Elated and physically spent, Craig Hanneman dropped to his knees after clambering those last few steps to the top of the world.
The final phase of Hanneman's multiday ascent on Mount Everest began the evening of May 25, with temperatures 40 degrees below zero and mercifully-light wind. Gastrointestinal problems dogged Hanneman with every laborious stride onward and upward.
"It was a bitch," Hanneman said with a laugh of the uncomfortable trudge up the final 3,000 feet of rock, snow and ice.
"You're breathing oxygen through a mask, trying to synchronize your breaths with your steps," he continued.
"Your stomach is growling, your mask is freezing up, you're trying to get your regulator right.
Photo by Eric Remza/International Mountain Guides
Mount Everest, left, as seen from the Western Cwm, a glacial basin that leads to the Lhotse face of the peak.
"And your mind isn't working like when you're at sea level."
Hanneman "willed" himself over the 40-foot high Hillary Step. Not long after, he reached the summit at 4:15 a.m., Nepal time, on May 26
It was dark, so there was no sweeping vista of the Himalayas for a reward. That didn't bother Hanneman.
"There was a feeling of relief ... that I cannot describe," he said. "I dropped to my knees and said a little prayer."
When you climb Mount Hood, you start thinking what Mount Rainier would be like, said Hanneman, a 62-year-old West Salem resident who served as Polk County Commissioner during the 1980s.
"And when you do Rainier, you start wondering about Mount McKinley and the next one," he said. "Then you run out of mountains.
"Then there's Everest."
When the spring pilgrimage of climbers to the top of the world's tallest mountain began two months ago, Hanneman was among them, part of a team led by Washington-based International Mountain Guides.
A mountaineer since the 1990s and a member of the Portland Mazamas climbing organization, Hanneman has summited peaks across the world, including Mount McKinley in Alaska and Mount Vinson in Antarctica.
He had almost written off attempting Everest, despite the "cool factor to it, even for old duffers like me," Hanneman told the Itemizer-Observer on June 1, a day after he had returned home from Nepal.
He was on the Grand Teton in Wyoming last September with an Everest-bound friend who asked if he wanted to join the expedition. Hanneman made a call to his wife, Kathleen, from Jackson Hole for her take.
"`Do you want to be 75 and wish that you had tried?" Hanneman recalled her saying. "I gave my friend the thumbs up and it all went into high gear."
Hanneman flew to Kathmandu on March 26, then embarked on the 35-mile trek to Everest's base camp -- at 17,500 feet -- on the mountain's southeast ridge.
Hanneman's party included 26 climbers, Sherpa guides and porters. For weeks, Hanneman and others climbed up and down the mountain's various base camps as part of the acclimatization process needed for a summit push.
Hanneman said he developed the maligned "Khumbu cough" because of high altitudes, low humidity and freezing temperatures. His guide, Phunuru Sherpa, brought him down to a camp at 13,000 feet to recover for five days.
Photo by Eric Remza/International Mountain Guides
Climbers traverse the "Geneva Spur," a large rock buttress that leads to the South Col and Everest's summit.
"This was totally different than any other climb I've been on, with the gear and preparation," he said. "You're gone for two months ... three weeks was the max before for McKinley."
Hanneman's group started its summit bid on May 22, going through the Khumbu Icefall, Lhotse and the South Col.
This year's climbing season was marred by six deaths, four on the route Hanneman was on. He walked by their bodies.
"It was eery, they were face down ... it was very sad," Hanneman said. "It didn't have to be that way, they just didn't have the support systems set up that we or other groups had."
Back in West Salem, Kathleen said she had been following her husband's climb through the IMG website. Despite the deaths, she wasn't overly worried, she said.
"I have confidence in Craig, I knew he was prepared," she said.
Craig Hanneman made it to the top in a heavy down suit, and with "a 17-pound bottle of oxygen and a little water." The summit is littered with previous climbers' mementos, Hanneman said, noting he left behind military flags in honor of his son, Paul.
Hanneman wouldn't have been able to snap his own photos even if there had been daylight; his camera wasn't altitude-proof as advertised.
"As happy as I was, the last thing I cared about at the top was a picture," he said. "I was more worried about congestion on the way down and the weather."
Hanneman said it's never been a priority to scale all of the "Seven Summits" -- the seven highest peaks on the seven continents.
Still, he's done three now. And there is a family trip planned to Mount Kilimanjaro -- it's on the list -- sometime in the next five years.
"Shoot, some of my kids think I ought to continue the quest," he said.