Rogue River grad is on top of the world

While we were all relaxing last weekend, Brian Dickinson was fighting for his life on the world's tallest mountain.

Shortly after 4 p.m. our time on May 14, the 1992 Rogue River High School graduate was standing atop Mount Everest, accomplishing the feat about 5:30 a.m. May 15, Nepalese time.

But climbing the world's tallest peak that juts 29,035 feet into the sky wasn't the toughest part. It was getting back down — snow blind, alone and running out of oxygen — that made things a bit dicey.

"That was definitely the closest to death I've ever been," he said in a telephone interview Saturday morning from his home in Snoqualmie, Wash. He returned at midnight Friday after some two months in Nepal.

But before we go any further with the story, we need to go back down the mountain a ways.

Dickinson, 36, who spent six years as a U.S. Navy helicopter search-and-rescue swimmer, will tell you he was born with an adventurous spirit.

After the Navy, he went to college, earning a master's degree in business administration from the University of Phoenix. He is now a systems engineer for Cisco Systems.

He and his wife, JoAnna, have two children, Emily, 7, and Jordan, 4. The couple also operate an outdoor Christian ministry called Extreme Adventures.

While his mountain climbing may have started as an adventurous passion, it is now a philanthropic mission. Through his climbing, he is raising AIDS awareness and funds for researching the disease. His website — — links directly to the AIDS Research Alliance.

One of his goals is to climb the tallest peaks on each of the seven continents. Last year he climbed 19,340-foot Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, as well as Mount Elbrus, which rises to 18,510 feet in Russia.

In the spring of 2009, he and six other climbers attempted Alaska's Mount McKinley, also known as Denali, but prudently turned back 1,000 feet short of the 20,320-foot summit because of high winds.

That brings us back to the mountain known as the roof of the world.

Dickinson arrived in Nepal in March to prepare physically and mentally for the arduous climb. The day before he and a Sherpa named Pasang started their summit attempt, an 82-year-old Nepalese man died while trying to become the oldest to summit Everest. A Japanese climber died on Everest while they were climbing.

"After you start, you have two days of pure climbing — you never really get any sleep once you start," Dickinson says.

At about 24,000 feet, just below what is known as the Death Zone, he dropped his goggles, cracking them and rendering them nearly useless. They continually fogged and froze up.

With them on, he could see only through a dime-size circle on the left side, so he climbed largely without them on.

"When we were about 27,500 feet, Pasang got sick and had to go back down," he says.

Dickinson continued solo, arriving on top of the world about three hours later. He figures he stayed on the summit for about an hour. "But anytime you are climbing and the sun hits the mountain, things get unstable," he says.

So he quickly started down the mountain as the sun came up. Unfortunately, unable to use his goggles, he developed snow blindness.

"I could squint my eyes and see some things blurry that were real close," he said. "But farther out, I couldn't see anything. As you can imagine, it was all on me to get down."

Indeed, there was no chance of being rescued. So he began his descent, literally feeling his way down the side of Everest on the fixed ropes.

But just as he started to gain confidence that he could make it, he began to run low on oxygen. His regulator indicated he only had 5 percent left in his bottle. However, he knew that Pasang had left an oxygen bottle for him at the site where he had turned back.

"When I got there, I tried to swap it out but it wouldn't work," he says of exchanging his nearly empty bottle for a full one. He stuck it in his pack and continued down.

"Then I got that suffocating feeling — I had completely run out of oxygen," he says. "I stopped and prayed. I tried to swap the bottle again and this time it worked. I really think it was a miracle of God.

"If it hadn't worked the second time, I wouldn't be here."

Meanwhile, the rest of the seven summits are still out there, including Argentina's 22,829-foot Mount Aconcagua, the 16,067-foot Vinson Massif of Antarctica and the 16,023-foot Carstenz Pyramid in Indonesia.

And, of course, Mount McKinley still waits.

But Dickinson says he isn't ready to think about any of those challenges just yet.

"This was one of those unattainable goals you throw out there that you hope to do one day," he says. "Even now, a week after I made the climb, I still need to stop and think about the fact I finally did it."

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