|Randall Peeters '67 after climbing Mount Everest on May 16, 2002.|
|Sherpa Ang Tsering and climbing partner Peter Legate with Peeters. Legate fell to his death while descending from Camp III to Camp II.|
After more than 30 years of anticipation, 30 minutes may seem too brief a time for true fulfillment. But for Randall Peeters, every second was revelry.
Peeters accomplished a personal dream on May 16, 2002, when he and Sherpa Ang Tsering reached the summit of Mount Everest. For half an hour, the Cal Poly Pomona aerospace engineering alumnus enjoyed his stay at the top of the world.
?I soaked it all in. It was an amazing view,? says Peeters, a veteran climber who, at age 56, became the second oldest American and the 15th oldest person ever to successfully scale the 29,035-foot peak. ?The last 20 minutes it was just me, my Sherpa and another Sherpa who was up there. It was really quite beautiful.?
For Peeters, retired vice president of engineering for GenCorp Aerojet who is currently chief scientist for start-up company Ocean Power, it also capped an incredible 12 months. During that span, the Foresthill, Calif., resident did a triple direct climb of El Capitan in Yosemite (a Grade VI rock climb), kayaked the Grand Canyon, climbed the Matterhorn in Switzerland (14,691 feet), Mt. Elbrus and the Caucus Range in Russia (18,841 feet), Cho-Oyu from the Tibetan side (26,906 feet) and Mt. Everest.
Offered his initial taste of climbing as a Boy Scout, Peeters got serious during his undergraduate days. It wasn?t long after graduating from Cal Poly Pomona in 1967 that he first set his sights on Everest.
?At that point, not too many people had done it,? says Peeters, one of 182 to successfully climb Everest this past year. ?By the time I was a grad student, I was married with kids and had way too many responsibilities. Later I was working, and my career got in the way. Now I?m ancient, but I have the time.?
While a successful Everest climb will tax an individual?s physical and fiscal fitness, it was the mental aspect that most attracted Peeters.
?You must focus. The reason I climb is the mental exercise,? he explains. ?All athletes will tell you it?s about the mental aspect and picturing what you intend to do. The physical stuff is just the entry card. The difference is in the head.?
Despite years of experience and research, scaling the world?s highest peak proved far more difficult than he?d imagined, with the risk becoming all too real when climbing partner Peter Legate was killed.
Legate, a 38-year-old from Lymington, England, died April 30 when he fell while descending from Camp III to Camp II along the Lhotse face. Peeters had only met and been partnered with Legate during the facilitated expedition.
?And yet we?d gotten pretty close. I had a lot of respect for him. He was the reserved Englishman, and I was the open American,? explains Peeters, who wasn?t climbing with Legate the day of the accident. ?I underestimated how big the impact of his death would be on me. I was absolutely devastated.?
Peeters retreated down the mountain for a few days, deliberating on whether he should continue. He even called his wife, Doris, in California to discuss the decision. Looking back, while he finally chose to make the attempt, he believes any chance for success was out of his control.
?Nobody climbs that mountain unless it lets you climb it. The weather is so severe; the wind alone is daunting,? says Peeters. ?Odds are 1 in 10 being able to summit on your first trip. Even as I was summiting, I really didn?t know I was going to make it until I did.?
What?s the next challenge for Peeters? He hopes to travel to Antarctica and climb Vinson Massif (16,067 feet), located just 800 miles from the South Pole and considered one of the world?s coldest climbs with temperatures averaging between ?30 and ?40 degrees Fahrenheit. Success there would leave him two peaks shy of the elusive Seven Summits, a mark that, at latest count, fewer than 75 people have attained.
But bring up the idea of a return trek to Everest, and you?ll get an immediate reply.
?No, it?s too dangerous. Am I glad I did it? You bet,? says Peeterswith a wry smile. ?But never again.?