Kevin Flynn: Climbing Mt. Everest (with Pneumonia), Flying Planes & Winning Ad Awards
Kevin Flynn has lived a truly extraordinary life. He has climbed all seven of the highest mountains in the world, as well as the forty-six Adirondack Peaks. He has even written a book about his experiences titled “Mount Everest: Confessions of an Amateur Peak Bagger.” On top of all that, he is an instrument-rated private pilot and runs a highly successful and award-winning advertising agency.
During his interview with Dave Naylor, he tells many inspiring, emotional and, at times, raw stories about the lessons he’s learned and the journey it took him to get to where he is now. He never gave up, even when the odds were against him. He said, “The things that you worry about and kind of consume your mind, 90% of it never happens anyways, or it’s out of your control. So you spend all this needless energy worrying about stuff. Don’t worry twice; if it does happen, it’s going to happen. So why worry about it until it does actually happen?” This is just one of many fascinating insights he shares during this interview.
After attempting Mount Everest once and not making it all the way to the summit, he later attempts it again, and the perseverance and courage he shows through several different obstacles (including pneumonia) is remarkable. When asked how he applied what he learned while hiking and climbing to everyday life, he replied: “There’s the mental aspect and staying focused. No one that I’ve ever known who’s a business owner would say ‘oh, yeah, I was an overnight success immediately, everything worked great. We never had any troubles.’ So one of the lessons is: there are going to be obstacles along the way, and you’re just going to have to break through them. You’re going to have to deal with it.”
There is much, much more to this incredible story in the newest episode of The Motivational Intelligence Podcast titled “Kevin Flynn: Climbing Mt. Everest (with Pneumonia), Flying Planes & Winning Ad Awards.” Listen to our new episode and let us know what you think. Stay connected and share your insights via on social media.
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Kevin Flynn: Climbing Mt. Everest (with Pneumonia), Flying Planes & Winning Ad Awards
Dave Naylor: Well, hello everybody. We have a have a fantastic individual with us today. One of those people who you really step back and sort of humbles you in terms of what one can accomplish in the in the course of their lifetime. So we’ve got a gentleman with us today is name’s Kevin Flynn. Kevin is one of less than 500 people, at least according to the research that I can find who actually has climbed all seven of the highest mountains in the world. They’re the highest mountains on the seven continents including Denali in Alaska, is it Aconcagua?
Kevin Flynn: Aconcagua…a hard one to pronounce
Dave Naylor: that one doesn’t run out roll off the tongue… in Argentina, Vincent in Antarctica, Kilimanjaro in Africa, and of course mount Everest.
He’s also climbed all 46 of the Adirondack Peaks. He has written a wonderful book actually if anybody’s interested that you can pick up on Amazon entitled “Mount Everest: Confessions of an Amateur Peak Bagger” great title.. it tells a really wonderful story of the adventures of climbing Mount Everest. I definitely would recommend the book and in addition to which Kevin is an instrument-rated private pilot and runs a highly successful and award-winning advertising agency. So pretty phenomenal resume their Kevin, duly impressed.
Kevin Flynn: Well, thank you. Truth be told, most of my career and my hobbies and have been kind of accidental. So I got into the business by accident. After my undergraduate degree., I was studying to be Environmental Education, a park ranger, except I always loved the outdoors and I loved of a girl there and she had gotten accepted to vet school at Cornell. Okay, so I devised this plan my father had started our agency in 1967.
My sister was working with him, so it’s just a little family retail broadcast shop, and I thought well, “I wasn’t ready to go to grad school so I could be with my girlfriend.” I would move back to Rochester intern for a year. And of course they paid me 25 bucks a week. So I sub-waited tables at night to get by, and then go back to Cornell to grad school and I would be with my girlfriend and that plan worked out absolutely spot-on perfect with the exception of she dumped me after about a month after that plan, but I still went back to you at Cornell and got a master’s in Communications and then came back and have been working in the business for actually my entire professional career, but really by accident, but it was a happy accident.
Dave Naylor: There you go. You know oftentimes the best things happen that way. So tell us, you said you were always into the outdoors and those kinds of things…. were you kind of an adventurous kid? How did the mountain climbing come about?
Kevin Flynn: You know as a kid, well I’m the black sheep of the family. I have about two brothers and a sister and they’re at my parents, their idea of “roughing it” was the Holiday Inn kind of of deal, so they always thought it was a bit weird. But growing up, we had a creek in our backyard. So it was fun to just go out exploring and I like that kind of stuff but it wasn’t until I was graduated from high school the summer of ‘75 that I, and a couple of other friends, did a backpacking trip up into the high peaks of the Adirondacks and we really, pretty poorly prepared, but we went after it.
Anyways, we were out, I think about six days or so in the backcountry, and climbed three or four mountains. And my first Peak was Mount Haystack and was the first time I got above the timberline and I’m like, “wow, it’s kind of windy. It’s rocky, my hands were involved.” It wasn’t technical climbing, right? But I’m like “Wow, this is New York state. This is fantastic.”
And so I was hooked. At that point, I didn’t know there was a 46’er Club, its “The 46 major peaks in the Adirondacks.” But after a while I decided that “hey, that’d be really fun to do” and I kept going back up there, oftentimes alone and I would just backpack alone because I didn’t have friends who are necessarily into it, not always the case, but after doing about 12 or 13 and I go “I think I want to do them all”, so I did them and I thought a big mountain, that’s crazy, I would never… I heard someone died on Denali, oh my god to have ropes and hanging from ropes. That’s just stupid.
But kind of a happy accident, once we finished the 46, I had some friends and like hey, well, you know the mountains we want to go in the winter and oh my God, it’s cold. Yeah, I don’t really want to do that. But we went it was pretty great.
And that led to going to Mount Washington in New Hampshire, which it’s a little over 6,000 feet and it’s probably the most dangerous and nastiest small Mountain weather-wise. It’s impressive…. The highest wind speed was recorded on there for a lot of years until recently, over 200 miles an hour and in fact, one out of every three days in the winter is what they call a “century day” where the peak gust exceeds a hundred miles an hour. So, of course we thought this would be great.
So it was the first time you need I put on crampons and ice axe and crampons do the things that grip into the snow the spikes and I loved it. I felt like Spider-Man on higher angled type of terrain. I thought this was fantastic. We had a great Summit day in the winter. It was pretty cold and windy, but not hundred mile an hour.
But think I’ve climbed it five times in the winter. But I was like, “well if I can do this”, again this is sort of my accidental way of jumping into things, I was like, “well, maybe you could take another step and go to Denali in Alaska”, and I went in 1992 and that was my first big mountain. You know, with the guide service because I didn’t know ropes and crevasse rescue and all these other kinds of necessary skills that you need for mountaineering and we had a great trip.
We were on the mountain three and a half weeks and we got to high camp at about 17,200 feet and the weather, just stuck and sometimes that’s just the way it goes. And we finally waited up there. We spent seven days and six nights at that altitude and it just didn’t get better huh? And so we retreated and I thought oh my gosh, “I will never again get this opportunity”, because the time business was small, we were really struggling. Many businesses go through some of that stuff. We were we were kind of pretty poor yet making ends meet barely. I go “I’ll never have that opportunity again” and low and behold, 11 months later I’m back on the mountain with three friends and we went on our own and did everything as far as all the food the planning the preparation, so being self-sufficient. I think that was really great.
And again, we get up to high camp, and Denali’s just beautiful or the Alaska range if you can ever get there, I mean, it’s stunning. I love the Adirondacks and they’re charming and wonderful and awesome, but that’s another whole level. So we get to high camp and it’s kind of Déjà Vu again because weather stinks and I think it was weird the up there about five days. And finally we got to break in the weather, went for the summit, and everything’s going great.
There’s two rope teams, of two each, and one of my buddies pulled the plug, “I guess I just can’t go on”, so I thought they’re like, “well, you should take him down go back to high camp.” Right, and I thought “I’m going to lose my chance at the summit”, but I did, he was a great really good guy sure, we went back to high camp and I thought “oh gosh”, so I kind of trolled around…. there were some other climbing groups up there to see if maybe I could hook catch a little piece of rope and go up with someone else the next day.
