CASPER, Wyo. — It’s a matter of necessity that when Dr. Joe McGinley, the Casper-based sports medicine physician and medical innovator, attempts to climb the world’s tallest peak next month, he’ll also be trying to set a new summit ascent speed record — by a long shot.
“A rapid ascent is the only way to schedule it,” Dr. McGinley said at a Kiwanis Club luncheon Thursday, explaining that his busy practice necessitates mountaineering expeditions at record-breaking speeds. Last summer, he summited Mt. Denali in five and a half days. He’s also climbed Mt. Aconcagua, South America’s tallest peak, in five days.
The previous record on Everest is about 35 days, McGinley said. When he helicopters into base camp on April 30, he’ll be looking to do it in 10.
Situated in the Himalayas at the border of Nepal and China, Everest is the tallest peak in the world at just over 29,000 feet above sea level. The cruising altitude of most commercial jets is about 30,000 feet. Everest base camp is at about 17,000 feet.
By contrast, Casper Mountain is about 7,500 feet above sea level, McGinley said.
Most climbers spend weeks moving up and down from base camp to get acclimated to the low-oxygen environment. Complications from altitude sickness can include edema, or swelling of the tissues in the lungs and brain.
Since last November, Dr. McGinley has been sleeping in a tent and exercising with an oxygen-restricting mask, which simulates altitude. He’s now effectively sleeping at 20,000 feet and working out at 25,000 feet.
McGinley’s also taking a scientific approach with an eye toward medical research publication. For months he’s been tracking his body’s metrics — documenting every workout and every glass of wine — to gauge how the training and summit attempt will affect his body.
He’s hoping to create “a blueprint for rapid ascent,” McGinley said. The attempt has also drawn the curiosity of the authorities who permit expeditions: They’re assigning two of the best Sherpas to support the expedition.
McGinley is also documenting the endeavor in a new podcast series called “From Wyoming to Everest.”
McGinley’s previous feats include swimming to Alcatraz and the Ironman Triathlon. He says mountaineering presents unique physical challenges and demands presence and intention.
“I find it relaxing,” McGinley said. “You’re focusing on what you’re doing. You have to concentrate on every footstep.”
Daydreaming could lead to disaster. On Denali, there was the Windy Corner, where climbers have been blown off the ridge. The Autobahn alludes to the speeds at which climbers would end up sliding down the mountain face if they lose their footing on the ridge.
Anytime a particular section of a mountain has a name, it means climbers are about to face something harrowing, McGinley said.
With these experiences under his belt, there’s not much that rattles him in day-to-day life, McGinley said.
McGinley said his Everest attempt, like his other expeditions, is a calculated risk. Despite months of preparation, bad weather could foil the attempt.
“If the mountain says no, you’re not going up it,” McGinley said. “You have to be willing to turn around. It’s not worth dying for. “