Perspectives from the Top of the World
Note: This article is one in a series of feature stories written by journalism students.
October 23, 2018
Violence and beauty are seldom used together to describe one certain view, but those are the two words that Gary Ervin uses to describe the top of the world. Adventurer and Rock Climber Ervin is going for the seven summits, which are the highest peaks on each continent. So far, he has topped four peaks, and plans on topping the other three by the end of 2019. Ervin grew up on a farm in Union County, KY where, in high school, he wrestled and eventually got a scholarship to college. During college, and in the summers especially, he worked in the coal mines to make ends meet. The mines were brutal on Ervin, but he still grew to love it. Eventually he realized just how dangerous it was. After college, he started in the telecom and cable industry. He now owns a very successful business with his family, and he is still a chairman in the company to this day. Mountain climbing was never a dream for Ervin, until he climbed his first one with his sons in 2014. That is when the obsession began. The first mountain that Ervin climbed was Mount Kilimanjaro, which is the highest peak in Africa and the largest free standing mountain in the world. He and his two sons conquered it 2014. As soon as he returned to sea level, he started researching and planning to make the seven summits.
Ervin plans on finishing the seven summits by the end of 2019. He has three future expeditions planned for next year. On January 6, he plans to climb in Antarctica. He has Denali in Alaska planned for May 11. This will be one of his more difficult climbs. And finally, he will be traveling to face a peak in Indonesia in October. Training is an essential part to having a successful climb, especially for those trying to climb three within one calendar year. Ervin discusses some of his training to prepare for these massive mountains, “Training can be boring, but it is difficult. I am on a strict training schedule that is world renown, called Uphill Athlete.” Some of Ervin’s training includes carrying weights while walking on a steep incline on the treadmill, while other sections of training include getting to the mountains in Colorado and climbing the 14,000 feet peaks, also known as 14ers.
Mount Everest was Ervin’s biggest challenge. He has been on the mountain for three expeditions but only summited once. The top of the world can be more violent than most people realize, he explains. On his first expedition, Ervin witnessed five people die. Once climbers get close to the summit, especially above 26,000 feet, they enter what is called the death zone, and climbing becomes deadly as the body slowly dies. According to the conqueryourdreams.org “Climbers can only endure the altitude at Camp IV for a maximum of two or three days. If the weather does not cooperate within that window, climbers are forced to descend.” After passing through the death zone, climbers reach the summit. Ervin describes some of the elements that he faced at the top of world and the sights that he saw. “It is extremely violent, the wind is blowing 50 mph and it is 40 below, but it is beautiful. The lack of O’s really makes your brain work funny, the blues and whites, and you get to look down on the clouds.” After the third attempt, Ervin knew what to expect on the mountain, but it was still by no means easy.
If climbing the tallest mountain in the world was not a big enough feat, Ervin has also been on the hit show, The Amazing Race for not one season, but two. Ervin and his daughter, Mallory, were on season 17 for this adventure race show and had some bad luck and ended up getting sixth place. The next year, though, they were asked to return for season 18 where they finished in third place. As described by Ervin, “it is just like you see on TV, it was an amazing experience with my daughter.” In addition to climbing mountains and competing in adventure races around the world, Ervin also is a multi-sport athlete. He has participated in half-marathons, and marathons.
Ervin’s achievements are impressive, not only to the average person, but also for other adventure athletes. Fellow rock climber Avery Corliss offers some perspective. “It’s an amazing accomplishment, but most people don’t realize how difficult climbing actually is, you can’t just go out there and start climbing.” Climbing mountains for the past the past five years has been somewhat about “self-discovery” for Ervin. Climbing is something that challenges a person’s limits. It helps someone establish exactly where those limits are, and then pushes the climber past them. As Ervin climbs, he never looks up at the top for two reasons. The first is that it always seems so far away, and the second is because it is necessary to focus on one step at a time. Mental toughness over physical capability is everything while climbing some of the tallest mountains in the world. Ervin connects this perspective to the real world. “The odds never seem good, you will get to tough places and situations where you can’t make it through them, but you have to keep going.” Climbing mountains isn’t just about the challenge, it is about discovering the world around you and discovering more about you as a person. As Ervin explains, “If you don’t believe in God, climb a mountain.”