On May 24, 2008, climber Joby Ogwyn set a world record by ascending and descending Mount Everest in nine hours and 30 minutes. Men's Fitness had the opportunity to speak with Ogwyn before his historic attempt. Here's what he had to say about preparing to take on the record.
You're no stranger to climbing Everest. Tell us what other experiences you've had there.
This will be my third time up. I did it from the south side in 1999, when I was 24 years old. I was the youngest American guy to do it. Then I tried the speed ascent on the north face in 2006 and I got within about 30 minutes of the summit when a storm blew in, but I did climb the entire north face in 10 hours and 15 minutes. I probably would have been somewhere in the 11- to 12-hour range if I could have finished. That would have taken 5 hours off of the current world record.
So a lot of your success for this climb will be based on getting the timing and conditions just right?
Yes. I've already climbed Everest a couple times, but my deal this time is the speed ascent. I want to break the world record. To do it in one day, I really won't spend a lot of nights on the mountain, but it will be a lot of up and down. The base camp is at 18,000 feet — you get a good amount of acclimatization there. Usually, by the middle of May the monsoon season in Asia blows in and pushes the jet stream, usually blasting the summits further north into China and the wind dies down, that's when you go up. My idea is to do the whole thing in 14-15 hours.
Why did you decide to attempt the speed ascent on the north face?
I think that the north side actually lends itself to being more vertical, it's steeper so it might be fast, but the south face is a big open space and is harder to navigate. The north face is just a ridge you follow all the way up — it's steeper and more exposed but faster.
So will you hire a team to go up before you?
I have a staff at base camp that does everything for me, and I know several of the guides up there who run the commercial operation, they're good buddies of mine. I know a lot of other professional guys that will be there, so I'll coordinate with those guys to see that the route is ready. Then I can go and try by myself.
Do you typically climb by yourself?
Well, for the last few years I have been climbing by myself, because I've been concentrating on the speed part of it. Not to sound like a dickhead, but nobody can keep up with me. So I've ended up being by myself. I have done some bigger, more technical, more remote stuff usually with one or two other guys. I have a very small group of European guys that I trust that are really on it. I enjoy climbing with other people, but I also know that it can throw you off in a lot of ways.
Isn't that a safety issue as well?
It's like a lot of other sports. If you're going cave diving by yourself, it's a lot more dangerous to do it alone — it's exactly the same with climbing. There is no help, no advice, no 'hey man, what do you think?' Every decision you make is completely on your own. If I sit down in the snow and get too tired to get back up again, I'm just fucked. Climbing alone narrows your focus. There's nobody talking to you, nobody wants to stop and rest when you don't want to — it's just you and the mountain.
Why are you so determined to break the speed ascent record?
The speed ascent thing is cool because most people do take 5 or 6 days to reach the summit and 3 or 4 to get back down. I'm literally going up and down, and touching the mountain one time, once I'm acclimatized. Nobody has ever done anything like that unsupported. Even the guy who has the current speed record of 17 hours had Sherpas climb in different places on the mountain to support him, so he could crawl into a tent and drink some hot tea and stuff.
So, what do you expect will be the biggest challenge of this speed climb?
There aren't very many people who can do these speed routes, but the biggest challenge in a lot of ways, is contending with all the different factors that come into play, especially the weather and your health. I mean, you always get sick, it just depends on whether you get sick on the day you're supposed to go up. So, there are a lot of little factors like that. I might have to try it a couple times. Sometimes the weather report is really nice, then you get halfway up there and you have to turn a round and come back — that takes a lot out of you.
Will fitness play a big part in you success?
If I told you what my training program was, it wouldn't sound like there is anything strange or interesting or different about it. It's more about consistency than anything else. I don't just train for a couple months before I leave. I train year round. I also maintain a great diet and make sure I get enough rest.
So what does this expedition mean to you?
I'm not in it to be famous — there's nobody up there clapping for you. I do it for myself, but the idea of doing it unsupported, completely alone all in one push is what excites me. I love the idea of redefining something like that.