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Davis, California

Thursday, July 18, 2024

A high-altitude spring break lies on the horizon

There are a number of ways a 20-year-old could use $30,000. A new car, for instance, or maybe a college fund. However, Tanner Bixler, a junior economics major, has been raising $30,000 for a different cause – to climb Mount Everest.

On Mar. 27, Bixler will be embarking on a journey he has been dreaming about since he summited Alaska’s Mount McKinley, the tallest mountain in North America, at the age of 16. At that time, the San Diego, Calif. native was invited to climb Everest, but his high school had no intention of allowing him to skip school and ruin his chances of attending college.

With time in his own hands as a college student, Bixler will dedicate spring quarter to pursuing his passion.

I’m nervous, to an extent, because I know this mountain is deadly, Bixler said. Some haven’t been able to make it off. I don’t take unnecessary risks and I have good safety precautions…. If there is something I don’t feel comfortable with, I will gladly turn around.

Standing 6-foot-1 and weighing in at 185 pounds, Bixler has been improving as a climber since conquering the tallest mountain in California, Mount Whitney, with his dad at age 10. And now Bixler looks to summit the tallest mountain on earth, Everest – 29,035 feet above sea level.

Accompanying Bixler will be Rob Casserley, who has summited Everest four times in the past five years. Bixler and Casserley first met by chance while climbing Mount McKinley in 2002.

Pound for pound, Tanner is one of the strongest climbers I have ever met, Casserley said. He is very mature for his age and cool-headed. Tanner has a natural understanding of what is expected.

Tanner’s father, Steve, jokingly takes responsibility for creating the monster. He will join his son’s international expedition, consisting of about 12 experienced climbers, to base camp where he will see his son off.

Of course I am concerned, but he’s following his passion and I wouldn’t stop him from that, said Steve Bixler. Who he’s going with has a lot to do with making me feel more comfortable. Tanner is taking it seriously and he knows the risks. You just hope for the best.

When asked about his training, Bixler said he never likes to time himself while running, but recently ran a marathon in three hours and 45 minutes. At night, he spends a continuous hour-and-a-half hiking up and down the Hutchinson Field parking lot while carrying a 60-pound pack.

Bixler is very involved with the UC Davis community. He is a student firefighter at the UC Davis Fire Department, a supervisor at the ASUCD Coffee House and a volunteer at Outdoor Adventures as an EMT teaching aid.

We’re all totally supportive of him, said Terry Zimmer, UC Davis Fire Department captain. We’re all hoping he does great. I’m sure he’ll be on top of the summit and looking down on us all.

Bixler finds many similarities between firefighting and climbing, and plans to use his firefighting experiences to his advantage. He said that placing a great deal of attention on safety, a strong sense of camaraderie and being able to think on your feet in dangerous situations are values that are practiced on a routine basis as a firefighter.

Once Bixler reaches base camp at Everest, his group will spend one month performing acclimatization climbs to camps one, two and three to prepare their bodies for the final summit push after camp four at 26,000 feet.

Climbers refer to the point of 24,000 feet as the death zone. At this altitude, the body will begin to eat itself and is at risk for pulmonary and cerebral edema. Therefore, it is imperative that climbers arrive at camp four only once they are ready for the final 15-hour push to the top.

There is one-third as much oxygen at 29,035 feet than at sea level, making movement very difficult and slow. However, unlike Bixler’s climbs on less treacherous mountains, sherpas will be carrying a 60-pound load, leaving only about 40 pounds for the climbers.

Casserley, 32, and Bixler, 20, differ from the average climber who tends to be older, averaging 40 years old, said Casserley. The expedition is expensive, potentially reaching $65,000. In addition to Nepal’s $10,000 permit fee, Bixler needs resources for food, supplies and gear.

I’m going to be the guardian angel looking out for him, said Casserley. He’s an incredible friend. He doesn’t need much help and is very gifted. But you have to watch your luck on every step. There is a healthy basis of luck to get to the summit…. I can’t think of someone more likely to summit based on his credentials.

Bixler has been trying to find sponsors for his trip to little avail. As an incentive for people to give any sort of donation, Bixler will carry a list of supporters and leave it at the highest point he reaches on Everest. For more information on how to support Bixler, go to tannerbixler.com. To follow Bixler’s progress during his climb, go to ice8000.com.


JUNE QUAN can be reached at features@californiaaggie.com.




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