Everest climber: Friend 'could have bailed ... I wouldn’t have blamed him'

Nov 15 2012 - 6:43am

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Tom Burton talks about climbing Mount Everest with Will Calton during a presentation at the Wildcat Theater at Weber State University in Ogden on Wednesday, November 14, 2012.  (KERA WILLIAMS/ Standard-Examiner)
(Left to right) Will Calton and Tom Burton talks about climbing Mount Everest during a presentation at the Wildcat Theater at Weber State University in Ogden on Wednesday, November 14, 2012.  (KERA WILLIAMS/ Standard-Examiner)
Tom Burton talks about climbing Mount Everest with Will Calton during a presentation at the Wildcat Theater at Weber State University in Ogden on Wednesday, November 14, 2012.  (KERA WILLIAMS/ Standard-Examiner)
(Left to right) Will Calton and Tom Burton talks about climbing Mount Everest during a presentation at the Wildcat Theater at Weber State University in Ogden on Wednesday, November 14, 2012.  (KERA WILLIAMS/ Standard-Examiner)

OGDEN -- Some of his toenails haven't grown back, and his hands and cheeks feel noticeably colder than they used to when the weather gets chilly.

Still, Will Calton knows that's a pretty good outcome considering the upper reaches of Mount Everest could easily have become his tomb.

Calton, along with friend and climbing partner Tom Burton, recounted the triumphs, tribulations and other memorable moments of their journey to the highest point on the planet before a crowd of about 50 at Weber State University on Wednesday.

While their ultimate test was reaching the 29,029-foot summit, the two mountaineers discovered so much more during their nearly two-month journey. They marveled at the strength, hospitality and personality of their Sherpa companions, crossed seemingly bottomless crevasses on aluminum ladders, and found a strange source of entertainment in dodging falling boulders.

To train for the grueling climb, Burton said he would hike around the Wasatch mountains with four or five gallons of water in his backpack. He then showed a photo of a Sherpa with 24 gallons, or 200 pounds, on his back.

Before each day of climbing, the Sherpas would perform a ceremony known as a puja to invite blessings and bring safety to the group.

In addition to their phenomenal strength, skill and reverence toward the mountain, Burton said, the Sherpas displayed a remarkable sense of happiness and humor, such as when the team was crossing a crevasse that could have been as deep as 1,500 feet.

"They said if you fall into a crevasse, you land in America," he said.

He said the Sherpas were extremely dedicated to fulfilling their climbing partners' wants and needs. At base camp, they had a helicopter fly in a case of Coca-Cola after learning of Burton's affinity for the fizzy beverage. On the descent, they convinced a rescue pilot to make the highest-elevation rescue on record when Calton was injured.

"These people are some of the most friendly, charitable and hard-working I have ever met," Burton said.

On the higher reaches of Everest, there were more somber moments. Burton recalls meeting a man who had to turn back after nearly reaching the summit, which brought tears to the eyes of both men. His climbing party also met and received encouragement from Shriya Shah, one of four climbers who later died on the mountain that weekend.

After a successful summit, Calton fell during the descent. His injuries included broken ribs, a concussion, severe frostbite, a collapsed lung, and liver and kidney damage. He credits Burton with saving his life by helping him down the mountain far enough to where a rescue helicopter could be summoned.

"When you're up that high, if you can't get down on your own, you're usually done," Calton said. "I owe it all to Tom. He could have bailed, and I wouldn't have blamed him."

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