.
Yeah, no kidding.
They still wouldn’t bite it, and they couldn’t make the exception for me. So ultimately I just had to quit because they wouldn’t give me the time off because I couldn’t live with myself not taking an opportunity like that.
And when you’re going off to climb Mount Everest, how much time did you need to take off?
In total, a little over two months. So yeah, I’ll admit that that is a long time to take a leave from a company.
Well, you actually volunteered to take it as unpaid leave too, right?
Yes, that’s right.
You just wanted to know that you had a job to come back to.
Right, I just hoped they would, you know, have a bookmark so that I could slide back in there, especially as like a good employee, you know. But I guess you’re just pretty expendable in this day and age.
Yeah you don’t want to get me started on that subject Rebecca, but if your former employer is listening, we’ll just say, boy, did you screw up and that was very short-sighted. But the offers have to be pouring in now, huh?
Yeah, I’m definitely getting some attention now. I’m holding back from pursuing anything because I’m just taking some time just to relax and to really figure out what I want to do exactly because part of me would love to return to the corporate world and kind of see where I could keep going with that. But part of me would also maybe love to pursue the other side of what I’ve been into lately. Like, I don’t know, blogging, writing, and maybe even something more involved with the mountains like guiding climbs. Or just working on programs in the Himalayas that could help the Sherpa community and climber community.
Yeah, we’ve got some questions about the Sherpas that listeners sent in and we’ll get to those in a little bit. But if you’re just joining us, Rebecca Long is in the studio here at the River this morning, and she just a few weeks ago, summited the tallest mountain in the world, Mount Everest. Just in case you didn’t know what the tallest mountain in the world is. So before you start even hiking to Base Camp, I understand you fly into a place called Lukla.
Which is actually the world’s most dangerous airport. It’s basically like landing on part of a mountain. It’s just like a very slanted runway.
So all that drama, even before you start heading for Base Camp, huh?
Yeah, exactly. So after that near death experience, you disembark, and depending on how quickly you take this hike, it could be between four to five days to a week and a half or so.
So wait, they drop you off at that scare-port, and then you’ve got a week or so just to get to Base Camp of hiking from there?
Exactly, yeah. That’s the first part of our expedition.
Do you remember as you were making that walk up to Base Camp the very first time that you saw Mount Everest? And what did you think when you did?
The first moment was in a village called Namche that was still in our approach trek, so once we saw it, it was kind of emotional because it’s like alright like this is still really far away but it’s so prominent like it’s just Everest, it just sticks out from anywhere and it’’s just really freaking cool to think I’m going to be on top of there soon, or I’m going to try, yeah.
Man that kind of gives me goosebumps here. Rebecca Long is our guest. We’re going to make it to base camp next, and she’s going to talk more about the climb of Mount Everest, which she just did several weeks ago. We should tell you, too, that one of the reasons Rebecca is here this morning is that I started reading her blog about her summit attempt on Mount Everest at medium.com. So if you want to read all of her entries, it’s fascinating reading, just go to medium.com and search RebeccaLong_10375 [Read Rebecca’s blog here]. And Rebecca, another thing that I learned when I was reading your blog is that heat is such a factor on Mount Everest, which is hard for people to understand, because it’s, you know, 17,000 to 29,000 feet, not a place that you usually associate with hot.
Yeah, I mean, I was surprised too when I saw that, but the snow and being on certain parts of Everest, you’re just surrounded by mountains. So it’s just like Sun reflecting onto you and onto your tent in a million different directions, it just can be brutal because you’re prepared for the extreme cold you have so many layers to keep putting on, but there’s only so many layers you can take off.
Yeah, I guess so.
I learned that Everest is just dealing with temperature extremes and extreme discomfort, so you might start off the day like extremely cold, just swaddled in all of your gear, and then you’re just gradually taking off layers as the day goes on. And even if the thermometer says it’s not that warm, you’re dying because it’s so hot because of the sun rays bouncing off.
Part 2 – The Mountain & The Team
Rebecca Long from Andover is our guest, who has had quite the interesting past few months. She quit her job to climb Mount Everest and where we left off in her story, she had arrived in Kathmandu and then flew into that scare-port called Lukla, the most dangerous airport in the world, to start the trek to Base Camp. And it’s quite a process because you don’t get to Base Camp, which is at 17,000 feet and climb to the summit, which is another 12,000 feet the next day. Quite an ordeal, isn’t it?
I guess the tricky part is just getting to the point that your body can safely get to the summit without, like, combusting.
So once you’re acclimatized and your body is used to these monstrous elevations, you can get up to the summit in just a couple days from Base Camp. I think the hard part is just getting your body used to it, and so that’s where you do some acclimatization rotations at first where you’re moving from Base Camp to Camp 1 and then returning. And then taking a few days to rest before going all the way back to Camp 2, returning, etc. So that just gets your body used to the elevations and I think you grow red blood cells and all kinds of other physical things I don’t completely understand, but definitely feel less like death.
