King of the mountain

James McLeod
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Sen. David Wells climbs tallest peak in the Western Hemisphere

During the first two weeks of January, Sen. David Wells climbed the tallest mountain in the Western Hemisphere — which is a little bit weird, considering the fact that he says he hates climbing mountains.

When he made it to the peak of Aconcagua, Sen. David Wells had a flag stashed in his pack for the victory photo. He also took photos with the Canadian flag, and pictures of his children. — submitted Photo

He said he loves a lot of things about the process of mountain climbing, and he loves the sense of accomplishment after it’s all said and done, but actually walking up and down the mountain is just plain miserable.

“One thing I can’t stand is being on the mountain itself while I’m climbing. It’s no fun sleeping in a tent at -20 C or -30 C in a howling gale with low oxygen,” Wells told The Telegram after he got down off Aconcagua,  located in Argentina, one of the world’s tallest peaks. “I love the challenge of preparation, of being technically proficient, of having good gear, of being in shape, of getting my mind ready for it. I love that challenge.”

Aconcagua is the latest notch on Wells’ belt. He’s already climbed Kilimanjaro — the highest peak in Africa — and Mount Elbrus in Russia — the tallest mountain in Europe.

On Elbrus, Wells said, things got a bit dicey; the group of climbers he was with spread out and became separated.

“The line stretched out to the point where I couldn’t see anyone in front of me, couldn’t see anyone behind me,” he said. “We were up in the clouds. A blizzard was going on. So I spent the last two hours on the way to the summit alone.”

While he was on his way up, he said, the snow under his feet gave way and he started sliding down the side of the mountain. He had to use his ice axe to dig in and save his life.

“You hold it close to your chest and jam the pick into the ice or snow to stop you from sliding,” Wells said.

He said mountain climbing is definitely dangerous.

“Everything you do on a mountain in high-altitude alpine mountaineering conspires against you,” he said. “Everything. So you’ve got to be fit. You’ve got to have a great attitude. You’ve got to have good gear. You’ve got to have excellent skills. Because people die on these mountains.”

He said nobody has ever died on one of the expeditions he’s been a part of, but it’s the sort of thing you hear about regularly.

“The week before I summitted, three Americans died — one of a heart attack, a 30-year-old, and two other Americans got lost on a glacier and just disappeared,” Wells said.

It’s not just death that’s an ever-present danger either. During the Aconcagua climb, Wells said that five of the eight people in the group as well as their two Argentinian guides, scumbled to altitude sickness.

“You can’t overcome altitude sickness; once it hits you, it hits you,” he said. “Aconcaqua is a mountain that has no friends. Only 30 per cent of climbers that attempt it, summit. Only 30 per cent, which is extremely low.”

Wells said he doesn’t know what’s next on his mountaineering agenda.

But he was immediately clear that there’s one climb that definitely isn’t on his list — Everest.

It takes weeks and weeks to get to base camp and then work your way up Everest, he said, and you can only do it during certain times of the year.

“As a senator now, my time is more limited than it’s ever been, and my obligations to the province and to the country in the senate would preclude me from having a look at Everest,” Wells said. “I wouldn’t want to spend that much time away from my family. Doing this is difficult enough.”

Geographic location: Argentina, Africa, Russia Europe.On Elbrus

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Recent comments

  • Ron Ivany
    February 07, 2014 - 07:09

    Congratulations Dave... What an accomplishment... Ron and Barb

  • Graham Wood
    January 29, 2014 - 09:27

    This a fantastic story and congrats to Senator Wells! I am not sure what his connection is with NL. but he is one of the good Senators I guess!

    • Edmund
      January 29, 2014 - 10:10

      Yes bye, just because he climbed a mountain makes him a good senator. Get real, there is no such thing as a good senator. They are all a waste of taxpayers money and contrary to what they tell you, they have absolutely no impact on the running of our country other than costing unnecessary dollars for them to live a life of luxury and enjoy gross pensions at our expense. I think he should continue to climb mountains. Will be interesting to see if he submits an expense claim for a residence he may have there!!!!

  • Paul Hiscock
    January 29, 2014 - 08:32

    Awesome! You can leave Everest until you retire (lol)

  • abby
    January 29, 2014 - 08:22

    I would say as a senator, he has all the time in the world.

  • Trudy Veitch
    January 29, 2014 - 07:51

    Wonderful article. Congratulations to David on this grueling accomplishment. It helps me understand all that TA Loeffler has gone through on all her climbs, including Everest!