Former Arlingtonian Andrew Towne Summits Everest

With this feat, the mountaineer has climbed the highest peaks on all seven continents.


The view of Ama Dablam from Lobuche Peak

Standing 1,000 feet below the summit of Mount Everest, Andrew Towne realized he couldn’t feel his left foot. He was in the final hours of an 8-year quest to scale the highest mountain on every continent. And with all but one of them under his belt, his journey was peaking, quite literally, with an attempt to climb the highest of them all—Everest. If he made it, he would become the 149th person worldwide to conquer the “Seven Summits.”

This wasn’t Towne’s first time on the Himalayan giant. He had previously attempted the summit back in April of 2015 but was stopped by a 7.9 earthquake that killed thousands of Nepalese citizens and triggered a massive avalanche, destroying about one-third of Everest Base Camp.

But now here he was, less than a quarter of a mile from the top, trying to ignore the numbness in his foot so that he could complete the final stretch.

“Before I left, I remember telling myself that climbing Everest wasn’t worth losing a finger or a toe,” says the former Arlington resident, who now lives in Minneapolis. While this may seem like logical thinking, it’s not uncommon for climbers to make that sacrifice and ignore creeping numbness to the point of irreversible frostbite, he explains.

He pushed on for another 30 minutes until the promise he had made to himself broke through the brain fog: “I immediately stopped and anchored myself and started wildly swinging my leg in arks.”

After about 120 swings, he began to feel sharp, needle-like pain, followed by warmth flowing back into his foot. “I couldn’t believe how numb my foot was,” he says. “When I finally felt the pain and warmth I realized how severe it had been.”

On May 25, 2017, at 4:35 a.m., he reached the top of the world.

Towne crossing a crevasse in the icefall. Photo by Luke Reilly

On Friday, June 2, Towne shared these and other stories from his journey with a group of more than 40 enthusiasts during a talk at Casual Adventure, an Arlington outfitter and sponsor of his Everest climb. The excursion was not just a personal mission, he explained, but also a fundraiser for the nonprofit Youth for Understanding, a group that organizes exchange trips for high school students to study abroad or volunteer internationally. The funds raised by Towne’s trek—totaling more than $33,000—will now go directly to providing financial aid for students who otherwise cannot afford to travel.

Towne at the summit of Everest

A staple in Arlington’s business landscape for more than 60 years, Casual Adventure announced in April that it would be shuttering its longtime location on Washington Boulevard—just days before Towne left for Nepal to make a second attempt at Everest. (The outfitter also sponsored his first attempt to climb Everest in 2015.)

“I think it’s incredible that they continue to be philanthropic even as they close their doors,” says Towne, who, like other loyal customers, has been heartened to hear that the store will continue to operate an online business.

“Casual Adventure is proud of it’s long history of supporting the Arlington community, and will continue to do so even as it’s business model evolves into the modern market,” says store manager Eric Stern.

Everest’s black pyramid, towering 2 miles above base camp. Photo courtesy of Andrew Towne

Towne, meanwhile, is taking it easy, although he isn’t completely hanging up his gear.  He says he’s looking forward to pursuing some of his other hobbies, including orienteering (“getting dropped off in the wilderness with a compass”) and ballroom dancing, which he picked up at the Dance Factory dance studio in Virginia Square during his time in Arlington.

He’ll still be mountaineering, too, he adds, though he plans to stick to “shorter” three-to-five day climbs.

Lia Tabackman is an editorial intern at Arlington Magazine and a journalism student at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Categories: People