Everest Climber's Mountaintop Experience

Robert Hull - 700 Club Producer

CBN.com-“I’m on the top of the world. There’s no one coming to get me. I’m alone. I’m blind, and I have to get down. At one point I yelled out, ‘I am not going to die on this mountain!’”

Brian Dickinson is a highly skilled and self sufficient mountain climber. He has summitted many of the world’s tallest peaks. But in 2011, at the top of Mount Everest his survival was beyond his ability and control. His wife Joanna recalls his decision to attempt to summit the highest mountain in the world. “When he decided to climb I knew that, ‘Okay, this is what you want to do. I have trust in you that you are going to make the right choices.’”

Brian is an experienced climber. “I have lots of peaks. 4-5 thousand foot peaks in my backyard. I’ll throw 50 pounds in a pack and I’ll climb up in the morning, come back down and be back here at 8:00 for a meeting.”

Brian’s intense physical training had him ready, but nothing can prepare a climber for the death zone on Everest. “They call it the death zone because you just cannot survive for long up there. If you cut your finger, it won’t heal. There is just not enough oxygen up there. You take about five seconds between each step and take in breaths and take another step and it’s just really moving in slow motion.”

He began his climb with his friend Dennis and their Sherpas, the local mountain guides. But shortly into their climb Dennis became ill and stayed behind. Brian and his Sherpa continued the ascent. Issues arose the next day. While taking a water break Brian slipped and let go of his goggles, exposing his eyes to harmful UV rays at this high elevation. 

“I repel down about 500 feet and I reach my goggles. I look at them and they’re cracked right through the middle. Now they are freezing between layers and it was creating this ice and I had about a dime size hole in my left eye and the rest was pretty frozen.”

He removed the inner protective layer of his goggles to help him see better. He was unaware of the further damage the UV rays would cause his eyes. “It was frustrating but I had to keep moving. So I couldn’t let the frustration get the best of me. I had to stay focused to just keep moving up the hill.”

At 26,000 feet, Brian and his Sherpa, Pasang rested. At nightfall they made their summit attempt. But just 1000 feet short of the top, Pasang became ill leaving Brian with a tough decision to make.  “‘So, do I continue up?’ And I had to evaluate that; risk versus reward. I felt really strong and I was very motivated. But most importantly, can Pasang get down by himself? And he says ‘Yea’ and he put an extra oxygen bottle right there in the snow. He went down and I went up and we didn’t look back. What’s interesting is during this whole climb, while I was by myself I always felt this Presence like I was never alone.”

Brian climbed through the night. The next day, he made it to the top of Mount Everest, the highest point on earth. “With those last steps, I was everything from proud to exhausted. I am one of, I guess, only two or three people who have ever truly soloed the actual summit. It just doesn’t happen. Tears just start forming. Being away from my family for so long, knowing that I just had to get down safely and get back to them, I turned to go down. I am attached to this rope. I take a few steps and everything just goes white; just completely white. And immediately I drop down and grab the rope and you know I went snow blind. I can’t see anything. If I look out, it’s just bright white. It’s just burning, my eyes are burning. It feels like it’s just scratching the inside of my eyelids.”

Brian slowly started down the mountain. “And the winds were just kicking up, just trying to knock me off my feet. I was very, very tired. I could have easily closed my eyes and become a permanent member of the mountain. It would have been very peaceful.”

He pressed on. But things went from bad to worse when one of his crampons - the spikes under his boots, came off and slid down the hill. “And I just start falling head over heels and the rope shock loads me that I’m attached to and my arms and legs are sprawled backwards. I'm upside down. My mask is ripped from my face, and my bottle of oxygen’s coming out of my pack. I’m just breathing really hard. My heart rates going.”

His fall stopped near the missing crampon. He affixed it to his boot, and got back on the path. He located the oxygen tank that Pasang left for him, but could not get oxygen to flow. Without thinking about the extra weight, he put it in his pack. “I get on the rope and I start repelling down, about 20 yards in, my mask starts sucking into my face. I ran out of oxygen and I rip it from my face and I take these deep breaths of the thin air, nothing coming in. At that point I just dropped to my knees and I just surrendered. It was a simple prayer I said, ‘God I can’t do this alone. Please help me.’”

At that moment, on the other side of the world, friends and family were suddenly compelled to pray for Brian. His climbing friend, David Heiting says, “I felt God just talking to me saying, ‘You need to pray for Brian to get up and move. Things are going to be hard and he just has to power through.’  That’s what I prayed for. Joanna felt compelled to pray. “I just got this feeling that maybe something was wrong, and I kept praying about it, for God to bring him home safe.”

“And at that moment, I witnessed a miracle.” Brian says, “It was as if God reached down by the back of my down suit and lifted me up. I mean I just had this unexplained energy. To have that life re-enter my body was just unexplainable. To be able to stand up, to feel strong, and just have hope. I’ve never really had a situation this intense where I couldn’t take credit for doing things on my own. And at this point, I needed help. And I gave it to God. I surrendered.”

Then Brian tried Pasang’s oxygen tank again. This time it worked. He made it down to their camp at 26,000 feet where Pasang was waiting for him. “My faith got me down but I was so focused on my family, getting back to them. From the tent at the top until the bottom I was just in tears, thinking about what I went through, thinking about my family, and the miracle.”

With the help of Pasang and Dennis, Brian made it the rest of the way down Everest and home to his family. One month later his sight returned to normal. Brian says he is thankful God was with him every step of the way to the top of the world, and back down again. “In my moment of need He was there. I believe He was there the entire time. He’s always there. That Presence I felt I was never alone. When I needed to be lifted up He was there. He got me down the mountain.”

Joanna says, “I’m so thankful that he’s here with us and that he made it back safe.”

Brian concludes, “People give up on themselves but God’s not giving up on you. No matter what, God is always there. He’ll lead you through the toughest times and help you survive the impossible.”

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