And low and behold, the folks that I had been with the year before, the guiding group, said “sure we’d love to have you” and so the next morning, went up early and was able to get to the summit and it was just an exquisite bluebird day and was great and super happy and long day, but great day and that kind of led to its like “wow, I think every couple years I’d like to do something really big in the mountains.”
Of course, Everest I knew about it, that would be really cool. But that’s not for me. I’m right here mortal, there’s no way I could do something like that. But Aconcagua seemed like a nice place to go to South America. So we went down there and spent about two and a half weeks out in the mountain, bad summit weather, and went home without getting to the top.
Dave Naylor: Okay, but that’s kind of a theme, you go through all this tremendous effort to you know to go to these places and to start to scale up there and you’re up there kind of crossing your fingers that you’re going to have good enough whether to actually be able to make this summit…
Kevin Flynn: Yeah. It’s not always a slam dunk, and sometimes it’s not just the weather…sometimes you may not just feel up to it, you can run out of time some point.
I mean we generally would try to have more than enough time to make up for bad weather and whatnot. But sometimes it just the body wasn’t feeling good enough, but that was not the case in Aconcagua. Just the weather was not so great. So we came back, then went to Kilimanjaro with my friend Gary Fallesen, who was also a co-author of the book who if you like the book and he deserves a lot of the credit.
He’s a great guy and a great writer, but he and I went up to Kilimanjaro and we had a great experience, you know. I’ve been to go a lot of places but you get to Alaska and you really appreciate how much we have, how rich we are and how different people live in other areas. So another thing about the mountains I really like is that you get to experience all these unique cultures, besides the natural beauty, and meet a lot of different types of people and there’s a there’s a certain, you know camaraderie amongst Mountaineers, but we had a great time in on Kilimanjaro.
And Gary actually arranged for it, you have to take a guide even though it’s not the hardest mountain to climb, I think it’s 19,300 feet and change, but it’s a desperately poor country, Tanzania. One of the ways they get some revenues, the locals are our guides and porters and a cook.
So for Gary and me, we had a guide, an assistant guide, a cook and three Porters, it is ridiculous. We get to our first campsite and they lay out a checkered cloth. We have popcorn, we’ve got tea, like this is kind of sweet, this gentlemanly climbing. Where as in Denali, we’re carrying huge loads, it’s 15 below and we’re just cooking everything ourselves and I can all happen but now we’re gentlemen climbers. And so we had a great time there and then I did go back to Aconcagua, I think 2001 and I was able to make the summit. I went with one of my buddies and he turned around on Summit day, but I did summit.
And then when I got back to our high camp, I had a little bit of a cough. which is not highly unusual because the air is really thin and super dry. But I wasn’t sick or it wasn’t anything terrible, but I was like “I’m through with big mountains”, this is over, and then that cure never last long you get back from a big mountain you forget all the pain and what you went through and it’s a good thing you might not agree and then I said well if I could do that maybe, the Seven Summits thing could go
Dave Naylor: So it was really at that point you had made the decision that this is something I want to go after.
Kevin Flynn: Yeah, and I made the decision before I told anyone. Okay, because I kind of let it percolate and going “How can I really? Am I worthy?” One of the things in my book, the kind of premises is it’s not like I’m some big hotshot guide doing extraordinary things, it’s more from the basis of a fairly ordinary, regular guy who can do extraordinary things if you really put yourself to it and you do the training and mentally you get where you want to go.
I was a little bit shy about telling anyone because once it’s out there and you say something sure you’re kind of maybe I should follow through. Yeah, and of course I had to talk with my wife first. Yeah,
Dave Naylor: I love that in the book of the “FWA”, full wife approval.
Kevin Flynn: You know, “FWA”, was a word I invented, I like to coin some words, is that you can’t go anywhere without full wife’s approval. You know, my wife’s really supportive and the cool thing is she and I met in 89 and were married in 90. I introduced her to the Adirondacks. And she became a 46’er over the years and in 2003, she finished on Mount Haystack. Not a coincidence, but that was the first mountain I started so that was really cool.
So I remember we were having a conversation on her back deck and I’m like, “Honey, I kind of think I want to go and give Everest a shot”, she knew it was coming…She was like “okay, but there’s certain conditions”, this is me “FWA”, full wife approval, “You have to tell me everything that goes on, if it’s going to be six weeks or 10 or 12 weeks, don’t you sugarcoat anything on disclosure, full disclosure about everything.”
I was already physically quite fit. Yeah, but notch that up to another level sure, make sure that you are you are totally dialed in as well as you can be physically and I was always kind of “the frugal mountaineer,” so make sure you get the best equipment right that’s you can get which makes sense.
So I did all those things and when I did sign on with International Mountain guides, they were the folks that I went with in 2002 and then back in Beaufort. There’s a form, many forms, but one of the forms that caught my eye was called “the body disposal election” form, which is should you perish on the mountain…
Dave Naylor: Which about 300 so people have so it’s not
Kevin Flynn: Yeah it’s not that uncommon sandly, but should you perish on the mountain, What do we do with your body? You know one, is we can try and take the body down and repatriate it and bring it back to the US could be highly dangerous, ridiculously expensive and not necessarily recommended. Two, we can have the Sherpas try and bring you back down to maybe base camp and do a cremation ceremony or three we can basically throw your body into a crevasse committed to the mountain and be done with it. Which was the option I chose, so I had to share that with my wife. So that went over that’s it becomes very real at that point. Stuff just got real and so FWA, there’s another kind of funny thing with FWA is I have this colleague I work with and, you read the book and he talked about it. He goes, “Yeah, we have a derivative that called “WANH”- what’s “wanh”? Well, that’s when you get wife approval but they’re not happy about it. It’s pissed wife
Dave Naylor: grudgingly….
Kevin Flynn: Their like “Fine, if you’re going to do it…fine”
Dave Naylor: The eyeroll, everybody can relate to that.
Kevin Flynn: so that was kind of funny.
Dave Naylor: That the that first trip to Everest, it’s your little over to what 29,000 feet.
Kevin Flynn: Yep.
Dave Naylor: So physically obviously you’re in a situation you is you talked about earlier. You’ve got very low oxygen. So you have to have supplemental oxygen so that you’re able to breathe, talk to us a little bit about the mental side of wrapping your head, I mean you think about even filling out that form and saying “hey what I want done with my body if I don’t make it”, so how do you get mentally ready for that or what was your mental state as you were coming into that?
Kevin Flynn: Well, that’s a great point, and my mental state was really apprehensive and filled with some angst in and worry. I’m not crazy, but more than there should have been. And I learned a lot for it took me two tries to get up. So the second trip in 2004 I was ultimately able to ring the bell on the summit so to speak but going in, there was just a lot going on. So there’s all this self-doubt. It’s like well, “I’m going to Everest”, I said it out loud. I’m really actually on the plane there and I’m in Katmandu and we’re flying into the the Lukla which is where you begin your trekking journey to Basecamp about 40 miles away.
You go, “Do I belong here?” and at that same time there was a Maoist Uprising in Nepal and it wasn’t long after 9/11 as well. So the world was a funky place. I was worried about that the Maoist Uprising going to screw us.
“Am I going to not be good enough?” And on the track, on day three or so, we round a corner out of Namche Bazaar in the Kumu valley and turn around the corner and there’s Everest and so it’s still another 30 miles away, but it looks impossibly high and is one of those, “Oh my gosh, what have I got myself into,” so there’s concerns about that and I was a little sick on the trek, no one stays completely healthy.
I had budgeted about 12 weeks for the journey, and door-to-door on the first trip, it was 10 weeks. Ao it’s a long time, but the idea of the worry and the concern that first trip, I give advice to people sometimes… like a couple things one is, don’t worry twice, you know or the things that you worry about and kind of consume your mind, 90% of it either never happens anyways, or it’s out of your control. So you spend all this needless energy worrying about stuff and it’s not you and mentally you want to be really strong and in the game and be a real bulldog. So what is don’t worry twice, don’t worry twice as if it does happen, it’s going to happen. So why worry about it until it does actually happen.
