THE LONE HEADLAMP drifting up through the night, from Camp II to III, and then slanting toward the South Col, at 25,938, had to belong to Chad Kellogg—the only person attempting to summit directly from Base Camp. "He was still too low and going too slowly to make the summit," recalls guide David Morton, who watched Kellogg's progress from above during his own summit bid that day in 2010.
"I made a lot of rookie errors," admits Kellogg, a former Rainier climbing ranger who lives in Seattle.
He was attempting to break Frenchman Marc Batard's 1988 record of 22:29 to the summit and 36 hours round trip, without oxygen. (Ten years later, Kazi Sherpa clocked a time of 20 hours 24 minutes to the top, but because he used oxygen on the descent, there is disagreement in the mountaineering community as to whether the time should stand.)
In addition to climbing difficult alpine routes around the world, Kellogg has a thing for speed ascents. In 1998—and again in 2004—he broke the roundtrip record for Washington's Mount Rainier (14,410) with a time of 4:59. Also in 1998, he made the summit of Nepal's Ama Dablam (22,494 feet) in 9:44, an impressive feat but still 50 minutes slower than the record-holder, the late Alex Lowe, did earlier in the decade. In 2003, he won Festival Khan Tengri, Kazakhstan's national speed climbing competition, whose previous winners have included Lowe, Conrad Anker, and Kazakh Denis Urubko. That same year, Kellogg set the record on Denali's West Buttress route, cruising to the summit in 14:26 and returning the Kahiltna Glacier in 23:55. That record still stands.
"Speed ascents are just an exclamation point on a good season of climbing," says Kellogg. "Alpine climbing is my favorite."
Like most people who break records on routes, Kellogg shies away from the label of "speed climber." That's because the discipline is something of a sideshow, most associated with long-haired, Lycra-wearing men who bound up rock climbs like startled chimpanzees. Kellogg is a well-rounded alpinist, and his version of speed climbing shares little in common with the sort you may have seen at the X Games in the nineties. In fact, his climbing style doesn’t even look particularly fast. Kellogg achieves his record times not by racing, but by skipping camps, forgoing sleep, and rarely stopping. "There's no sprinting here," he says. "This is metered output over a 30-hour push."
I MET KELLOGG at Base Camp in late April, where he was preparing to launch his second bid to break the Everest speed record. At 40 years old, he’s lean and powerful looking, but would never be confused for an endurance athlete on the street. The blue eyes and a Fu Manchu mustache fit better with the career as a general contractor he's put on hold to chase this dream.
And there's something else. It's partly the way the skin above his eyebrows creases when he's distracted by some thought in his head, partly in his lack of pretense. The man has suffered, hit bottom, and no longer seems distracted by the day-to-day bullshit that troubles the rest of us. His load is much heavier.