The legendary climber and star of “Meru” discusses the discovery of his climbing partner’s body, his recent heart attack and why he feels an urgency to talk politics.
For mountaineering legend Conrad Anker, 2016 was an “out-of-sorts” year in a “really bizarre life.”
It started with a snub.
The 2015 film “Meru,” which documented Anker’s arduous journey to fulfill his greatest ambition and climb the Shark’s Fin route on Meru Peak in India, did not receive an Academy Award nomination.
Then, in April, the bodies of climbing partner Alex Lowe and friend David Bridges were found. They had been killed in a 1999 avalanche in the Himalayas that also partially buried Anker.
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In November, Anker suffered a heart attack at 20,000 feet while attempting to ascend an unclimbed Himalayan peak. He had to rappel down, hike to camp and then get a helicopter airlift to a nearby hospital for surgery.
Even for a man used to a bird’s-eye view of the world, last year’s U.S. election gave Anker a shake.
Before the American Alpine Club’s annual benefit dinner Saturday in Seattle, the 54-year-old Anker discussed 2016, his health and outdoor activism.
On an emotional phone call
“Years come in cycles. ’99 was a really heavy year. It was the year that I discovered the body of George Mallory and then Alex [Lowe] died. It was a very tumultuous year in my life.”
In April, “I got a phone call on my Nepali cellphone, and it was from my friends that were climbing there and they knew that by identification it was the bodies of our friends, David Bridges and Alex Lowe. That was a real tough one to go through. Then, we [Lowe’s widow, whom Anker later married] went back the last two weeks of June and recovered their bodies and cremated them at altitude.”
On what he learned from his heart attack
“I’ve got a year off [from major expeditions] now that I have a stent in my heart — a 3.5 mm by 24 mm piece of wire mesh — it certainly was a clarion call to realize each day is a gift. … The vessel that we enjoy life through is our body.
“For 40 years, I abused my body. Not in a bad sense. I wasn’t a drunk and I didn’t do drugs or anything like that, but I would just go out and suffer — run a marathon and climb a mountain. Doing Everest [Anker has climbed it three times] without supplemental oxygen is not about skill, it’s about pain threshold.”
On his health
“I feel healthy. I look healthy … I don’t need to go climb 7,000-meter granite spires in the Himalayas. I’ve had a good run. I don’t need to prove anything to myself anymore. It was kind of nice to be able to let that go.”
On President Donald Trump
“We have this child of wealth and bravado … not a great person to have representing our country.”
“I am proud of the United States, and what we get in return for our taxes is a phenomenal value. The education system that we have, the opportunity as a beacon for democracy. For someone to come at it from such a disparate point of view and such a sense of entitlement, to me, is not within the climbing ethos, which is, ‘Hey, are you on belay? Yeah, you’re on belay. I’ve got your life in my hands.’
“It’s that level of trust. I put a Facebook post out there about it. It would be great if President Trump had that level of trust.”
“I participate, I talk to people — I’m not going to run for office. I’m an atheist and I think football is dumb. …
“I do have a voice and I’m going to use it. I’m going to get out there — three things we can look at in climate change: atmospheric CO2, ocean acidification and glacial recession — all of those are bellwether, star indicators of climate change. We can’t ignore that science and toss it out. …
“As Chief Seattle said, you think 200 years down the line, seven generations. What’s it going to be like for those people?”
On the outdoor community
“This has been a galvanizing election for the people in the outdoor community because public lands are a key part of the western United States. … Federally owned lands, the states don’t have the budget or the capacity to manage them. And then if they get sold off, it’s a different thing.
“We’re climbers. We like a challenge. If you get beat down, we’re going to come back stronger.”
On his plans
“I’ve got an El Cap trip [Yosemite National Park’s famous El Capitan wall] this spring or summer. … I’d like to climb a 5.13 [an extremely challenging climb as graded by the Yosemite Decimal System] this summer.”