John O’Neill
Special to the Daily

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February 5, 2014
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Vail Symposium hosts first Unlimited Adventure talk of season

BEAVER CREEK — Local Ellen Miller joined an exclusive group of mountaineers who have completed the “Everest Trilogy,” which consists of Everest, Nuptse and Lhotse, and was the first woman to ever do so.

Eric Alexander, also local, led the first blind man to the summit of Everest — an easier feat than when he was on an expedition in the Himalayas and found himself in a deadly situation.

“The mountains and mountaintops are hostile places,” Alexander said. “It’s cold. There isn’t a lot of air. It’s windy. People die on mountaintops. We think of them as something beyond us that is spectacular. Sure, we can’t stay there; life is meant to be lived in the valley. But we can set our sights high, we can take risks and when we come down back down, we can be proud that we’ve gone up.”

Miller and Alexander are two of the most renowned mountaineers in the industry. They call the Vail Valley their home and will be sharing their stories with the Vail Symposium’s first Unlimited Adventure series talk, “On Top of the World: What Climbing the World’s Highest Peaks Can Teach Us About Living Life on the Ground,” set for today.

Fascinating stories

The event begins at 3:30 p.m. with a snowshoe hike led by the mountaineers, leaving from the Beaver Creek Club, just west of Centennial Express in Beaver Creek. Following the hike will be a short reception at 5:30 p.m. and then a presentation at 6 p.m. Those interested in attending are encouraged to participate in the snowshoe hike by bringing their own gear and warm clothes.

“The stories from these local mountaineers are fascinating,” said Tracey Flower, the Symposium’s executive director. “There will be the chance to talk to the mountaineers one-on-one during the snowshoe hike, get warm and then hear more about their experiences with the world’s most remote and difficult mountains during the presentation.”

The mountaineers will also touch on what the lessons they learned climbing such challenging mountains have taught them about living life on the ground. The preparation and execution of summiting a 20,000-foot peak — or higher — is an enormous endeavor. Once back from a trip, the appreciation of life and comforts of home can be overwhelming.

“For me, mountaineering is absolutely a metaphor for the rest of life and life’s challenges,” Miller said. “Things I have learned high on the Himalayan mountains have served me well. Things like knowing how to be focused or how to have a whole lot of patience.”

‘We did it to see if we could’

Alexander said that he is often questioned as to why he ventures out on these dangerous expeditions. His opponents point to the need of putting yourself at risk for the sake of standing on top of a mountain as being ridiculous. Alexander, in turn, points at his Everest expedition with Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind man to make that ascent.

“It was something that was bigger than any one of us,” Alexander said. “We weren’t doing it for the publicity. We did it to see if we could do it. It was special and went back to the roots of climbing; you have your team, your friends, and you take on a challenge.”

In his career, Alexander said the primal experience of mountaineering has awarded him with a newfound sense of faith and outlook on what you truly want to get out of life.

“An expedition boils life down to those core elements that are so key and so critical,” Alexander said. “Expeditions make you resilient, tough and resourceful. You realize that what you really need is food, water, shelter and, just as important, strong relationships surrounding you. In life, that is true, too.”

John O’Neill is the program and marketing director for the Vail Symposium. Email comments about this story to cschnell@vaildaily.com.


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The VailDaily Updated Mar 4, 2014 10:16PM Published Feb 5, 2014 11:39AM Copyright 2014 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.