August 15, 2009

 

 Veterinarian on top of the world after achieving life goal

Wisconsin native climbed Everest this past spring, treated yaks

 

posted August 1, 2009

 

 

Dr. Lance S. Fox
Dr. Lance S. Fox treats a yak with dewormer before climbing Mount Everest
this past spring.

 

Dr. Lance S. Fox has the honor of being one of only a few thousand who have looked down from a 10,000-foot precipice off the side of Mount Everest and lived to tell about it.

For the Wisconsin veterinarian, it was his way of living life to the fullest.

"I always tell kids, 'You don't have to climb a mountain, but someday you'll have a dream. Don't sit on the couch,'" he said.

Dr. Fox grew up working on a 35-cow dairy farm in Wisconsin's Central Plain. His father, an avid outdoorsman, would take him fishing and camping, even in the harsh northern winters.

The two were close, so when his dad received a diagnosis of Hodgkin's disease at the age of 28 and died eight years later in 1986, Dr. Fox received a wake-up call of sorts. Another critical family incident came in 1997 when his son was born prematurely. Dr. Fox said it made him realize more than ever that life is short and precious, and he was inspired to do something noteworthy—climb Mount Everest.

Dr. Fox enjoyed outdoor activities, but didn't actually start climbing until three years ago. Since then he has climbed peaks all over North America, from Mount Columbia and Mount Harvard in the Collegiate Peaks of Colorado to Mount Rainier in Washington to a string of volcanoes in Mexico.

"It's amazing when you look at the time line," he said.

The '95 University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine graduate is a member of the Midwest Ice Climbers. He spent the past year training for his excursion by rock climbing and hiking with weight-filled packs.

The dream to climb Everest came alive this year, thanks in part to Dr. Fox's employer, Alpharma Animal Health, which sponsored the trip. He's been with the company for more than four years as a technical service manager in the dairy division.

Before setting out for Nepal at the end of March, Dr. Fox said he wanted to give back somehow. He got the idea to care for the yaks of the Khumbu Valley, which sits at the foot of Mount Everest.

"No one had actually helped with the animals before. A number of climbers have given back to people, but being a vet, I thought I should give back to the animals. Yaks are an important part of their livelihood and income," Dr. Fox said.

Intervet/Schering-Plough Animal Health agreed to donate hundreds of doses of Safe Guard dewormer for the cause. Dr. Fox said the doses were shipped ahead of time and arrived in the valley. Ironically, the last part of that journey involved transport by yak. He explained that yaks are primarily used to porter goods, but some villagers milk the yaks and some use the yaks' coats to make clothing.

Dr. Fox had the honor of being paired with one of today's most well-known sherpas, Phurba Tashi Sherpa, for the trip. The Khumbu Valley native has reached the summit 16 times and is second in line for the most ascents. When Dr. Fox arrived in Nepal, he orally administered some of the first round of doses to treat about 200 of Phurba's yaks.

"(Phurba) was gracious about the fact that we wanted to help the yaks. He learned and did it well and will deworm the yaks later this year," Dr. Fox said, noting that he heard the yaks are making more milk after being dewormed.

Dr. Fox was glad the yaks cooperated for him when he dewormed them, "which was nice, because they're usually very ornery."

The expedition consisted of about 28 climbers and 50 staff members such as medical personnel, guides, and cooks. A Discovery Channel film crew followed Dr. Fox's expedition as part of the network's third installment of its "Everest: Beyond the Limit" series. The five episodes will air late this year, Dr. Fox said, and he anticipates being a main character in the shows.

Dr. Fox admits to becoming very scared twice when he was high on the mountain. He described one occasion.

"I looked down and it was a 10,000-foot drop if you slipped. You just have to trust the rope and your footing," he said.

He continued, "Mentally, (climbing) taxes you. You've been there on a 60-day-long trip, and there are lots of things you think about—you don't want to die or get hurt."

Temperatures can reach minus 20 degrees for several days at a time, Dr. Fox said.

"The temperatures at Everest really didn't bother me too much .... Compared with Wisconsin, it was pretty similar. But unlike Wisconsin air, it is very dry, so the cold wasn't as noticeable because of the air quality."

Adding to Dr. Fox's achievement, he took his father's ashes with him and spread them at the top of the world on the beautiful summit day.

Looking back, Dr. Fox said the trip went off without too much of a hitch—except for the typical ailments of gastrointestinal problems, weight loss, fatigue, and soreness. Dr. Fox lost 27 pounds during the expedition, most of it muscle mass. He is also glad to have made it down the mountain with all his fingers and toes.

He returned to work a week after his return to the U.S. in early June. He's considering writing a book about his experience.

Dr. Fox said up until this year, just over 2,400 people have made the summit of Mount Everest. In total, the summit has been reached more than 3,000 times, meaning some have climbed multiple times.

"It's a small community when you look at it. I'm very fortunate and lucky I made it to the top," Dr. Fox said. "It was just an amazing trip as a whole, from start to finish."