Two years after retiring from the Canadian Forces, an East Sooke man has reached the top of the world.
James Sails, 37, completed the two-month-long trek up Mount Everest, the tallest mountain on Earth at 8,849 metres high, on May 24 at 5:45 a.m.
“It’s euphoric when you get there. It becomes a bit of a dream state,” said Sails, who unravelled a small Canadian flag at the summit.
Sails quest to conquer Mount Everest follows years of preparation and climbing some of the biggest peaks in the world in Chile, Ecuador, Argentina, and Africa.
Like most die-hard mountaineers, reaching the top of Mount Everest was a lifelong goal.
It began 25 years ago when he saw the film Everest, which recounts a 1996 mountain scale attempt. Eight climbers died.
Sails spent 19 years in the Forces, first as an infantry soldier and later in special operations that opened the door to begin climbing mountains that would build his resume to attempt Mount Everest.
He said his military helped train with resiliency and mental toughness.
“The other part of it is I have a lot of drive,” said Sails, whose wife urged him to conquer Mount Everest.
He also wanted to prove to his four children and eight nieces and nephews that all goals were possible.
“I needed to show them don’t ignore your fear, conquer it. It helped me while I was there as well because I felt they were all watching me.”
There was a lot of preparation to train for the Mount Everest expedition, mainly hiking trails and ridges from the Galloping Goose to the Juan de Fuca trails – sometimes three times in one day.
“Training was easy living in a place like Sooke. It was like a new park every day, so I never got bored,” Sails said.
Sails said some people attempting Mount Everest aren’t ready for the challenge.
About 600 people summited Mount Everest this year, including 350 Sherpas supporting 250 clients. Thirteen climbers and Sherpas have been confirmed dead, with another four missing and presumed dead.
Sails’ team passed a dead climber as they left Camp 4 and saw another as they descended from the summit. Another climber was without oxygen as they passed him, leading to the mountaintop. He went missing the next day.
A team member struggled throughout the expedition, and his fingers were blackened by frostbite after attempting the summit.
Fortunately, the team achieved a 75 per cent success rate in reaching the summit, which is higher than the typical 50 per cent.
“It’s serious business,” Sails said. “Your focus is on avoiding any mistakes because even one mistake could lead to sliding off the mountain and ending up seven kilometres away in China.”
Sails said being away from his family was the most challenging part for him.
“You wake up in a cold tent after climbing for 12 hours and question what are you doing here with kids at home, but you don’t want to give into that. You have to really keep your mind in there.”
Sails said now that he’s accomplished one of his life’s goals, he will put mountaineering aside for the time being.
But his sense of adventure hasn’t waned.
“I’ve always liked to fly. Maybe I’ll get my pilot’s licence,” he said.