Wow, how long is it from the time you first get to Base Camp until you summit or at least target for a summit date?
It was probably over a month and a half until we summited.
And correct me if I’m wrong on this, but it seems like when you go to Mount Everest, it doesn’t matter if you’re climbing with the team, you got Sherpas and all that. You’re basically on your own because it’s every person for themselves, right?
Oh yeah. I mean the Sherpas and the guides are there to help you and also in case disasters happen. But, you really want to make sure that you’re confident climbing this personally because that’s how people, you know, end up passing away because they’re just not able to finish the climb. Maybe they’re able to make it to the summit, but coming down from the summit, they’re just too tired and just make – [poor decisions?] poor decisions.
Now a listener question here from Stacy in Burlington. She wanted to know if you knew any of the people that you were climbing with before the climb started.
I didn’t know any of them. We all just signed up through this Group International mountain guides. There were five of us that started out. Only two of us ended up summiting. But, you know, we were from a range of different ages, everyone was super experienced, super motivated about climbing Everest. All of them were men. Most of them were way older.
And despite the age and gender differences, did you find that you had a lot of things in common or not?
I mean, yeah, it was um, there was some bonding. But I think it takes a specific kind of person to want to summit Everest. So there is that, like every man for himself mentality. While there were still moments of camaraderie and teamwork, you could definitely tell that it was a very single minded and driven pursuit with everyone, probably me included.
And did you learn any life lessons dealing with those different dynamics?
Eventually I learned I wasn’t really there to like, entertain or put people at ease. I was just there to climb my climb, just like they were, and maybe they were doing it a different way. But yeah, eventually I just put my foot down and just realized that yeah, I needed to focus on my climb and that they needed to focus on their climb. So we kind of had more of like a respectful discourse after that.
Part 3 – The Death Zone & Sherpa Guidance
This is 92.5 the River. I’m Charlie, joined by Rebecca Long, who climbed Mount Everest recently. She’s from Andover, a BU grad, and we are going to continue our discussion. So we’re at the climb now. The summit is coming. And Rebecca, before we play another song here, I know from documentaries and everything that the Khumbu Icefall is one of the first things that you have to tackle and it looks like the most intimidating thing in the world. It’s a glacier that’s constantly moving, huge crevasses, ladders across those things that you have to traverse with your spiked boots. Is it as intimidating as it looks?
But also really fun [What?!] If you think about it in a certain way.
Ohh, you mean if you have a few screws loose in your head?
Yeah, which we probably all do if we’re attempting something like Everest to be honest. I mean, I’d say technically, yeah, the ice fall was the toughest part to navigate through. I think the higher up that you get, you just feel worse and worse. So the challenges are different than technical. They’re more just like surviving and I’m kind of glad that the Khumbu Icefall was right there. Like next to Base Camp so you’re the freshest and just most able to deal with these technical challenges versus you know if you’re approaching the summit and you have to deal with all of these obstacles, it would be a lot harder.
Rebecca Long is our guest this morning on 92.5, the River, talking about her trip up to the top of the world, Mount Everest. She summited on May 18th. She’s from Andover, went to BU, and we’re thrilled that she’s telling us her story today. So Rebecca on Everest, you’ve got Base Camp and then you’ve got Camp 1, Camp 2, Camp 3, Camp 4. Which Camp do you wake up in when you are ready to shoot for the summit?
From Camp 4, AKA the South Cole up at 26,000 feet.
They have a special name for that area, don’t they?
The South Cole.
No, I’m referring to a less cheerful kind of morbid name.
Ohh..the Death Zone.
That’s what I was going for yeah.
So you actually wake up in the Death Zone?
Yup, so by then, you’re already on oxygen. Whatever you’re doing, so you’re sleeping on oxygen, you’re climbing on oxygen, just everything on oxygen. You’re just lugging around this giant oxygen bottle.
Is it true that some of the Sherpas don’t even use oxygen?
Yeah, that’s correct. The Sherpa people are an ethnic group that’s in the Nepal/China area, just in the Himalayan region. And they’re just superheroes. Like they have the ability to take less oxygen in their bodies, and they can still carry up there and then just move up there, like at a much faster pace. So they’re obviously pivotal to have up there with the clients.
Now is that a genetic thing or an environmental thing? In other words, let’s say a Sherpa was born in Worcester, would they be able to outclimb everybody being born there?
So yeah, I mean the Sherpa people evolved to have certain traits. Like I think I’d have to look it up – but it’s like an increased hemoglobin production, something that helps metabolize lower amounts of oxygen and it’s more efficient with less oxygen. Yeah, so I’m sure this Worcester Sherpa would still have like a higher level, but obviously living at these high elevations increase that even more.
