Beyond the summit of Cho Oyu

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Brien Sheedy, Whitman College's outdoor program director, recently returned from leading a mountain-climbing trip up Cho Oyu, the sixth-highest peak in the world at 26,906 feet.

While to most this would be an incredible challenge, Sheedy has already successfully climbed the highest peak on each of the seven continents.

"I finished (the seven summits) in 2005. I started them in '94. But I wasn't actually trying to get (all of) them until I was halfway through. I was guiding in all those places, or close by, so then climbed those peaks while I was there," Sheedy said.

When Sheedy is not working at Whitman, he leads trips for Alpine Ascents International, a Seattle-based guide service.

"During the Christmas holiday I usually go and lead a trip up Aconcagua, which is the highest peak in the Western hemisphere," Sheedy said. "In the summertime I usually lead a trip up Denali, which is the highest peak in North America."

Sheedy returned from his trip to Cho Oyu in early October. There are only certain times each year when weather permits climbers to scale the mountain.

"There's only two times each year to climb this mountain: pre-monsoon, which is in the spring, or post-monsoon, which is in the fall," he said.

Cho Oyu is on the border between China and Nepal. Sheedy and his group flew into Kathmandu, Nepal, then went to China to climb the mountain, which is referred to as the "turquoise goddess."

It takes a long time to climb a mountain like Cho Oyu, because climbers must acclimate their bodies to the high altitude. This involves climbing up the mountain in increments, and going back down to lower elevations periodically to get used to the lower oxygen levels.

"You're constantly going up and down," Sheedy said. "It took us 10 days to get to base camp. We had to stop in two different Chinese cities, and do day hikes from there, in order to get adjusted."

Climbing mountains like Cho Oyu involves some danger: Two people died on other sections of the mountain while Sheedy and his group were there. This was Sheedy's first time climbing this specific mountain and he is happy to have succeeded in the challenge.

Sheedy will bring what he learned from his latest climb to his job at Whitman. He teaches a glacier mountaineering class in the spring and plans to present a slideshow of photos and video from his trip. He also networks with other leaders that he brings to Whitman to assist with the mountaineering class or staff training.

"The benefit of me working with Alpine Ascents International is that I work with a large number of guides and instructors, and I see which ones are really good that I might want to invite back here to help me with various things I'm doing with Whitman students," he said.

Sheedy's favorite part about climbing is traveling to different cultures and meeting new people.

"I'd say (my favorite thing is) all the people you get to meet," Sheedy said. "There is so much more to it beside the summit. It's really neat to go to other parts of the world and get exposed to completely different points of view."

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