Dave Naylor: Alright, that’s great advice in any aspect of life!
Kevin Flynn: It really is and I didn’t make it up someone told me that. I like that advice but that really was, mentally and physically yes, it’s hard to climb the mountain there’s just a lot to do and because you’re on it for a long period of time.
And acclimatization takes a long time because you’re at higher altitudes you started about 9,000 feet. We tracked in, it took us about 10 days to go 35 or 40 miles which you could go a lot faster, but getting to Everest Base Camp spot 17,500 feet. But if you go too quickly, you don’t develop enough red blood cells, more red blood cells, so that you can properly acclimatize and deal with the less oxygen available to you. So you take your time up there and so I was sick for a few days on the trek and I was wondering if I was even going to make it to base camp, which was pretty sad.
But then we spent a lot of time on the mountain, I want to say about eight weeks, and one of the reasons it takes a long time to climb is that you climb it several times. So you’ll go up after resting at base camp when you first get there, it’s hard to breathe but you get used to it, and then you go up through the Khumbu icefall, which is the first area
Dave Naylor: How long does it take to get it so that your you can breathe relatively normally at base camp?
Kevin Flynn: They say that, if you want to reach about 9,000 feet or so, if you average about a thousand feet of elevation gain per day…you can do reasonably well with okay, so after three or four days at base camp, but we practiced a little bit in the Khumbu icefall and that’s the part of people really remember, where they have some of those ladders over crevasses and there’s all these big seracs.
Dave Naylor: So, where they lash the ladders together?
Kevin Flynn: You walk over them, there are fixed lines around there so if you were to fall, it’d be pretty inelegant, but you shouldn’t fall all the way down, but it would not be nice. Fortunately, didn’t fall but the Khumbu icefall is really interesting, an ice fall really is like a frozen waterfall, it’s part of the glacier. So, it’s moving coming down, I think it moves like two or three feet a day on average which is crazy. It’s these jumbled huge blocks of ice that can be the size of train cars and there’s some are hanging precariously, and the root is put through the icefall.
So sometimes you can just be at the wrong place at the wrong time. You can be doing everything right and if something falls on you. You know the joke was you don’t really need to wear a helmet because you’re going to get crushed…
Dave Naylor: it’s not going to do you any good… Wow, so it’s the acclamation and I remember from the book, there’s was four camps?
Kevin Flynn: there are four camps, the first Camp you get to is Camp 1, just under 20,000 feet and spent a couple days there. Then went to Camp 2 which is about through the Western Combe, which is very pretty when you get a really good look at the face.
You can only see the shoulder of Everest, can’t quite see the tippy-top just yet. Okay kind of hidden and can’t choose about 21,300 feet and it’s sometimes called Advanced base camp. So, there’s a couple of Sherpas there who are cooking for you, at Camp 1 we cook for ourselves, and we were what were called “non guided clients,” so we worked on our own.
But we had tremendous logistical support. Okay is the high-altitude Sherpas were amazing and really great. So, it sounds like “oh, geez you’re on your own.” Yes, not quite that, but we were reasonably self-sufficient, but with lots of logistical support. We spent a couple more nights up at Camp 2, and I had a bit of a pounding headache. I’m like, “oh gosh, it might you know again the worry come here. Maybe I’m just not meant for this altitude,” because it was the highest sleeping altitude I’d ever been at before. Yeah previously it was on Aconcagua to about 19.5
So, we come back down to base camp and when we first got to base camps it’s like “I can’t breathe” but when we get back down to base camp was like “woohoo, take care.” And it’s great. I’m running around and so then you rest and recover for another four or five days you try to keep active.
So, we would sometimes go into a little village called Gorak Shep, just to get some exercise, go down hill a little bit, maybe a five-hour round trip. Okay, so then we went back up. And so, this was supposed to be the last acclimatization rotation before we’re going for the summit.
So we do well, go up to Camp 1, spend the night… Camp 2, spend been a couple nights and we had this amazing about a 30 hour wind storm that it just rocked. I got some cool video, we had to jump out of the tents and because it’s on a lateral Moraine, there’s some rocks around so we help to bolster our temp tents with extra rocks.
It was probably blowing 80 miles an hour, a little bit more, and it was about 30 hours or so, one of the cook tents got a little bit shredded. I hung up and really didn’t sleep very well. I hung up with my back against the tent poles into the wind as it just kind of raged.
So we had to wait an extra day and then. That subsided we went up to Camp 3 at the Lhotse face and the Lhotse face is really steep and icy and you don’t want to fall there.. and there are fixed lines in there that are anchored into the ice. And your double clipped in one within an ascender, which is a mechanical device that you can slide up one way, and then it grips coming back. Okay, and then also a safety carabiner that’s tied to your sit harness. As you’re passing ice screws and pickets and things like that, it anchors so that you would put your crampon above the point of protection so that you’re still roped in right, then remove the ascender and go like that. It’s very important not to miss clip. So that was a nasty, slow go up to 24,000 feet steep, just unrelenting.
Then we finally got to this little desperate Camp 3 which is 24,000 feet and that’s kind of thing, if you have to go gather snow to melt for water and cooking whatnot or relieve yourself or whatever, you want to either be clipped in or just be really careful. People have gone out to relieve themselves, a person slipped…. fell…. gone. No one’s ever survived a fall on the Lhotse face. Obviously be careful, it’s a desperate little place…
So we spent a miserable night there breathing without supplemental oxygen to try and shock our systems into getting some more oxygen. The next morning, we wake up and it’s a bit of a storm. It’s snowing, blowing probably 35, 40 miles an hour. So, not crazy….really reduced visibility. I’m freaked out a little bit like, “we should get out of here. I don’t want to get altitude sickness and we can follow the fixed lines down….” And we were just one of two groups up there. There were three of us from our group and then two other guys in Englishmen and a guy from Czech Republic.
They’re like, “okay I got this idea. Let’s head down.” We start to head down and we have walkie-talkies. We’re talking to base camp. We’re getting advice and everyone’s listening to us and “gee what are they going to do, it’s really nasty?”
So this guy, Ted wheeler and I take off and Ted is actually coincidentally the mayor of Portland and it really great guy. He and I left the tent, and this is how weird it can be when it’s loud and you’re wearing all those clothes and stuff, and this other guy Stuart Smith. He was going to leave the tent too, but we had started down, Ted and I a little bit, and Stewart never really got out of the tent. He got out, he was putting his crampons on and his feet got really cold. He says, “screw it I’m staying.”
So we’re getting advice, “Ted, you and Kevin, you keep coming down and you stay there” and I mean we could do whatever we want sure, but we’re getting good advice.
So we’re heading down, we go down about a 1,000 feet and it’s just blowing and it’s right in your face, even though we have goggles and all that other stuff on, it’s just miserable.
And you’re going slow again because you can’t miss a clip and going down is often times more dangerous than going up. So, we get to a point where I think that somehow the fixed lines had avalanched over and we couldn’t find the next, if you want to think of it as “breadcrumbs” on the way back to the camp to or/and more importantly your safety line.
Dave Naylor: I mean literally your lifeline in sense…
Kevin Flynn: So we’re like, “uh oh.” and we knew pretty quickly that we weren’t going to un-rope and go down, So we go “ugh, we have to re-ascend. So, everyone’s listening to this story of us going back up and we got back there just about as it was getting dark not quite and there was some oxygen up there.
So we breathe some o’s and we spent the night there, much better with oxygen. It’s like night and day and it still was windy and the next morning it was windy, but it was clear. So, the two guys who were there before us said, “Hey Americans, we are heading down.” We’ll see you there and we left about 10 or 15 minutes later.
