Sunday, May 20, 2007

Together on Top of the World

Add Phil and Susan Ershler to my list of heroes (see Comments, Jorge Drexler: Dos Besos y Un Abrazo). Phil and Susan were in San Diego this week for a lecture and book signing for their new book Together on Top of the World.

Phil is a legendary mountain climber who meets a young, pretty, ambitious corporate executive who had never been on a hike and at thirty five had given up on finding Prince Charming. An unlikely match, but together they climbed the Seven Summits, the highest mountain on each of the seven continents. Along the way, Susan continues to work full time as a corporate executive, Phil has colon cancer, they get married. The book is a combination love story, adventure, climbing thriller, and has the makings of a good movie.

Phil had accomplished the seven summits himself by 1989, indeed guiding Dick Bass who first climbed the seven summits. There were other accomplishments to his credit, including first American to climb the north face of Everest in 1984, solo for the last 2000 feet as he was the "last man standing" from the American team. He has 400 summits on Mt. Rainier, a mountain most of us train rigorously to climb once.

I reached the Mt. Rainier summit once in 1996 and was resting before the requisite summit photo when a cup of hot tea was offered. Looking up I recognized the face, I knew the reputation. Hot blackberry tea from Phil Ershler at the top of a damn grueling climb... and my thought was how did that man manage to carry a pack twice as heavy along with all the rescue equipment and still have the sensitivity to pack up thermoses of hot tea for the summiters?

The next Ershler sighting was 2001 at Everest Base Camp with Susan on their first attempt to summit -- Phil's eyes froze over just below the summit and they had to turn back. We had met Babu Chiri on our way up to Kalapathar and Island Peak. He and our guide, Phursumba Sherpa, were friends and Babu suggested we "stop by" Everest Base Camp while we were in the area. Let me say now, "stopping by" in the Everest region is not quite the same as in the States.

Mountain climbers have that hard-as-nails attitude. My ex-son-in-law and climbing buddy would say they are the "aristocracy of athletes". Just before the lecture, Susan said privately, "Phil thinks this book could ruin his reputation, what with the relationship part and all." Phil, the reputation was gone with the blackberry tea.


Kappa no He said...

OMG, you met him!

The only mountain I've ever climbed was Mount Fuji which is quite puny at 3776 meters/12388 feet. I have an enormous respect for mountain climbers. I mean you're not so much battling the mountain as yourself.

I liked the "aristocray of sports" line. I buy that!

Katharine said...

My Japanese climbing girlfriend has been up Mt. Fuji. 12,388' is not puny!

I had a sherpa mountain guide whose mantra when the going got rough was "you don't conquer the mountain, you only conquer yourself". Listen to that over and over and you believe it.

I am thinking to do a few mountain stories, and I will have a surprise about Phil Ershler at the end.

Kappa no He said...

I can't wait for the stories!

You know, that mantra would work for any situation, anytime. Just change 'mountain' to whatever stress you're dealing with at the time. I think I'll use that!