Climber Conrad Anker on Suffering, Risk, Reward & The Allure of Meru

“Enlightenment isn’t found on a full stomach, or on a soft pillow.”

Conrad Anker

Imagine bivouacking in a portaledge — you and two other guys crammed into a small mountaineering tent pitched vertically and dangling on the side of a sheer Himalayan cliff 19,000 feet above solid ground with nothing but nothing below you. Then imagine staying put for 12 days straight to weather a ferocious storm, torrential winds and temperatures that dip into twenty below territory.

That’s just one harrowing peek into the life of today’s guest, Conrad Anker – a man widely considered to be the most accomplished high altitude climber in the world and one of the most respected adventure athletes of all time.

The team leader of The North Face climbing team as well as the subject of not one but several Outside Magazine cover profiles, Conrad is renown for specializing in not just the highest mountains but the most technically challenging ascents — conquering the trickiest peaks spread across the high Himalaya, Antarctica, Alaska and the big walls of Patagonia.

Conrad has summited Everest 3 times, including a successful 2012 ascent without the aid of supplemental oxygen — a feat reserved for only the most elite mountaineers. In a 1999 Everest expedition, Conrad famously located the remains of George Mallory— the legendary British climber who disappeared in the midst of his historic 1924 attempt to be the first to summit the world’s highest peak. Last seen about 800 vertical feet from the summit, speculation as to whether Mallory and his climbing partner Andrew Irvine had reached the summit before dying has been a subject of much dispute. But Conrad’s discovery shed much light on the mystery of this and other pioneering climbs of early expeditions.

On a personal level, in 1999 Conrad survived an avalanche in Tibet — a massive wall of snow and ice that tossed his body 100 feet, beat him up badly and took the life of his best friend and climbing companion Alex Lowe. Conrad would later marry Alex’s widow Jennifer and raise his three sons, Max, Sam and Isaac.

A few years ago I had the good fortune of meeting Conrad, including the privilege of hearing him share the story of his internationally celebrated 2011 attempt to summit a peak previously thought impossible – the Shark’s Fin of Meru. Considered the most technically complicated and dangerous peak in the Himalayas, it’s an astonishing tale.

Now this expedition is the subject of a new documentary aptly named Meru, feted with the prestigious Audience Award at last winter’s Sundance Film Festival. I had an opportunity to see the film and I can say first hand that it is extraordinary. Visceral. Harrowing. And terrifying as much as it is inspiring. “A meditation on life, death and everything in between” according to Newsweek, the film works as a true character study, winning mainstream hearts previously unfamiliar with the world of climbing. A redemptive deep look into the lives and complicated pasts of Conrad and his talented climbing teammates Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk (both responsible for not only scaling the peak but also capturing the entire experience on film), it’s a contemplation on tragedy. It’s about family, friendship and risk. And it’s a film about the redemptive power of suffering nature’s harshest elements to achieve the extraordinary.

Not only a mountaineering savant, Conrad is also a passionate environmentalist. An exemplary ambassador of adventure, sport and the outdoors. A deeply grounded and humble man, mindful and profoundly connected to nature.

Today I sit down with Conrad to explore the many facets of his most remarkable life, including:

  • growing up hyperactive & hypersensitive
  • connecting to culture through the environment
  • communitarianism in Nepalese culture
  • discovering George Mallory in 1999
  • technological advances in climbing
  • acceptance of mortality & risk
  • climbing Everest as a bucket list goal
  • the primacy of mentorship
  • the meaning of Meru
  • the role of patience in climbing & life
  • acceptance of fear as self-preservation
  • reconciling modern life with climbing
  • parenting his perished friend’s children
  • human impact on climate and nature

A beautiful man, I’m proud to call Conrad friend. And I’m beyond excited to share his story with you today.

Special thanks to Jimmy Chin for graciously allowing me use of his amazing photography in today’s podcast. Check out his incredible life and work on his website & on Instagram.

I sincerely hope you enjoy the exchange.

What is your acceptable level of risk and why? I’d love to hear about it in the comments section below.

Peace + Plants,


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Background, Context & Reference:

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Production, music & sound design by Tyler Piatt. Additional production by Chris Swan. Graphic art by Shawn Patterson.

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