Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 21, 1999
Life on the top of the world
Everest climber was seeking life as he scaled world's tallest mountain
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
When David Rodney decided to scale Mount Everest, he wasn't pursuing some death wish. He was accomplishing a life wish.
"People say you're nuts," said Rodney, who returned home June 8 from his three-month Everest expedition. "I say I'd be nuts if I didn't do it."
Whether he's destined for a strait jacket or not, one thing is for sure - Rodney is now older and wiser.
"I'm 75," joked the 34-year-old religious studies teacher from Calgary. "I feel in all humility, after this, I've gained two decades of insight. Everest ages you."
Rodney summitted Everest May 13 and is the 12th Canadian to scale the world's tallest peak. His first trip to Everest was in 1997 when he served as a communications support for the Jamie Clarke and Alan Hobson expedition.
The Everest trip was part personal accomplishment, part soul-searching and maybe part educational.
Rodney is completing his master's in religious education at Newman Theological College. And it's no surprise that his thesis would be on sacred spaces with a focus on sacred mountains.
"Mountains have always played an integral part in religion," Rodney said. "Mount of Olives, Mount Carmel, Mount Tabor. Incredible things happened up there.
"If people don't consider the Creator of these things, all this nature, these people are dead. It's all around us."
Growing up in the flatlands of Saskatchewan, Rodney suspects his love for the mountains is a genetic force from his Swiss grandfather.
Over the years, Rodney has built on his affection for the outdoors through ski jumping and mountain climbing. He's found both leisure and solace in his environment.
"Whether it's a mountain or a monastery, a bubble bath or a backyard fountain, these sacred spaces are places we need to go to often to re-evaluate, rejuvenate."
Rodney knows about time away, that time to de-stress. During his studies at Newman, he wrote a paper on the theology of leisure.
"I think we all need that seventh day off or that seventh year off," Rodney said. "That seventh hour off, that's a good idea too."
In Rodney's world, leisure is spelt E-v-e-r-e-s-t.
This coming from the man who finds skydiving so relaxing - "It's nice just floating in the air."
The same man who broke his back in four different places and had reconstructive knee surgery four times. None of them were from mountain climbing, he said.
If he had to define "a rush," Everest would be at the top of the list. In Rodney's case, it wasn't an adrenaline filled rush of excitement, it was more of a rush to get off the mountain.
"Normally, you would get this rush, or this awe of how beautiful it is or that I've been cosmically unified and all that stuff.
"I just thought I had to get out of there."
When you're standing on top of the world, there is no time for taking in the view and breathing in the fresh mountain air. There is no air to breathe.
With a limited supply of bottled oxygen, Rodney was timing his air supply rather than meditating on the pillowy clouds below. He managed to sneak in a few souvenir photos for the people at home.
The trip also hit a sad moment when British climber and Rodney's tentmate, Michael Robert Matthews, died.
Although it's a clich‚, Rodney lives by the thought that life is too short not to do things you enjoy.
In his pursuit of enjoyment, he has re-discovered some of the basics of living.
"From Everest, the biggest thing is that I re-learned the unbelievable sanctity that life is - not just how precious it is, but that there are all these things available to us."
Rodney becomes poetic when he describes the image he was met with just 27,000 feet from the summit.
"I saw the sunrise. It was a silver sliver creeping over the horizon. It was the bright orange and red and pink moving right over the darkness in the sky."
As he looked down into the valley below him, tips of the Himalayan mountains "peeped over these pillowy clouds like little islands."
And since Everest, he has become a sought-after man.
He has had job offers from a U.S. company to lead business retreats, from the University of West Virginia to teach, a proposal from National Geographic to scale the more challenging K2 in Pakistan and a plethora of speaking engagements.
He has enough for the makings of a book. And of course there's the thesis and his teaching job.
Even as he heads into the summer months, which is normally his time off from teaching, his plate is getting fuller. But that's the kind of person Rodney is. An everything man, doing everything and feeling everything.
"A reporter asked me to describe (Everest) in one word. I said 'everything.' If you take every human emotion and take them to the extreme, that's Everest."