News & Events

Tippie Grad Ascends Mount Everest

Apprehension and worry turned to elation Friday for Art Wittmack, who said his son successfully scaled Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world.

Charlie Wittmack, 26, who graduated from the University of Iowa two years ago with a business degree, is the first Iowan to successfully scale the 29,035-foot peak. It was Wittmack's first attempt, and the feat came to the delight - and relief - of family and friends who had not heard from him for more than two days.

"It just came in, he summited," Art Wittmack said in a telephone interview early Friday. "We're elated. We had not heard from him for almost 21/2 days. Obviously, we were thinking the worst."

A dispatch posted on one of the Mount Everest Web sites said Wittmack apparently didn't accomplish the successful summit without some pain.

"In an e-mail to family just received from Base Camp, Charlie reports he is safely back in Base Camp having reached the Summit with his climbing partner Pasang Tharke Sherpa of Nepal. He is suffering from minor snowblindness and frostbite," it said.

The last Art Wittmack had heard, his son and climbing team members had reached Camp IV, which at 26,300 feet was the last refuge before the final 2,735 feet to the summit. Charlie Wittmack posted an e-mail on a Mount Everest Web site that said he felt strong and was resting after a storm had forced his retreat from an initial push toward the summit late Tuesday, Iowa time. There is an 11-hour difference in time zones.

The suspense ended Friday morning for the elder Wittmack, of Des Moines, who said he learned of his son's summit climb in an e-mail Charlie had sent.

"He had lost communication. He didn't have access to his satellite phone. We are so relieved that he is OK," Wittmack said. "We still have not talked to him, but we found out through the e-mail that he had done it."

Despite the ordeal, Charlie Wittmack apparently was able to post an e-mail in which he began, "Thoughts from the Summit of Mount Everest" and "29,035 ft" on the next line.

"I have learned that an individual is only as strong as the network that supports him. As I stand here on the top of the world, it is an achievement that reflects on the entire state of Iowa, and the spirit and teamwork of her people. This is a victory that we all share together," the e-mail said.

An Everest Web site report later Friday released some of the details of Wittmack's trek to the top, accomplished at 8:20 p.m. Thursday Nepal time and culiminating a 21/2-month expedition that experienced harsh weather.

"We could see that the jet stream was not moving off the summit and as the monsoon season approached we had to decide if we were going up or going home," the report quoted Wittmack.

He made a total of three attemps to the top, including two nights in a row from Camp IV.

"We spent two nights at camp four without food or oxygen. After the first attempt all of the major teams headed home. The winds were over 80 MPH and there was no indication that things would improve. We were exhausted from the first attempt and never expected to reach the summit on the second night," the report quoted.

The report said Wittmack, along with Pasang Tharke Sherpa of Nepal, reached the top after 11 hours of climbing. Winds on the summit were about 40 mph, with moderate snow and visibility fewer than 50 meters.

"Having broken his left crampon (shoe spikes) near the summit, Wittmack experienced a harrowing descent, taking another 10 hours to climb down to his tent in Camp 3," the report stated. When he arrived there, Wittmack discovered that one of his team members had removed the equipment from the camp, the report said.

He eventually found shelter in the tent of Gary Guller, a Texan, but spent another night without food and water, the report said, adding Wittmack expected to return to Iowa during the first week in June.

Wittmack's girlfriend, Catherine Scharf, said the news was joyous and a big relief.

"I have basically been sitting on pins and needles," she said. "It was the greatest relief. We were all getting extremely anxious."

David Murphy, a close friend of Charlie Wittmack's, heard the news about the summit from Art Wittmack.

"I'm thrilled," Murphy said. "I never thought he couldn't do it. It's not out of his capability. It never was."

The lack of information about his friend didn't worry Murphy.

"At times, I kind of figured he was real tired," he said. "I understand it is tough to sleep at those kinds of altitudes."

Wittmack's summit came as Mercy Hospital emergency room physician Chuck Huss ended his third bid to scale Everest, Bob Hoffman, team leader of Huss' expedition, said in an e-mail to his wife, Sue Hoffman. Huss also was unsuccessful in 1998 and 2000.

Wittmack's efforts also coincide with the 50-year anniversary of the first summit of the mountain by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay.


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