The New Brunswick flag has been raised to new heights.
At the top of the world, under a cold blue sky, Rick Irvine waved the provincial flag 8,849 metres high atop the summit of Mount Everest, the tallest mountain on Earth.
“Surprisingly, when you do reach the summit … you are just so tired, you know, that you’re not jumping up and down — you’re just happy to have gotten there,” said Irvine, who’s from Minto, about 50 kilometres northeast of Fredericton, but has spent much of his life in South America.
He reached the summit of Mount Everest on May 24, following years of preparation and one previous attempt in 2021.
Irvine spoke to Information Morning Fredericton about his weeks-long journey to reach the top of the world, in a year that’s already seen 17 other climbers die or go missing trying to do the same thing.
“You’re surviving basically, right? Once you get to 8,000 metres, which is called the death zone, basically, your body can’t live there very long.
“Even with supplemental oxygen, you’re fighting, you’re fighting through it. You’re trying to focus, you’re trying to put one foot in front of the other. It’s a struggle.”
Started climbing 10 years ago
Unlike many other die-hard mountaineers, reaching the top of Mount Everest wasn’t a lifelong goal for Irvine.
In fact, the 60-year-old only started mountain climbing about 10 years ago while living in Bolivia.
He said his early climbs were mostly two-week trips he’d take with friends in the South American Andes mountain range.
“And I was totally happy with that. I had no desire to go to to Everest or the [highest] seven summits, which I’ve done five of the seven now.”
By the time he turned 55, Irvine said, he realized if he were to ever scale Everest, he was running out of time, and so he began training for his first attempt in 2021.
‘Adapt your body to live off fat stores’
Irvine said to prepare himself for the first climb, he went as far as sleeping in a tent with 10 per cent oxygen for two months as a way to acclimatize his body to the conditions he’d meet on Everest.
He said he “got very close to the top and then failed,” prompting him to take a year before going back for a second attempt.
To prepare this time, Irvine said he hired an online trainer, and stuck to a regiment of two hours of physical activity every morning on an empty stomach.
“What you’re trying to do is adapt your body to live off of your fat stores, your fat energy,” Irvine said.
It’s a fair amount of preparation, he said, but “I enjoyed it so it wasn’t really a struggle.”
A dangerous challenge
What’s considered the climbing season for Mount Everest is now drawing to a close, but with the distinction of being possibly the deadliest on record.
Everest summit coach Alan Arnette writes about the mountain, and on Thursday posted on his blog that 13 people were confirmed dead and another four were missing.
Irvine said the number of people who try to climb Everest increases every year, and some just aren’t physically up for the challenge.
He said part of the problem is that more people want to take on Everest without having first “paid their dues” on other, less challenging climbs.
“A lot of [climbing guide] companies will allow them to come along, and so with inexperience comes a higher risk, I believe, of a tragedy,” Irvine said.
‘Getting outside of your comfort zone’
Though Irvine hasn’t lived in New Brunswick for years, he said he’s kept friends and family updated on his Instagram account where he logs his adventures.
He said coming from Minto, his message to young people from his small hometown is to go after their dreams — mountains involved or not.
“Some of my first experiences in life that really opened my eyes had nothing to do with climbing, but it was, you know, it was about travel or seeing another side of what you’re used to, right?
Getting outside of your comfort zone.”