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There and back again: Mormons on Mount Everest

Published: Monday, June 10 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

David Roskelley, left, and Steve Pearson hold up a Book of Mormon as they sit on the summit of Mount Everest on the morning of May 19. Both men are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Roskelley is a member of the Mountainville Third Ward (Alpine Utah Stake), and Pearson has been part of the Longfellow Park Second Ward (Cambridge Mass. Stake) before recently moving to Utah.

Provided by Steve Pearson

Sitting atop the world at 29,029 feet elevation, two friends attempted to sing the LDS hymn "High on the Mountain Top" as it may have never been sung before.

Unfortunately, limited oxygen hindered their happy chorus.

"It wasn't on key ... and I broke down into a coughing fit after the first phrase," Steve Pearson said. The pair also put extra emphasis on the word "the" in the first line as they sang "High on THE Mountain Top."

That's just one fun memory that Pearson and David Roskelley shared as they savored the victory of reaching the summit of Mount Everest on the morning of May 19. In a recent phone interview, the climbing partners said ascending to the highest peak on the planet was the result of setting a goal, preparation, hard work and sacrifice. Not only was it the adventure of a lifetime, but it helped them feel closer to the Lord.

"It's quite an experience and I don't know if I've completely digested it yet, but it's an incredible feeling," Roskelley said. "With all the sacrifice that goes into trying to reach a goal this huge, it was just incredible to have achieved that goal."

"(I was) standing in awe, not so much of the accomplishment, but to be able to look out over the world," said Pearson, who added they were fortunate to conquer the summit under clear blue skies. "Being able to look over the world in every direction, you really think to yourself, 'How Great Thou Art.' It was really a profound experience in that sense."

Roskelley, 44, is a partner in an environmental engineering firm called R&R Environmental, Inc., and teaches public health at the University of Utah's Rocky Mountain Center for Occupational and Environmental Health as an adjunct professor. The Alpine, Utah, resident is also an avid mountaineer.

More than a decade ago, Roskelley was inspired by Richard "Dick" Bass and his quest to be the first to climb the highest mountain on each of the seven continents. Bass, the owner of Snowbird Ski Resort, co-authored a book titled "Seven Summits," which Roskelley read. He resolved to reach the same summits that Bass did.

A few years later, Roskelley met the 30-year-old Pearson through Steve's sister. They discovered a common passion for outdoor adventures and became fast friends.

In 2011, the duo scaled Mount McKinley (Denali) in Alaska and last summer they climbed Mount Rainier in Washington. Those experiences fueled their desire to attack another challenge — "the Ph.D. of climbing" — Everest.

For both men, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, long-distance running was their primary form of physical preparation. Roskelley said it helped to exercise in American Fork Canyon in dry wintery weather.

In addition to running marathons, Pearson, who then lived at sea level in Boston, rented a hypoxic generator and slept for two months in a little tent on top of his bed at a lowered oxygen level that would simulate 14,000 feet elevation, he said.

The price to climb Everest can range from $35,000 to $45,000, which includes travel expenses, permits to climb the mountain and guides who accompany the climbers, the men said.

The entire trip lasted six weeks. Going from base camp to the summit and back down took seven days. Their journey up the mountain was accompanied by unusually good weather. For Roskelley, the biggest challenge was being apart from his wife and three sons for nearly two months.

Pearson, who recently graduated from Harvard Business School, missed his fianceé, Stephanie Ketchum. Their wedding day is July 11 and "it's hard to plan a wedding from 7,000 miles away," he said.

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