Kevin Cherilla was on top of the world earlier this month. And he has the pictures to prove it.
Cherilla reached the summit of Mount Everest June 5, taking a two-month leave of absence from his job as a physical education instructor at Paradise Valley’s Phoenix Country Day School to make the climb.
Cherilla went to Mount Everest in 2001 as a base camp manager for Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind climber to reach the summit of Everest. But this was the first time he actually climbed the mountain.
The team, which was made up of six climbers and seven Sherpas, spent about two weeks doing short hikes on the mountain to get acclimated to the altitude.
Their first bid to the 29,000-foot summit on May 24 was unsuccessful.
“The winds were so high,” Cherilla said. “We decided as a team, except for one guy, to turn around and go back down.”
They made their second attempt June 5 on a trail that Cherilla described as 90 percent “death falls,” narrow ledges over drastic drops.
One team member turned back, but the rest made it to the top.
“I got teary-eyed, you get the quiver lip going,” Cherilla said. “To know that you’re the only one, me and my Sherpa are the only persons standing on top of the world at that moment is pretty amazing.”
Cherilla only stayed on the summit for about 10 minutes to avoid afternoon windstorms. But while he was up there, he was amazed to see small birds on top of the mountain along with prayer flags and other mementos left by other climbers.
While on the mountain, Cherilla was in touch with his students back home. He updated a blog of the journey every couple days and regularly sent back information about the team’s blood pressure, blood/ oxygen saturation levels, Global Positioning System locations and altitude.
Science teacher Betsy Youngman also talked to the school’s middle school students about how climbing Mount Everest affects the body’s physiology. Teachers also tracked Cherilla’s progress on a bulletin board to help students keep track of his climb.
“There’s the academic connection, but more importantly there’s the idea that, ‘I can have a dream. I can have a goal,’” Youngman said. “They can vicariously climb Everest with him.”
Cherilla is already getting ready for his next climbing trip, leading an expedition to Mount Kilimanjaro in July.
He also wants to climb the highest peaks on each continent — the only two he has left are Vinson Massif in Antarctica and Mount McKinley in Alaska.
But Cherilla said he’ll only climb Everest again if it’s with his kids.
“I told my kids I left a picture of them on the summit,” he said, “so ‘if you want to go get it, let me know.’”
Read Kevin Cherilla’s blog from his Mount Everest climb at www.kcsummits.com