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Profile of Laurie Skreslet — the first Canadian to climb Mount Everest. Experience the perils of climbing the world’s highest peak...

...2:15 a.m., October 5,1982: After only two hours of fitful rest in a tent perched on top of the world's highest mountain saddle, the South Col, Laurie awoke bleary-eyed in his nylon shelter. It was minus 44 C. Outside, the wind was gusting to 80 km an hour, buffeting the tiny tent and slamming the paper-thin membrane of its walls, transforming them for those inside into the skin of a booming base drum. It was impossible to get any proper sleep. It was like being in the middle of enemy attack with artillery shells exploding all around you.

Two hours later, after fellow climber Dave Read of Vancouver, helped him brew hot liquids, Laurie and the Sherpas were finally ready. Dave had been a pivotal figure in the expedition. He had come within inches of his life in the icefall, when two ice blocks headed straight for him had miraculously cantilevered against each other to form a protective roof over his head. Here at Camp IV, because of a shortage of full oxygen bottles, he had relinquished his spot on the summit team to allow Laurie to go alone with the Sherpas. He had personally tested each one of the bottles they were to take to the top and, once confident that the bottles were functioning properly, had drawn a happy face on each. With Dave's unselfish backing, moral support and strength behind them, Laurie and the Sherpas crawled from the security of their tents and outside into the wind-blasted darkness.

The gusts were still strong but, fortunately, not over-whelming. It was dark and windy and cold. They were going.

The cloak of the night hung ominously around them. There was no way of knowing what the weather would be that day. It was like trying to find light at the end of a very long tunnel. It was impossible. All they could do was take the first steps and hope for the best. In the midst of it all, though, one thing reassured Laurie: the crunch of his crampons biting firmly into the ice and snow. That alone was familiar.

Unfortunately, the same could not be said of his breathing. It was such an effort just to move. Trying to function with two-thirds of the world's atmosphere beneath him, leaving only one-third of the air’s usual oxygen for breathing, produced and instant headache. Added to that was the pain caused pain caused by his ribs when he was forced to breathe deeply. It made for significant discomfort. At last he and his two Sherpa companions, Sungdare and Lhakpa Dorje, got their oxygen sets going and some of the explosions in his skull stopped...

Hear Laurie describe the toughest challenges he’s ever had to face:

...The biggest challenge I've faced in my life hasn't been Everest," he says. "It's the one I'm involved in right now: learning how to make a family work, how to become a social person, because I tend to be a loner. It's harder than anything I've ever tried to achieve.

"I remember one time when I was a teenager. I was climbing Mt. Andromeda and I got hit by rockfall. It cracked my shoulder blade and was so painful that with each swing of my axe, I'd scream. When I got to the top, I lay there, face down groaning in pain and fear. I thought I might not even make it off the mountain.

"Then I asked myself how this compared to the pain of breaking up with my girlfriend (a girl he'd been with for three years). It didn't even compare, not even close. And I laughed with my face in the gravel"...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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