And right as we got out of their 10th walkie-talkies kind of comes alive and said, “there’s been a fall on the Lhotse face. No reason to believe it’s survivable,” and then it’s like, so what happened and so we’re talking to Eric Simonson, he was managing the expedition leader and he goes, “yeah, you better gird yourself because you’re going to see evidence that’s going to probably be pretty gruesome.”
And so this one fellow an Englishman he apparently missed clip, no one knows for sure and you could tell where he kind of bounced on the way down and ended up in a Bergstrom, which is a big giant crevasse at the bottom of the Lhotse face. So that was really unnerving. Yeah down in and that makes you question yourself.
Again, trying to keep your mind right and not worry too much, “Oh, yeah. Well, it could never happen to me.” Yeah, but it certainly could….
Dave Naylor: Yeah, it’s right there. So, you’re going through the process, you’re now questioning, watching what’s going on….so at that point, were you mentally still in a place where you’re going, “Okay, I can do this” or was it kind of second-guessing a little bit the decision making at that point
Kevin Flynn: Second-guessing a little bit but we have short memories and there’s a little bit of that, one of my chapters in the book is “Our Death on Everest: Our Dirty Little Secret.”
It’s kind of like, no one would go to see the low wire act. You know the high wire right one right there. In a strange, twisted way it makes it a little bit more appealing. So, I just resolved to be extra careful, make sure this doesn’t happen to you and yet we’re going forward.
Okay, so we spend another night or two at Camp 2, went back down to base camp. Rested for now. Our Summit run and you got to try and time the weather. The reason that there’s such a small weather window is that most people climb Everest in the spring, pre-monsoon. So what happens is for most of the time and it typically we got there early April and then a time for good Summit run is anywhere from around May 10th to June 1st and it can vary and the reason for that is that typically earlier, the jet stream is right over the summit. So, it’s just too nasty too windy. But what happens is as the monsoon comes up the Indian subcontinent, it’s somehow pushes the jet stream away. So, you get this window before the monsoon actually comes right and the jet stream is pushed away that you get some good weather days.
So that’s what we were waiting for. And we went up as a group, I guess we’re five of us of Western climbers along with some Sherpa support up high when we got there, but again, not really not typical guides. We do well getting to Camp 3 again at 24,000 feet.
And so when I left Camp 3. I left the tent a little bit late and here’s the deal, you leave Camp 3 at 24,000 feet. You’re supposed to be on the route by say 7:00 in the morning. No later. You get to high camp at about 26,200 feet at about 1:00 p.m, or so, and then you want to rest, hydrate, eat if you can and it’s hard to eat at altitude, you just don’t feel like it but you need every bit of energy you can muster.
But the thing is then you want to turn around pretty quickly and at 9:30 that night get ready to go to the summit and be out of the tents at about 10:30 – 11 o’clock. Head for the summit try and tag the summit at about 6:00 – 7:00 in the morning and then come back down while there’s still plenty of light and that really limits your time up high. If you’re really strong you would go below High Camp that same day.
Dave Naylor: High Camp, is that the what they refer to as the death zone so to speak?
Kevin Flynn: So, the death zones starts right around 26,000 feet. Somewhere around where your body’s just not getting any better. It can’t sustain life for a long periods of time and that’s why the supplemental oxygen helps a lot. But it only really brings you down 3,000 or 4,000 feet. Where I really screwed up on that trip was leaving camp 3, I got out a little bit late. I’m breathing oxygen, but my goggles got fogged up. So now I’m nervous like it’s, “how do I get up here and not panic but like this isn’t going the way I thought,” but they resolved themselves and I started going and I got some advice to you know, “be conservative with your oxygen,” and I was too conservative so I moved really slowly, and this is going to sound weird to folks but thing about big mountains is they’re often either too cold or too hot. It was a beautiful day, but there was no wind and I had my baffled down suit on and I started sweating.
So now I’m going slow, not breathing enough oxygen and you have to go through some couple of dicey places, one called The Yellow Band, which is this cool like rock face. So wearing crampons, it’s just kind of cumbersome and awkward and again your on fixed ropes but in your way up so it is like, “we’re not in Kansas anymore” sort of moments.
So, we go there and there’s another thing, Genevis Bury which is another little rocky deal to get over and then I finally pulled into High Camp, but not until about 4:15 p.m. I’m supposed to be there at 1:00, and I just was kind of exhausted, so I knew in this was another mistake.
I knew right away that I can’t go for the summit tonight. I’m like, “Can I go tomorrow?” and they’re like well, “logistically that’s probably going to be a big issue, if the weather is good we’re going tonight” and I cashed in my chips too early. I said, “Nah, I’m not going to do it.”
I did sleep a little bit and they’re all getting ready to go. I’m like, “I feel a little bit better. But I want to be careful. And I told myself, “If I got to high camp and I didn’t kill myself or anyone else that would probably be pretty successful.” So they went that night, and I knew the next day it wasn’t going to go for me.
Dave Naylor: So, I saw the video on YouTube I think you recorded that day.
Kevin Flynn: Yeah, I shot a lot of video there and I was documenting sort of my feelings out there. And I’m really big tough guy but once I knew that I’d lost the summit, I basically was crying like Nancy Kerrigan. I just felt awful and I really lied to myself, and this was a mistake,
I think you shared an article with me about putting out “there could be more rungs on the ladder.” I think I limited myself and said, “well, that would be good enough,” and it wasn’t good enough. I was just so bummed.
You put your heart, soul, money, training, ego, everything into this kind of deal and when the plug gets pulled, which I did essentially on myself, then I try to find another way up. And the next day the weather wasn’t as good and I knew that I’d lost the summit and of course, I was never going back. I was cured forever; it was kind of demoralizing. We talked about this earlier, but at camp 2 when I was getting ready to get back down to base camp and thicker air, just as I was leaving I tripped and caught a front point of my crampon my knee hit a rock and it hurt like a son of a gun. So that was insult to injury, limped my way off the mountain. Back to base camp spent a day or two, I was just beat up and everyone gets beat up to some extent sure. I felt, you know, ego wise that I was just really hurting and crushed from not making it and not even getting out of the tent. That’s what really bothered me.
And in hindsight and I talked this over with Eric Simonson and he said “you’d be surprised what the body can do, and the mind quits before the body. You probably had it in you to make it, you just limited yourself.” And when you again back to the mind games, I absolutely let my mind stop me, where I think my body could have made it but be that as it may I knew I was cured. I was never going back to big mountains and then insult to injury there’s a funny chapter in my book.
Flying back to the US, I landed in Los Angeles and I have to clear customs. And I had an extension Visa that was 60 days and another 15 days in Nepal. The Customs officers, kind of this big heavy dude, he’s looking at and he’s like 65, 72…. what were you doing there?
Well, you know and if I’d summited I would have said “Oh, I was climbing Mt. Everest,!” and I kind of let it slip out, like “oh I was climbing a mountain.” “Oh really? What mountain?” and I let it slip out, “Everest.” And of course, they don’t say hey, did you have a great experience for you? Were you a good teammate? They’re like “did you get to the summit?” I try to make myself sounds pretty good, “well, no. I got to high camp at 26,200 feet the death zone…I was right up there! And he goes, “well how much longer would it have taken to get to the summit?”
Well, I go “if everything went pretty well, 12-14 hours.” He looks at me, this big heavy guy, he probably takes the escalators because stairs too challenging. He goes, “you should have gone,” But I did pay him, I got back at him because one of my chapters in my book is entitled “Cheesedick at LAX.”
Dave Naylor: It’s easy to be the armchair quarterback.
Kevin Flynn: Yeah, but you know what? I felt like he was right. I wish I could have given it a go. So, I get home and of course I’m just physically and mentally just beat up and I think I actually was mildly depressed. And my wife greets me, and she cried that I made it.
Yeah, and again we forget mountaineers are quite selfish. We focus on our own goals. And you forget about the loved ones you leave behind. Yeah, and it’s easy when you’re on the mountain, where you are, you know if you’re safe, but if you’re someone at home and you care about that person, it’s like are they in trouble are they in danger? I heard about this guy falling and dying on the Lhotse face and so you try to downplay that stuff.
