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Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Himalaya Fall 2016: Conrad Anker Suffers Heart Attack at 20,000 Feet

The 2016 Himalayan climbing season has pretty much wrapped up, and quite honestly I didn't expect to be sharing another story from the region until sometime next spring. But, there is one more major update from Nepal, and it is an important one.

National Geographic Adventure is sharing an exclusive story about legendary alpinist Conrad Anker, who suffered a heart attack while climbing in the Himalaya a few weeks back. The 54-year old Anker was at 20,000 feet (6096 meters) on Lunag-Ri – a 22,600-foot (6888 meter) mountain – when the medical incident occurred. He was assisted down by his climbing partner David Lama, who led the rappels back to the start of the climb, where Conrad said he was suffering pain in his arm and numbness in his lips. From there, he was picked up by a helicopter and flown back to Lukla, before proceeding on to Kathmandu, where he received medical attention. A cardiologist at the Siddhartha Hospital had to perform emergency surgery to remove a blockage, potentially saving Anker's life.

Now, Conrad is back home and resting comfortably in Bozeman, MT. That's where Mark Synnott reached him to conduct the interview for Nat Geo. In that interview, Anker goes into more detail about what happened, the rescue procedure, how he got home (Vanity Fair, the parent company of The North Face – whom Conrad is a sponsored athlete for – helped with that process), and much more. We also learn that Anker is extremely healthy for a man his age, and has good medical indicators all around, but he suffered a heart attack none the less.


Anker and Lama were on Lunag-Ri in an attempt to climb the tallest (open) unclimbed peak in Nepal. It was their second attempt after failing to top out last year. Now, after this incident, Conrad says that he will adjust his lifestyle some, shying away from red meats and looking for ways to reduce stress in both his job and personal life. He says he is considering ways to begin to phase out the major climbs he has done over the past 30 years as well, transitioning into a less busy and dangerous schedule.

In the interview, Conrad also talks about his recent trip to Shishpangma in Tibet to recover the body of his fallen friend Alex Lowe. Lowe perished on an expedition to that mountain back in 1999, but his body was found there earlier this year. It was a very emotional journey, which put even more stress on the climber. It was hard for his entire family, since his wife Jenni is Lowe's widow, and their three boys are his sons too. All of this has led to a very challenging year to say the least.

The interview is excellent and provides a lot of insight into what drives Conrad, and where he'll be going in the years ahead. He is one of the most famous and accomplished American climbers of all time, and it will be hard to see him step back from a long and impressive career. Still, his health and family must come first, and I'm happy to know that he is home safe and recovering. Get well soon Conrad!

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