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Mark Pattison to Premiere Everest Climb in ‘Searching for the Summit’
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Sunday, September 19, 2021
 

BY KAREN BOSSICK

As a wide receiver in the NFL, Mark Pattison often found himself breathless after hauling in a pass.  plenty. But he had never found himself gasping for air the way he did as he descended Mount Everest.

“On the way down, I ran out of oxygen and I couldn’t see out of my eye because I was snow blind. But my Sherpa was in such a hurry to get back to base camp that he had left me up on the balcony at  27,500 feet, unable to breathe,” he said.

He called for the Sherpa. But, in the wind, no one heard him. Some might have given up, their brain and will befuddled in the oxygen-rare altitude. But Pattison dug deep.

“I was like, ‘There’s no way I’m going to end up as a permanent resident on this mountain.”

Pattison, who played for the Los Angeles Raiders and New Orleans Saint, did make it down Everest and back to his home in Sun Valley. And on Thursday, Sept. 23, he will be at the world premiere of “Searching for the Summit,” an NFL 360 film featuring Pattison and his question to summit Everest, at The Argyros Performing Arts Center in Ketchum.

Proceeds from the evening’s event will help launch a new mountaineering skills program for Higher Ground..

Pattison’s began his quest to climb the Seven Summits —the highest peaks on each continent--in 2013. He climbed 19,341-foot Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, 18,510-foot Mount Elbrus in Russia’s Caucasus mountains; 7,310-foot Mount Kosciusko in Australia; 22,841-foot Aconcagua in Argentina and 20,310-foot Denali in Alaska leading up to Everest.

He chronicled his endeavors to raise money for epilepsy awareness and research in honor of his 22-year-old daughter Emilia, who was diagnosed with epilepsy at 8.

Everest was on his way to Nepal on March 31, 2020, when the pandemic short-circuited his trip.

“I was really down for 48 hours, then I decided to make this an opportunity to increase my goals,” he said. “I created a fitness center in my garage, hiked up Bald Mountain. I also worked out with Bill Nurge at HardCore Training Center.”

On March 30, 2021, he got the greenlight to head to Nepal.

It would not be an easy climbing season. Not only did climbers have to deal with COVID outbreaks but two cyclones dumped several feet of snow on the mountain and pummeled it with wind. But Pattison’s guides correctly guessed a rare window of good weather on May 22-23.

Pattison took nearly two weeks to trek to 17,500-foot basecamp, slowly making his way letting his body acclimate to the altitude. There, he was subjected to the almost daily roar of avalanches as he climbed back and forth between base camp and camps at 19,500 and 21,500 feet.

“The first few days you freak out. But then they become a daily occurrence,” he said. “There were a few close calls, terrifying moments that sounded like a freight train coming down. And there’s so much turbulence—you feel the push of air. That’s what kills a lot of people—the force of air, not getting buried.”

It was tedious sleeping on ice and rock for two months as he awaited the push to the top. In fact, eight of the 19 climbers in Pattison’s group quit within first 30 days.

Because of COVID, his group isolated themselves from other climbers, fearful that if they mingled the helicopter flying multitudes of infected climbers out might come for them.

Pattison felt his energy dissipating as he subsisted on spaghetti, ramen noodles and freeze-dried food that was full of calories and sugar but few nutrients.

But the biggest challenge was the repeated task of going through the Khumbu Icefall where ice blocks the size of houses leaned on one another, constantly shifting and threatening to collapse.

Sherpas had to cut into the 45-degree slope at camp three to set tents down, then had to strap one girl in for fear she would roll down the slope, he said.

At 11:30 p.m. the Sherpas woke up the climbers but inexplicable forgot to wake Pattison. When they did, he had just 20 minutes to get his gear on, check his oxygen and grab a handful of granola as he crawled out the tent

Even with supplemental oxygen, he had to stop to breathe for five seconds with every step.

Forty-five mph winds thrashed his face with ice crystals, leaving him blind in one eye. By 4:30 a.m. the winds had calmed, giving way to a beautiful sunrise and blue skies. But Pattison was struggling.