So, my wife was immediately supportive said “if you want to go back, I know you need to… I fully support you.” And I’m like “Aww, you’re wonderful, but don’t worry I’m cured.” And my two business partners at the time, Ray Martino and my brother Chris Flynn exact same thing and I’m gone from work over two months. Super pleased about that like “hey, we totally support if you want to go back.” I’m like, “oh give me a hug. Thank you guys, but no I’m cured, but the Cure doesn’t take, you forget the pain and then you start to re-rack and roll the tapes in your head and “man if I’d gotten out of the tent, if I done this better.. could have, would have, should have”
Dave Naylor: And so many people live their lives there in that spot. Everything not just scaling the tallest mountain in the world…. So how did you pull yourself out of that depression and go from “I failed” in essence, to okay, I’m going to put on my big boy pants and I’m going to get my head in the right place and I’m going to go back and attack this goal again?
Kevin Flynn: Well coming home and healing up a bit was helpful and there wasn’t an “aha moment” where I go, “I’m going back!”
I just kept going “if I had done this, I could of…and then I’m like son of a gun, I had it.” I know I can do this. It’s not being mad, but it’s resolved. I was in a much stronger place. I said, “yeah I want to go” and I didn’t want to go back the next year because I was a little too quick, 2002 was when I didn’t make it, so I went back in the spring of 2004.
A much different world, as far as from the mindset because now, I knew about those things that get don’t worry twice and never really materialized. It was never really an issue. I knew that I could get at least to high camp. I knew I had that in me. I knew I could go through the icefall which the first time through is really slow and all that stuff, but I got better, and my skills got better and better confidence. And yeah, and so the next time going through the trek I’m just drinking it all in and enjoying it more.
I’m taking more side trips. Just I know that keeping busy is important. So, at a couple points on the trek and you stopped for like three nights, two or three nights at like 11.5 and about 14 just to get some more acclimatization but one of the times we stopped at 14.
On April Fool’s Day, my buddy this guy Brian Cheating and I and a Sherpa, “we’re going to take a little hike up what was called Chunkhung Ri. “Ri” stands for Peak, so it’s this mountain. It’s about 18, and we’re going from 14. We’re like, “we’re just going to go into Chunkhung, which is this little teeny Village.”
Okay, but we got there in like an hour and 10 minutes and we had planned to go a little way up the up that mountain. Look at we’re feeling good. Like we just kept going and going and we summited that mountain and it was a trekking Peak. So, it was no big deal, but it was way up. There was about 18,500 feet. We did about well over 4,000 feet of vertical. Okay, and we were fast and strong, and this is just better. I’m in a better place. I’m happier and get to base camp and this time it’s like “hello old friend, I’m back and we’ll see what happens” and so I was better mentally equipped to do it.
I climb mostly with this guy Brien Sheedy actually originally from Syracuse, but now lives in Walla Walla, Washington is outdoor director for Whitman College. Another guy, Dan Barter from New England and this guy Jason Tanguay who was the assistant Expedition leader. Okay, but an assistant guide. But he wasn’t really a guide for us and he had lost the summit of Everest a few years previous on the North side.
We were going up the Southside route and because they stopped to help someone who’s coming down from the summit, three guys who are really sick one didn’t make it but they worked really hard and saved those two other guys. He was a 15-minute stroll from making the summit, but he gave it up to help people. And you talk about people walking over bodies and not helping. So, this is the kind of character this guy has, a strength and so, we decided that the four of us would mostly climb together. So again, we didn’t have a Sherpa assigned to us or a guide necessarily but having Jason in our group was really great and you couldn’t ask for better Partners.
We did rotations together, not every single one. I did every-one with Brian, but our final push for the summit came, we’ve got a weather window and we went up there were five of us. It was another guy from Canada, who was not our favorite necessarily, but he was with us.
And the plan was, once you get to high camp, four out of five of us we’re going to have a climbing Sherpa with us, so we would carry these pretty big, about a 17-pound bottle of oxygen on Summit day, but the Sherpas would take two. They would use one for themselves all day, and we would have two for us. Now the Sherpas are just incredibly strong folks.
Dave Naylor: They are unsung hero’s
Kevin Flynn: Absolutely. I have a ridiculous amount of respect for them and they are physiologically predisposed to be better than us, because they’ve been living at altitude for many generations sure. And they’re kind of slight in stature but ridiculously strong and an efficient users of oxygen. So physiologically, their lungs and their hearts are larger than ours.
So they do have somewhat of an advantage, but they’re still human. We get up to the summit or to the high camp. And it’s like, okay this time I got out of Camp 3 really early. I wasn’t going to screw that up again. I was breathing a good dose of O’s, better flow rate and I had my goggles figured out.
I was the first guy out of the tent. I wasn’t the first guy to high camp, but I was close. So, I got there about 1 p.m. Feeling good, it’s like, “yep got this, we got this!” The plan was that at about 9:00 – 9:30 that night, to get ready, get out of the tent and go for the summit by 10:30pm, we’d hoped.
Well, at about nine o’clock it’s pretty windy. It’s like, “do we go, don’t we go?” I don’t know, we’re committing ourselves. We were the first folks to actually summit that year. And in fact, the fixed ropes weren’t fixed all the way to the summit.
So, what was going to happen was, there were three expeditions that were up there, and about 25 people were going to go for the summit including Sherpas. Some of the Sherpas were going to go ahead and fix the rest of the route. Get those safety lines in…up way high and some groups decided not to go that night.
So, we had less support and we didn’t get out of the tent until about 10 after 11 p.m. And finally decided we’re going to go for it. The wind kind of died down. It was an absolutely spectacular starry night; you can see some shooting stars… could see some thunderstorm way off in Tibet somewhere. It was really cool, and we knew that at least now the weather was great.
Dave Naylor: How are you feeling at this point? Were you’re physically, did you mentally, you’re in a better space? How are you physically?
Kevin Flynn: I felt pretty good because I was able to drink and eat, and I slept probably about three hours. Which was great at that altitude little rest and I felt like we had a really good attempt.
So, five of us left high camp, five Western climbers and four Sherpas. My Sherpa was Mingma, he was really quiet, and most Sherpas are pretty funny and great folks, but he was just kind of shy and quiet. I had no idea of how strong he really was, until that day unfolded about an hour out of camp.
One of the Sherpas had some lower GI issues, because there’s the Superhuman but they are human, so he turned around. So unbeknownst to me at this point, Mingma took a third 17-pound bottle of oxygen to carry. So, we took the extra bottle for the other guy, which is just amazing. We climbed up to basically the halfway point of the Triangular face, it’s called to the balcony and about 27,600 feet. So, we get there and it’s a little bit late because we stopped there then we get up to that point and one of the Sherpas, Ponnuru, his oxygen leaked, so he went down. So, now there’s five westerners two Sherpas, and the balcony is the halfway point. And that’s where you leave your half-spent bottle of oxygen. You take the full one for the summit run, to go up to the summit and come back down. And then when you get back to the balcony, you’ve got reserves leftovers.
So that’s the deal, we get up there. So took time with Ponnuru. It’s like, okay the clock is ticking away. And then we go part way up in the fixed lines aren’t that good and they didn’t bring as much rope. So, I’m like, “I’m not going I want that protection.” Yeah, I promised I’d come from a lot.
Yeah and Jason goes yeah, “just chill.” He goes. “It’s a perfect day. He goes we can probably cut some of the old fixed lines from previous years. We’ll make it work the root won’t be quite as we may miss some spots that aren’t super dangerous, but we’ve got all the time in the world the weather’s perfect.”
That cost about an hour and a half, the clock’s ticking. So we’re going up to the South Summit of Everest when then there’s a little dip along then you go to the southeast Ridge, and it’s kind of a knife’s edge Ridge you get to the Hillary Step and then after the Hillary Step, it’s supposed to be about 10 minutes more to the true Summit and pretty simple.
