At 29,029 feet, Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world, has always been one of the most difficult challenges a mountaineer can face. Besides the physical labor that comes with summiting a mountain of that scale, climbers face oxygen deprivation, avalanches, snowstorms and hypothermia in their quest to make it to the top of the world.
Dusty Boyd knows all about the mountain’s dangers. The South Kona resident has been to the mountain nine times, and is about to go back for a 10th.
“I live for calculated risks,” Boyd said. “And I like suffering greatly on Everest.”
At 55 years old, Boyd is leaving Hawaii Island this month to travel to Nepal. Accompanied only by a 60-year-old Sherpa and a porter, Boyd and his small group will attempt to summit Everest once again, and in a short time.
“I summited in 2016, and I thought I would never go back,” Boyd said. “There’s a 60-year-old Sherpa I’m going with, Dawa, and his son died on one of my expeditions, so I’m going with him. He’s going to try to set a speed ascent record. It’s a big deal for me, a sahib, a white man, to be invited to go with him.”
Sherpas are an ethnic group native to Nepal who are known for their mountaineering skills, and many are regarded as experts at summiting the Himalayas. The Everest base camps were closed until April 30 due to the coronavirus pandemic, making the mountain unusually empty for the season of summiting, and making Dawa’s guidance even more imperative than ever.
“These are old, 1,500-year-old Sherpa trails,” Boyd said. “So that’s going to be a challenge, because we’ll truly be out there. There won’t be these tea houses where you can stay with families and eat decent meals. I would say the walk-in is going to take about 10 to 12 days.”
To get to base camp, Boyd and Dawa will take a 72-mile walk-in trail, which is not the traditional route. Boyd said once they reach base camp, they will attempt to reach the summit in around 48 hours. Most expeditions last an average of two months.
“I was really happy in 2016 when I summited because I did barely make it down. I am not a young man,” Boyd said. “I think what lured me this time is, I’ve always liked the history of Everest. I like the guys from the 1920s, who would literally put nails in their shoes to try and climb it. Those guys I admired the most.
“This is going to be a really old-school climb.”
Boyd said the longer walk-in, as opposed to the traditional 40-mile one from Lukla, Nepal, will allow the group to acclimate to the elevation better.
“My philosophy is you don’t spend too much time on the mountain, because the mountain can kill you,” Boyd said. “We’ll get to the base camp, and then I’ll just try to hang on to this guy’s coattails and go.”
Boyd said if he successfully makes it up and back down Everest — if being the key word, as Boyd knows there’s always a small chance he won’t survive the trip — he plans on staying in Nepal for “quite some time.”
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has closed gyms on the island and has caused Gov. David Ige to issue a stay-at-home order, which went into effect in March, Boyd hasn’t been able to do his traditional training to prepare for Everest.
“I run the Fujihara Store down south, it’s the oldest store on the island, and I literally work 14 hours a day. After that, I get on the bike for two hours, and then I’ll do some runs down to Honaunau, from Kealakekua Bay to Two Step,” Boyd said. “It’s a very unique time for me. Usually I train really hard like in Ironman, which I used to do, so this time it’s going to be a little different. I think I’m extremely physically fit, but this kind of thing is mostly mental.”
Boyd said that it’s important to not over-train physically for Everest. He said he’s gained 15 pounds, and is doing 300 sit-ups and 300 push-ups a day.
“When I first went and was unsuccessful summiting, it’s because I trained hard and was really fit,” Boyd said. “The problem with that is you lose about 15 pounds on Everest, so you actually need to be overweight, if you will. You need to carry extra weight or you will get too thin when you climb because it’s very hard to eat and very hard to drink, all these things.”
In 2019, 11 people died on the mountain.
“Mind is where it’s at,” Boyd said. “You can read anything you want about any hard mountain and they’re always going to tell you it was the mental that got them to the top and back down.”
The father of four realizes the risks that come with climbing Everest, but he wants to teach his children that sometimes in life, “risks are OK.”
“It’s going to be very difficult because the mountain has been pretty much closed, so we’re going to have to take special trails that haven’t been taken in a long time,” Boyd said. “It’s going to be the hardest challenge I’ve ever had in my life.”
The challenge will be worth it for a longtime mountaineer who appreciates the risks and reward of climbing Everest. In Boyd’s words: “I only know up.”