Laval St. Germain promised his teenage daughter he would climb Mount Everest with a tank of oxygen, just in case.
He didn’t need it.
The climber and sports enthusiast reached the top Monday mid-morning, Nepal time, and climbed back down to safety, to the relief of his wife and children in Calgary.
He is believed to be the first Canadian to successfully climb the globe’s highest peak without the supplementary air that keeps the mind sharp and circulation intact.
“I talked to him last night just as he had come down,” said his wife, Janet St. Germain, on Tuesday.
“He sounded a little slurry. I think it’s because he’s oxygen-deprived.”
In short, she said: “He sounded terrible.”
St. Germain, 41, told his family he didn’t want to rely on air tanks during the final 10-day trek to the top.
“My daughter wasn’t comfortable with it,” she said. “Neither am I, actually.”
Janet admits she doesn’t entirely understand why her husband pushed himself to that extreme.
“He just thinks it’s turned into such a commercial venture,” she said. Sans added air is “the way the mountain is meant to be climbed. It’s back to nature.”
Although a Sherpa did bring an oxygen tank along, he didn’t use it. Janet said she’d be happy to hear the speed of his speaking return to a normal pace. The climber suffered frost bite on the tips of his now blackened fingers, a consequence of the oxygen-deprived environment, which cut circulation at the tips of his limbs.
Fortunately, he won’t lose them, she said.
A father of three children between the ages of 8 and 17, St. Germain left Calgary at the end of March. Typically, climbers will climb up and down lower portions of the mountain several times
acclimatize the thin air
frigid conditions before attempting to reach the summit.
Janet said she began to get worried about
days ago when reports from her husband became
and she knew he was attempting to reach the top.
“I began to keep myself really busy. Since the 15th, every day was really tough because I hadn’t heard from him and I knew he was pushing for the summit. Every day it got tougher,” she said. “I wasn’t mentioning a lot to the kids.”
When she heard from his team that he was making the final climb: “Then I was really holding my breath.” At one point, the radios briefly went dead and “nobody had heard from him.”
He was one of a handful of people in his 20-person team to try for the summit. When he returned, she was relieved and overjoyed.
“My kids have total bragging rights. It was the first thing they put on their Facebook pages,” she said.
Reinhold Messner, from Italy, and Peter Habeler, from Austria, were the first climbers to attempt Everest without oxygen in 1978. At the top of the mountain, the air is so thin that it can barely support a person at rest. The climbers became controversial figures within the medical and mountaineering communities as it was feared they were putting themselves at risk for brain damage.
They conquered the mountain and survived.
In 1994, a Canadian team tried to climb to the top without oxygen. They had to turn back due to extreme fatigue. They reached within 200 metres of the summit.
Charlotte St. Germain, Laval’s mother, said the climber went to sleep as a child reading the World Encyclopedia and National Geographic.
“I remember from about the age of five years old, Laval had such a strong determination and interest in trying out anything from climbing trees to tobogganing off of the house roof, to cycling farther than other children his age.”
She said, in an e-mail to the Herald, that she’s proud of her son. However, “I did say a prayer thank you God. It is much easier to sleep now.”
St. Germain’s interests extend beyond mountaineering: Between hours working as the director of flight operations for Canadian North, a private airline, he runs, cycles and kayaks.
Darin McBeath, a geologist who competed with Canada’s Alpine Skiing team in the 2002 Olympics, has been a family friend for more than six years. He said St. Germain is a “perfect individual. He’s incredibly motivated, passionate and kind. He’s an incredible father.”
McBeath said he was awed by the climber’s athleticism.
“The thing that scared me was that he was so damn stubborn,” he said. “He’s so driven that I could see him getting into trouble quickly there.”
McBeath knew St. Germain had promised to bring oxygen. He also knew the climber wouldn’t use it until he was “really in trouble.”
For example, during a competitive endurance race, he tore a muscle in his thigh. Eventually, he pulled out. But not before running for several hours with the injury. “He said: ‘I popped 11 Advil and I couldn’t do it any longer,’ ” McBeath said.
Between his running regime and his long-distance cycling — one trip saw him travel between Calgary and Whistler, B.C. — McBeath said he couldn’t explain what drove St. Germain to push his limits. “I have no idea. Maybe he’s a bit of a masochist.”
McBeath said St. Germain routinely trains by cycling down Highway 65 to Bragg Creek, riding up Moose mountain as far as the bike will take him and then running the rest of the way to the top. Then he runs back down and rides home.
“To most people, that would be an accomplishment. To him, it’s just a workout.”
Laval St. Germain wasn’t the only Calgarian to climb Everest in recent weeks. According to his parents, Wiktor Mazur, who climbed the mountain to raise money for World Vision, has successfully returned to civilization. He’s decamped in a hotel in Kathmandu, Nepal, and is expected to return to Calgary next week.
In the meantime, the drive that compels some to reach the highest peaks remains a mystery.
“I’m not sure that even he understands it,” Janet St. Germain said of her husband.
Albertans To Summit Mount Everest
– Calgarian Laurie Skreslet, Oct. 5, 1982
– Albertan Pat Morrow, Oct. 7, 1982
– Albertan Sharon Wood,
May 20, 1986; first North American woman to summit
– Albertan Dwayne Congdon, May 20, 1986
– Calgarian Andy Evans — May 22, 1997
– Calgarian Jamie Clarke — May 22, 1997
– Calgarian Alan Hobson — May 22, 1997
– Calgarian Dave Rodney — May 13, 1999
– Albertan Byron Smith — May 21, 2000
– Calgarian Dave Rodney — May 24, 2001. The first Canadian to summit twice.
– Calgarian Deryl Kelly — May 24, 2001. At age 25, he became the youngest Canadian to summit, record now held by Eric Otto of Kingston, Ont.
– Calgarian Esther Colwill — June 2, 2005
– Albertan Andries Botha — May 18, 2006
– Albertan Al Hancock — May 19, 2007
– Calgarian Andrew Brash — May 22, 2008
– Calgarian Hedd-wyn Williams — May 24, 2008
– Calgarian Frank Ziebarth — May 2009. Ziebarth died on the descent.
– Albertan Lucille de Beaudrap — May 7, 2010
Compiled by Norma Marr Source : Canwest Archives
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