So we’re going up towards the South Summit and I look at my watch which is an altimeter type watch. I’m going to crap, “It’s 10:35 in the morning already.” Okay, I’m doing the math once we get to the South Summit could take three hours round-trip even though it’s vertically it’s only another 500 feet, but it’s tricky so I’m worried like “It’s not going to go.”
Yeah, and I say to Jason, “Dude, we’re late. This isn’t going well.” And he’s like “no, we’re okay,” and he’s normally pretty cautious. I go to Mingma, “we’re running out of time” and he goes “No, it’s okay, we’re fine.”
So climb for another 10-15 minutes. I look at my watch again. It’s still 10:35 only. It’s not the time and oxygen right that point, you’re still breathing in, but your mental acuity is not as sharp as you’d like it to be.
I realized that that’s the Barometric pressure so it’s about 1/3 of what it is because normally the barometer would read around 3 0 0 0, 29.95 something like that, but it’s reading 10.35 because it’s about one-third of the available oxygen and click my watch again.
And I see what altitude were at when I click it again and it’s 8:07 and I’m like “okay, we just might make this work!” And I get to the South Summit, and that’s the first time you can actually see the true Summit, and it is a pretty scary knife’s Edge Ridge. I mean, it’s technical but it’s not super hard, but you’re right 28,700 feet
Dave Naylor: So how are you feeling at that point? Literally you’re here, a relatively short distance away. You’ve this in your mind, where you’ve kind of thought about this now for four years, so you get that at this phase. What are you feeling?
Kevin Flynn: Normally I got that Adrenaline Rush. It’s like “okay I got this. I’m really tired, but everyone’s really tired on Everest.” I think Mingma and I are the last ones in our groups that kind of head down the South Summit and it’s maybe 60 vertical feet, now not super far, and then on the ridge and on the ridge’s pretty airy, maybe 10,000 feet to the right is Tibet and 8,000 down into Nepal. Not exactly sure, but you’re not going to stop. Yeah, you’re going to bounce on down. So that’s like wow, that’s kind of intimidating. And we get to the Hillary Step, which is the last crux of that obstacle. I’m going wow, I’m really slow. I’m just slow. Yeah, I just feel like someone pulled the plug on me a bit. Like okay and then I did the cheesiest stupid thing that I tell everyone not to do.. as soon as I got to the top of the Hillary Step, I looked up and it’s like well from there it’s a cakewalk. But it still looks pretty far, I don’t know if I can do this. And here’s the stupid question you asked, so I go, “Mingma how much farther do we have to go?”
Dave Naylor: Are we almost there yet?
Kevin Flynn: Exactly and it’s just awful and he goes, “ten minutes”
Yeah, so that 10 minutes turned into 30 minutes and we’re not quite to the summit and some of our folks had already tagged the summit but it’s late now. It’s pushing 2 p.m. Way too late, we want to be up there by 10:00 in the morning or even earlier. And Jason looks at me, and he can’t tell me what to do necessarily because it’s unguided he goes, “dude, it’s getting really late.”
So, it’s like so Mingma and I kind of made it up to the to the summit. People go, “Hey, what’s it like to stand on top of the world?” And I’m like, “I really wouldn’t know because I sat down and I was so tired and there was no, you know ecstasy. I just had all these thoughts in my mind.”
Hold up this flag and take lots of hero summit photos and my summit photo’s pretty awful my lips look blue; I look pretty bad. I took a picture of Mingma, we spent maybe five minutes if that up there. And I’m like, “okay well going down will be better.” But unbeknownst to me, which I would find out two and a half days later is, I got pneumonia on Summit day and you can sometimes get high altitude pulmonary edema.
But this was pneumonia, so I just got really slow and I’m headed down. I thought, “well headed down, I’ll do better”, but I had to rest a lot and then going down the Hillary Step is a two-stage rappel. So, I’m repelled the first part fine, rappelled the second part and I went to put my foot down, and I kind of missed and I got turned upside down.
So, all these extra fixed lines. I’m hanging around. I look like a fly in a spider’s web kind of deal. I try to get myself right, and by the time I’m working on that…trustee Mingma was there and cut some of the fixed lines away that I was tangled in. That took a lot out of me.
So, we’re going along the southeast Ridge and then I saw that we had to climb back up to the South Summit, it was like 60 vertical feet.
No, big deal, I go “well, I’m just going to bivouac up here.” Which is take a sleep with no sleeping bag and stuff because I’m really tired.
And you could hear the concern at base camp, and they can’t do anything for me and the other guys are already, you know a bit down and if you can’t get yourself down, no one can carry you at that altitude. You have to get yourself down here.
Dave Naylor: You wouldn’t have survived had you were actually done that, right?
Kevin Flynn: It would have been a long ice nap. I would still be up there. Finally, they said Kevin, “what kind of medications you have?” I had somethings called Nifedipine, Dexamethasone that’s for cerebral edema, something for your head and another kind of medication. But that one really probably saved my life, was the Nifedipine which was for your lungs. I didn’t know I had that and pneumonia, so I took it and I came to my senses. Your mental acuity is not always the sharpest, even though you’re breathing O’s, you’re still at altitudes
Dave Naylor: You said only brings you down. What about 3,000 – 4,000 feet
Kevin Flynn: Yeah, so I finally realized I like, “I can’t stay here.” This is crazy and Mingma, God bless him. He was so calm. He’s like “Kevin, please we must go.” Okay, so I started up and it was a slow climb to get to the south summit. Started heading down the South Summit and you know had to rest and it’s pretty steep, so just sitting back.
Dave Naylor: What are you saying to yourself is your as you’re doing this?
Kevin Flynn: I’m in a Zombie State, but I know that I have to get down. But my body’s not working how I wanted to work exactly.
Dave Naylor: So I mean, it’s just pure will
Kevin Flynn: Mingma is like, “Kevin please we must go.” He’d let me rest, 15, 20, 30, 40 seconds and just kept sort of slowly falling down, not falling down the mountain exactly but just coming down. Yeah sitting back resting and then my oxygen ran out and because we were up there so long, and I just kind of matter-of-factly said to Mingma, “oh, oxygen ran out.”
He immediately undoes mine and undoes his. He gives me what’s left in his bottle and carries down the other bottle. Now, he’s breathing without supplemental oxygen and because International Mountain guides have such great logistics and they’re like, “okay this is kind of worrisome.” They send up a couple of Sherpas to the balcony to meet us with extra oxygen and hot drinks, which is really awesome.
And I hope sleeping bags. I wanted to sleep up there, but I wasn’t going to. So, we’re coming down and now it gets dark at about 6:30, so it’s dark, I have my headlamp and Mingma doesn’t have a headlamp or his battery ran out, I forget. I had an extra head lamp in my pack up that I totally forgot about, that I give him.
But anyways, we see a couple headlamps coming up and like all “sweet be able to sleep here at the balcony.” So, they got Mingma his own oxygen. I got extra oxygen at a higher rate and they help, we all came down. I got some hot drinks, but I didn’t get back to high camp until 10:15 p.m. that night. Almost 24 hours… I thought well, “Once I was at a high camp breathing O’s, I’ll feel better.”
Dave Naylor: And you didn’t know at this point you had pneumonia?
Kevin Flynn: No idea, so pretty fitful night next morning, the plan was to descend down to Camp 2. From basically 26,200 about 21,300 and go down the Lhotse face and there’s a few repel areas.
I’m like damn, “I thought I’d feel good.” The next day people do and I just didn’t and so very slowly made my way down. Now, we’re without the Sherpas at this point. There’s just the five of us westerners, slow go to finally get to Camp 2. “Well take care, I’ll be fine now!” Only I wasn’t, so I’m still breathing O’s and doing the best I can.
Next morning, we have to go down through the Western Combe and then through the icefall, the last barrier. Normally, that would have been maybe four hours, four and a half? Coming up would obviously be more, but I was slower coming down than going up because it’s just I just didn’t know what was wrong.
Finally, Brian and I were the last two guys. He and I went through it and I had a pretty heavy pack at that point. Finally get through the icefall on I always imagined, you know having summited and it’s called crampon point which is at the base of the ice fall and that’s when you take your spikes off there, you’ve made it out of major danger, right?
