Canadian climber plans assault on Mt. Everest this summer
Boulder, Colo. — When Roger Marshall was fired as the leader of the 1982 Canadian Everest Expedition, he became known as the ``bad boy'' of Canadian climbing. He was angry and hurt at the time, but it turned out to be an inspiration for the veteran mountaineer. Marshall decided he didn't enjoy major expeditions that involve years of planning, millions of dollars, promotions, and politics. Quite simply, he found the organization overshadowing the climbing of the mountain.
``In retrospect, getting fired was the best thing that could've happened,'' Marshall said. ``I didn't fit the promotional mold. It's dishonest; it's phony.''
That 1982 Canadian Expedition ended up costing $1.5 million and four lives. The experience sent Marshall to the opposite end of the spectrum. He turned to climbing mountains alone -- without porters, radio communication, or oxygen. He is now planning a solo ascent of Everest from the Tibetan side next August.
``The idea is adventure; climbing solo is just more enjoyable, more exciting,'' said the tanned, robust Marshall. ``It's a real thrill to be up there on your own.''
The 44-year-old climber, who concentrates on the Himalayas, knows the sensation. He got his first taste of mountain solitude on an ascent of Lhotse Shar. His partner tired at 21,000 feet after 45 days, and Marshall continued for five days to 26,000 feet.
``Suddenly something inside me told me `I have to do this,' '' the blond-haired, bearded outdoorsman said. ``I ran out of food, strength, and fuel, but it was a tremendous experience, because I realized I loved being alone on the mountain.''
He soloed to the top of the 28,208-foot Kangchenjunga two years ago, climbed the magnificent 22,494-foot Ama Dablam twice, and scaled the 26,750-foot Cho Oyu in the dead of winter. He relies on judgment and concentration -- plus a well-developed sense of danger.
``I use it as a guiding influence,'' he says of the latter quality. ``If I feel afraid, that's telling me something.''
The story best illustrating this theory occurred on a descent of Kangchenjunga, when a storm caused whiteout conditions. Near the foot of an icefall, Marshall, for reasons unknown to him, suddenly stopped and couldn't take another step. After 20 minutes, the storm subsided and two feet ahead of him was a huge crevasse.
Mountains always have been a part of Marshall's life. A native of England's Lake District, he started rock climbing at 12 and scaling the French Alps by 19. At 17 he started his career as a British newspaper reporter, and after moving to Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1967 he spent six more years as a general writer. He then dabbled in business -- selling and designing outdoor equipment and real estate -- before giving it all up to climb mountains full time at the age of 41.
Marshall now trains in Boulder, in the shadow of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, which is home to several outdoor equipment companies and many of his friends and supporters. The total budget for his Everest climb is $50,000, most of which he raises through endorsements and motivational speeches. He plans to leave June 15 and will reach base camp, probably about 17,000 feet, at the end of the month.
Marshall will use July for acclimatization, and when he sees a break in the monsoon season, he and a photographer will climb the Rongbuk Glacier to the advanced base camp around 21,000 feet. In the next five days Marshall, alone, will plot and follow his route, most likely climbing to the North Col, then back across the North Face to the Central Couloir, and on to the summit.
``The summit's not important,'' Marshall said. ``It's pushing the limits that counts. If I got up everything I tried, I'd know I wasn't pushing myself. You have to push back the limits every time. It's the personal limits, your personal summit.''
Marshall is a member of an elite group of solo climbers. Probably the best known is Austrian Reinhold Messner, who climbed the north route up Everest alone in 1980. Frenchman Pierre B'eghin attempted the Everest route last summer but failed to reach the summit. He will try again this summer, shortly after Marshall's attempt.
Part of Everest's allure, Marshall says, is the fact that it is the world's tallest peak, at 29,028 feet. But at this point the Canadian climber is quite a familiar sight in many parts of the Himalayas.
He is also a purist -- which is why last November he climbed Ama Dablam twice. On the first trip he and his partner made it to within 100 feet of the summit when they decided to turn back because of oncoming darkness. When Marshall got back to the Nepalese village of Pheriche, he found a note from former President Jimmy Carter, who was traveling in the region, congratulating him on reaching the summit.
``Being a Brit, I had to be honest,'' Marshall said. ``I would've had to write him and tell him I didn't make the summit. So I went back and climbed it solo.''
Marshall's next climb was the winter ascent of Cho Oyu, a project he put together with five other climbers. Marshall was the leader, but only in name; he collected the necessary $8,000 for the climb and secured the permit for $2,400. Otherwise, all six climbers were considered totally independent, none relying on the other.
Marshall did not reach the summit because he climbed too high too quickly and experienced altitude-related physical problems and frostbite. His camp had been at 24,500 feet, where the wind-chill factor was minus 97 degrees F.
Marshall has made a lifelong study of mountaineering equipment. He has it all custom-made, and on each trip he attempts to trim the weight. This time he hopes to have his backpack whittled down to 50 pounds.
He vehemently opposes the use of Sherpas, the famous Nepalese porters who accompany many expeditions.
``Sherpas do all the donkey work, all the dangerous work,'' Marshall said. ``They are traders, nomads, and farmers, not climbers. They do it for the money. Why risk somebody else's life for your pleasure?''
He is no less passionate about the use of oxygen.
``If you use oxygen, to me, that shows that you can't climb the mountain,'' he said. ``It lowers the height of the mountain. Oxygen is cheating. If you cheat, you're only cheating yourself. It's the style that counts.''
After Everest, Marshall has plans to solo-climb Lhotse (27,891 feet) in 1987, K2 (28,250 feet) in 1988, and Makulu (27,790 feet) in 1989.
``I'm not limiting myself to anything,'' he says.