Less than a month after reaching the top of Mount Vinson, Antarctica’s tallest peak, Casper mountaineer Dr. Joe McGinley has already made — at 29,032 feet — the biggest decision of his life.
Now having conquered the tallest mountain on six of the seven continents on the planet, he’ll return to Mount Everest in May to try for the seventh and join an exclusive club of climbers.
Unlike an attempt last year to summit Everest through Nepal using the traditional route up the world’s tallest mountain, the 49-year-old said he is going to navigate it from the more restricted north face that belongs to Tibet and China.
After just conquering Mount Vinson on Jan. 8, McGinley said the timing seems right.
“After I got back, logistically it makes more sense to go for Everest right now,” he said. “I’m in shape, I’m trained for Vinson, I am used to the altitude. So, this time I will be training just for a few months leading up to Everest. From an efficiency standpoint … this is the way to go.”
McGinley said he weighed what route he would attempt on his return to Everest considering the crowding and deplorable and unsafe conditions on the mountain he faced last May. The north face will be a more technical challenge.
“There are definite sections that are steep that you will be on fixed lines,” he said. “There are a couple of very intimidating ladder sections on the north, side but there are comparable challenges on the south side of the mountain, too.
“You have the ice falls on the south side that are riddled with ladders and crevasses and crossings and everything else.”
McGinley said the Chinese side of Everest limits the number of climbers and has many more safety regulations in place. Climbers have to prove to the Chinese government that they have been on a mountain of a certain height before being allowed to climb.
For McGinley, his climb of the 23,000-foot Mount Aconcagua in South America, qualifies him.
Unlike his experience last May tackling the mountain solo with a guide, McGinley will join Furtenbach Adventures, a European group, that specializes in rapid ascents of the mountain from the north side.
He said climbers on the south side typically spend 45-60 days on the mountain, but plans for the rapid ascent team mean he will only be gone three weeks, with 10-12 days on the mountain.
“It will be a great experience getting to see Tibet and China, being my first time there as well,” he said.
There's another reason to not try the Nepal route is how it's become so crowded that it's become unsafe, McGinley told Cowboy State Daily after his 2023 attempt.
No Rest For The Next One
McGinley said he is already preparing and has a spreadsheet from the team’s sports physiologist that requires him to fill out his vital information such as heart rate, temperature and blood pressure every morning and evening.
He follows the recommendations on how high to set the altitude of his sleeping tent as the weeks approach deadline. The team also has training milestones he has to reach.
The climbing team will include four climbers, one guide and eight sherpas who will assist the climbers.
Plans call for McGinley to fly to Katmandu, then to Tibet, then drive up the Tibetan plateau to a mountain base camp at about 15,000 feet elevation.
Unlike on the south side of Everest, McGinley said the Chinese require climbers to use oxygen at much lower levels. So, most of the ascent will include an oxygen mask and tank, in addition to all his other gear.
Casper Mountain, Then Everest
The training regimen involves getting up at 4 a.m. every morning and then a workout prior to going to his busy medical practice. On weekends, he spends much of his time on Casper Mountain hiking, climbing and being exposed to the elements.
While the Wyoming weather has not been typical for winter so far, McGinley said the mountain still offers a lot for his training.
“It provides some realistic training conditions in terms of cold weather and snow and ice, and some slippery conditions, so I will continue to do my training on Casper Mountain,” he said.
Since he just returned from Antarctica’s Mount Vinson and its 2,000-foot vertical 45-degree ice face that he navigated, he said training for the technical climbing using ropes and gear isn’t crucial because he is already prepared for what he will face on Mount Everest.
For this climb, McGinley also is considering sponsorships.
Prior to his Mount Everest trip last year, McGinley said he was approached by a businessman about being sponsored for his climb. He declined the offer because he looks at his climbing as a hobby.
The man persisted, and on this last climb toward the seven summits McGinley has created opportunities for individual or business sponsorships.
As the owner of his own medical clinic and associated businesses, he said his “hobby” has become a proven marketing tool.
“In history, there has been less than 500 people that have ever completed the seven summits since they started tracking this,” he said. “I didn’t feel comfortable doing it last year, but I got his point.
“I’ve spoken to other companies and climbers who have done it and they said it benefits them greatly and also helps offset your costs on the climb, so that is why we set it up.”
McGinley said he appreciates his family’s support of his climbing goals. His son will accompany him on some weekend training climbs, but his training and work schedule limits his availability heading toward May.
“I try to adjust my social schedule during the next few months as I prepare to head up the mountain. I don’t want to even get exposed to a common cold, because if I get sick it’s going to mess up my sleep training and it’s going to mess up my outdoor training,” he said. “And it’s a financial strain as well. These trips aren’t inexpensive. My wife has been very tolerant, I’d say, of my hobby, to get this far.”
In addition to Mount Vinson and Mount Aconcagua, McGinley has also climbed Kilimanjaro in Africa, Mount Elbrus in Europe, Denali in North America and the Carstensz Pyramid in Indonesia.
He can see the prize ahead.
“As far as adventure sports go, this will go on the record books,” he said. “I will be listed as one of the climbers that climbed seven summits, if successful.
“It is a unique opportunity and I am not getting any younger, right? So, being able to do this and be healthy and train, I am very lucky and blessed so I can do that.”
Dale Killingbeck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.