Chicagoan Recounts Harrowing Journey to Summit of Mount Everest

A Chicago-native just completed his incredible journey to the summit of the world’s tallest mountain, and in addition to being thrilled with his achievement, he feels grateful to be alive.

“It still hasn’t hit me yet that I really summited,” Alex Pancoe said of his epic climb. “It’s still kind of a surreal thing because I’ve been waiting so many years for it.”

Pancoe’s journey to the top of Mount Everest was filled with highs and lows. One of his highest points came when he reached the summit, as he proudly displayed messages from those who supported his journey.

The lowest point came when Pancoe stared death directly in the face. On his way up to the summit, a key piece of Pancoe’s equipment failed, and he collapsed instantly.

“On the way to the summit, on the Hillary Step, I had my regulator, which connects my mask to my oxygen tank, explode,” he said.

Pancoe credits his well-prepared Sherpa for saving his life during the scary incident, but others were not quite as lucky, as at least 11 climbers have already perished on the mountain this year.

Due to the incredibly high altitude and other factors, bodies often remain on the mountain, and Pancoe had to step over at least one of them on his ascent.

“On one hand, you say ‘am I really doing this?,’” he said. “I’m stepping over a human body and just continuing on my way. On the other hand, that’s part of Everest and mountaineering. Everyone who goes up to the death zone knows that if you go down, there’s a good chance you won’t get rescued.”

Complicating matters is the sheer number of climbers that are allowed on the mountain. A now-viral photo showed hundreds of climbers in the so-called “Death Zone,” an area of the mountain where there’s so little oxygen that climbers can’t think straight and even start to hallucinate at times.

Now, back home and exhausted from his trip, Pancoe says he is proud of his achievement, and relieved that he was able to come home.

“Whether it’s Everest, or running a marathon, or taking a business gamble, don’t be afraid to bet on, and invest in, yourself and see where things go,” he said. “The lesson would be whether it’s Everest or anything, don’t accept the status quo, don’t be afraid to challenge yourself, and don’t be afraid of failure.”

Pancoe’s journey is only just beginning, as he plans to climb Denali in Alaska later this year. That will complete his explorer’s grand slam of completing the summits of the highest peaks on every continent.

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