On the roof of the world

Nov 16, 2007

Kettering grad Dave Arnett '84 stood on the roof of the world this past May after a two-month trek that took him thousands of miles away from home.

Peering up at the jet stream
It looms 29,035 feet above sea level. At the summit, temperatures dip below -100 degrees Celsius. Exposed skin freezes within seconds. Brain cells diminish rapidly due to extremely low levels of oxygen, causing some climbers to hallucinate as they begin their descent to camp 4 at 26,000 feet, even with the use of bottled oxygen.

Still, thousands flock to its foot every spring climbing season. Since the first documented summit of Mt. Everest in 1953 by Sir Edmund Hillary of New Zealand and Tenzing Norgay of Nepal, roughly 3,000 ascents have taken place. Of that total, more than 200 people have perished on the upper ridges of the mountain, most during the descent. Each season, hundreds of climbers are guided to the top by experienced alpinists. But with each year comes the loss of several climbers who have pushed themselves beyond the brink.

The mystique of reaching earth's highest point and the challenges it presents consume those who trek to the mountain's flanks and peer longingly up at the snow-encrusted top. Most people don't climb Everest just to boast to friends and colleagues that they did it. Most are experienced climbers who simply cannot shrug away the climbing bug. And for those who do make the summit and return home, the experience is nothing short of spiritual.

Climbing into history
Dave Arnett '84 is an experienced high altitude climber who stood on the roof of the world this past May after a two-month trek that took him thousands of miles away from his wife, Victoria, and their two daughters, Sarah, 9, and Kathryn, 5. It was not a decision taken lightly. During a climbing expedition on Kilimanjaro with his wife Victoria in 2006, the guide for his Adventure Consultants expedition (http://www.adventureconsultants.co.nz/AdventureInternational/) quietly observed Arnett's climbing skills and queried him about his high altitude experiences. Shortly thereafter, he asked Arnett if he ever considered climbing Everest.

"Once I began climbing in my 30s, I initially thought about Everest a fair bit," Arnett said. "However, as time went on, and especially after I was blessed with my wife and our children, I pretty much wrote it off," he added.

But after the guide approached him about Everest, he admits that it was the first time in years that his thoughts turned to the big mountain again. When they returned home, he spoke with his wife about it. "She was very supportive," he said, adding that she "is pretty amazing, most spouses would have made it a short (and not very pretty) conversation, but she has wonderful vision and is very giving." They took some time to consider the proposition, prayed about it, spoke in depth with their children and in the end decided Dave would give it a strong try. But he noted that as hard of a climb that Everest is, "my wife basically carried both of our loads at home for nine weeks-which I suspect was more work than being on Everest, and I am very grateful for her."

As a director of Field Applications and Design-In Centers for Intel Americas, where he has worked for the past 23 years, Arnett is used to a methodic approach to making difficult, high-pressure decisions. Because of this, the attempt at Everest had to make as much sense as possible in terms of his family and career. And while he admits colleagues initially thought he was crazy for this endeavor, he explained that climbing "is one way for me to put life in perspective, to think about my priorities at home and my spirituality. Maybe it is a little crazy, but through a challenge like this I gain a great deal of understanding about life and the things that are most important," he explained. Intel, which provides a generous paid sabbatical program of eight weeks for every seven years worked to employees, supported his desire to climb Everest.

The Everest mystique
"There is a historical mystique to Everest and I often thought of all those who came to the mountain years before without the use of fixed lines, bottled oxygen and unused routes," he said. "The teamwork involved in reaching the summit is critical, but more importantly you've got to be up to the challenge mentally and physically, and understand that no one beats a mountain. When I was at Kettering/GMI, it required perseverance and discipline, and it teaches you to look at the big picture while tackling the steps along the way as individual challenges rather than getting blown away by how much work there is to do in five years. Everest was a bit like having the EE sophomore year crunched into a short time frame with even less sleep (and less oxygen). The toughest things are very often the ones that end up meaning the most to you," he said.

Arnett admits he's not an outwardly emotional person, but once at the summit he was able to speak with his wife and daughters, and all the emotion that went into the climb flooded out. "When I realized just how much teamwork, passion, history and heroism goes into a climb like this, both on the mountain and most importantly at home, it was tough to keep it together," he said.

And the greatest heroes, aside from his wife and kids, are the Sherpas who help guide climbers up the mountain. They are the Nepalese people who live in the high altitude regions of the Himalayas. "They are truly amazing people," he said. "They go up before anyone else to set the lines, establish the high camps and help take climbers up. They are fun-loving, generous, kind people who deserve a ton of credit for their challenging work. Climbing with them further supports one's belief in the goodness of people," he added.

Today, Arnett is back at home in Castle Rock, Colo., with his wife and daughters, enjoying life with a renewed perspective. And while he does not have any future plans to climb another tall peak, he relishes his Everest summit each day and offers his deepest thanks to his family, the Sherpas and Intel for making his dream possible.

Dave Arnett's Climbing Background

  • 1991: outward bound trip "Alpine Challenge" 16-day trip in the Ansell Adams wilderness in California, elevation 7,000-14,000 feet above sea level, made summit;
  • 1992: Island Peak, elevation 20,305, and Mera Peak, elevation 21,247, both in Nepal, made summits;
  • 1994: Mt. Baker and surrounding area in Washington state, elevation 10,778, Alpine Ascents Ice and Rock School, 14-day trip, made summit;
  • 1996: Cho-Oyu in Tibet. Arnett became ill with pulmonary edema and did not summit during this five-week trip;
  • 2000: Denali in Alaska, elevation 20,320, three-week trip, made summit;
  • 2006: Kilimanjaro in South America, elevation 19,340, one-week climb, made summit; and
  • 2007: Mt. Everest in Nepal, elevation 29,035, nine-week trip, made summit.

Written by Gary J. Erwin