Everest 2010: TA Loeffler Interview

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We hear a lot about the famous people on Everest so I like to focus on the not so famous; however you might define that. In her hometown of St. John’s Newfoundland, TA Loeffler is quite famous; even a legend. If you have ever read her Blogs, book or had been fortunate to hear her speak, you know why.

TA is one of those individuals who brings you into her world by inspiring you to be the best in yours. She will be climbing Everest this spring with Canadian Tim Ripple’s Peak Freaks.

When not climbing, TA teaches outdoor education at Memorial University of Newfoundland in the School of Human Kinetics and Recreation. She tells me that the university has been very supportive of her climbing passion and sees them as professional “performances” in the same way that her colleagues in music might train for and perform a concert.

TA feels It’s important to give back to the community that supports her and she regularly speaks in schools trying to inspire kids to have big dreams and to become more physically active. Over 20,000 kids have heard TA talk – amazing.

One of her first big climbs was an attempt on Mount Robson in the Canadian Rockies. She continued to build skills and interest on the Mexican volcanoes in addition to a cornucopia of outdoor activities such as sea kayaking, canoeing, winter camping, skiing and of course being from Canada, ice hockey. In the midst of all this she became an instructor for NOLs.

She learned a valuable lesson in 2004 while on Denali. With a NOLs teams, they started at the Muldrow Glacier and climbed the 18,000 feet to the summit, humping huge loads along the way. They lived on the glacier for almost 30 days and managed to get all 14 climbers to the summit and back. She says it was a turning point for her.

Now infected with this addiction we call mountaineering, she began looking for something more and soon found herself biking to Everest Basecamp on the Tibet side. It was then the pull of Everest was planted. Similar to many of us, she wasn’t scared about the climbing but rather was terrified by the fundraising. In her own words; she “had no idea how a phone-phobic, terrifically shy human was going to raise the $60,000 I needed to make the climb possible.”

Her dream started to come together after selling T-shirts and toques, begging friends, and soliciting sponsors. With the Seven Summits in her plans, she has been plugging away… summitting Aconcagua in 2006, Kilimanjaro in 2008, Elbrus in 2009 and Kosciusko in Oct of 2009.

And of course an ill-fated attempt on Everest in 2007. Her experience was discouraging but that word is not in her vocabulary. She made an attempt on Pumori in October 2008 as part of her Everest come-back tour. It was on Pumori, while looking at Everest, that her dream was cemented.

With all that background, here is our interview with the remarkable TA:

Q: I interviewed you on March 12, 2007 before your previous Everest attempt. A variety of illnesses kept you below C2. How did that experience affect you?

I actually got close to the base of the Lhotse Face. I spent two nights at Camp Two and have some regrets that Mingma and I didn’t go all the way to the Lhotse Face and climb up a bit-he wanted to get back down to base camp to see Conrad Anker. I arrived at basecamp with a bad case of bronchitis and that made the start of the 2007 expedition tough. I fought my way back to health by dropping back down to Pheriche but I missed the first round of acclimatization with the rest of the team. Once I got back to BC, Mingma and I went up on our own to Camp One and then onto Camp Two. After I returned from Camp Two, I developed Giardia but unfortunately it took a long time to figure out what was going on so by the time, I was finally treated for it, I’d lost significant weight and strength.

Of course, it was not the ending that anyone wanted for my climb but I realized I didn’t have the resiliency or reserve to be safe up high. I knew I could have dragged myself back up to Camp Two but I didn’t want to put anyone on my team or Mingma in danger because of my weakness. I was hugely disappointed as I had trained so hard, mortgaged my house, and had my entire province cheering me on, but no mountain summit is worth dying for and I wanted to live to climb another day, so I turned my back on the climb and made friends with disappointment. That’s one of the major lessons I stress when doing presentations is that Everest taught me to “risk disappointment.” So many times it’s tempting to stay where we know we can do something but I think sometimes we need to risk disappointment to go after our big dreams and big goals.

Q: Everest is part of your 7 Summits goal. What drives this objective?

I started the Seven Summits as a way of gaining more climbing experience in preparation for Everest but then I realized that they were becoming great teachers for me. In Buddhism, there are the Six Paramitas and one day as I reflected on both my climbs and my Buddhist path (I began my Buddhist training at the same time as I was training for Denali), I realized that while climbing the Seven Summits, I was receiving direct and embodied teachings/learnings of the paramitas (generosity, patience, discipline, persistence, wisdom, meditation). So not only have the Seven Summits been a great mountaineering and cultural experience, it’s also been a wonderful spiritual path.

Q: You have become quite the accomplished climber, adventurer and speaker. Is there a single lesson you share with your audiences?

I actually share many lessons such as risking disappointment, dealing with avalanches of doubt, going beyond comfort, appreciating how far we’ve come…I like to tell funny stories from the mountains as well as poignant ones and then tie it all up with the many lessons that the mountains have taught me.

Q: I read recently you haul tires up a hill as part of yourtraining? What has been the reaction from bystanders? Any othertraining secrets?

Bystanders are curious and often stop to ask me what I am up to or tomake a joke such as “Where is the rest of the car?” It’s a challenge totrain for high altitude expeditions at sea level but I do my best. Fornow, the tire represents the challenge of altitude and brings my heartrate up to 85% of max so I can sustain a high level of exertion whilemoving uphill. It’s also good for developing patience and fortitude forputting one foot in front of the other. It’s tough to do and it pushesme hard…I plan to increase either the weight on the tire or the numberof tires and weight in my backpack over the next months as I getstronger-the tire currently weighs 45 pounds and I’m carrying 30 poundsin my pack.

