Danville Express

Newsfront - May 18, 2007

Reaching new heights

Danville man due to reach Everest peak tomorrow

by Natalie O'Neill

SimplexGrinnel is a company that says it wants its employees to meet their goals. Danville's Curt Myers, a nine-year employee, just happened to have a 29,000-foot goal.

The 27-year old pipe fitter and foreman is scheduled to reach the top of Mount Everest tomorrow - a lifelong ambition - as part of a company-supported journey.

"He's an extremely focused person. If he thinks it's important, he sets his sights on it and he does it," his father Chris Myers said.

SimplexGrinnell, a security, alarm and communications company, allowed Curt Myers time off and partially funded his journey to the highest point on earth because it aligns with the company mantra to have employees "reach new heights personally and professionally."

The six-week journey into the extreme wilderness that rests between Nepal and Tibet was an idea Myers pitched to the human resources department. Now it currently has him in icy sub-zero temperatures at altitudes that make even breathing and moving a tremendous challenge.

He left in early April with just a 70-pound backpack and is scheduled to be back in June.

Communication is limited even at base camp, but Myers has a Myspace page on the Internet to document the climb and has updated it with photos and writings during the course of the trek. The desire to take on challenges is just part of who he is, he writes on the Web page.

"Yep, I'm 'that' guy who likes doing things other people can't, or won't do," he wrote.

His father has talked to him in brief increments by cell phone and said that while he's been nothing but positive about the experience, he naturally sounds short of breath.

At the summit of the mountain, the altitude is just over 29,000 feet - close to the average height commercial airplanes reach - and the air is so thin that oxygen masks are necessary. In these difficult conditions, it's imperative that the weather be clear.

"Right now they're waiting for that weather window," his father said last week.

Myers has been camping and climbing with a group of Russian and New Zealand mountaineers, which is being led by four professional instructors. To get acclimated to the altitude, the group has descended then ascended frequently, getting increasingly higher with each climb. This is done in order to gradually build a resistance to the altitude.

After about 24,000 feet, without the masks, not enough oxygen reaches the brain and cerebral damage can occur.

At these heights, the body becomes much more vulnerable to frostbite, hypothermia, and cerebral edema - a severe form of altitude sickness that can cause disorientation, loss of memory, hallucinations and irrational behavior.

Myers has always taken challenges like this head on - even as a small child, his father recalls.

"He would climb to the top of a woodpile and scare his mom," he laughed, adding that it only got higher after that.

Myers's most recent blog states that after having spent five days in the town of Zangmu, at a much lower altitude, he felt prepared for a final climb to the summit. The team of about 15 camped there to build strength and wait for conditions to get better.

The descent was also necessary to restore red blood cells, which get low when altitude gets too high. Cuts and scrapes also don't have enough oxygen to heal at extreme heights.

"Five days and four nights is quite a lot of time to spend in a town that can be seen in day! But the thick air did allow me to fully recover and all my cuts to heal," Myers wrote last week.

Along with his family, SimplexGrinnell employees at all 150 locations have been following his every move and cheering him on, says company spokesman Chris Woodcock.

"The company as a whole has a great sense of pride and anticipation," Woodcock said.

Treating employees well and encouraging them to succeed is part of the company's philosophy, company officials say.

"It aligns with our company's core values ... we hope to retain employees and help them grow and succeed," Woodcock said.

He noted that Myers was the type of person who was always looking to improve and challenge himself on the job.

Once at the top of the summit, Myers says he will plant a SimplexGrinnel flag in the snow. And in June, the company has a celebratory work party planned for his arrival date.

Visit his Web site at www.MySpace.com/ReachingNewHeights.


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