Above: North County native and La Costa Canyon High School grad Roxanne Vogel, left, and guide Lydia Bradey of New Zealand, celebrate atop Mt. Everest on May 22 after Vogel became the fastest person ever to summit the mountain, doing it in 10 days. Photo courtesy of Lydia Bradey Collection
CARLSBAD — She stood as high as a commercial airliner at cruising altitude, atop the world.
On May 22, La Costa Canyon grad Roxanne Vogel, or Roxy to friends and family, summited Mt. Everest, the world’s tallest peak at a towering 29,020 feet. And she did it in just 10 days, becoming a media sensation along the way.
Described as a “lightning ascent,” Vogel, 33, reached the summit faster than anyone, ever. She was guided by Lydia Bradey and Sherpas Mingma Tshering and Pasang Tendi.
“It hasn’t really (sunk in),” Vogel said. “I’m glad I was the first one to successfully do it because it’s cool to be the first to do anything. Hopefully, I’ll be a good resource for people going forward.”
Never a climber or one to spend much time in the outdoors, Vogel’s path to Everest started in college at North Carolina State. She began hiking and hitting the outdoors, but it really wasn’t until she was enrolled in a study abroad program in Peru and visited Machu Picchu, where she became drawn to those challenges.
After college, she was visiting Everest base camp in 2012 and found inspiration. She moved to Denver after Everest and started climbing Colorado’s famed 14ers (peaks over 14,000 feet) to get experience.
“I love to challenge myself,” Vogel said of getting into mountaineering. “I started at one end and started working my way up.”
Four years later, she took a job in Berkeley at GU Energy Labs, which produces performance sports nutrition products, such as gels. She is currently a nutrition and performance research manager with GU.
Prior to Everest, Vogel has racked up five of the tallest peaks on each continent, with Everest being the sixth. She heads to Antarctica in December (which is summer below the equator) to scale Vinson Massif, which stands at 16,050 feet, to complete the Seven Summits.
In addition, she also wants to complete the “Grand Slam,” which includes the Seven Summits and reaching the North and South poles. Vogel figures she’ll scale Vinson and then check off the South Pole leaving the North Pole as the final challenge.
She’s also in the middle of attempting to summit the seven highest volcanoes, along with another potential climb in the Himalaya’s in the fall.
Going to Everest
But her journey to Everest began when she was approached by Alpenglow Expeditions about the lightning ascent, a feat never accomplished before. So, Vogel spent three months working and sleeping in Hypoxico altitude chambers and tents to prepare for the lack of oxygen at such high altitudes.
In addition, Vogel cut out alcohol and underwent an intense training program and diet.
At first, though, she thought it wasn’t even possible to make the ascent in such a condensed timeframe.
“We weren’t sure it was even possible,” Vogel recalled. “I wasn’t even sure it was possible while I was on the mountain. It was the hardest thing I ever done.”
Bradey said it was also Vogel’s first climb above 21,000 feet (7,000 meters).
“The key for Roxanne was to be utterly extremely fit, used to carrying heavy loads uphill, a very good natural acclimatizer, and pre-acclimatized to circa, 7,000 meters,” Bradey said in a Facebook post. “In Roxanne’s case, she used Hypoxico low-oxygen tents both to sleep in and to work inside of at times. None of this prep was easy for Roxy, and she forgave any social life, ate super carefully, did training scheduled by some well-known climbers who have developed a program called Uphill Athlete, and squeezed in (very) rapid ascents of South American volcanoes over Christmas … that was her life for a year.”
The first challenge was finding the best window, as the mountain’s conditions change rapidly, and with deadly consequences to those unprepared.
When the call came, she hopped a flight from San Francisco to China then to Tibet. She requested a female guide, so Bradey, a legend in her own right as she was the first woman to scale Everest without supplemental oxygen in 1988, got the call. It was also Bradey’s sixth summit on Everest.
Both, though, used supplemental oxygen for this climb.
There are two paths to the summit. One is from the more popular Nepal side, and the other from Tibet. The Tibetan side is a more technical and difficult climb, although once a climber reaches 8,000 meters, otherwise known as the “Death Zone,” nothing comes easy.
Everest is also packed with dangers from high winds, avalanches, falling ice, crowded lines, inexperienced climbers, a lack of oxygen to the brain and below-zero temperatures, to name a few.
But for Vogel, the charge to the summit was her only focus. However, she said it was safer to work fast to get up and down the mountain, especially since the North side leaves climbers more exposed to the dangers.
However, since she and Bradey had an expedited schedule, there was no time to waste. The two went from base camp to advanced base camp then to Camp 2 in a matter of days.
“We saw a window and had to take a shot,” Vogel said.
But the weather started to turn, so on May 22 the two women and Sherpas made the call to summit, skipping Camp 3 and descending back to Camp 2 in one day. Since they moved so fast, the climbers were right on the heels of the rope fixers.
Climbers cannot move until the ropes are fixed along the route. Vogel said the lines were fixed about 30 minutes before reaching the summit.
They started late, at about 1:45 a.m. The climb was challenging and then became precarious about 250 feet from the summit.
An anchor holding a rope broke free, spooking Vogel.
“That sort of thing is a trip ender,” she said. “After that, you really don’t trust the lines. It was a little bit touch and go there. I was really nervous about the lines and that’s of the most exposed sections of the climb with a 10,000-foot drop off.”
Still, Vogel, Brady and the Sherpas pressed on and reached the summit, albeit missing the massive line from the South Side, where a photo showing the logjam went viral. Regardless, Vogel and the team made it back to Camp 2 at about 4:45 p.m.
“Roxanne handled the climb like a pro,” Bradey added. “Her first priority was safety, then success. Roxanne was not focused upon making the ascent in 14 days, rather on making the ascent in the fastest time possible within safety. She was extremely fit and had carried heavy packs in her training, very organized, asked good questions, wasn’t blindsided to getting up at all costs — as a climbing partner Roxy was awesome.”
In all, Vogel spent 29 hours from summit day to returning back to base camp.
Perhaps even more impressive, or fortunate, is Vogel navigated Mt. Everest during one its most deadly seasons on record.
So far, 11 people have died attempting to scale the summit — nine on the Nepali side of the mountain — and a record number of climbers have caused traffic jams along the route.
The Nepalese government issued 381 permits, according to numerous media reports, leading to a massive influx of climbers. It is estimated the Nepalese government will haul in $300 million from expeditions this year.
Typically, it’ll take an expedition about two months to summit the mountain.
But this year, the long lines are leading to more deaths and Vogel said she saw four dead bodies on her ascent. She said mental training prior to reaching the mountain was paramount in dealing and re-focusing on the task at hand after seeing the bodies.
“Death was present. I did see four bodies within three feet of where I was walking,” Vogel said. “I was very deliberate and did mental training for elite climbers. It was how to focus, stay in the moment and all these strategies. I was hyper-focused.”
However, Vogel said she wasn’t aware of the mayhem, especially since she was on less populated side. Even though the North Side had one-third fewer climbers, she said it still felt crowded, which is why they took their shot.
And the shot paid off, as Vogel, Bradey, Tshering and Tendi accomplished a feat previously unthinkable. Vogel has etched her name into history and Mt. Everest lore, now standing atop her own personal mountaintop.
Steve Puterski covers Carlsbad and Vista. For tips or story ideas, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @StevePuterski.