John Quillen will share his journey to Mt. Everest with a presentation at Walters State Community College on Sept. 13. The community is invited.
This will be the first time he shares his story with a hometown audience.
Even though he had climbed many mountains – including Mt. Denali in Alaska – Everest wasn’t always on Quillen’s bucket list.
“When I first started thinking about big mountains, of course I had Everest in the back of my mind,” Quillen said.
“After I climbed Mt. Rainier, I thought I might give it a shot. Then, climbing Mt. Denali was great. I started exploring other mountains and thought that Everest was too commercial and too crowded.”
Quillen said Everest started “trending on my timeline” in 2017. He had recently climbed a different mountain in Tibet and met several climbers who were doing the same in preparation for Everest. Three climbers invited him to different Everest expeditions. He had been training hard, planning to climb a peak in Pakistan.
“It was a perfect storm of access and invitations. I committed to Everest in December and landed in Nepal in April,” he recalled.
He summited the world’s highest peak on May 23. The weather was beautiful and he had 45 minutes at summit. Most climbers have only enough time to take a photo before needing to head back down the mountain.
“I kind of lost track of time at the summit. That could have been dangerous under bad conditions, but the conditions that day were great. It was just beautiful. We had plenty of time before the afternoon clouds set in,” Quillen said.
Quillen’s love for the mountains began much closer to home. He first backpacked through the Great Smoky Mountains and the Southern Appalachians.
“Climbing was a natural progression from backpacking. I took off and went to Mt. Rainier to give it a shot. It was my first real high-altitude hike. I had to take a class on how to move on a glacier. It was a completely different mindset,” Quillen said.
While the views are spectacular, the outcome is not always certain. His Everest summit was delayed while his team secured an evacuation for two injured sherpas. His worst climb, though, came in Pakistan in 2013. His climbing partner was injured and three fellow climbers perished while climbing a peak in the Karakoram range. He recounts that journey in his book, “Tempting the Throne Room,” which will be available for purchase at his presentation.
Quillen now lives in Knoxville and works in Maryville as a drug counselor. He plans to climb in the Karakoram range again in 2020.
The presentation will be in the Duggins Foundation Room of the Dr. Jack R. Campbell College Center on the Morristown Campus. It begins at 6 p.m.