Like everyone following last week's search for mountain climbers Charlie Fowler and Christine Boskoff, Brian Smith was deeply saddened that the story didn't have a happy ending.
But, unlike those of us who dwell in the lowlands, the Loveland, Colo., resident knows why climbers brave dangers to answer the call of the high mountains.
"Mountain climbing gives you a chance to know yourself," explains the veteran climber who graduated from South Medford High School in 1988. "You are totally alone in your thoughts. And, of course, the views are amazing.
"But you also thrive on the ability to handle hardship where others can't or won't go," he adds. "There are a lot of hardships with high altitude and winter climbing. There is a calculated risk."
Boskoff had been Smith's mentor in planning a trip to Mount Everest beginning in late March. Boskoff and Fowler perished in an apparent avalanche on Genyen Peak in southwest China last month. Fowler's body was discovered Wednesday, but the search for Boskoff's was postponed till spring because of dangerous weather.
"Chris was very energetic, very serious about what she did," Smith recalls. "She was also very humble. When my wife (Helen) and I had dinner with her, I never realized what an accomplished climber she was.
"Top climbers tend to be very humble about their accomplishments."
Both Boskoff and Fowler, whose sister, Ginny Hicks, lives in Jacksonville, were in the top tier of the world's best climbers.
Boskoff was the owner of Seattle-based Mountain Madness, which has a stable of 30 mountain guides. Climbers pay up to $55,000 for a guided expedition to Everest.
Smith is one of two climbers, two Mountain Madness guides and several Sherpas scheduled for the trip. The Smiths met with Boskoff in Denver late in June to discuss the Everest climb.
"At that time she was not sure if she was going to join me on the Everest climb or not, but we were going to at least spend a few days together in Ouray (Colorado) doing some pre-expedition planning and training in late February," he says.
Boskoff later left for Russia, then Tibet to meet up with Fowler. The last e-mail Smith received from her was Oct. 25.
"Hi Brian," she wrote. "Great to hear from you! I'm still in China, but our group would meet in Ouray the last weekend of February. I'm glad the boots fit! I'll give you a call when I'm back in the U.S."
She signed off, "Cheers, Chris."
A real estate investor when he isn't climbing peaks, Smith, 37, has long dreamed of climbing to the Roof of the World. When he was in the ninth grade in Medford, he often dashed over to the city library during lunch break for books on Mount Everest.
"I would check out every book I could find on Everest," he says. "I wanted to read everything I could about it."
The son of Larry and Linda Smith of Jacksonville comes by his love of high mountains naturally. He was reared in Crater Lake National Park, where his father was a park ranger before becoming a schoolteacher.
"As a kid, I climbed every crag around our cabin," Brian Smith says. "I was backpacking by the time I was 10."
During his senior year in high school he made his first winter ascent of Rainier, the tallest mountain in the Cascade Range at 14,409 feet.
"I've been to the top of Rainier three times in winter — you have the whole mountain to yourself," he says. "Going in winter is like going from the little league to the big league. You are on your own."
He has made 33 ascents on Rainier, where he did a stint as a park ranger after high school, but turned back 24 times because of deteriorating weather.
"I tend to be on the conservative side when climbing," he says.
The highest peak he has climbed thus far is Popocatepetl, at nearly 18,000 feet the second highest volcano in Mexico.
Before heading to Nepal he plans to stretch his legs a bit. The veteran climber heads out Jan. 6 for Argentina to scale Aconcagua, at 22,841 feet the highest peak in the Americas. That makes it twice as high as Oregon's Mount Hood, which he has summited four times.
That climb will be followed by one in Mexico before he leaves March 24 for Nepal as part of the first leg of his journey to challenge Everest. If everything goes well, he will be standing on top of the world by the end of May.
"I have dreamed of climbing Everest since I was 15 years old," he says. "Hey, my dream for Everest is so big that my son's first name is Everest."
Their son turns 3 in January.
Smith, a former triathlete, knows the climb to Mount Everest's summit of 29,035 feet will be extremely challenging. The long trek to the base camp at 17,500 feet upon which he will acclimate for a week or two after reaching it April 10 is just the beginning.
The toughest part may be the aptly named Death Zone at Camp 4, some 26,000 feet above sea level.
"From there, I understand you go 50 to 55 hours without sleep — you are utterly exhausted," he says, noting it's difficult to sleep at that elevation.
If Mother Nature cooperates, he could be standing atop Mount Everest between May 10 and the 24th.
"A lot of climbers feel they reach the pinnacle of climbing when they do Everest," he says, then adds, "I suppose I'll feel like that. But there will probably be other mountains I'll want to climb."