Finn Jones Everest Summit

When Finn-Olaf Jones ʼ82 reached the top of the world’s tallest mountain, his sense of accomplishment was accompanied by a wave of relief. The elite climber had already been to the top of five of the Seven Summits—the highest mountains on each of the continents—and Mount Everest was the one peak he had attempted but hadn’t conquered. 

In 2000, Jones was climbing Everest while on assignment with Discovery’s Travel Channel. His ascent was cut short at 17,600 in a dramatic confrontation with a faux environmentalist group at a nearby base camp. He wrote about the experience in a 2001 Forbes article, “Into Finn Air.”

The missed opportunity to scale the mountain haunted him for over two decades, but on May 13, Jones made it 29,032 feet to the summit of Everest. Unlike his first attempt, during which he spent two months acclimating to ever-higher altitudes, he completed this climb in 16 days thanks to getting pre-acclimatized sleeping in an hypoxic tent he’d set up in his home for three months, and to his Sherpa guide, Nima. In an article* for his local paper, the Palisadian Post, Jones says, “I was expecting terror and fear at the highest point in the world. Your next step is into the void. Instead, I felt this intense joy and peace.” 

Jones shares a bit about his experience of summiting Everest. 

Q: What was your strongest emotion or primary thought when you first reached the top of Everest? 
A: First thought was making all the calculations about getting down okay, which sounds logical but at 29,000 feet is like a drunk figuring out how to drive home safely. Then my mental computer screen went blank and I experienced one of the most sublime moments of my life taking in the surroundings. 

Q: Can you talk about the role Nima, your Sherpa, played in your climb?  
A: He was the reason I succeeded. He was incredibly strong and moved easily on the mountain, even though it was his first time up this route. We only spoke a couple of words of each other’s language but practically became brothers. He was usually upslope from me in a huge down suit, and I grew to think of him as this incredibly wise, superhuman giant. When we finally returned to Base Camp I was surprised to be reminded that he was much smaller and younger than me. 

Q: How about coming down? How long did you stay at the summit and how do you decide it’s time to descend? Is the descent as treacherous as the ascent? 
A: I was half an hour on top, at first just with Nima, watching the curvature of the earth unfold in the dawn. When other climbers started arriving, we descended to avoid scrambling around them on the narrow summit ridge. I passed three bodies along the way, all died while descending, a potent reminder to make every step down as deliberate as possible.  

Q: Aside from the summit itself, what were the most memorable moments from this experience? 
A: At 1am on summit night the only climbers ahead of us stopped to rest on a small promontory called The Balcony. They turned right, Nima and I turned left and suddenly we were alone in the darkness with the summit pyramid above us against the stars, epic, gorgeous and beckoning. Every climb has a moment when you know you are going to summit and that was the moment.  

Q: What were the biggest challenges you faced on this climb? 
A: The icefall directly above Base Camp is 2,000 vertical feet of ice blocks the size of buildings all waiting to collapse, so you climb it at night before the sun melts it. Every year it gets larger and more unstable due to global warming. Twenty-two years ago I went through the icefall six times and got my time down to three hours. This year it took me eight hours and I got caught after sunrise scrambling to get out. Part of it collapsed below me where a couple of other climbers had paused. I was sure they’d gotten crushed, but it missed them by just a few feet. If they hadn’t stopped to rest they would have been right under it. 

Q: What did you learn about yourself in the process of achieving your goal? 
A: I was surprised I was still strong enough to climb so fluidly. I suffered a lot more on Everest 22 years ago.  

Q: Do you have a big next adventure in mind?  
A: Climbing the seven summits was not part of any long-term plan, but after 40 years I’ve somehow amassed six of them. I’m eyeing Mount Vinson in Antarctica, something I’d never considered before, to finish the list. 

Q: Anything else you’d like to share about this experience?  
A: I have five kids, so I waited a few years for them to grow up before resuming this crazy sport, and now I climb with them. They take great joy in trying to surpass their old man. 

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