So you’re not going to die. I had just imagine how that greater feeling that I was like, there’s a picture of Brian and me as we got back to base camp and he had a little bronchitis as well but I’m just a mess and our expedition leader down a base camp, the manager said “we’re good, there’s a medical tent and we’re going to just get you checked out.”
I go in there and they immediately go “you have pneumonia,” because they can hear my light rattling. “You have a fever of 101 degrees.” I also was wicked dehydrated, so they gave me IV fluids.
I probably had five bags of IV fluids, and they sat with me overnight and I felt a lot better the next morning but you know I was still pretty well beat up. They did an amazing job of looking after me. They’re like, “hey if we can get a chopper in here. We might want to as a precaution get you in the Katmandu into a hospital.”
I’m like, “okay.” It was my first helicopter ride and it was pretty dicey because the weather wasn’t perfect.
Dave Naylor: And well you’ve got no air, so a helicopter ride in that altitude can’t be too safe.
Kevin Flynn: And there’s a crashed helicopter at the near base camp from the year before where three people died. It’s like, take the helicopter ride in and I think I’m going to probably spend a couple days in the hospital, but it was so awesome. I go to this clinic and the doctor goes, “you have pneumonia here in your left lung, but they’ve given you good medication and your fevers gone, you’re doing great. Finish your z-pack of some antibiotics or whatever and here’s some cough lozenges. You’re free to go home.”
I’m Sprung. I went from the summit of Everest on a Saturday to being in Katmandu on a Wednesday morning, where it’s warm and wonderful, and I’m like, “all right. I’m going to have lunch and start feeling better.”
Dave Naylor: So at this point, did the magnitude of what you just accomplish,
Kevin Flynn: No, it still had it hadn’t hit me at all. I’m still in kind of a fog and having lunch and I’m like, kind of a bearish, so I have a beer and I’m pretty happy and I took, you know multiple showers and that felt great. Because the chopper can’t carry much weight at that altitude, my duffel and all my equipment…. I only have one small little pack.
They left it there and they said, “we’ll get it to you.” Okay, someone advised me. Well, wait for your duffle. They weren’t going to be back into Katmandu till about probably four or five days later and like Eric Simonson, was actually who went for the first part of the trip and was back in Seattle, he called me just make sure and he was really cool and I thought he was going to yell at me for being a nuisance, but he couldn’t have been more awesome and he’s like man don’t rot in Katmandu. Get back home and see Maggie. We will take care of your bags so then I feverishly arranged for getting a flight.
I had to change my flights and I had no problem going from Katmandu to Bangkok, but to get to Bangkok, I guess I was going to go through Hong Kong, Bangkok to Hong Kong. That was okay. But Hong Kong to Vancouver and then Vancouver to New York was problematic their tippy-tapping away on their the ticket agent.
Like, “we can’t get you home until like May 31st and I’m like “look at me.” So they said, “well we can we can upgrade you to business class,” but it’s going to be it wasn’t that much maybe thirteen or fourteen hundred dollars. So finally, and I’m coughing, I mean, I definitely am coughing a lot for sure. I get to the flight. I spent One Night in Bangkok and then get to Hong Kong on economy class and then I get to on the plane.
And they go, “oh right this way. Mr. Flynn” and I sit down in business class on an asion carrier, I can’t kick the seat in front of me and I’m you know beat up and they’re like, would you like some French champagne? And you asked, when did the magnitude sort of hit me? Well, first of all, the food was pretty good in first class and Vintage Wines, we didn’t get like wasted or anything, but just savoring it was great and they had Haagen-Dazs ice cream. And you aren’t eating that so I lost probably 20- 25 pounds and I’m like, yeah, this is great.
I watched a movie called “Touching the Void,” which is a climbing movie. But after that I was like, “well I could sleep but I don’t want to sleep.” I just listen to music with my headset. So, when you say about the magnitude of it all kicking in, that’s kind of when it did. It felt. absolutely surreal.
Yeah, did this really happen or was it a dream and I’m like it really happened and I’m in first class coughing, you would hate being near me. I’m going and I just kept listening music and if you sat next to me, you’d have thought I was a little “touched in the head.”
Because I’ve just grinning and I’m replaying the hard drive in my mind about how all this was, it would have been cool if I did. Got up there and tagged the summit and got down and was really healthy. And in fact, probably overnight one of the doctors was I was lamenting to her, “Oh my God, I wish I was a better teammate. I put some of the, Sherpas had to come up. I was a real inconvenience for everyone. I didn’t do it in the kind of style I want…. And she goes, “Hey look, I don’t know why you guys do what you do but, you just climbed Mount Everest and got down with pneumonia on your own. You should feel pretty good about that.” She gave me permission to feel good. Like yeah. Well, you know a mere mortal couldn’t have survived that aside but now I was I was just so thankful. So, on that flight home. I’m just for out, I don’t know. It’s ten or twelve hour flight to Vancouver. Whatever. Crazy long and I’m just so happy. I didn’t want to sleep. I just wanted to keep drinking it all in and replaying it and going, “Wow, this really happened.” So, I was able to get from the summit of Everest on a Saturday and was all the way back and Home in Rochester on Friday.
So that’s ridiculously fast to go from the summit to get back home really, you know would have taken another probably five six days. So, it was a whirlwind. So anyways, I was that Everest Adventure
Dave Naylor: Unbelievable what an amazing story and you know in so many metaphors for life really and what you accomplished, it’s the obstacles that we have to overcome. I mean we all we all have our mountains or what seems like mountains, not necessarily the physical ones, but the you know the whether it’s somebody who’s trying to get in position in their career or their struggling with some aspect of their personal lives.
And so, I’m curious Kevin the in climbing all of these mountains and doing this journey, what kind of life lessons did you did you learn along the way that that if that you’ve been able to, kind of port to everyday life.
Kevin Flynn: Yeah, I like to fly an instrument-rated flyer and being an entrepreneur. I think there’s so many similarities. Between running a business and instrument flying in the clouds and high-altitude mountaineering. There’s the mental aspect and you know staying focused. No one that I’ve ever known who’s a business owner would say “oh, yeah, I was an overnight success immediately, everything worked great. We never had any troubles.”
So one of the lessons is, there are going to be obstacles along the way, and you’re just going to have to break through them. You’re going to have to deal with it. You know that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger all that cliche kind of stuff, but it was.
You know not making Everest was the first time was kind of a godsend because it made me stronger and better and smarter and in our own business. We almost went bankrupt in the late 80s early 90s. I mean we were right up against it. So, I mean that idea of persistence is an old football coaches like paralyzed resistance with persistent.
So, one of those life blessings is what if you’re a junkyard dog and you keep after it, eventually good things will happen, you know. The joke of a lot of those. Yeah. I was an overnight success it took 10 years. Yeah, but yeah, so that worked out and then the mental aspects of it trying to stay positive when things aren’t always going your way and accepting that a lot of things aren’t in your control the real deal about trying not to over worry about things because that’s really negative energy.
That doesn’t help. Move the ball forward kind of kind of deal. Yeah other lessons you learn is that hey, no one is infallible. Yeah. It’s you could do everything right and something bad could still happen to you whether it’s in business flying, you can mitigate the dangers as much as you want.
And that’s the other good thing that I learned was risk mitigation, you know at some point. What’s that? There’s a quote. Someone says, you know. Ships are safe in the harbor, but that’s not what ships were made for right? So right getting yourself out there and taking some risk moving outside of your comfort zone, sometimes in business you make decisions and you don’t know, you hope you can see around the corner, but you don’t know.
What you decided to do and invest in is going to really pay off or not or be a colossal mistake and accepting in overcoming mistakes because you’re going to make mistakes so and in flying and learned a lot of that kind of stuff that especially the risk mitigation a lot of great decision making happens before you ever take off and a lot of accidents happen before they took off because they made bad decisions before they went and there’s usually an accident chain.
