Sunday, July 3, 2022

How Does it Feel: To Be on Top of the World

In the latest installment of our ongoing series, locals open up about their dramatic life experiences, from swimming with sharks to leaving Earth’s atmosphere to dodging ghosts.

Name: Grant Maughan, boat captain and adventurer

Afraid of heights and blind in one eye, Grant Maughan took on the world’s highest  mountain: Mount Everest.

“I’ve been scared of heights my whole life, but I hang-glide and free-fall parachute. I started climbing three years ago after doing ultra marathons—it seemed like a natural progression to start climbing, and I already had the advantage of being in peak fitness and having good endurance. From there, it escalated to ice climbing and taking on big mountains. This year, I climbed Mount Everest.

It took six weeks to acclimate to the altitude before we began our trek up the mountain. Each day varied, from just four hours a day to summit day, when we climbed for more than 24 hours nonstop. This is all with sub-zero temperatures and winds barreling down the slope. Meanwhile, we had 50 pounds of gear on our backs, just enough to carry what we needed without impacting our oxygen intake.

Being an ultra-marathoner, I know what it feels like to be beaten down and be low on calories. But up there in the death zone, it’s something different. I’ve never felt the fatigue and hopelessness like that. It’s understandable when you see those dead bodies—the human body is not supposed to be there. I saw someone laying in a fetal position, and I told a sherpa he should wake him up. The sherpa told me he had been asleep for eight years.

Grant Maughan climbs Mount Everest. (Photo by Brendan Madden)

What really got us through was the sherpas—it’s unimaginable trying to do that climb without their support. They can carry three or four times the weight we can at that altitude. Those guys will do it without a word of frustration, and they do it with a smile on their faces. On summit day, you’re especially glad they’re around. They’re the only ones that are going to be able to function without oxygen.

At one point during the climb, some of our gear was stolen. You can’t sleep without a sleeping bag at 26,000 feet. We weren’t able to get to a lower camp, and up on the  mountain, a small problem can quickly turn into a big one. We don’t know how, but the  sherpas managed to get us sleeping bags. I wonder if they gave up one of their own for us.

It was 11 p.m. when we made the last push to the summit of Mount Everest. It was a lot harder and more dangerous than I expected. Being blind in one eye, it impacted my  depth perception—how my foot was going to land, working with my equipment, connecting  safety ropes, getting gear on and off. Particularly in the dark, I just couldn’t make out  enough of the details to make sure I was 100-percent safe—all the while breathing through an oxygen mask filled with sweat, trying to see through your goggles, and your mitts and boots desperately trying to hang onto crags.

It was 8 a.m., a day and a half later, when we reached the summit. The temperature was minus-40 degrees with the wind going at 40 knots. I was really surprised how scared I was, and how I didn’t want to be there. I just wanted to get back home. We quickly tried to take a photo, but all three of my cameras were frozen. Mostly, we spent our time at the summit checking our gear. There weren’t highfives or people yelling ‘yahoo!’

I was on the summit for just 14 minutes.

Grant Maughan at the top of the world. (Photo by Brendan Madden)

I also have a hard time remembering a lot from that day, probably from the oxygen deprivation. I was seeing black spots. The group did create a Dropbox of all our photos from the entire trip, and when I look back at some of the photos I think, Oh my  god, I can’t believe I was doing that! Sometimes when I’m laying in bed at night, it’s scarier than when I was up there.

I didn’t feel a sense of relief until two days later, when we got down to advanced base camp. There’s not many people that climb the north side—it’s the side of the mountain that George Mallory and Andrew Irvine attempted to climb in 1924 and never returned.

Maybe one day I’ll go back and try the south side.”

This story comes from our November 2018 issue of Boca magazine. For more content like this, subscribe to the magazine.

Christiana Lilly
Christiana Lilly is the former web editor at Boca magazine, where she enjoyed battling with web coding and community reporting—the more off beat, the better. An award-winning journalist, she is the president of the Society of Professional Journalists Florida chapter and a proud graduate of the University of Florida.

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