SACRAMENTO - Jim Geiger has tried to spend his life on top of the world.
"I started doing all the high points in the Western United States, then Kilimanjaro, Elbrus in Russia, Denali in Alaska, Aconcagua in Argentina and in January I did Vinson in Antarctica," he says.
Geiger jokes he has climbed so many mountains he has forgotten the names of most of them, but he can quickly tell you the mountains he has not conquered, including the biggest one on his bucket list: Mt. Everest.
"I don't pick the mountains, they pick me," Geiger said.
On Saturday, Geiger left Sacramento for Nepal with hopes of climbing the world's tallest peak that stands more than 29,000 feet above sea level. If he reaches the summit, at the age of 68, Geiger will become the oldest American to climb Mt. Everest.
"When Everest started showing up, I never gave it a thought I would be the oldest American," Geiger said during an interview four days before he left for the Himalayas. "And I did some investigating: wow, I could be the oldest. It just happened, it just happens to be."
The journey to the top of the summit will take nearly two months to complete. Geiger was expected to land in Kathmandu on Monday and then begin an 11-day hike to the Mt. Everest base camp that sits at 18,000 feet. After acclimating to the high altitude for approximately 30 days, he hopes to attempt the final push to the summit on May 11.
Ever since Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first to reach the top of Everest, close to 3,200 climbers have also accomplished the feat. But while Geiger believes he is in the best physical shape of his life and is mentally prepared for the journey, he understands the dangers of the cold terrain and high altitude where life becomes much slower.
"Stepping at very high altitude, it could be three breaths per step," he said. "Things get a lot slower 'cause there is less oxygenand you are breathing with a pressure breath to get as much oxygen forced back into the lungs as you can."
The final 3,000 feet to the summit is the most dangerous part of the climb. Mountaineers describe the final ascent as the "death zone" where most of the more than 250 climbers who have attempted Everest have died. Geiger calls the risk of life a part of the sport, and he remembers staring death in the face when he climbed Denali (Mount McKinley) in Alaska in 2008.
"On Denali I walked past the grave of a guy who died on the day before," remembered Geiger. "And I was coming down off the summit and within a couple of hundred yards there was a team coming up, a young kid, 20-something was being pulled by his guide. His eyes looked glazed over and he was in trouble, and sure enough, four hours later he was dead."
Geiger will climb Everest with an American guide and a personal Sherpa. He will also have a documentary film crew follow him on his journey.
If Geiger reaches the summit, he will have conquered five out of seven of the highest peaks on the seven continents, including:
- Kilimanjaro - Africa (1999)
- Denali - North America (2008)
- Elbrus - Europe (2003)
- Aconcagua - South American (2010)
- Vinson - Antarctica (2013, 2014)
- Everest - Asia (attempting in 2014)
- Carstensz - Australia (???)