She conquers Mt. Everest
Washburn County Journal
Published: Thursday, May 28, 2009

BAYFIELD — Bayfield mountain climber, Lori Schneider has done it! She reached the summit of Mt. Everest (29,035 ft.) at 8:39 a.m. on Saturday, May 23. Friends and family were elated and relieved when the confirmation was sent via a dispatch issued on the Alpine Ascents International Web site, the mountain climbing guide service Schneider chose for her Everest expedition. The company was named The Best Mountain Guide Service on Earth by National Geographic Adventure Magazine.

The only phone contact Schneider was able to make was with her father, Neal Schneider, over a satellite phone. She also tried to reach her partner, Jim Ramsdel in Bayfield, but was unable to get a clear connection.  The conversation with her father was very brief due to the limited time spent at the top (about 10-15 minutes). There is a mandatory noontime turn around time (no later than 1 p.m) to safely get back down the mountain. It took 11 hours to make the final ascent, most of it during the nighttime using head lamps, and another six hours to descend during daylight.

For friends and family waiting to hear if Lori had made it to the summit was a time when “minutes felt like hours and hours felt like eternity,” Neal and Ramsdel said.

Bayfield's Lori Schneider is shown traversing a crevasse by way of ladders on the way to climbing Mt. Everest.

“It was wonderful to hear her (Lori’s) voice,” Neal said. “It was about 10 p.m. on Friday (May 22), our time. The connection was pretty bad; it kept breaking up. I kept saying, Lori, Lori, with no response. When I could finally hear her, I could tell she was ecstatic. She said, ‘I made it Dad. I made it. I’m on the summit.’”

Throughout the expedition Ramsdel had been able to speak with Schneider about every four days. But when he fell out of contact the last few days before the final ascent, he kept a 48-hour vigil and kept checking the dispatches sent out on the Web site.

“I didn’t sleep for two days,” he said. “This was a tough year for Everest expeditions. May is the only month you can attempt the summit and there is only a window of a few days to a week to do it. This year there was only five days open with about 500 people trying to get to the top,” Ramsdel said.

Of the 14 climbers on the team, only nine finished the trek. Five had to return back to Base Camp (17,600 ft.) due to serious medical emergencies typical of mountain climbing: frost bite, altitude sickness, and pulmonary edema. One women also sustained a severe muscle injury and had to turn back. Schneider was one of only two women who reached the top and didn’t experience any medical problems. There were five guides and 20 Sherpas (Tibetan people of Nepal, famous as mountain climbers) assigned to the team. Ramsdel said the Sherpas are the “unsung heroes” of the climbing expeditions. They are able to breathe without oxygen at altitudes dubbed the “Death Zone” for other climbers. “The Sherpas do just about everything to assist the climbers, including giving water to the climbers so they don’t have to take off their gloves and risk frost bite,” he added.

This incredible accomplishment concludes Schneider’s dream-come-true pact with herself to climb the “Seven Summits,” on the seven continents of the earth. Although Mount Everest reigns as the highest summit she has conquered, she has completed six other summits on Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa, Mt. Aconcaqua, South America, Mt. Elbrus, Europe, Denali/Mt.McKinley/North America, Mt. Vinson Massif, Antarctica, and Mt. Kosciuzko in Australia.

Climbing mountains is a passion Schneider shares with her father, who is her “inspiration, friend and hero.” They climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro 15 years ago and attempted Aconcaqua (22,841) in 2002. Lori made it to the summit, but her father had to turn back when they reached 18,500 feet due to altitude sickness.

Fulfilling her dream of climbing the “Seven Summits,” is an incredible achievement; an achievement that becomes even more significant when you take into account Schneider was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in 1999. Ramsdel said Schneider carried the World MS Flag with her to the top, along with an Everest Summit Flag, signed by friends, family and sponsors to the top of Everest.

One of Schneider’s close friends, Dee Johnson, talked to Schneider on Monday from Base Camp. Johnson is one of several friends that accompanied Schneider during her many pre-Everest training days at Mt. Ashwabay in Bayfield. The local ski area, with an elevation of only 1,200 feet, is now referred to with tongue-in-cheek humor as Lori’s “Eighth Summit.”

During the course of their conversation Schneider told Johnson one of the highlights of the arduous climb was the sunrise the morning of the final stage of the ascent. “Lori said it was the most beautiful thing she has ever experienced.”

Schneider also reported she had a “tight spot.” During one of the traverses across ladders strung over deep crevasses, one of Schneider’s poles got stuck. She was in the middle of the crossing when the climbers ahead of her and behind couldn’t assist her. “Lori said she had to stay focused and figure out what to do or go into a panic,” Johnson said. Schneider lifted up her foot and kicked the pole loose while balancing on top of the strung-together ladders.

One other problem she incurred was breaking her clamp-ons during the ascent. A Sherpa went back to the lower campsite and brought her a new pair. “ It was unnerving for Lori because she wasn’t used to how they felt. But without them, it would have been a ‘no-go,’” Johnson said.

Schneider summarized her Everest summit to Johnson as, one part mountain, one part physical strength and one part mental challenge. What really kept her going much of the time, Schneider said, was reading and re-reading the well wishes expressed in cards and letters she carried in her backpack from friends and family.

With her mission accomplished, and “being done with the dangerous stuff,” Schneider is scheduled to return to Bayfield sometime in the early part of June after visiting with her father in Janesville. Ramsdel will join them.

Johnson is both relieved and overjoyed that her friend completed what she set out to do.

“Lori has tremendous spirit and mental strength. That’s what got her up there. She is also extremely empathetic to people with MS. Helping people with MS was a big motivator for Lori. I really admire that. She is the first person with MS to summit Mt. Everest and the first person with MS to complete the Seven Summits. It was very important to Lori to do the Everest summit as close as possible to World MS Day on May 27.

“At one point in the conversation she talked about the concentration and focus that is essential to the correct foot placement during the climb; step after step after step. As she was going through this she realized that some people with MS have to work that hard, step by step, just to cross a room. That told me this summit was as much about people with MS as it was about Lori Schneider getting to the top. I’m proud to know someone like that,” Johnson said.