This article about climbing Mount Everest is part of the men’s magazine Daily Warrior seriesFeaturing tips, key interviews, and tips for living a life of consistent impact, continuous growth, and continuous learning.
Editor’s Note: We do not condone or recommend high-risk adventures while injured.
Sometimes life hits us when we least expect it. It’s all right, everything seems to be going well, then bam. We take a hit. Overwhelmed with fear and paralyzed, it is easy to become paralyzed by inaction. But what if there was a more efficient way to respond? I was recently on an assignment on Mount Everest, where my job was to document an expedition to the top of the world.
At 43, I’m realistic about the fact that I don’t heal like I did in my twenties. Expeditions take a toll on your body. The extreme height kicks your ass off, as does pulling a heavy pack across dangerous terrain as you move your camera uphill. To maximize performance, I build a number of rest days in Kathmandu to adapt to the major time zone difference from my home in Canada (9 hours 45 minutes ago). The recipe for success is simple: show comfort and fitness, stay healthy (body, mind, and emotion), control your stress, have a solid plan, stay humble, make good decisions, and you’re in full swing.
Who is on the wrong foot?
On my way back to my hotel through the narrow alleys of Kathmandu, I was hit in the side by a motorbike. It felt like someone had smashed the fibula, the bone just below the knee, with a hammer. I returned to my hotel lame. By the time I got to the stairwell to my room, I knew something wasn’t right.
After having my physical therapist FaceTiming and going through the standard RICE protocol (rest, ice, compression, and elevation), I knew I needed help. The rescue on the expedition would not only cost my clients a lot of money, it would seriously disappoint my team and let everyone down. This was not an option.
X-rays at the clinic revealed no injuries. I insisted something wasn’t right, so my orthopedic surgeon recommended an MRI. Three hundred dollars later, the results revealed a fracture of the head of the fibula. I went back to the Nepalese surgeon with the results and after hearing him say, “Your expedition is over,” I looked at him politely and said, “Sir, I spoke to my team and they explained to me that it is a bone that does not bear weight. In addition, I have been to the summit of Everest four times. Because it’s broken the right way, why don’t we focus on a solution instead of the problem?” He looked at me, skeptical, but nodded.
By this time, the chief guide of the expedition had arrived and she prevailed with him, saying: “Don’t panic, but I was hit by a motorcycle and I got a fibula fracture. I can manage the situation.”
Kenton Cole, a British climber and friend, who was aiming for the 16th summit of Mount Everest replied, “I trust you.”
Understanding the risks
I reassured him that if I could get to base camp without a problem, I could climb to the top of Everest. I informed my clients and assured them that they had nothing to worry about. While I knew the risks, I knew the terrain well too. I was more concerned about the trip to Everest than about climbing. I’m more likely to hit the rocky lowlands than the more predictable icy slopes of Mount Everest. After 10 excursions, I know the classic Southside Trail of Nepal like the back of my hand.
My plan was to rely heavily on the Nepalese camera support staff and my assistant, the Pasang Kaji Sherpa. I kept my bag light and had no trouble handing the camera over to my local film crew to conserve energy. They understood the situation and were happy to support me. I also relied on a combination of anti-inflammatories, two knee braces, and pain relievers. If my body really said no, I was ready to throw in the towel. I didn’t want to put my life or anyone else’s life at risk.
I made my way from village to village and while filming, I traveled from the base to the top of the world. With caution, I did my job while navigating the terrain. Trips of 900 meters vertically to a viewpoint outside the village of Verish gave me confidence that I had made the right decisions. I listened to my body closely, making adjustments as necessary, and taking it one step at a time.
By the time I reached base camp at 17,500 feet above sea level, I began experiencing the classic symptoms of acute altitude sickness. Minor headaches and poor sleep quality are common during altitude adaptation. The most worrying issue for me was the combination of anti-inflammatories and pain relievers that wreaked havoc on my stomach. They caused indigestion and severe stomach cramps. I decided to focus in response to the discomfort and removed the medications from the plan. The rest of the flight was performed using knee brace and willpower.
I was lucky the bone broke completely. Had it been my knees, this expedition and mission would have been over. The mountains taught me that how we respond determines our results. It’s the same thing in life. When things go wrong:
- Stay calm
- assessment of the situation
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help
- position control
- formulating a plan
- Calculate the risks
- Be transparent with your team
- Be responsible and honest while implementing the plan
- Don’t be afraid to admit defeat
I knew I was into thin line riding, but I also knew my craft and the mountain very well and trusted my experience. I was realistic and ready to call it a stop long before I exposed myself to dangerous terrain. Everest usually takes 6-7 weeks to reach the summit due to the lengthy acclimatization process. Our team summed it up in 4 weeks as planned and I filmed the trip with my right hand, the Pasang Kaji Sherpa. I have a great local team to thank for supporting me every step of the way.
Life throws curveballs at us and it’s important to avoid paralysis when it happens and be prepared to respond. Rely on your experience and focus on the solution, not the problem. There is always a way through.
Elia Seikaly is an award winning adventure film maker based in Ottawa, Canada. He has participated in more than 25 world expeditions, including ten expeditions to Mount Everest. He is the only Canadian who has reached the highest mountain peak in the world five times. In 2021, he reached the summit of K2, the second highest mountain on Earth.
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