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Climbing cousin scales Everest

Climbing cousin scales Everest

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Growing up, my brother Bill Jr. and I were very close to our first-cousins, John, Susie and Greg Dahlem. Our moms, Polly and Harriet, were the two youngest children in a Southern California family of six.

As such, the sisters were great friends throughout their lives, dating and marrying best friends, my dad Bill Bruner Sr., and their dad, Maurie Dahlem, who attended UCLA together. In fact, my dad introduced Maurie to Hatsie, and they double-dated, as Maurie was the only one with a car.John is close in age to my brother, Bill, and they were almost like brothers. John would visit us sometimes in the summer, and the two boys would have great adventures, like the 23 Skidoo race car they built, letting me, little sis, drive it, too.

I thought they were daredevils and fun to hang out with, except when they tickled me.

John and Bill were both high achievers in school and beyond. I remember attending John’s Eagle Scout awards ceremony in Los Angeles, where it seems he broke many records in scouting history.

Later, John led troops in Vietnam, receiving a bronze star.

He attended the University of Oregon, with the goal of teaching history, a passion we share, along with writing.

He met Sioux when they were students in Oregon, and they married and have two grown sons, Shawn, 44, and Ryan, 40, who are both Stanford graduates.

Late in a two-decade career as high school principal in the Anaheim Unified School District, John went on to earn a master’s degree  in Latin American history and a Ph.D. in human behavior.Through the years, John would often look at my dad’s photos of his backpacking days in the early 1930s in the High Sierras, especially a photo of him on the summit of Mount Whitney (14,495 feet).

John loved to talk to him about what it was like to be out in the wilderness for months and also to climb the highest peak in the lower 48 states. Little did we know that interest would lead John to begin a 10-year quest that would culminate with his ascent of Mount Everest, with his son, Ryan, on May 24, 2010, at 7:55 a.m.

At 66 years and 10 months on the summit, John is the second oldest American to summit (after Bill Burke, 67), and he and Ryan are the oldest father-son combination to ever stand on top of Everest.

Our extended family followed their adventure through their blogs, worried about their safety and rejoiced when they reached the summit and descended in good shape.

It was a very tough climb up the popular South Face, which took 66 days and ended with their ascent to the top of Everest in a storm.

Eager to tell their story, I have been e-mailing my cousin to create this tale for readers, which includes the cousin Q-&-A session below.

* * *

Q/Cousin Betsey: What has been your philosophy throughout your life about achieving goals you've set ?

A/Cousin John: My goal in life has always been to help someone, particularly kids -- that is why I was a high school principal for more than 20 years. Every day is a gift and live it to the fullest (I was taught that in Vietnam as a company commander). Age should not make a difference and always be happy because this is a choice you have: You can chose to be happy or sad, the choice is yours.

Q: What has inspired you to climb the highest peaks in the world?

A: We just started to climb mountains for the fun of it and the ability to see the world. We didn't plan on doing Everest at the beginning, but the path just worked out that way. We started 10 years ago with Kilimanjaro and just said, "Why not," when the next mountain came up. I would have probably not visited Africa, Russia, Antarctica or Argentina without the fact that is where the mountains are

* * *

Q: Your seventh climb will be in Australia, correct?

A: The seventh of the 7 Summits will be in Australia this December -- Mount Kosciuszko, the easiest and only a half-day climb.

* * *

Q: How have you trained for your ascent attempts through the years?

A: We train all the time with running and weight lifting in the gym, plus we pull a tire up and down hills to build our stamina and strength. The best way to train is simply put on your rucksack and get out into the mountains.

* * *

Q: What is the approximate cost of climbing Everest?

A: Climbing Everest must be a two-way trip; getting up is great, but it is mandatory to get down, too. Too many people have tried to climb Everest on the cheap, and they are still on the mountain. We used a very good climbing company, International Mountain Guides (IMG), which has a great success getting its climbers to the top (they were on the Discovery Channel TV program). The cost per person was $40,000, and it can cost up to $70,000. We were climbing as "non-guided" clients.

Note: Our boots cost $900, but were worth every penny as we did not lose any toes, and we had great down suits that were like walking in a sleeping bag.

* * *

Q: What food and beverages did you consume during ascent?

A: The food was good, but at altitude you just don't want to eat. I ate as much as I could, but still lost 25 pounds, and Ryan lost 15 pounds. In Base Camp, we ate soup, noodles, SPAM, etc.

