Newmarket senior arrives home from Everest climb
Published Thursday, June 7, 2007 5:08PM EDT
Werner Berger was emotional as he returned home Thursday after becoming the oldest North American to reach the top of the world.
The 69-year-old remembered his journey to the top of Mount Everest after his plane touched down at Pearson International Airport.
"It was tough. It was the toughest mountain I've attempted to climb, but at the same time it was the most spectacular. There's nothing else I can say. It was just fabulous," Berger said as tears welled up in his eyes.
The resident of Newmarket, Ont., also the oldest North American to have reached the highest peaks on each of the seven continents, anticipated his big moment at the top as he trekked more than 160 kilometers up the mountain.
"(I was) standing on the south summit, looking across the traverse...seeing the slope to the north summit and knowing this is the day I'm going to stand on the top of the world."
And he started mountain climbing just 15 years ago.
"Age is simply relative,'' Berger said, still fighting a lingering cough from the climb. "I never consider myself 69. Most of the time I feel 29, which is a little bit dumb, but what the heck,'' Berger said.
"Anybody can set a goal for themselves, and all they really need to do is pursue it just one step at a time."
Berger, who still works as a corporate consultant, may joke about feeling perpetually young, but his training regimen for Everest was nothing to laugh at.
For five years, he spent two to three hours a day running up and down a gravel pit near his home, a 50-pound knapsack strapped to his back. Then, during the final three weeks of training, Berger holed himself up in a gym to work on cardio and upper body strength.
A group of about 20 family and friends were on hand to cheer and applaud Berger's return at Pearson International Airport on Thursday morning.
As he stepped through the terminal doors, Berger's five grandchildren ran toward him waving signs, one of which read, "My poppa reached the toppa.''
Berger became emotional when he spoke of the most memorable moments of the gruelling climb.
"The most impactful one is standing on the south summit, looking across the traverse, seeing the Hillary Step, seeing the slope to the north summit, and knowing this is the day I'm going to stand on top of the world,'' he said, his voice quavering slightly.
He said he thought constantly of "how small I am and how huge the world is.''
Berger said he'll also remember the challenges of the trek, and recalled the first day as being the roughest.
"There were times on Everest where I absolutely did not think I could make it,'' he said.
"On the ice fall going from Base Camp to Camp 1, it's an extremely difficult section through a frozen river that's flowing with huge ice blocks, and you're weaving your way between them. So not only is it dangerous, but secondly it's exhausting. ... I was surprised at how tired I was, and during that part I wasn't sure I would summit.''
But Berger said he pressed on because he knew every mountaineer has a "down day'' during a climb.
"Unfortunately it was the first day, which I didn't like,'' he said.
Berger's daughter Lisa said she was relieved to have her father back home.
"He's chosen a sport that's got a high risk to it, and that has scared me.''
But she also said she's proud.
"I'm thrilled for him. I think it's an incredible accomplishment.''
Berger's feat also earned praise from Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.
Amid all the fanfare at the arrivals terminal, Berger's son Karl came up to him with a letter and said, "Dad, are you in trouble with the premier?''
Sure enough, McGuinty had sent his congratulations.
"Your fellow Ontarians and I are very proud of what you have achieved,'' Berger read aloud to his children. "Please accept my best wishes.''
Despite having just completed an arduous physical challenge, Berger said he'll rest for only a few weeks before getting back to work.
He said his next project is to complete a documentary that he hopes will inspire people to lead healthier lives.
"Right now North Americans are not very healthy,'' he said. "Sixty per cent of people are overweight and 80 per cent of people die from degenerative diseases rather than old age. That's something that can be reversed.''
Berger will also be taking to the mountains again. After he finishes his movie he plans to climb Mount Kilimanjaro - for the third time.
With a report from CTV's MairiAnna Bachynsky and files from The Canadian Press