113: Brian Dickinson: Going snow blind on the top of Mt Everest and then trying to figure out a way down the mountain by himself.. This was a Blind Decent but lived to talk about it.

July 19, 2019

Brian Dickinson

Brian Dickinson, “It’s a mountain, and people want to climb it and it’s getting more popular, just climbing in general, and it’s a beautiful thing, it’s great. But, you’ve got to figure things out because people are dying.” These are the realistic reality checks that Brian Dickinson brings to the sport of mountain climbing. Why is finding your summit on top of Mount Everest, the tallest mountain peak in the world, such a serious matter? The answer is simple, roughly, 3% of people that go up on Everest every year pass away. Brian Dickinson speaks about survival from personal experience and explains the importance of being the strongest person you can be, and ways to increase the chances of meeting the summit and surviving.

On this episode of Finding Your Summit Podcast, we talk with Brian Dickinson, Motivational Speaker, US Navy Air Rescue Swimmer, Athlete, Author, Husband and Father about his experiences climbing the seven summits. Brian shares where his love of the mountains came from: “I grew up in Southern Oregon, in the 80s, being a kid, we didn’t have all of the technology, social media, phones, and everything. So, no matter what the weather was, my parents would say, ‘go outside, get out of here, go seek some adventure.’” Brian did just that early in life as a helicopter rescue swimmer in the military. Climbing is expensive so being that Brian had children and a wife, he looked for sponsors. Has he reached the peak of all 7 summits?  Brian’s reply was: “I have climbed the 7 summits, but I’ve never summited Denali. I’ve been within 1000 feet. I’ve snowboarded it once. So, I’m not ‘official,’ and part of my journey has been being able to accept that. I could go after it every single year if I wanted to. But, how much is that taking away from my family, and what is it doing to me?.”

Brian talks about his personal preference for going solo on here mountaineering missions–including summiting Mount Everest unguided with just sherpa support, and got outfitted by a guy he knew with a guiding company. Finances was a factor when he decided to go unguilded, but not the sole reason, just to avoid spending an extra $10,000-$20,000. He explains this further by saying, “My experience with guided groups in the past…there is always one or several weakest links. The reason, is that I was 1000 feet from the summit, and pretty much every time I’ve been on Denali, it is because someone in the party. There are just certain factors where we had to make good decisions. On the mountain, any day that you decide to go back down and survive it’s a good decision.”

What You Will Learn:

He talks about all the mountains that he has soloed without a guided group and how he feels comfortable in these scenarios, having time to think and enjoy downtime by himself yourself. Hear what it was like climbing Mount Everest, and even having a sherpa tap out and decide to wait for Brian. Brian discusses talks the moment he actually made a radio call, crying, and recognizing the importance of after finding the summit, remembering that now he had to get back down over 29,000 feet. Brian described the feeling of summiting Everest by saying, “It’s everything. I made the radio call so I kind of had a virtual celebration really quick. But yeah, I don’t remember if I fist bumped, or like pumped my fist. I was just so choked up and trying to process it all.”

Unfortunately for Brian Dickinson, the fact that most accidents happen on the way back down because you are exhausted kicked in. Having blue eyes made Brian more susceptible to snow blindness, and that is exactly what happened to him. The sun came up and bounced off the ice and fried his cornea. It typically takes 24 hours to regain your sight, “I didn’t regain mine fully for a month and a half. It was super severe, and with snow blindness, it’s not like blind, where everything is black. It is where everything is just bright white. It is like having a light bulb just an inch in front of your face. You cannot see anything,” said Brian.

To make matters worse, Brian experienced goggle issues the day before the accident. They cracked, ripping an internal lens out, and probably had their effectiveness cut in half. What went through Brian’s mind after suffering from snow blindness? He learned to access sticky situations in the Navy. He coped with the fact that he was completely alone, no one was coming to get him, and he was at the highest point in the world, and has to get back down. Somehow he managed to stay calm, he didn’t overthink it, he got up, and slowing started going back down, “I describe it as breaking potato chips and putting it in your eyelids. You realize just how often your eyes are just twitching and it is just super painful.”

Brian Dickinson describes going down with 50-60 yards of rope at a time, hooking in, climbing down to where the robe ends, unclip and then reclip, some were anchored into rock, some into ice, and even some into the snow. Brian said: “I was so thirsty too on this descent, I was like dying of thirst. I would have to stop and do the whole process of taking off my oxygen mask and finding my bottle and make sure I don’t drop anything. Get a swig and put it all back.”

Brian explains the magnitude of this situation, yearning to return to his wife and children, all while not being able to see his radio frequencies properly. The trip continued to transform into a full-blown nightmare. He slipped down the south summit and the rope shock-loaded and he considered that the scariest thing that he had ever done in his life. “It’s like, go to your roof, close your eyes and jump off.” Brian Dickinson gives all the gritty details.

Divine Intervention:

Fear was replaced by a spiritual miracle. Brian’s mask was compressing to his face and he was running out of oxygen. He ripped the mask off, dropped to his knees and tried to suck in the thin air, he ultimately surrendered and prayed, with his black eyes, and after losing 20 pounds. Brian will fill your heart with the power of the divine intervention he felt on Mount Everest that day when his body suddenly felt energy refill it. Brians proclaimed that: “The first thing I did is pull out that other oxygen bottle, put the regulator on, and I got a positive flow. And I remember just sucking in like five deep breaths and it was like fire entering my veins. It hurt, but I had lived.”

Finding His Summit on Mt. Everest:

Brian had a blog going with Climbing magazine during his Everest climb, that offered a description of everything he was going through. He was able to use the blog as the basis for his book, Blind Descent. When he returned, he flew out to Nashville to see a friend who was on a radio station and knew a manager for a band. Brian then flew to his house and got connected to a literary agent who then connected him to his publisher. Hear how Brian wrote the book in 4-5 months. These days Brian Dickinson also shares his story of survival as a motivational speaker, explaining that, “In most cases, I can just tell my story, and every single person is going to be impacted individually.”


Links to Additional Resources:

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