Photo by: Nick Conley
A fifty-year-old alumna takes on a feat that all mountaineers aspire to overcome during their climbing careers: Mt. Everest
“The highest mountain I’ve ever climbed was Handies Peak in Colorado,” senior Spenser Bolte said. “That’s only about 14,000 feet compared to Everest’s 29,000 feet. I like climbing, and I know it’s not easy, so that’s impressive.”
Alumna Valari Wedel grew up in Edmond and graduated from Oklahoma Christian in 1982.
“I started climbing about ten years ago,” Wedel said. “My kids were older, and I didn’t mind being away from them for training or on climbs. So, one climb led to another, and now I’m climbing Everest.”
According to Bolte, an array of athletic skills are required when climbing.
“You need to have good muscle endurance, but you also need to have good cardio because once you get higher up, there’s so little oxygen, and you need to be used to it,” Bolte said. ‘Your entire body needs to be in tip-top shape.”
Wedel started climbing after an expedition to Mount Rainier in Washington. After that, she decided that once wasn’t enough.
“I’ve always been fascinated by stories of adventures and conquering all,” Wedel said. “Well, a friend of mine decided he wanted to climb Everest before he was 50, and I said ‘That sounds like fun!,’ and I joined in with his Rainier trip.”
Wedel’s plan is to make the trip to the base camp with her husband Greg, a member of Oklahoma Christian’s board of trustees, and then continue the trip with the rest of her group. There are a lot of dangers to be expected, and Wedel is prepared for it. She hasn’t been training as hard as she would like, but her previous climbs give her a step up.
“I’ve been training for about six months, which isn’t as much as I’d like,” Wedel said. “Fortunately, because of my other climbs, I’ve had a pretty good base. Normally that six months wouldn’t be enough, but I’m in pretty good shape.”
Not all climbers may want to reach for Wedel’s goal, but not solely because it is one of the hardest mountains to climb.
“I’m not sure that I plan on climbing Everest,” Bolte said. “I like climbing, and I definitely want to get more under my belt, but I focus more on rock climbing as opposed to mountaineering.”
Wedel will be taking the hike with International Mountain Guides, which is an organization that helps climbers make the trek. If Wedel didn’t go now, she may not have the chance again.
“This was the only window for me where there is nothing going on,” Wedel said. “And, I am getting old as far as climbing Everest for a female goes. For me, if I’m going to pursue this dream, this is it. I’ve just got this one shot.”
Wedel has experience climbing tall mountains. In 2005, she climbed Mount McKinley in Alaska, the tallest mountain in the U.S., and Cho Oyu in the Himalayas in 2010; both have an altitude of over 20,000 feet.
This isn’t the first time an Oklahoman has made the climb. Oklahoma resident Douglas Beall, who was also working in Edmond at the time, made the climb in 2007. He is said to be the first Oklahoman to accomplish this feat.
For students who are looking into climbing, Bolte encourages them to get out and get their feet wet.
“Come on an OC excursion,” Bolte said. “We go the weekends before and after Spring Break. Other than that, you should just get out there and give it a try. Mount Scott is a good one, but really, you just have to get out there.”
If everything goes right, Wedel will start her trip in early May, which is usually considered the best time to do it. She will return to Oklahoma later the same month.
“If I could say one thing it would be that it’s never too late to go after your dreams or whatever you want to do,” Wedel said. “I’m going to be a nurse, and I’m going to climb Mount Everest, and I’m in my 50s.”
One thing Wedel said hindered her planning was recently being hit with illness, but she isn’t letting that stop her.
“I was out for a week with pneumonia, and that set my training back,” Wedel said. “I’m getting back though, adding a little bit at a time. I’m making the decision soon to see if I can still go to Everest. But I’m not giving up. I’ll never have this opportunity again.”
Wedel said she doesn’t find fear in the unknown or in change; they are just challenges to overcome, and she said she encourages students to conquer their fears as well.
“I don’t think I’ve ever done what’s expected of me, and I think that’s a problem that young people have, that they do what people want them to,” Wedel said.
Wedel said that she encourages students to try their hardest to obtain what they want in life.
“It’s very typical of me to say this, but if you really dream a dream, you’ll find a way to make it happen,” Wedel said. “I mean, I’m over 50, and I’m climbing Everest. I don’t think it’s ever too late to do what God is calling you to do.”