Harvey Clark introduced our speaker Haley Ercanbrack.

Haley recently set out to break the women’s world record by climbing the Seven Summits – the highest peaks on each continent – within a year’s time. The attempt was “destroyed,” however, by an earthquake and avalanches as her team was climbing Mt. Everest in Nepal.


Haley has lived in Scottsdale for the last 14 years and owns a hair salon there. Her hobby – and her passion – is climbing mountains. She has prepared with extensive training and certifications, working with some of the best guides in the business. She trains 2-3 hours daily for extreme climbs, climbing with heavy backpacks, lifting weights, and running interval sprints to build her lung capacity. Despite all the physical training, Haley says, “About 85% of what I do is mental strength; mind over matter. You have to really be focused, because each step is crucial. Climbing is a team effort; if there is one weak link on the team, it can lead to dangerous and even deadly situations.”


There are personal obstacles that would deter many of the strongest athletes: going without a shower for 20 days, living in and out of a tent for 40 days, extreme weather conditions – “But this is my church, so to speak. It’s very therapeutic. And I get to travel all over the world, indulge in different cultures and foods, and build lifelong friendships with people from all over the world. And I get to take in breathtaking views that most people never see in their lifetimes.”


Haley treated us to a slideshow from her many climbs. Her father was in many of the photos. He is also a mountaineer and started taking Haley, who always loved the outdoors, hiking, camping, hunting, and, of course, climbing at a very young age.


Haley originally planned on climbing Everest in spring, 2017, but she received an invitation from Garrett Madison to join his expedition in 2015. Besides being a good friend, Garrett is a famous climber who has summited Everest six times. He is also the only guide in the world to successfully guide a team on K2, the most dangerous mountain in the world, without losing anyone from the team. “He invited me to join his team to climb Mt. Everest in 2015. I said, ‘Why not?’” Her father also ended up joining the team of 14 international climbers.


After arriving in Nepal, the team proceeded to base camp (18,700 ft altitude) where they spent seven days testing and training to be sure all climbers could handle the climb. Haley also cut hair while at base camp, and she taught the Sherpas how to cut hair so they could maintain the grooming for each other after she left. “Because that’s the number one rule in climbing: you’ve got to look good.”


After leaving Base Camp, the team traversed seven hours to Camp 1 through the Khumbu Icefall, one of the most dangerous stages of the climb. The falls are on a relatively fast-moving glacier (3-4 feet per day), which causes large crevasses to open without warning and tumbles large blocks and towers of ice. Climbers cross at night when the ropes and ladders used to navigate the sheer walls and crevasses are frozen into place and the glacier is more stable.


On the way to Camp 2, the earth started shaking violently for two minutes. “It was like the loudest, thunderous roar you’ve ever heard. I was with three other climbers; my dad was with another group about an hour and a half behind us, so I didn’t know where he was. The earthquake started avalanches all over the Himalayas, including one on Everest and one on Nuptse. Haley’s team was in the valley between the two. “At this point I’m thinking my life is over, but our guide told us to get down with our clamp ons and ice axes holding us in place on the ice, while the avalanche blasted us with ice and snow – but it didn’t bury us.” After about ten minutes the world quit moving and the climbers continued to Camp 2.


At Camp 2 (22,000 ft), the team was able to communicate by radio with Base Camp, and learned that another avalanche had leveled the camp, killing the camp doctor and injuring many others. They also learned that the route through the ice falls had collapsed, leaving them stranded with limited supplies and food. “So you can imagine, this was a really bad day... but it was about to get worse.


“My father came stumbling into camp about an hour and a half later, but he was extremely ill. He had come down with HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema). His lungs were full of fluid.” The team pumped him full of drugs to open up the blood vessels and get more oxygen into the blood. After 12 hours laying in a tent next to her father, listening to him breathe, Garrett brought the news that a helicopter pilot had decided to risk his life to get her father off of the mountain. “I didn’t know where they were taking him; he knew that I was stranded on the mountain. We didn’t know if we would ever see each other again.” Fortunately, Haley’s team was able to repair the route and climb back down to Camp 1, where they were rescued three days later.


Haley was reunited with her father at Base Camp, but he still was not doing well. They managed to walk four long, brutal hours to a nearby village, where Haley arranged for a helicopter to take them to a lower altitude. (The best way to treat HAPE is to get to a lower altitude.) From there, she chartered a flight to Katmandu, where the U.S. embassy took care of her father’s medical care until they could fly back home.


Eight months later, Haley’s father still has some fluid in his lungs, but “he is doing pretty well now.”


“My next journey has been raising money for the Sherpas. Our trip out of the Himalayas was heartbreaking, because their homes and villages were completely crumbled in the earthquake. I saw dead bodies everywhere and people crying, their children injured. People were living under tarps, with no food, high bacteria. I came home and realized that my next mountain to climb would be charity work to raise money for the wonderful, beautiful people of Nepal.


If you would like to donate to Haley’s cause, you can do so on YouCaring.com here: https://www.youcaring.com/sherpa-people-of-nepal-379566