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UA grad reaches summit of Mt. Everest

Morgan Reames

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As graduation approaches, most undergrads decide to begin searching for jobs or focusing on graduate school. For Chris Cannizzaro, climbing the world’s largest mountain seemed much more appealing.

When his friend Andrew Hillery suggested the idea of scaling mountains during his senior year at The University of Alabama, Cannizzaro was hooked. He and Hillery moved to California after graduation and prepared for their expeditions. Cannizzaro said to train for the climb, he ran outside and worked on his core strength.

“I did standard gym stuff, like push-ups, pull-ups and stair master,” Cannizaro said. “You just have to make sure you’re in all-around good shape.”

Before tackling the beast of Mt. Everest, Cannizzaro climbed the Cascade Range in Washington, along with Mt. Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Americas, in 2010.

“After I climbed Aconcagua I knew I was ready,” Cannizzaro said.

Mt. Everest stands at 29,028 feet tall, and is located between Nepal and China in the Himalayas. In April 2011, Cannizzaro began his journey with team of six and a veteran climbing guide. Sherpas also accompanied the climbers, which are members of Tibetan people of east Nepal who serve as expert guides of the Himalayas.

Travis Taylor, a freshman majoring in electrical engineering, said he can’t imagine the amount of time invested in mountain climbing.

“I’m sure it’s enjoyable and challenging, but I prefer a short, quick struggle like rock climbing,” Taylor said.

While reaching the summit took about 24 hours, the entire trip lasted about 45 days. Cannizzaro said summiting the peak isn’t a straight shot.

“There are a total of six camps before you get to the summit,” Cannizzaro said. “You have to go up a little bit, then down a little bit, then back up. It’s just a lot of back and forth just getting your body adjusted.”

Cannizzaro said the hardest day was summit day. They left the camp around 9 a.m., hiked for four hours, then rested at the next camp for five to six hours.

“You can’t sleep there, just rest, get some water and noodles in you, then you’re off to the summit,” Cannizzaro said.

Nearing the summit, Cannizzaro began to face dif?culties. His goggles had malfunctioned and began fogging up, slowly freezing his eyeballs.

“I couldn’t see, and my Sherpa left me because he thought I was going to die,” Cannizzaro said. “He left with my oxygen and I only had an hour left.”

When scaling the mountain climbers receive three oxygen tanks, two on the way up and one for the way down, with four hours of oxygen per tank. Before losing his vision, Canizzarro noticed his partner, John Delaney, not moving. He had developed cerebral edema, which is a severe and often fatal form of altitude sickness that includes the swelling of the brain tissue.

“I was like, dude you gotta move, but he wouldn’t respond,” Cannizzaro said. “He had lost consciousness, so we had to leave him up there.”

The area of the Everest known as the death zone is located at about 26,000 feet near the peak. This is where the amount of oxygen can’t sustain human life and extended time in this zone results in deterioration of body functions, loss of consciousness and eventually death.

According to a report in the National Post, about 235 people have died attempting to make the climb since 1922.

“You don’t know how hard it is to walk past someone and just leave them on the mountain,” Canizzaro said. “The bodies are still up there, you see the reality.”

Blinded and slowly running out of oxygen on his way back down, Cannizzaro said his veteran guide, Noel Hanna, saved his life by switching oxygen tanks with him. After the dangerous summit, life continues to be crazy, Cannizzaro said, with ?nals approaching and his next climb in Alaska in two weeks. He currently attends law school at Loyola University and plans to make another big climb, hopefully by next August.

“I never got that euphoric feeling when I reached the summit,” Cannizzaro said. “There was no ‘I just climbed Mount Everest.’ I was just happy to still be alive.”


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UA grad reaches summit of Mt. Everest