Catawba grad makes trek to Mount Everest
By Sarah Campbell
CONCORD — The flip of a coin sent Scott Campbell and Art Franzen on a trek to the highest mountain in the world.
The pair, torn between a climb to the base camp of Mount Everest and going up Argentina’s Aconcagua, let a simple coin toss be the deciding factor.
After two years of planning, the men found themselves 17,700 feet above sea level at the base camp of Mount Everest’s 29,029-foot peak last May.
The men flew from to the United States to India before taking another plane to Nepal’s Katmandu. From there, they boarded a 21-passenger plane en route to the Lukla airport, which Campbell said is extremely dangerous because of its short, steep landing strip.
That’s where the 14-day hike up Everest began with both men carrying 25-pound backpacks filled with water and an extra set of clothing.
A guide they hired to assist in the climb hauled three bags, totaling more than 100 pounds, on his back up the mountain.
But the ascent wasn’t easy.
“It will kill you, it absolutely will,” Campbell, a Concord resident and Catawba College graduate, said. “There are times when your stomach gets upset, your head’s splitting, you can’t breathe well and it’s cold as crap — you feel like you don’t want to keep going.”
And Franzen, a resident of Fredericksburg, Va., said the excursion itself is grueling at points.
“It’s not just going up a mountain,” he said. “It’s going through a range of mountains to get to that one, you experience a lot of challenges doing that.”
But the men kept going, fighting through hunger and restless nights of sleep.
“We ate noodles and vegetable fried rice the whole entire time because you don’t’ want to upset your stomach so you each pretty much the same food,” Campbell said “You can’t eat meat because at a certain height it just sits there and turns in your stomach.”
Not the first adventure
Campbell, a FedEx courier in Salisbury, said his job keeps him in shape to take on climbing expeditions with Franzen.
“I’m out in the elements instead of being cooped up in an office,” he said. “I’m out in the rain delivering, out in the sun delivering, out in the snow delivering.”
The two, who have been friends for a quarter of a century, have been adventure seeking together for the past 15 years.
They’ve climbed Costa Rica’s highest peak, Cerro Chirripo, and Mount Kilimanjaro, the tallest freestanding mountain in the world.
Those treks have taught them about the importance of understanding how changes in altitude affect the body.
Campbell said he got sick during the Kilimanjaro climb because he ascended too quickly. Frazen had a similar experience during the Costa Rica trip.
The two took Diamox to prevent acute mountain sickness during the Everest trip.
“Climbing diminishes your red blood cells and Diamox counteracts that,” Campbell said. “It stabilizes and creates more red blood cells within your body.”
Campbell said the drug ultimately helps increase the amount of oxygen in the body.
“You live and you learn,” he said.
The men also relied on medications such as Imodium to combat sudden diarrhea and Aleve to alleviate headaches. Both are also side effects of the altitude change.
“Your body will surprise you,” Campbell said.
Frazen said without those climbs they might not have been ready to take on Everest.
“We were more focused and better prepared than we normally are because we knew the equipment better and our bodies better,” he said.
Frazen said his years as a Boy Scout have come in handy.
Traveling the world and climbing mountains have brought Campbell and Franzen closer together.
Campbell said neither one of them could make it without the other. They rely on each other for physical and emotional support throughout the climbs.
But Campbell said that doesn’t mean they never fight. The two get irritable as the altitude increases.
“It really messes with your emotions,” he said. “So, if you really want to find out if a person is your friend, go climb a mountain and you’ll know.”
Franzen said climbing has added another level of trust to their relationship.
“He’s like a brother to me,” he said. “I trust him with my life and I know he does as well.
“We’re a team, we know what to expect from each other.”
Both avid outdoorsmen, Campbell and Franzen began climbing in their quest to break away from typical vacations.
“We thought what can we do besides go down to the Bahamas and sit on the beach because that’s pretty boring,” Campbell said. “We’re pretty fit and energetic so we decided to climb.”
They conquered Mount Mitchell, Virginia’s Old Rag Mountain and several other peaks in the States before heading overseas.
“We wanted to go abroad and do some bigger things,” Franzen said.
Although climbing can be dangerous, Campbell said the thrill of the ascent is well worth it.
“Why tiptoe through life to arrive safely at death?” he asked. “Death doesn’t concern me, I like to live life.”
In fact, Campbell said the men would have attempted to climb to the top of Everest but the $50,000 journey and three-month time commitment was simply too steep.
The trip to the base camp took a total of 21 days from start to finish and cost $4,500.
Campbell said it’s worth the money to be able to do what he loves.
“I just want more out of my life because I’ve seen people die, I’ve seen people get taken away. Why would I want to wait until I’m 59 years old to retire and have a bum knee and not be able to do anything,” he said.
The trek up Everest was an “unbelievable sight” with “picturesque” villages and creeks along the way, according to Campbell.
The outward beauty mirrored Franzen’s inner feelings.
“We find inner strength in ourselves when we go and do things like that and it’s a real sense of accomplishment that you feel when you’re done with it,” he said.
Campbell said Jim Whittaker, the first American to reach the summit of Everest, described climbing the best: “If you aren’t living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space,” he said.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.