He’s trekked on with a broken ankle and broken ribs. He’s witnessed intestinal infections, severed arteries and death among fellow climbers. Larry Nielson said he will die one day, but never while climbing a mountain.
Nielson, Western alumnus and Athletic Hall of Famer, is credited as the first American mountaineer to climb Mount Everest without bottled oxygen. Nielson visited Wilson Library Tuesday, Jan. 17 to discuss his life in an interview with Paul Madison, a Western Athletics historian.
“To have [Nielson] here is absolutely one of the biggest things I’ve ever been able to be a part of,” Madison said.
Madison and Nielson both attended Western in the fall of 1966, Madison said. While he was known for running cross-country and track and field at Western, Nielson’s love for the outdoors was a family trait.
His older twin brothers started it all, Nielson said.
“They would come home and they would tell little Larry about their adventures,” Nielson said, smiling. “So, I would bug them and say, ‘You know, I want to go.’”
Eventually, Nielson earned the chance to climb with his brothers. The first mountain he ventured upon was Mount Olympus when he was just 12 years old, he said.
“The goal he expressed to me was that he did it because he enjoyed the mountains”
Roger Farquhar, audience member
It was not until 23 years later, in 1983, that he completed his well-known summit of Mount Everest.
Roger Farquhar, an audience member, said Nielson gave insight into his motivation for the journey.
“The goal he expressed to me was that he did it because he enjoyed the mountains – it wasn’t a goal to be a macho person or to succeed in something other people couldn’t,” Farquhar said.
Nielson’s quest for Everest had a rocky start.
Prior to the Mount Everest conquest, Nielson said he slipped on his barn roof and broke his ankle. He soaked off the cast and taped his ankle just so he could still make the journey.
While hiking in on the way to Everest, Nielson said he decided to climb a couple nearby mountains during his rest day. All his fellow climbers opted out.
Nielson said he ventured off and climbed two of the mountains on his own. During the descent, he felt his foot was wet and realized his boot was full of blood.
“Now before I have even gotten to Everest, I have an ulcerated toe with the bone showing and a broken ankle,” Nielson said. “But still on my way to Everest.”
Members of the audience were shaking their heads and putting their hands to their mouths while listening to Nielson’s stories.
During a Q&A session, Nielson echoed the idea that he is prepared for all situations when it comes to climbing a mountain.
Nielson said his philosophy of life is pretty simple; if you are not happy doing what you’re doing, either change your attitude or change what you are doing.