* * *

Q: Sioux (John's wife) blogged that you had oxygen problems "at the balcony," so what does that mean?

A: At the balcony, my oxygen regulator was leaking, not good in the storm, and I was getting cold. Oxygen helps you breathe, and at that height you only have about a third of the necessary oxygen, versus sea level, plus it helps with keeping you as warm as possible. Without proper acclimatization, you would die in about 6 minutes on the top. My Sherpa got another oxygen bottle for me to continue on up the mountain

* * *

Q: What is your Sherpa's name, and what did he say about the weather being the worst he'd experienced?

A: My Sherpa's name was Danuru Sherpa, from Phortse in the Khumbu. He was tall, a gentle soul and extremely strong, one of the best climbers in the world. He was my Sherpa on Cho Oyu, too, and I would have never even come close to the summit without him. Same with Ryan, who had Dawa Sherpa, who was Danuru's cousin. My Danuru is 31 years old and has now climbed Everest 12 times. A wonderful human being, who I still keep in contact and help support his kids going to school in Kathmandu. His main goal in life is to have his kids not do what he does. He says, "Climbing is very dangerous."

* * *

Q: Was it the journey or the destination?

A: It is always the journey that life is all about. It keeps you going, and as Sioux says, "Motion is lotion."

* * *

Q: What are the benefits of climbing with your son?

A: I would not climb without my son; it is such a joy to share it with him. Climbing Everest was 40 percent physical and 60 percent mental. You are gone a long time from loved ones, you are tired, sick, can't eat, beat up and always in danger -- a lot of pressure, and many give up and come home, even though they could have climbed the mountain. We help each other and mostly, he helped me. He was very strong on summit day and really helped and motivated me to get to the top -- a "real stud."

* * *

Q: What was the most emotional moment in the climb effort?

A: At the top, there isn't a lot of emotion, although we walked the last few steps to the summit together crying, and I got emotional on the top as you can see in the video, but you are worrying about getting down, because that is where most climbers can die. You get real emotional when you see your loved ones at the airport waiting for you. They are the true heroes. Climbing in itself is a very egotistical adventure, and you need a lot of family support.

* * *

Q: What did you miss the most from the "civilized world," and what did you most enjoy and appreciate when you got back to the lowlands?

A: I missed the greenery, because everything is white with the snow. I missed chocolate, ice cream and a Big Mac. Loved Kathmandu afterwards, and we now get to eat free the rest of our lives at the famous Rum Doodle Restaurant and got to sign the wall, as do all summiteers. At the Rum Doodle, we also met the young 13-year-old who summited, Jordan Romero.

* * *

Q: How much weight did you carry and what items were in your pack?

A: We really didn't carry heavy loads like we did on Denali. The Sherpa porters carried most of our weight.

* * *

Q: What was your impression of the people who live in the Himalayan mountain system?

A: I loved the Nepali people. They are happy, work extremely hard and live in tough conditions. The Sherpas of the Khumba are tough, kind and very peaceful. I love all the religion and the Buddhist belief system. Sherpas were originally from Tibet.

* * *

Q: What was the toughest part of the climb?

A: The toughest part was the last day, of course, but the near vertical Lhostse face of 4,000 feet was very hard -- slip on the face and you are dead. Going across the ladders was scary -- to look down into the crevasses below the ladders some 200 feet got your attention.

* * *

Q: What has inspired you to climb the highest peaks in the world?

A: I must say that your dad was a big influence on my climbing. I respected him, along with my dad, so much and loved chatting with him on his 1932 Mount Whitney climb, done without all the modern equipment of today. I remember on the top of Whitney standing at the same place he took his photo back in the Depression. I remember how emotional I got thinking about it.

* * *

Conclusion/Cousin John: You just have to take it day by day, step by step and never allow restrictions on your life: If you think you can, then you can!

Betsey Bruner can be reached at or 556-2255.

NOTE: This story is dedicated to my dad, Bill Bruner Sr., 97, who died Saturday, July 31, in Morro Bay, Calif. My mom, Polly, is the only one left of the two close couples mentioned in the story.


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Visit You Tube, search "John Dahlem," to see "Everest Summit, an emotional thanks," a short video of my cousin on the summit of Mount Everest,…

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