“My Sherpa wanted to go fast—he was strong. I’d go 10 feet and have to stop. But I kept thinking of my daughter. She wouldn’t quit. And I told myself: I can’t quit.”

Pattison inched his way up the Hillary Step, a vertical rock face nearly 40 feet high. Being snow blind, he had no depth perception making each tenuous step even more tenuous.

“I kept pointing to my face. But my Sherpa didn’t understand,” he said.

At one point, Pattison found himself stepping over the body of his tent mate from the Australian climb—one of hundreds of dead bodies entombed on the highest graveyard in the world.

“You’re in survival mode up there,” said Pattison. “You can’t get empathetic. You have to concentrate on your next step—if you make a mistake, you could fall to your death. Make a bad decision on Everest and your body stays there forever.”

Eighteen hours after he started the climb, Pattison stepped on the summit--one of 10 of 11 climbers from his party who had finished the climb. In so doing, he became one of an elite group just over 500 people who have reached the top of the highest mountains on each continent.

“By the time I got to the top, I was so worn out I was not able to enjoy that I’d accomplished this incredible achievement,” he said.

The moment at the top was short-lived and, by the time he got down to the balcony at 27,500 feet, he had run out of oxygen. He spent the night at 26,000-foot Camp four without oxygen. He hallucinated. He struggled to stay warm. At one point, he even ran out of the tent in his bare feet looking for oxygen.

Pattison had hoped to tack on a bonus climb—that of climbing Lhotse, the fourth highest peak in the world, the day after he summitted Everest.

“But I knew if I went for it, I would not be coming back to Sun Valley, Idaho,” he said. “Life is more important than a mountain. And I did achieve my goal of climbing the Seven Summits. I got to fulfill a dream I had since a kid growing up in Seattle where I idolized the Whittaker Brothers.”

Pattison, a Sports Illustrated executive, said he looked like he had aged 40 years on his climb.

“I went up the mountain looking like I was 39 I was in such good shape. By the time I came down, I’d  lost 25 pounds.  I was blown away by how a mountain could do that. I looked in the hotel mirror and thought, ‘Ohmigosh. I’m pretty scary looking.’ ”

“If you asked would I do it again? Probably not. It’s so grueling and running out of oxygen was not fun. It’s significantly harder than the other mountains I summitted. Denali was the next hardest because the weather was extremely cold with constant snow. But it was below 22,000 feet.”

Pattison said he just wants his two daughters to look at their dad and be proud of their accomplishments.

“And Emilia is so proud of me—she thinks I’m the coolest dad in the world,” he said. “I just want them know I’m there for them, to lead by example. They don’t have to match what I do but I want them to set   goals. Emilia’s 22 now and for the first time since she was 8 she hasn’t had a seizure in five months. I believe mind a powerful thing and I think she’s gained strength by being elevated to a spokesperson, knowing others are cheering on. She’s standing tall, flying like an eagle. And so am I.”

IF YOU GO…

Mark Pattison, NFL Media and Higher Ground will present the NFL 360 film, “Searching for the Summit” at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 23 at The Argyros Center for Performing Arts in Ketchum.

The world premiere fundraising event will include an unplugged set from Delta Blues country legend Steve Azar, a hit songwriter and recording artist whose musical sound features a blend of country, blues, folk and rock ‘n’ roll that he calls “Delta Soul.” ESPN Analyst Jim Mora, a former NFL Coach, Ketchum homeowner and Pattison’s Everest training partner, will interview Azar between songs to add a person touch.

John Waechter, who became the 58th person to conquer the Seven Summits when he summitted Mt. Everest in 2001, will emcee a panel discussion that will follow the premiere with Pattison, Mora and NFL Media Executive Producer Ryan Travis.

Tickets are $50 for general admission and $30 for livestream watching, which will be available on YouTube. Cabaret tables for four people are $300.

To reserve a table, seat or livestream visit https://theargyros.org/calendar/

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