An Everest Interview with Emily Harrington
One of my closest friends, and my roommate, Emily Harrington, will attempt to summit Mount Everest this spring. To put it mildly, Emily is a badass. She was a badass long before Everest came into the picture. Not only has she worked her way well into the ranks of sport climbing, with multiple ascents of 5.14b, but she has also made a mark for herself in the world of mixed and ice climbing. Emily took home the gold medal in this year’s Ouray Ice Festival, and has mixed climbed M9. While I can’t say much about what M9 means, as my ice experience ends at one toprope, I can vouch for the fact that Emily is one of the bravest, most versatile, and most talented climbers I know. I thought it would be fun to ask her a few questions about her trip. When she returns, we’ll check back in and see what she has to say about her experience.
Who will be on your expedition team?
National Geographic Writer Mark Jenkins
NOLS Instructor Phil Henderson
Montana State University Geology Professor David Lageson
Does your team have a specific mission, other than summiting?
We will be conducting geological research on the mountain, but that is primarily Dave’s objective. He wants to measure the summit, something that hasn’t accurately been done since 1999. The Himalayas are growing, so Everest is probably a bit taller than it was in 1999. Dave is also working with Phil to develop a science curriculum for 5th grade students to educate them on climatology, glaciology, and geology. We’re also helping researchers from the Mayo Clinic with physiological testing. We’re the guinea pigs. The whole thing is quite multi-faceted and detailed.
You went to the Mayo Clinic for pre expedition testing a few weeks back. What were they measuring?
We did lung and heart ultrasounds, lung capacity/breathing tests, VO2 max testing, EKG, Dexa body fat and bone density scans. The purpose was to get a baseline of measurements for each of us, to compare to the tests and measurements they will take intermittently at basecamp, as well as shortly after we return home. The researchers want to study the effects of high altitude on the body because there are striking similarities between the symptoms of altitude sickness (Pulmonary Edema – water in the lungs) and those experienced by people who suffer heart failure and other cardiovascular problems. Their research has the capacity to affect a lot of people who suffer from heart problems. It feels pretty amazing to be a part of something that has such important implications for so many people.
Can you describe the route you’re taking?
It has many names: the Normal Route, Southeast Ridge, South Col. It’s the easiest and most common way to the summit.
How long will you be at basecamp and how long does it take to summit?
We’ll probably arrive at basecamp in early April and start acclimatizing, then go for the summit sometime in May. So, a while.
I hear you’ll be working on an art project while you’re there. Tell me about that.
Oh yeah. I almost forgot about that. It’s a little side project Sam and I got involved with as a result of our connection to Matthew Barney, an artist who we met in 2010 when he asked me to solo the side of a museum for one of his projects. A German artist who is interning with Matthew is meeting us at basecamp to give us some water from the Dead Sea, which we’ll take to the summit (hopefully we make it to the summit). We’ll pour it out and fill the bottle with snow so the artist can take it to the Dead Sea and pour it out. The art world is very different, and it’s often hard to understand the motives. From what I understand, the gist of this project is to connect the highest point on earth with the lowest point. Pretty rad.
What have you been doing to prepare?
Running, hiking, and acquiring ridiculous amounts of gear that I thought I would never need or use in my life. We were told to try and gain a little weight as well, which I think I succeeded at by abandoning all the neurotic food habits I’ve acquired from sport and competition climbing for over half my life. To be honest, it felt quite liberating.
What will you eat while you’re there?
We’re bringing quite a bit of food with us, but we’ll also eat traditional food. Sherpas eat lentils and rice, called dal bot, for almost every meal. It gets a bit old. It’s also hard to digest protein and fat at high altitudes, so we will eat a lot of simple carbohydrates. Mashed potatoes, noodles, rice, candy. No Paleo dieting on Everest..
Do you have any personal goals?
I’d really like to be able to say that I stood on top of the world, and when I meet random people on airplanes and tell them I’m a professional climber, I’d like to be able to answer “yes indeed I have” to their inevitable question, “have you climbed Everest?” The most important thing to me though is to be safe, return home, and keep all of my fingers and toes. In the long run, my rock climbing is still most important to me. I see this as a welcome change and incredible opportunity to experience something entirely new. Climbing is my whole life, and I want to experience it all.
Are you nervous?
Yes. And scared and excited and hyper and stressed out. All at once.
When you’re in a giant one piece down body suit, how are you going to poop?
Fortunately they’ve got that figured out. There’s a zipper on the backside.
How many clean pairs of socks are you taking?
I think maybe 5 or 6?
Good luck to Emily and her team!
For more information on the expedition, visit