Woody Hartman, 36, son of Tellico Villagers Bill and Harriet Hartman, recently became another of the few who have successfully climbed the world’s highest peak.
The adventurer gave a photo presentation Friday evening at the Yacht Club in Tellico Village, where he shared detailed information about his Mount Everest trek and allowed attendees to ask questions about the breathtaking climb.
Hartman, who finished his climb May 23, had only been interested in mountaineering for the past six years, when a friend of his invited him to go on a backcountry skiing trip that turned into a mountain-climbing adventure. Hartman got invested in tackling the 29,000-foot Himayalan peak when he got a virtual firsthand experience of an Everest expedition.
“This is the nerdiest, millennial thing I could say, but it’s true,” Hartman said. “Two and a half years ago, I was over at a friend’s house. They had a virtual reality system, and we were playing with some games he was showing to me, and one of them was a simulated climb of Everest. I put that on, and it had you walk across one of those horizontal ladders. My palms got sweaty, and I took off the headset, and I was kind of like, ‘That was really intense. I wonder what it’d be like to see that in person’.”
The trek took 60 days since the high elevations require Everest adventurers to get acclimated to bypass potential altitude sickness. Before heading to Everest base camp, Hartman delved into the Sherpa culture. The small Sherpa towns were Hartman’s last connection with civilization before he made the life-threatening scramble to the summit.
Though Hartman spent weeks in sections of the Himalayas to get acclimated to harsh weather conditions and elevation, his description of the final push to the summit was the most nightmarish.
“We left at 7 (p.m.) with the plan of getting to the summit at sunrise,” he said. “So your final climb — the part where you’re really in the death zone the whole time — is 100 percent in the dark. ... It’s really scary. It’s pitch black. ... Psychologically, it’s tough. You can only see 10 feet in front of you. You only have a headlamp on. … All you’re doing is putting one foot in front of the other. You’re taking about three breaths, four breaths for each step because even with oxygen, all the oxygen is doing is just adding a little bit of oxygen to the air you’re breathing.”
Climbers attached carabiners to a single rope that guided them up the mountain. Many slowdowns happened en route to the summit due to climbers who were met with altitude sickness.
“The part of what I realized was slowing down the line so much … it was that, we passed four, maybe five, I want to say people that were coming down, but what it really was was unconscious bodies getting dragged back down the mountain,” Hartman said. “They had passed out for whatever reason, probably altitude sickness or just exhaustion. There’s only one safety rope this whole way, unfortunately, so in order for them to come down with any degree of safety and pass people, it’s a very slow and tedious process.”
The sherpas who guided the climbers up had to drag bodies down the mountain. Because all climbers were attached to the same line, Hartman had a hands-on experience in seeing the grim reality that Everest encapsulates.
“In some cases they’re mumbling,” Hartman said. “In some cases they’re drooling or bleeding. The sherpa is frantically trying to unclip the carabiner that’s clipped to the rope, and clip around the climber going up still, and that process is what was backing everyone up.”
Hartman said five climbers collapsed. He said he passed four dead bodies, which served as an unnerving wake-up call for the danger attached to the climb, even though he was well aware of the potential of death.
“I knew that death was a part of the Everest experience — people die every year,” he said. “My guiding company, which, of course, is a respectable one, had a long conversation with me in advance about the risks, ‘Are you prepared?’ I went and got a will and trust written up for the first time and did those kinds of things, knowing that was a reality.”
Harriet Hartman admitted she stayed occupied to keep from thinking the worst as she would lose contact with her son for days on end.
“He’d say, ‘You’re not going to hear from me for five to seven days or whatever because I’m going to be climbing this or going out on that rotation,’ and so I would go work in my garden,” she said. “We’d go find other things to go do. I went to see ‘Aladdin’ one night. It’s so much easier if you keep your brain someplace else.”
Initially, Hartman’s mother internally dreaded her son’s desire to climb the summit, but an understanding for his dreams made her relinquish anxiety.
“I was like, ‘No, I don’t want you to do that,’” Harriet said. “But I always try to support my children’s dreams, their goals that they set for themselves, so I sucked it up, and I said, ‘Go for it’.”
By sunrise, Hartman successfully reached the summit of the world’s highest peak. It was -35 degrees, the wind was blowing at more than 30 miles per hour and the sun was breaking over the Himalayas. But the moment didn’t bring about the feeling of sublimity he anticipated.
“I had really for 58 days dreamed of this moment, and I can’t say I really got it in the moment,” he said. “I got it afterwards, reflecting on it, but in that moment, I just didn’t want to die, and I think that’s how pretty much everyone feels. I underestimated that, and certainly if anyone thinks about climbing it, I will tell them that so that they don’t mislead themselves into thinking that they should have that summit fever and push for every possible reason to be on their own capabilities because it’s not worth it if you’re not healthy or able to make it.”
Hartman’s parents said their son’s successful climb was an answered prayer.
“We knew when summit day was coming, and for seven or eight days, they’d be off the grid,” Bill Hartman said. “His climbing company, International Mountain Guides, has an Instagram account … and all of the sudden, it pops up on Instagram: ‘Group summited Everest.’ And there’s his name and his sherpa.”
With the highest peak checked off his list, Hartman is itching to conquer other looming mountains across the world.
“I think life’s an adventure and I have lots of awesome things coming up,” he said. “A lot of my teammates were using Everest to complete the seven summits, and I’ve actually done none of the other seven summits. It’s not a formal goal, but something I’m definitely interested in checking off when it’s convenient. I’m looking at doing the tallest mountain in Oceania. It’s in Papua New Guinea. It’s called Carstenz Pyramid.”
Hartman hopes to climb Carstenz Pyramid in October. Until then, the self-made mountaineer is making his rounds in the states.
“I’ve already just last week climbed Mount Whitney, which is the tallest mountain in the lower 48, so I’m back at it,” he said with a laugh.