Mount Everest awaits OC alum

Mount Everest awaits OC alum

By Steve Gust
The original version of this article appeared in Edmond Life & Leisure

Reaching the summit of Mount Everest is probably the most irresistible and monumental dare known to climbers, and this spring an Edmond woman will be one of the adventurers.

Valari Wedel, a 1982 OC graduate, will venture to Asia and the Himalayan mountain range in March. The quest is dangerous, expensive, and one that Wedel is anxiously awaiting.

"I had decided it was time for me to pursue this dream," said Valari, whose commitment to fitness also is seen in her family's lead gift for OC's new 5K Eagle Trail.

On the surface, Wedel doesn't appear to be the run-of-the-mill international mountain tamer. At age 52, she's on the upper age limit for those wanting to scale the world's tallest mountain of 29,029 feet. She also grew up in Edmond, not exactly an area known for high majestic peaks. In addition, the married mother of three adult daughters didn't even take up climbing until 10 years ago.

She'll be setting out on the legendary trek with International Mountain Guides, a professional guide company which handles expeditions, including Mount Everest.

"I only made the decision to do this about six months ago," she said. "This was the right time."

Ascending to the top of the world's most famous mountain isn't a quick weekend trip. Climbers, such as Valari, will need weeks to acclimate to the conditions. There are climbs between various camps and elevations below the summit as climbers get use to the thinner air before making the final push.

Her husband, Greg, a member of OC's Board of Trustees, will be accompanying her to the base camp. From there, they will part and she'll be finishing the trek with the group, which may number probably somewhere between 12-20. Among those will be the Sherpas, the famed ethnic group of Nepal, who are used to world's high altitudes and routinely accompany mountain expeditions.

If all goes right, Valari will get her chance to climb Everest the first or second week of May, in what is the normal small window of weather opportunity given summit seekers.

The last few hundred feet are probably the most dangerous with climbers needing oxygen and pushing their bodies to the absolute maximum. One wrong step or decision can be fatal. Sometimes, sheer numbers of other mountaineers can be dangerous.

A human log jam going up Everest leads to delays that can exhaust the energy and oxygen of those waiting. It's estimated dozens of bodies line the rout. They've been there for years. Those are would-be Everest tamers who died along the way. Retrieving the bodies isn't possible. How will she react to seeing the fallen climbers?

"I'd like to think I can handle it, but then again I won't really know until I get up there," she said.

And her thoughts on risking a serious injury or worse?

"You don't even attempt something like this thinking the worse," she said.

She's climbed other peaks, including Cho Oyu, also in the Himalayas in 2010 and in 2005 Mount McKinley or Denali in Alaska with a altitude of just over 20,000 feet.

Doing all that doesn't just happen.

"I do a lot of running, biking, lifting and yoga," she said.

She burns a lot of calories and will burn even more on the trail up Everest. While most people use the new year to lose weight, Valari needs to put on pounds. She'll need the extra weight for the push on Everest.

"I'd like to gain another 15-20 pounds, but have only added six so far," she said.

Her 4,000-calorie-a-day regimen includes three 850 calorie shakes a day. If she still hasn't gained weight closer to her March 23 departure, she has a plan B.

"I'll be going to the fast food restaurants quite a bit," she said. 

Conquering the famous peak isn't going to be an annual event. This will be a one-time shot for Wedel. Oklahomans achieving the feat are rare.

In 2007, the state's Centennial year, Dr. Douglas Beall of Oklahoma City and working in Edmond at the time, completed the quest. He said at the time he was the first registered Oklahoman to make Everest.

Another reason for the rarity of the climb could be the cost. Some guide companies charge at least $40,000 and often much more for the various expertise and permits required. 

Women routinely make the climb, although the first woman to scale Everest didn't accomplish the feat until just 20 years after Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay became the first to reach the summit in May 1953. 

"I think women can have the same stamina and mental toughness to do it," she said. 

If all goes to plan, May 30 will be the return date to Oklahoma, with the adventure of a lifetime under her belt. 

"If I could say one thing it would be that it's never too late to go after your dreams or whatever you want to do," she said. "I'm going to be a nurse and I'm going to climb Mount Everest and I'm in my 50s."