Highland Park man with diabetes conquers world's No. 4 mountain
June 16, 2008 4:00 AM
Lhotse looms behind Will Cross during an earlier climb up Mount Everest. This view shows the couloir on the face of Lhotse, an alleyway that climbers use to reach the peak.
By David Templeton Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Scaling the world's highest peaks has risks including oxygen depletion and exhaustion that can diminish one's focus.
And a lack of focus can be deadly at 27,000 feet of altitude.
But in climbing the world's fourth-highest peak last month, Will Cross, 41, of Highland Park, overcame other obstacles.
He has type 1 diabetes, which adds a challenge to any adventure. But his second attempt to scale Lhotse in the Himalayas also involved political intrigue.
In early May, the Chinese closed down Mount Everest and Lhotse, which share some climbing camps, to clear the way for Chinese climbers to carry an Olympic torch to Mount Everest's summit. China, which currently occupies Tibet, also took action to limit "free Tibet" protests and arrested a climber wearing a "free Tibet" T-shirt.
To quell protests, the Chinese seized climbers' laptop computers and satellite phones in the climbing camps, which foiled Post-Gazette plans to post regular updates of Mr. Cross' progress during his climb.
China also posted soldiers with Belgian sniper rifles along the slopes with orders to shoot to kill anyone who tried to make climbs during the Chinese expedition up Mount Everest. "Mountain climbers are brash, but no one tried to climb," Mr. Cross said after returning home June 5.
The climbing season in the Himalayas is limited to May before the monsoon season, and two months in the fall. So China's decision to close the mountains left little time to climb this spring.
Mr. Cross is sponsored by companies involved with diabetes care, including insulin producer Novo Nordisk Inc., and Animas Corp., which produces insulin pumps. Kobold Watches of Pittsburgh also sponsors his adventures.
Mr. Cross has reached the North and South poles, and climbed the highest peaks on seven continents, including Mount Everest in 2006. He was the first person with type 1 diabetes to accomplish those feats.
Now he's working on the Giant Mountain Challenge to climb six Himalayan peaks higher than 26,000 feet.
When he isn't climbing, he gives motivational speeches on living with diabetes and not letting it undermine one's goals. His Web site is www.willcrossmotivates.com.
When the Chinese finally reopened the mountains in mid-May, hundreds of climbers who'd paid up to $65,000 for permits to climb Mount Everest were anxious to start their expeditions.
But Mr. Cross decided to wait for the rush to pass before beginning his climb.
An experienced climber, Mr. Cross encountered no problems with diabetes control. But Lhotse, which is 27,940 feet high -- or 5.3 miles of snow, ice and rock -- has the steepest slopes of the world's highest mountains, making it "high, hard and dangerous," he said.
Mr. Cross spent weeks acclimating himself to high altitudes, while avoiding run-ins with the Chinese, then began his climb from Camp 4 at 3 a.m. Sunday, May 25, with Nawangle Sherpa, a high-altitude climber.
Last spring, Mr. Cross came 1,000 feet short of reaching Lhotse's summit.
Mr. Cross said it's more difficult than Mount Everest, despite being 1,095 feet shorter.
From Camp 4, the climb follows a gully, known as the couloir, that goes up the face of the peak and ends about 300 feet short of the summit. Each step along the couloir requires sure footing, with assistance from an ice ax, and a thin rope to grab as last resort should the footing or ax fail to keep the climber stable.
The last 10 meters of Lhotse are nearly vertical, requiring scrambling up the rocky, icy cliff face with a rope. He reached the summit at 11:30 a.m. -- 81/2 hours after leaving Camp 4.
"It is peaceful," he said. "There's serenity and clarity. It's just right. You are one with the world."
After 45 minutes on the summit, he began his descent. "Now you need to make sure you get back down in one piece," Mr. Cross said. "Every clip [of the rope], every step, every hand movement for 15 hours is important. You are in physical danger the whole time. You cannot let your guard down."
Mr. Cross reached Camp 2 at 8 p.m. that evening, 17 hours after beginning the ascent. Now back home, he's 25 pounds lighter than when he left for Katmandu in early April.
And Lhotse sits atop his growing list of conquered peaks.