South Medford grad scales Mount Everest summit

'After 24 years of dreaming, Brian has accomplished his dream,' father reports

Mountain climber Brian Smith, a 1988 graduate of South Medford High School, reached the top of Mount Everest at exactly 2:50 a.m. today Nepalese time in dark and cold conditions.

Smith, 37, the son of Larry and Linda Smith of Jacksonville, climbed to the roof of the world several hours ahead of schedule, his father said.

"After 24 years of dreaming, Brian has accomplished his dream — he made it," said an emotional Larry Smith upon learning that his son scaled the world's tallest peak at 29,035 feet.

"They are reported feeling strong and healthy but they are having trouble relaying messages down to the base," he added.

Climbing guide Willie Benegas of the Seattle-based Mountain Madness, an adventure travel firm contracted by Brian Smith to guide him to the top, was able to send a message to his twin brother Damian Benegas of their success, Larry Smith said. Damian Benegas is also a world-class mountain climber.

Brian Smith, Willie Benegas and a Sherpa named Tendi all summited and were descending in calm, cold conditions, according to a message posted on Mountain Madness' Web site at www.mountainmadness.com.

"They weren't expected to be up there for another three or four hours," Larry Smith observed, adding, "Climbers try to reach the top early in the morning because that's when there is the least amount of wind."

Everest is roughly 12 hours ahead of Medford, elevation 1,382 feet.

His parents had been extremely concerned when the climber began suffering from high-altitude pulmonary edema about three weeks ago. He returned to lower elevations to recover, then resumed his effort to climb the world's tallest mountain.

While he was recovering, Willie Benegas, along with Tendi, led a group to the top of Everest on May 15. The two rested before attempting the rare turn-around climb.

Back down in Jacksonville, 1,569 feet above sea level, his parents were both proud and apprehensive, his mother said.

"It's quite an amazing thing to have a child to want to accomplish something like this," Linda Smith said, later adding, "But I'll be very glad when he is back down."

The medical staff at base camp had been monitoring Brian's health closely because of his earlier encounter with HAPE, she said.

A veteran climber, Brian is very cautious when it comes to tackling a challenging mountain, she said.

"He is now but he wasn't when he was 16 — I didn't think he would live to be 18," she said, noting he took delight in scaring her by climbing onto high places.

"I have acrophobia real bad," she explained, referring to her fear of heights.

A real estate investor, Brian Smith and his wife, Helen, live in Loveland, Colo., elevation 5,100 feet. They have two children — daughter Chloe, 6, and son Everest, 3.

"Hey, I agreed to name my son after a mountain," his wife said with a laugh when asked about her reaction to his successful summit of Mount Everest.

Like his parents, she expressed both pride and relief that he had summited, and was in good health.

"He is probably bursting right now — I wish I could be with him," she said, later adding, "It's an amazing story for him to make it after getting sick."

She joked that it was his special way of adding a little drama to the story.

"I really think he was born to climb mountains — this is what he was meant to do," said his wife, who has joined him in climbing Mount Rainier, the tallest mountain in the Cascade Range at 14,409 feet.

As for their children, they are excited about the two rocks their father has promised to bring them from Mount Everest, she said.

He was expected to be back down at Camp II, elevation 21,200 feet, by mid-morning Nepalese time today, according to Mountain Madness.

In an interview with the Mail Tribune before beginning his trek to Everest, Smith talked about the call of high mountains.

"Mountain climbing gives you a chance to know yourself," he explained. "You are totally alone in your thoughts. And, of course, the views are amazing."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.


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