There are summits on this earth that have commanded respect with the greatest triumphs and the most heartbreaking defeats.
Chances are you have seen the reports coming from Mt. Everest. Eleven climbers have died on the world’s tallest mountain since January 1st.
Eyewitness News’ Brad Byrd talks with Gary Ervin about his triumphs on the highest summit.
Brad Byrd: Welcome to In Depth: Respect. There are summits on this earth that have commanded respect with the greatest triumphs and the most heartbreaking defeats. Chances are you have seen the reports coming from Mt. Everest-11 climbers have died on the world’s tallest mountain since January 1st. Tonight, I’m joined by Gary Ervin of union county, Kentucky who has made it to the top of Everest one of several of what’s called the Seven Summits.
Gary, you have been on the highest mountain and the deepest valley. You lost a climbing buddy just last week. Tell me about that.
Gary Ervin: Yea, Don Cash. Thanks, Brad. Don Cash was a friend I climbed with on Mt. Vincent in Antarctica in February. And he passed away on the summit of Everest last Wednesday.
Brad Byrd: And this was a situation where he was on his way down?
Gary Ervin: Yes, 80% of the fatalities on Everest, on most peaks happen on the way down.
Brad Byrd: If we could show that picture of that long line of people, and when I first saw this earlier this week, I almost thought it had to be photoshopped. But it is the real deal – that shot right there. Are there too many people up there right now?
Gary Ervin: You know, there were a lot of people up there to be going to the summit on the same day – that’s too many. The weather window was compressed this year, there were a large number of permits. But not a lot more than typical. And just the weather window, it was just compressed and the section that they bound up one single rope – there’s no passing, so if the person in front of you is slow, you have no choice but to go slow with him.
Brad Byrd: And it’s called the dead zone. And if you’re breathing in oxygen, you’re not breathing in that much?
Gary Ervin: No, you have one third the oxygen we’re breathing right now. So, in the dead zone, there’s one third of this.
Brad Byrd: And this can happen so quickly. You’re really looking at that clock when you’re coming down the mountain.
Gary Ervin: Right, most of these, 99% of the climbers climb with supplemental oxygen. So, they’ve got approximately 12 to 16 hours of oxygen reserved. And in a queue like that, they consume their oxygen. And without oxygen you can’t move, you get cold, you can’t think well, and it becomes very dangerous.
Brad Byrd: And you’ve conquered five summits, you are going for two more. You want to be a member of the seven summits club, but you were in the hospital just about a month ago and this was a scary situation in Nepal. Tell me about what happened to you.
Gary Ervin: I was climbing a mountain called Island Peak a warmup to Denali that I was supposed to be at right now, but I contracted a bacteria that created a jab bleed in – and I was in a terrible spot. I was at 19,000 feet and in a snowstorm when it happened. And I was just fortunate that the weather broke — I was able to get rescued and after eight days in Kathmandu hospital I was able to get back home.
Brad Byrd: You’ve been rescued four times and the one climb that’s amazing is you went back to, I believe it was Everest, after a couple weeks in the hospital. It has to be tough on your family.
Gary Ervin: “Yeah, it is, and they feel a lot of guilty for an obsession I got. It’s sort of a passion. I wouldn’t call it an obsession. It’s something that I love to do, and I’ve gotten so much joy out of it. But my family really pays a big price.”
Brad Byrd: “But you got their total support.”
Gary Ervin: “Yes. I hear the tragic … they’ve interviewed some of the families of some of my friends that have passed away and they always say he died doing something he loved.I don’t think my wife would ever make that comment. There’s a saying getting to the top is optional, getting back down is mandatory. So, I look at it that way.”
Brad Byrd: “What’s next now for you?”
Gary Ervin: “I go to Carson’s Pyramids in Indonesia to climb in August, and hopefully my last one will be Denali in Alaska next May.”
Brad Byrd: “Okay, you were in the hospital about a month ago, and you were flying today. When I say you were flying, you were actually in control of the aircraft coming from Dallas. And you’re going to be doing this again as early as August.”
Gary Ervin: “Yeah.”
Brad Byrd: “Did this incident really scare you. I know you respect the mountain. It’s not necessarily fear. But how did this one change you, this one especially?”
Gary Ervin: “This was one that probably felt less controlled over what was happening. There’s weather that you can allow for, there are a lot of things that you can plan for, but this was just something that happened. It went from feeling great to being a very perilous situation.”
Brad Byrd: “And I remember last year, we were watching you … Chief Photographer John Simpson and I … dragging that tower up that logging trail not far from where you live, and that’s part of the training. And that gentleman you just saw, you’re climbing buddy that was lost. With that being said, do you have second thoughts?”
Gary Ervin: “No, I don’t. It’s just something … there is just so much beauty up there. I feel bad for my family, but it’s something I get a lot of joy out of. And I meet people who have similar interests as I do, and there’s not that many people who have that sense of adventure like I know.”
Brad Byrd: “If you had a can of few words, what is that vision you see when you’re at the top of Mount Everest or at Mount Vincent in Antarctica, what do you see when you get up there and you’re looking?”
Gary Ervin: “It’s emotional. There’s a power on top of a mountain that’s hard to describe. Typically, get to the top and you cry like a baby. It’s just I remember every summit I’ve climbed, and it’s hard to explain. It’s hard to put into words, but it’s also why I keep going back.”
Brad Byrd: “Alright, Gary Ervin thank you so much for being here tonight. Good luck on your continued adventure. And head to and like my Facebook page for a special report I did on this remarkable man last November. It’s titled “Climb Every Mountain”. I’ve got a link set up on BradByrdNews, and you can see how Gary was preparing to reach his fifth of the seven summits. That’s on my Eyewitness News Brad Byrd Facebook page.”
(This story was originally published on May 29, 2019)