Other training secrets…I’ve got a great team of experts who are helpingme with training plans. I think I trained too long before my lastEverest expedition so I’m being careful to log all my training andwatch my resting heart rate for signs of overtraining. My plan is toget to Nepal as a “lean mean climbing machine”…well rested, superhealthy and eager to begin the challenges of high altitude climbing.I’m also concentrating on nutrition and eating very well to support mytraining. I watch climbing DVD’s while doing treadmill work and duringmy hypoxic training as a way of getting mentally prepared. I alsoinvite folks to come out and train with me some of the time to make itmore fun. High intensity intervals and hockey are integral parts of mytraining as well.

Q: Our deepest condolences on losing your Father recently. Any thoughts on how he would view your climbing passion?

My dad was one of my biggest supporters. Here’s a story from the eulogy I wrote for him… One of the greatest gifts that my father gave me, and to so many others, was his belief in me. Every spring at his beloved lake and cabin, Dad would orchestrate the putting in of the pier and boat hoist. Most often, all of the male neighbours would gather to help each other to move these very heavy objects from the land into the water. When I was about ten or eleven, I was helping Dad get the pier project started. He and I were lifting the pier sections from their storage location to the lakeshore. As the neighbours began to arrive, they each in turn, tried to come over and take the burden from me. Each time Dad said, “Leave it to her, she can do it.” So since then, at times in my life when I may have doubted whether or not I could do something, like right now perhaps, I hear my Dad’s voice, “She can do it.”

So I know when doubt arises on Everest, I know I’ll turn to my Dad’s memory for that boost of confidence to take another step. I climbed Elbrus in honour of him and his battle with prostate cancer and I know in many ways, I’ll be climbing Everest for him as well. My dad was an avid outdoorsman and we often compared hunting (his passion) and climbing stories.

Q: Any other thoughts for your followers this Spring?

My major goal with my second attempt is to have fun and really enjoy the expedition. Through a number of factors, my first attempt was rift with challenges I didn’t anticipate. I look forward to going back with more experience, teammates I already know, increased strength and fitness, wisdom and full of vim and vigor. I know a tremendous amount of luck, skill, and courage needs to come together for me to stand atop Everest and I’m doing all I can in advance to insure the greatest likelihood of getting to the top-but as usual, I’m trying to hold true to my ultimate goal of learning from each step and not measuring success by the summit.

On my last two climbs, I’ve drawn motivation from my parents. On Pumori, I dedicated my efforts to my mom and her journey of living through breast cancer and raised funds for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. On Elbrus, I thought often of my dad and his long battle with prostate cancer and raised money for Prostate Cancer Canada. For my second attempt on Everest, I am looking to my Oma, my grandmother Frida Loeffler, for the power, confidence, and strength to tackle such an enormous challenge again.

Oma is turning 92 in September. This past Mother’s Day, I had a wonderful conversation with Oma. I was saying how amazing it was to still have my grandmother and she said, “Whatever comes, comes!” I said, “Did you ever think you would live to be 91?” She answered, “Oh no, I thought I would be dead at 60 since everyone in my family died early.”

I asked, “What do you think the secret of your long life is?” She thought a moment and replied, “I walked everywhere. And I never overeat. I eat my veggies. And have some sweets every now and again. I never hit the bottle much. Though schnapps are a good cure for an upset stomach and take everything as it comes.” This from my Oma who has been declaring to me since I was ten that she was dying, who can still out walk me, and who was famous for carrying heavy cement bags at the age of 70.

Oma has had a hard life filled with the challenges of beginning over and over again. She was orphaned at the age of six and had to go live with a new family. She survived World War II but lost her home and all belongings. After the war, she immigrated to Canada beginning her life over once again in a new country spending her first year in indentured servitude. Oma’s spent the last decade living without her dear husband with whom she shared life for over fifty years. If anyone in my life knows about starting again, starting over, picking up pieces and going forward, it is my Oma.

Despite all the hardships she’s faced, Oma is a delightful, generous, and loving person. Her voice brightens whenever I call her on the phone. She still grabs my cheeks, pulls me forward, kisses my forehead, and tells me how much she loves me. Oma has always loved reading and learning new things through books. Whenever I travel through Germany, I always try to bring her back German reading material.

In celebration of Oma’s life and love of learning and in fulfilling a decade’s old dream, I am establishing an award at Memorial University of Newfoundland (Everest 2010 Mountain of Learning Experiential Education Award). This endowed award will support students in pursuing experiential education opportunities in support of their degree programs. I know my education was greatly enhanced by attending Outward Bound, the National Outdoor Leadership School, and other such programs. I often hear of students wanting to seek out such opportunities but the cost stands as a barrier. My dream is that the award will reduce some of the obstacles to such experiences and inspire students to enrich their studies by getting outside the classroom.

The award will be funded through a combination of efforts. I am donating a percentage of each speaking engagement proceeds to the award. I am inviting those who are inspired by my second attempt on Everest to support this worthy cause (donations to the award will be tax deductible).

You can follow TA’s Everest climb this spring on her site where she already posts weekly updates.Best of luck TA.

Climb On!


Arnette is a speaker, Mountaineer and Alzheimer’s Advocate. You can read more on his site.

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