La Crosse doctor oldest to climb both sides of Mt. Everest

2010-06-06T00:00:00Z La Crosse doctor oldest to climb both sides of Mt. EverestBy TERRY RINDFLEISCH La Crosse Tribune

An American 13-year-old appeared on television news and talk shows after he became the youngest climber to reach the summit of Mount Everest on May 22.

Dr. Julio Bird, meanwhile, quietly returned last week to seeing heart patients at Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center after becoming the oldest person, at 60, to have climbed both sides of the world's tallest mountain.

He also had the distinction of being the first Westerner to climb the mountain in 2010.

Bird, a cardiologist, actually met young Jordan Romero on the way up the mountain and had his picture taken with him.

He said he didn't want any attention for his accomplishments, but his two Sherpa guides considered them major milestones.

Bird started his adventure March 25 and spent a couple weeks getting his body used to the altitude. He and his party moved April 16 to the base camp at 20,000 feet. He tried to keep quiet about his 60th birthday May 9, but his Sherpa guides baked him a cake.

It was Bird's third time on Everest. In May 2002, he became the first La Crosse man and first Puerto Rican to reach the top of the mountain from the south side.

Bird tried Everest's more dangerous, more challenging north side in May 2007, but he and two team members realized they didn't have enough oxygen to safely reach the summit and return.

"I was in a great shape and more intellectually focused" this time, Bird said. "I had more knowledge, I was better prepared. It was a very good climb."

Still, last month's attempt proved even more treacherous, Bird said. The other two climbers in his party had to drop out due to medical conditions, so only he and the two Sherpa guides reached the top.

He had eight days of good weather in 2007 to make the summit, he said, but only a two-day window this time. The weather was 30 to 40 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, with high winds.

On his way up, he just missed an avalanche that killed a Hungarian climber, Bird said.

"I was supposed to be ahead of him; it was something unexpected," Bird said. "An avalanche on the north side is rare."

He and his Sherpa guides left their third and last camp at 10 p.m. May 16, without sleeping, to take advantage of the limited opportunity to reach the top. They hit the summit at 7 a.m. the next day.

Bird unfurled a Gundersen Lutheran banner atop Everest, then remained for about a half-hour, taking only a few pictures, before starting the journey down,

"It was really enjoyable, I just took everything in with my eyes," Bird said. "We were totally exhausted. We had been up 28 hours. That's just a bad night on-call at Gundersen Lutheran."

Bird saw five bodies on the way up the mountain. Hundreds have died trying to climb the mountain, he said, and only 30 to 50 percent make it to the top.

The north side of Everest historically is more significant, Bird said, and it's more challenging and more beautiful. British mountaineer George Mallory disappeared with partner Andrew Irvine while in the final stage to make the first summit in 1924, Bird said.

He made it as far as Mallory did on his 2007 attempt, Bird said, to the second step up to summit. The three 100-foot steps near the top are a physical challenge - climbers use a lot of oxygen and energy.

Bird regularly called his wife, Maribel, about his progress up the mountain, but his phone batteries were low when he reached the top. She didn't hear from him for about 32 hours.

"She was worried sick," he said.

He now owes his children and grandchildren a trip to Disney World, he said, where the most exciting experience could be Expedition Everest, a high-speed roller-coaster train ride in Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park.

"I'm done with Everest," Bird said. "I completed both sides, and

theoretically I'm done climbing. My wife says I am done climbing."

Copyright 2015 La Crosse Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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