What do Dan Akerman and Ben Stiller have in common? Akerman is a special risk insurance underwriter; Stiller played one in Along Came Polly. Jennifer Aniston’s Polly enticed Stiller to throw out his actuarial tables and take risks. Akerman’s siren calls to him from 29,029 feet above sea level. Akerman will answer that call sometime in May when he summits Mount Everest. This journey will exact every gram of mind, body and spirit that Akerman has fortified during his climbs of the past seven years.
byteclay.com spoke with Dan Akerman about the special risk he faces as he underwrites his Everest expedition. Here follows Part 3 of the March 8 interview:
Mark Davis: You climbed Manaslu six months ago. Why did you choose this mountain?
Dan Akerman: I wanted to get experience working with the Sherpas and see how I respond to altitude. And now I know that in Nepal It’s not a matter of if, but when you’re going to get sick. You bite the bullet and tough it out for two days. When I go back to Kathmandu at the end of this month, I’ve got three days in a hotel.
MD: So you will preemptively get sick before you start the climb.
DA: Exactly. Once you get sick, your body builds up immunity against that bacteria and then you’re fine.
MD: You aren’t able to carry purified water up the mountain.
DA: We drink a lot of tea because the water is boiled. You do drink bottled water when you stay at a teahouse, which is basically a hostel. Until you get to base camp you’re not sleeping in a tent, you’re sleeping at teahouses in villages along the way.
MD: I’m hearing a very smart plan.
DA: This goes back to why I wanted to go to Nepal before Everest to learn these things, to make the mistakes. I climbed with oxygen and that was a first for me. It’s challenging because the regulator freezes up. It was a good learning experience and we managed to summit while other expeditions cancelled.
MD: Why did the expeditions cancel?
DA: We got reports from Sherpas that were fixing ropes between camp three and camp four that they saw a crevasse that was 20 feet across and was too long to route around it. They didn’t have any ladders that could bridge it. I’m not too worried about the ladders but what worried me was when they said there was extreme avalanche risk. Manaslu is known for its avalanche deaths. We decided to return to base camp and regroup. I talked to the Sirdar, Mingma Sherpa who has summited Everest 19 times. I told him we’re not going to push through extreme avalanche risk, but we should go up and see what the conditions are before we decide to cancel. They sent a new Sherpa team up with ladders for the crevasse and we identified a new summit window. We started moving up the mountain and we saw the Sherpas returning from above and they said that the avalanche risk was normal and where’s the crevasse? It was gone. And this generated a conspiracy theory among the climbers because one leader had to cancel and used the crevasse story to get other groups to cancel. He didn’t want to look bad by being the only group to cancel. A crevasse that large doesn’t disappear in two days. That was very odd.
We eventually made it up to camp three and we started moving to camp four. One of the big paydays for the Sherpas is when you summit you pay them a pre-negotiated tip. I said, guys, you’re going to get that regardless. I don’t want us pushing through if the conditions aren’t good. We got up there and the snowpack was fine. I didn’t see any significant avalanche risk; we pushed on and eventually made it up to camp four.
Next up: Dan Akerman summits Manaslu. Stay tuned…