All right, so you’re headed for the summit of Mount Everest. And I want to read a little bit of your blog here that you can find on medium.com. By the way, just go to medium.com and look up Rebecca Long, but here we go. “The scariest section, though stunningly beautiful, was between the South Summit and the True Summit. I had heard this part was technically pretty easy but the fact was that unclipped you could plummet down thousands of feet on either side and vanish into China or Nepal.” I have to say that is unnerving, but how narrow are we talking here?
Yeah, I mean, some sections are just maybe a foot narrow. So there really is only one lane of traffic at some parts, like they’ll have two ropes. One to go up and one to go down. But they’re just so close together that people have to wait at the side for someone to go up first.
Part 4 – Life Changing Experiences
This is Independent Radio from Boston 92.5 the River, and we are talking to a very independent young woman: it’s Andover and BU’s Rebecca Long. Her boss wouldn’t give her time off to go climb Mount Everest even if she took unpaid leave, so she quit. Okay, Rebecca, so you wake up in the Death Zone and you head for the summit. What time did you actually get to the summit of Mount Everest? And how long did it take you to get there?
I’d say we got, we got to the summit slightly after 6:00 AM. So I guess 8 hours in total and that included a lot of traffic cause there were tons of people in front of us and passing at that elevation is really difficult because it’s extremely steep. And it’s just really hard to pass people, especially when you’re unclipped without being in a really dangerous position. So you have to be really strategic about it.
Okay, picture that day and take us through that experience. You’re 20 yards from the summit of Mount Everest. What’s going through your mind? Your eyes, your ears. I mean what are you feeling?
Well first of all, every part of my body is exhausted and just totally spent in some way, and then I’m also just super elated and just so happy that I’m finally reaching this goal that I’ve been dreaming about for months and years, even. And then just looking around at the beauty too. That’s really cool. And then the other half of me is like, oh, this is, this is a really dangerous place to be in. I’m so scared and I just want to be home with a burger right now. So yeah, totally like a confusing mix of emotions and sensations.
And I know from reading your blog that your Sherpa said when you got to the summit “5 minutes,” that’s all he gave you, huh?
Yup, that’s right. And although it’s like the coolest place to be at the tallest place on Earth, you really don’t want to linger there because it’s incredibly inhospitable with these -20 degree colds all around you. Just these terrible winds and just all these hypoxic people, you just feel like this is not the place to be. So yeah, I totally was okay with the five minute rule. Just take your obligatory pictures and get the hell out of there.
And I think what some people don’t realize is once you reach the summit, your climb is only halfway over, right? Because you got to get back down.
Exactly. At first it was okay. And then I witnessed a couple of those like injured and hypoxic people that were really slowing down traffic on the way down and something about that just really creeps me out and it just disheartened me and it kind of slowed down all this adrenaline that I was feeling from the initial approach. So that combined with all of these different health ailments that I was experiencing, like these terrible blisters, my neck was hurting from my oxygen, just everything seemed to be getting worse and worse. And yeah, that’s where most of the accidents happen. On the actual descent, because so many people just give it their all just to get to the summit to get that milestone, and then just lose it on the way down. And I think to some degree I probably experienced that a little bit like I had enough to get all the way down. Thank God. But yeah, a lot of people don’t and that’s where they end up passing away.
I hope this is okay, but several listeners wanted to know if you saw any dead bodies up on the mountain.
The only body that I really saw was on the climb between Camp 3 and Camp 4. That’s when I saw a Sherpa that had actually just passed away within the past few days. And he was just still clipped into the ropes. Yeah, just really disheartening to have to just keep going on your climb and, you know, unclip and reclip around him. It just felt really terrible and I felt so sorry for him and his family. I mean, I’ve read that there’s at least 200 bodies that are still left up there just because it’s so difficult and dangerous to remove them from the death zone.
And is it true that you actually lost a member of your own climbing team?
Yeah, one of our teammates, Jonathan, did pass away on our second acclimatization climb. And yeah, it was a terrible shock to everyone. He was a super healthy, in-shape guy— actually a doctor, so that came as even more of a surprise. But yeah, losing him was really hard on many different levels. Like he was a pivotal part of our team— he was the old, wise guy of our team, I don’t know. It was kind of a team of really knee-jerk, passionate people and he was kind of always a voice of reason, and like a regulating force. And so just on a selfish personal level, it really sucked when he left because that totally changed the team dynamic and it was more like the Wild West without him.
My gosh, that had to be tough.
Yeah, it was. I feel just terrible for his family and his friends. And he was an absolute giant in the medical community, helping so many people. So, he’s definitely left a big hole.
