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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Alan Arnette on Everest 2013

For one of the world’s most respected chroniclers of Everest, memories are everything. So, before we asked Arnette to dish on the upcoming spring climbing season, we asked him to remember and share the story of how he got started.

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Arnette on the summit of 14,131-foot Capital Peak. Photo: Brandon Chalk

As Alan Arnette remembers it, his first road trip to Colorado inspired his obsession with mountains. He was 11 or 12. The vacation happened for the same reason every other family vacation happened. It was the time of year in Memphis, Tennessee, that inspired his father’s wanderlust. June. “Anyplace other than Memphis in the summer was good,” Arnette says.

His dad packed the family’s tan 1963 Chevy Impala on Father’s Day and they all headed west with the windows open. The car didn’t have air conditioning, which made the mountain air more than welcoming. Once in Colorado, Arnette drove with his dad, mom, and brother to the top of Pikes Peak, explored Estes Park, and had a barbeque in the shadow of Long’s Peak. “Something must have gotten in my head,” he says.

He moved to Colorado at the age of 32, after a promotion at Hewlett-Packard. He dabbled with 14ers when he had time, which was almost never. He was on call 24-7. He traveled for work so much that he racked up more than two million miles with United. He never took vacation. During his roughly six years in the state, he accrued more than four months of vacation.

At the age of 39, he was offered another promotion from Hewlett-Packard. The company asked him to move to Geneva, Switzerland. He did, even though part of his job was in to shut down call centers all over Europe. People hated him. When he woke up in his Geneva home on clear mornings, he often saw Mont Blanc out of his second-story bedroom window. The sight didn’t inspire him to climb the mountain. Observing the way Europeans balanced their lives with plenty of vacation did. “I recognized that you could take off time and that the company still survived,” he says. “It was then I started to take advantage of my vacation time.”

In 1995, he climbed Mont Blanc with a French guide and client that spoke zero English. They reached the summit. The next year, Arnette climbed alone. He was hooked.

He bought the domain alanarnette.com in 1998 or 1999 for the email address, and used the website to post family news and tales from his climbs. “I just told it like it was,” he says. “If I was on a climb and I got sick and I was puking in the snow and I didn’t summit, then I told people exactly what happened and I didn’t have any pretense about it. I think people appreciated that raw honesty.”

People from all over the world started following the site. He attempted Everest four times and summited once. He climbed the Seven Summits. Each time he returned home after a climb, his mother responded in the same way, under her breath. “Well, I’m glad you got that out of your system,” she said.

When he wasn’t climbing, he was writing about others that were. His followers increased. At last count, people from 213 countries have gone to alanarnette.com. He now receives one million unique visitors a year. Most people go to his site for his coverage of Everest. They often leave after learning something about Alzheimer’s.

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