Ledford grad scales tallest mountain in the world
Scott DeRue relishes a good challenge, something that pushes him farther than he thinks he can go.
"I truly believe that if by challenging ourselves and putting ourselves in situations where the unknown stares us in the face and we might face a little adversity is when we learn the most about ourselves," said DeRue, a 1995 Ledford High School graduate who now serves on the faculty at the University of Michigan's Stephen M. Ross School of Busiess..
Climbing mountains is DeRue's favorite challenge.
Since 2007, DeRue, 35, has scaled up and back down some of the tallest mountains in the world.
"I started a journey where about once a year I would go climb a big mountain somewhere in the world, whether it be Alaska, Africa, South America or out west," DeRue said. "The mountains just kept getting bigger and bigger until the biggest of them all came around."
There is no bigger mountain in the world than Mt. Everest. Referred to as "the top of the world," Mt. Everest stands 29,029 feet above sea level and is notorious for being the last mountain climbers ever see.
For DeRue, Mt. Everest symbolized the ultimate challenge.
"I think the appeal is an opportunity to see what I'm made of and to push myself," said DeRue. "I think you learn a lot about your character and how resilient you are by doing things like this."
DeRue's journey started on March 30 with a flight to Katmandu in Nepal. From there he boarded a plane to Lukla, a small town with an even smaller airport.
"I learned as we were flying there that it's one of the most dangerous airports in the world," DeRue said. "That was actually one of the most scariest parts of the trip."
Getting to Mt. Everest proved to be a journey in itself. One doesn't simply catch a cab in Lukla to the base of the world's tallest mountain. DeRue and his group spent nearly two weeks hiking through a variety of Nepalese towns and villages to reach base camp, slowly giving their bodies time to adjust to the high elevations.
"You have to build the red blood cells to allow your body to process oxygen more efficiently," said DeRue. "There's so little oxygen in the air."
DeRue's group spent more than five weeks at base camp before the ascension to the top of the world began. Climbers tackle Mt. Everest in three rotations with each one increasing in altitude and difficulty. DeRue started his final rotation at night, 3,000 feet from the summit.
As the sun rose over the Himalayas on May 18, DeRue's ultimate challenge reached its crescendo.
"It's amazing," DeRue said. "You could see for thousands of miles in every direction. It's exhilarating in many ways. You've been there for so long with this singular goal in mind, which is summating the tallest mountain in the world. You get there and you've finally arrived. You're finally there and the views are breathtaking. You're relieved because you finally made it, but you're also super excited."
Staring out at the world beneath his feet, DeRue's thoughts shifted to all the people who made this once in a lifetime view possible.
"You think about all the people who helped you get there from my parents to my fiancé, Kathy, everybody," said DeRue. "It's an individual achievement but no individual would get there without a lot of people helping them along the way."
With his summit picture secure and bone-chilling winds whistling through him, DeRue now faced another challenge.
"How am I going to get down?" said DeRue. "There's a famous saying in climbing — getting to the top is optional, getting down is mandatory. The trip from summit down can be treacherous. Your focus turns pretty quickly on how am I going to get down this thing."
Aided by a few dozen sherpas, Nepalese guides who handle much of the heavy lifting during summit trips, DeRue's group safely returned to base camp on May 20. By the end of the month, DeRue was back home in Ann Arbor, Mich.
"I started climbing mountains really as an excuse to travel to cool places," DeRue said. "I realized l just loved being on the mountain."
With Mt. Everest checked off his list, DeRue isn't sure where to go next. He is, however, ready for his next big challenge, the one sure to push him further than he thinks he can go.
DeRue is getting married in September.
Staff Writer Eliot Duke can be reached at 888-3578, or firstname.lastname@example.org.