That makes it all too real right there.
We’re talking with Rebecca Long from Andover, a BU grad and a local woman who climbed Mount Everest, May 18th she summited. Now Rebecca, a couple of quick listener questions before you go. Nancy sent this one in, as far as the trash goes on Mount Everest because you see photos and there’s oxygen bottles and all kinds of stuff up there. Is that really a big problem? Because it seems like such a beautiful place. You don’t picture trash up there.
I think up until Camp 4, everyone does a really great job of garbage management of manpower to be able to, like, take down certain garbage. But I think after Camp 4, it’s kind of a free-for-all to be honest, and it’s just totally depressing. Like it’s a junkyard, like you see decades worth of all kinds of trash and like, even human excrement. Just everything that you can imagine just frozen in time. I mean, just on a personal level, that’s something that moves me and that I’d love to help combat in some way, so I don’t know. Maybe someday I could do something, helping to clean up the trash.
And did you inadvertently leave any trash up there yourself? As in, dropped something off the mountain that fell thousands of feet down?
Well, actually, the cap of my sunscreen fell. And then as my guide was trying to catch it – cause we were all at a break together – his thermos fell.
Oh my gosh.
Really, which I felt really guilty about. I ended up getting him a new one. But yeah, it’s like crazy. If you drop anything, it just like tumbles down thousands of feet and you have to just watch it fall.
Now that could take somebody out down the hill couldn’t it?
That’s what we were looking out for mostly. Cause. It’s like just the thermos falling doesn’t seem, you know? But once it’s coming hundreds of feet with all that inertia it’s like “damn, am I an accessory to murder?”
Ohh, let’s hope not. Rebecca, how has this whole experience changed you?
Well, many different ways I think. Like it’s made me a more serious person overall. Including, you know, dealing with the death of a teammate and realizing the gravity of something like mountaineering, but also just being sure that it’s so important in my life. Like I love mountaineering. I love everything about it. I love like seeing the sun rise as I’m summiting. I love like meeting these people that are just as crazy about mountains as I am and just the adventure and challenge of trying to tackle something really cool and huge and dangerous. I also just learned how to stand up for myself too, just with the diverse teammates that I’ve met and just having to learn how to be confident in my own choices and stand up for myself.
And you quit your job in finance to go climb Mount Everest. Do you think this will mean a career change for you overall?
Part of me thinks that I might return to the workforce and keep, you know, working in the banking or finance industry. But part of me also just wants to pursue this other part that made me so happy the last few months, like writing, blogging and climbing mountains. Yeah, I’d love to see what else I can do. Maybe to give back whether that’s helping with trash removal on Everest or other mountains in the Himalayas or guiding in some way and getting more women involved in mountaineering, like any of that would give me so much happiness.
You know, I think of young women that might be listening to this, including my daughter, who’s 18 and how you must have just really inspired and will continue to inspire a lot of young women out there.
Well, I hope so. Really I’m, more women should get involved in this. It’s a really incredible venture.
And you know, Rebecca, since we’re about to get back to music here on 92.5, the River, what role did music play in your trip to Everest? Did you take music with you?
I mean, I had my Airpods with me, which is my own personal music vessel. When I’d get to really tough parts when it was safe to do so, I’d pop my Airpods in. And listened to an inspirational album that I downloaded and that would help me get through the really hard parts, including the extreme heat we were discussing before.
Did you have a go to album on Everest?
Steely Dan’s Aja, of course.
The Rolling Stones is just always like, great. It’s a great like all around band for any situation. So I’d pop those in.
Well, Rebecca, in closing again, thank you so much for your time and you know what we should throw this out there because you had to quit your job because your employer would not give you the time off, even unpaid, to go climb Mount Everest if there’s anybody listening in banking and or finance that wants an employee that has climbed Mount Everest. We’ve got her for you. Just get in touch with us. We’ll put you in touch with Rebecca Long, and I hope I’m not overstepping here. By soliciting employment for you, are you good?
With that, sure. Thank you, future employer and Charlie.
Well, Rebecca, I wanna give you the last word. Is there anything that you would like to say or any people you would like to address about your climb to Everest?
I’d just really like to thank the Sherpa community and specifically my 2 personal Sherpas. So Nam and Keelson, because they were absolutely pivotal and me reaching the summit and helping me every step along the way. Whether that’s helping me carry my stuff, helping to cook and just being able to guide and give that professional experience, that’s so important to get up there. Like I couldn’t have done it without them and I thank them from the bottom of my heart.
Well, yours is an amazing story, Rebecca. And we here at the River really appreciate you taking the time to be with us and share your experience of climbing Mount Everest with the River listeners.
Thank you so much.
Rebecca and Charlie in the River Music Hall.
Read Rebecca’s blog here