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'Gasping for air a lot': Seattle man recounts quest for Everest

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by Denise Whitaker

SEATTLE, Wa, (KOMO) - Still wearing the smile he flashed on the summit of Mount Everest, Luke Timmerman recounts his amazing eight-week adventure from his home in Seattle.

Pointing to areas on an oil painting he brought back of the massive mountain, Timmerman said, "Base camp would be down around here, and you'd work your way up to the Khumbu ice fall."

Timmerman, guided by Alpine Ascents International, set off to reach what's known as the top of the world: the 29,029-foot summit of Mount Everest.

He came back 10 pounds lighter - and with less hair after asking a Sherpa to lighten his load by cutting off some of his curly locks at 25,000 feet.

Knowing he'd be wearing various buffs, hats, balaclavas, goggles and faceguards, Timmerman said he realized that his long hair would get in the way.

His wife Tracy Cutchlow didn't even recognize him when she and their daughter Geneva went to pick him up at the airport.

"Actually, I walked right past him," Cutchlow said, laughing.

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She went on to explain, "I had this movie-like reunion at the airport in mind, watching the escalators and then I get this text message, 'I'm at baggage claim.'"

Timmerman said it's been great to sleep in his own bed again, though he said he still needs a few more nights there to really feel "back home."

He did say that he still has some lingering numbness in his foot.

Though they had very good weather, with sunny blue skies for their summit bid, he said it was 20 degrees below zero.

"I did have frozen toes for the vast majority of my summit day," said Timmerman.

The weather and chance of wind and rain are not the only obstacles climbers face on Everest. The altitude alone can really cause issues.

"I did have moments of doubt before we put on the oxygen. There were some sleepless nights - nights when I was gasping for air a lot or, you know when you wake up and your brain isn't getting enough oxygen either. It's disconcerting. Once I put on the oxygen I was in better shape and able to push strongly," said Timmerman.

Without oxygen at 21,500 feet, Timmerman said they would do what's called "pressure breathing," in which you do a very strong exhalation to get some of the carbon dioxide out of your lungs and take in more oxygen.

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During those rough times, Timmerman said he just kept thinking about his greater purpose in all of this - the Climb to Fight Cancer and touting the research done at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

"Well it's sort of like, 'quit feeling sorry for yourself,'" he said. "I mean there's people out there who really have it rough, with cancer, and there are scientists who are, you know, beating their heads against the wall at times trying to work through a hard problem and the fact that somebody can draw a little bit of inspiration from me and my climbing quest, I mean that kind of blows my mind and I draw inspiration from them."

He is a biotech journalist, so when he decided Mount Everest was the next step for him in his climbing career, he decided to do it with purpose.

He said he knows researchers are at a turning point in the fight against cancer - so he, too, fought through those times of uncertainty.

When Timmerman started this journey more than six months ago, he set goals of raising $175,000 and bringing a nationwide exposure to the Hutchinson Center, a place he knows is well appreciated here in Western Washington, but maybe not so much nationally.

"I know that, based on my previous climbs, I knew that the biotech community around the country would get excited about an Everest climb," said Timmerman.

In a matter of weeks, Timmerman exceeded that $175,000 fundraising goal he initially set and by the time he left for Everest he was well above $300,000. During his climb, the donations kept coming in, thanks in part to his social media strategy.

"One (company) was sort of on the fence before I left and ended up donating $5,000 when I arrived (and tweeted) at base camp, so maybe they saw my tweet and thought, 'OK, Luke's really going through with this," said Timmerman.

"He could not have possibly trained harder and better for this," said Cutchlow.

Reflecting on it all, Timmerman said, "I have all my fingers and toes, no frostbite. It's really, can you ask for anything more?"

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Actually, he is still asking for donations for the Climb to Fight Cancer, since he pushed his new fundraising goal to $375,000.

You can make a donation here ...

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