So, it’s not one thing that goes bad. It’s two things go bad. You can kind of deal with it three things go bad. It’s real problem. Like on a mountain you might go. Well, I feel terrible but the weather’s perfect. Yeah and you go and get away with it. I feel terrible. The weather’s coming in it seems to be getting worse and I didn’t have any rest or whatever.
Yeah, that’s kind of a recipe for disaster. So, learning some of those things as far as. Risk management you want to want to do things that are a bit risky, but you don’t want to suffer the ultimate price exactly makes sense.
Dave Naylor: So Kevin, for so many people myself included people have dreams or aspirations. They’ve got some picture of the life they want to build. I think most people, have that but then they step back and they look at somebody like yourself and all that you’ve accomplished in life, and it’s almost superhuman.
Like, how can how can you do those things? But I couldn’t do those kinds of things, and so we kind of rationalize why others can do it and we can’t and you know what I what I love in your story is that. You’ve you haven’t painted yourself as some superhuman or you’re a regular guy who has, accomplish incredible things.
I’m curious knowing all that you’ve learned through the course of this journey in any said a lot of it was kind of accidental. I didn’t set out when I was 17 years old and say I’m going to climb the seven highest Summits on the seven continents. But if you could go back and give your 17 year old self advice with everything that you’ve learned, you know through the course of the journey. What advice would you give yourself?
Kevin Flynn: Well at 17, I probably wouldn’t listen, so there is that problem. I said a lot of it was accidental and a lot sort of became selfish. I never really set out like to do this.
Sometimes people go, “that’s a bucket list thing” but I just really liked mountains and they just got bigger. And once you did one thing it’s like well, I could do this. The advice I would give and, in our business it’s kind of cool, I’m probably a few years away from retiring and it’s now a third generation.
My brother’s daughter is working with us and son too, but the daughter has been there longer and we’re trying to nurture and mentor her to hopefully be a succession plan for my brother and me. And she’s doing great and it’s awesome. It is helpful to, and my father was a good mentor for me, but it’s helpful to say, “okay, you’re going to have bad days. You know what, they’re going to be things that seem insurmountable, but it’ll be okay. You’re stronger and better than you have any idea that you are,” and some of my great mentors, some who didn’t even know they were a mentor, like my client Ed Stackit of Dick’s Sporting Goods in a way is a mentor and I don’t know did he set out to be it?
But one of his great qualities and one that I strive for with some folks and certainly with Chris’s daughter Katie at our shop is, to try and make her better than she thinks she can be. I mean she is really good. So, I would tell my 17 year old self is don’t put a governor on you. I mean like, your metaphor with a rungs on the ladder I guess is that you can accomplish so much more than you have any idea that’s in there.
I mean it may not happen tomorrow, but I’m not superhuman. I did things I really liked. I got the requisite skills and training that I needed to do to try and get to the next level but I did it because I really liked it. And then the other thing I would I would tell my 17 year old self is to pursue your passion.
I’m going to screw up this quote, but it’s got Howard Thurman has this great passion and I’m going to screw it up, but it’s basically “find your passion in life. Don’t ask what others think of you. Find what you want to do, what you really love and go do it. Find your passion and things will work out that you are passionate about.” So I was lucky, that things like that just sort of fell in place.
Dave Naylor: that’s pretty darn good advice, you know and really for all of us, to recognize that there’s so much more in us. There’s a when you’re talking earlier and. I remember, I think it’s a Navy Seals they talk about I think it’s the 40% or something like that. They’ve got this rule that that “when you think you’re on the edge and there’s nothing more, you got 40 percent more in the tank” kind of thing. To remind ourselves of that and to your point, don’t be afraid to dream because you never know where those dreams will lead you.
Kevin Flynn: And so like I said, I was really lucky that the things I liked, sort of became great passions and it’s sort of an accident, lucky accident, and as far as well as work, I’ve never had had a boss. I got to climb amazing mountains and beyond just the Seven Summits. I was just in the Adirondacks last weekend and climbed a mountain there and it’s still fun and great and flying I get a lot of satisfaction. I fly mostly for business, that was weird thing, to circle back to that accident flying, I never flew at all until I was 25 years old commercial private otherwise anything and it was cool. I was going on a vacation in Florida and it was really awesome and I liked it. But then, when our big biggest client at the time was Dick’s Sporting Goods, when they moved from Binghamton in 1994 to Pittsburgh, they moved their headquarters. We had to go there at least three times a month and three of us had to go there and it was on our own nickel.
So US Air had a hub at that point in Pittsburgh, it’s great, direct flights. But they had you there were the only game in town right? I think without a Saturday night stay in all that nonsense this back in 94. It was like $560 per round trip, per person times 3 and then x 3 per month. It’s almost like six grand a month. Yeah, and occasionally would drive but that was just too much to do. Finally, we had to take someone from Cleveland and Charter them to Rochester for a shoot. And they had to be somewhere in Cleveland that morning. We really wanted that person and my younger brother looked at all the chartering options for plane from Cleveland Rochester from a Lear jet all the way down to a single engine plane.
Single engine planes are cheap at that point, and he goes we should learn to fly. We can fly to Pittsburgh. It was his idea and I was at this point; I’d become a white-knuckle flyer in the airline’s. I don’t know why but turbulence bother me, “What’s that?”, “That’s the landing gear coming down you idiot relax.”
So I like well, we’ll learn to fly. Here’s the deal, we could rent a flight instructor for the day and they’re trying to build hours. And that was only a $150.00 and you could rent the plane, a single-engine plane with fuel $300.00. So, for $450 we would be able to fly down. I would fly, the instructor be in the right seat the other two folks back there. And then my brother, Chris, would fly and get a lesson on the way back.
Well, he got really close to his pilot’s license, but he had three young kids at home and smartly he goes, “if I can’t stay current, proficient and all this kind of stuff. I don’t think I’m going to be safe enough.”
I really liked it and so, I that’s how I learned to fly by accident, and it became a great business tool and I bought a plane at the end of 2003. I’m on my second airplane. It’s a single-engine Cirrus SR22 turbo great airplane, I’ve gone to Florida a bunch but visiting clients and trying to gain new clients throughout the Northeast.
So absolutely wonderful business, I went to Dick’s last Wednesday, a week ago Wednesday. We had a 1:30 meeting, I went to my office first in Pittsford. I left there at about 10:00, got to the airport to have our meeting, back home for dinner. No problem. And we control the schedule keep your shoes on all kinds of goods stuff. Another happy accident
Dave Naylor: Well, sometimes the best things in life, we don’t often times realize in that moment are the best things in life. So, the lessons that we carry away well Kevin. Thank you so much, sir.
Kevin Flynn: My pleasure
Dave Naylor: For coming in and sharing some time with us today. What a phenomenal story and what phenomenal lessons you’ve learned along the way, a life well-lived know
Kevin Flynn: I feel very fortunate. Thank you, Kevin.
*Transcription was edited for clarity
0:27- Introduction to Kevin
1:50- Kevin explains how his career and hobbies came to be
10:02- The appeal of the mountains
15:48- First trip to Everest
18:24- “Don’t worry about it until it happens.”
21:36- The Four Camps
28:25- “It could never happen to me.”
33:57- “I cashed in my chips too early.”
36:11- “You’d be surprised what the body can do, and the mind quits before the body. You probably had it in you to make it, you just limited yourself.”
38:02- Coming home
40:54- Going back to Everest
50:57- “I’m really tired, but everyone’s tired on Everest.”
53:21- Making it to the summit… and getting pneumonia
1:00:06- A dicey helicopter ride
1:01:14- The Long Journey Home
1:07:07- “Not making Everest the first time was a godsend because it made me stronger and better and smarter”
1:11:04- Giving your 17-year old self advice
1:14:37- Learning to fly by accident
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A true story, warts and all, of what really happened to ad exec and amateur climber Kevin Flynn during his days at the top of the world. In this riveting, entertaining adventure, Flynn takes the reader along for the ride through each stage of his expedition, step by precarious step, from base camp to summit and back again. Purchase on Amazon