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Credit: Kevin Cherilla

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An Everest Endeavor

Meet the Valley Man Who Successfully Summited the Ultimate Climb

At just over 29,032 feet, Everest’s summit has approximately one-third the air pressure that exists at sea level, significantly reducing a climber's ability to breathe enough oxygen. However, that doesn't stop some people from attempting the bucket list endeavor.

With that being said, the majority of those who attempt Everest don't make it the whole way, but we connected with a Valley voyager who succeeded the summit. 

Meet Kevin Cherilla, the Co-Owner at K2 Adventure Travel and Co-Founder of the K2 Adventures Foundation. The local adventurer walked us through his Everest expedition and his impressive journey to the top.

First, what sparked your love for travel?

I didn't have a TV until I was in high school- I was always outside. After my freshman year in college, I went to live with my uncle in Oregon for the summer. That summer changed me.

Once I moved to Arizona, I started traveling and climbing the world with a friend. 

Mount Everest became your goal. How did your family feel about it?

I got the green-light blessing from my wife- our kids were so young at the time. I also had to get permission from work, as I was a teacher. But at 38 years old, I left in April, and summited in June.

What was training like?

Three workouts a day paired with yoga, hiking, swimming, and rock climbing. Things like 50-mile bike rides in Flagstaff.

Talk us through April to June.

You land in Kathmandu, gather your gear, meet your guide, and meet your team- we were all from different countries.

We drove from Kathmandu into Lhasa, Tibet, and then to Base Camp. This first step took about a week.

Once at Base Camp, you set up at about 17,000 feet, and then work in stages setting up at Interim Base Camp... and then to Advanced Base Camp. At about 21,000 feet, things get serious. That's where you put on your gear, clip into fixed lines, and start climbing. This is when you carry loads of 50-70 pounds dropping off food and oxygen bottles to prep your journey.

The back-and-forth rotation gets your gear set and helps with the altitude adjustment.

What did you eat?

Dehydrated stuff, pasta and beef jerky... and I love Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.

How do you keep busy in Base Camp between rotations?

I shaved! We’d also do short day hikes and read. Our bodies needed to rest from losing weight- I lost 50 pounds. 

Is the weather insane?

On my summit day, it was minus 51 degrees. However, I was dressed perfect. 

Were you ever scared for your life?

Totally. On the north side, there's an object called the “second step.” It’s an iconic spot with a ladder bolted to a rock at 28,500 feet. It’s a crazy climb like standing on a platform onto the ladder. If you look down, you’ll likely spot dead bodies.

Does your life flash before your eyes or are you focused on the task at hand?

When you come across a dead body, you tell yourself not to mess up like they did. I was going to do everything in my power to do it even if I died. What a stupid concept, right?

What did you think about approaching summit?

I thought about my third-grade teacher who introduced me Everest. I thought about my high school basketball coach who instilled in me hard work and dedication. I thought about my mom's dad, our Italian heritage, and my dad’s family, all immigrants. My dad thought I was nuts for doing it, but he became my biggest cheerleader. 

Tell us about your summit moment.

The walk to the summit was unbelievable. When I got there, I literally had the summit to my entire self – I reached it first in my group. You only spend about 10 minutes at the top to take it all in and take photos (until your camera freezes). Even though the sun was out, it was minus 40.

I cried. I was super happy. It was a relief, and I felt proud. No one could ever take that feeling away from me and no one else could have given it to me. It was earned. I carried my own stuff every step of the way.

Only 10% of people who try Mount Everest reach the top.

For the record, you proceeded to visit Everest again, yes?

I never made it to the top again, but I have, in fact, assisted other people succeed three more times. Since my moment, it’s always been about giving somebody else that experience.

And you’re quite the statistic in Arizona.

Yeah, there's only four of us in Arizona that have ever reached the Mount Everest summit, and I’m one of them.

How has this experience changed you?

After doing this, no matter what comes my way in life, there's nothing that will ever be that hard on me mentally or physically.

When people say that I'm wired differently, you know, I take it as a compliment.

What’s next for you?

This summer I’m completing my 50th summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.

k2adventuretravel.com, k2adventures.org

  • Credit: Kevin Cherilla
  • Credit: Kevin Cherilla
  • Kevin at the Summit
  • Credit: Kevin Cherilla
  • Credit: Kevin Cherilla
  • Credit: Kevin Cherilla
  • Credit: Kevin Cherilla
  • Credit: Kevin Cherilla
  • Credit: Kevin Cherilla
  • Tents at Everest Base Camp

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