John Oldring, a former Red Deer City councillor and Alberta Progressive Conservative MLA, recently accomplished one of the great feats of mankind when he summited Mount Everest. He simultaneously became the oldest Canadian to accomplish the climb at 65-years-old.
“It is pretty cool for sure,” he said. “It is an incredible mountain.”
Oldring has been building up to his Everest climb for many years and has bested some of the highest peaks in the world – including many in the Canadian Rockies where his interest in climbing began.
“I summited Aconcagua in the Andes and Denali in Alaska, and also lots of mountains in our own backyard,” he said adding his time on Everest was a long process.
“Everest is a big mountain and it is a lengthy process,” he explained. “We were on the mountain for about seven weeks. It is a very harsh environment to live in. You are at altitude and even at base camp you are at 17,500 feet.”
To handle the harsh conditions of the Himalayas, climbers must go through acclimatization process which requires them to go back and forth between base camp and the other camps further up Everest. This allows the body to avoid such fatal conditions like high altitude cerebral edema – which is common amongst climbers. Oldring explained he was lucky to have experienced climbers on his team.
“Fortunately for me, I was with three of the people two years earlier on Everest,” he said. “We all knew each other and were comfortable climbing together. We had a strong team that knew what they were doing and that makes a difference.”
Oldring also had the opportunity to see whether the recent rumours of the collapse of the famed Hillary Step were true.
“That is still up for discussion,” he explained. “There are one or two guys that feel the Hillary Step has changed, while some of the sherpas said there was just more snow. For me, we definitely went through something that seemed a lot like the Hilary Step. Having never been up there until now, I can’t say how much it has changed but it is definitely not gone.”
While none of the Everest climb is simple, Oldring did mention some of the notable difficulties of the climb.
“Certainly the (Khumbu) icefall is one of the most dangerous parts of the mountains but the summit day is the longest day. There is lots of exposure on the route,” he said. “When you are climbing a big mountain like that, it is a physical, mental and emotional challenge. You have to stay strong, committed and focused.”
When Oldring and his team finally reached the peak of the world, they received a gift he was very grateful for.
“It is pretty cool to stand at the highest point in the world,” he said. “Fortunately for us, we had a clear day with lots of visibility. You are standing on top of the world looking out and you can see the curvature of the earth. You see lots of big mountains and you look down and see Tibet on one side and Nepal on the other. It is a pretty amazing experience for sure.”
While Oldring did say it is up to the climber how long they want to hang out at the summit, his team simply took it in for 15 minutes, snapped some photos and made their way back down.
“You get back down and get yourself safe again,” he added.
Oldring is currently recovering and getting back to normal life in his current home of Calgary. He has yet to plan his next adventure.
“Who knows. At this point, I can’t imagine what would inspire me to climb it again when there are so many other mountains out there,” he said. “I’ll work at recovery and then figure out what happens next. There is still a lot of mountains around here that I haven’t climbed yet. I always enjoy getting out into our Canadian Rockies.”
He noted that Albertans have a distinct advantage when it comes to climbing.
“It is certainly advantageous in terms of gaining the skills and experience necessary. Even for training – it was a big part of my training,” he said.
Oldring was proud to be able to represent Canada, Alberta and Central Alberta on the peak of the world.
“I brought my Canadian flag with me and I took great pride and joy being able to pose on the top of that mountain with my Canadian flag,” he said. “When I summited Denali, one of the things is you stop and go through a presentation with the U.S. National Parks. They allow you to put a pin on the map from where you are from. I pinned Red Deer.”