Jared Harris set a goal of reaching the highest peak on each continent. “I love climbing mountains. I love being in nature. I like pushing myself to see what’s possible,” he says. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

An hour before he stood at the summit of Mount Everest, at the apex of the world, Jared Harris realized a goal he set more than a decade ago was actually happening.

“I could see that the sun, it was just predawn, so the twilight was just on the horizon, over the border into Tibet,” Harris said. “I could see in the distance, along the ridge, the prayer flags that mark the true summit. That’s when – I’m getting chills – that’s when I knew that this was actually happening.”

It was May 13, and it was Harris’ 43rd birthday.

Approximately 800 people attempt to summit the planet’s highest peak every year. But the thought of scaling the 29,035-foot Everest was a long ways off when Harris, a Portland native and 2000 Deering High graduate, tackled his first major climb in 2009 – Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Harris grew up hiking in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, but Kilimanjaro opened his eyes to something new.

“I thought, I love this. This is for me. I love this. What can we do next?” said Harris, who now lives in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and works in software sales.

In 2012, Harris attempted to climb Argentina’s Mount Aconcaqua, the highest peak in South America at 22,841 feet. Storms forced Harris and his party to turn back just 200 meters from the summit. In 2013, he climbed Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain (20,322 feet). That’s where Harris realized Everest was doable.


Eighteen months ago, after a conversation with a client who had climbed Everest, Harris was reminded that the dream still simmered.

Everest is dangerous, time-consuming and not cheap to climb. Harris declined to say how much the excursion cost, but according to numbers on the website for Climbing the Seven Summits – the guide service Harris used – Everest packages start at $54,995. After arriving in Katmandu, Nepal, on March 31, Harris’ adventure lasted eight weeks.

From Katmandu, Harris and his team took a helicopter to Lukla, which is where the trek into base camp begins. Harris was at base camp for a month. Base camp sits at 17,598 feet, and the days were spent making training climbs to get the body accustomed to the altitude. Climb, sleep, climb down, recuperate. Then do it again. Then do it again.

Jared Harris celebrates after reaching the summit of Mount Everest on May 13. “I like pushing myself to see what’s possible,” the Portland native said of his journey to the top of the world. Photo courtesy of Jared Harris

Climbing the Seven Summits, or any guide outfit remotely concerned with safety, won’t take money from any fool with a dream. Harris had to show he was prepared. Since he had climbed Denali with the group, led by owner Mike Hamill, he was deemed an acceptable climbing risk. Still, Harris had to train.

There were numerous training runs around the Portland area, half marathons in a 20-pound weighted vest. There were weekend trips to Mount Washington all winter, climbing in the same weighted vest and 8,000-meter boots like the ones he’d wear on Everest. Harris couldn’t mimic the thin Everest air, but Mount Washington is known for its brutal winter weather. He could mimic Everest’s cold, and work on technical skills like ice climbing.

In January, Harris traveled to Pico de Orizaba, the highest peak in Mexico, to give his mountaineering skills a test.


Harris wrestled at Deering. When he returned from Everest, he called Eli Small, a previous assistant coach for the Rams. He thanked Small for helping instill the competitive drive he knew was instrumental as he climbed.

“Everest and things I’ve done, I wouldn’t have even attempted if not for experiencing high school wrestling,” Harris said. “It really did build a foundation mentally for so many things. I wouldn’t have attempted this, it all came from high school wrestling.”

There are four camps between base camp and the summit. Harris and his team, including Pasang Bhote, his personal Sherpa, spent one night at each. The weather report said they would have a window to summit on May 13. They arrived at camp four on May 12 at approximately 10 a.m. They spent the day resting for the summit push that would begin at 9:30 p.m. All you can do is sit in the tent and try to eat. You’ve been using an oxygen tank almost constantly since camp three because the air is so thin, it’s barely air at all.

“It is a pretty inhospitable place. You can’t be outside of the tent. You try to eat, but it’s hard to eat,” Harris said. “You try to rest, but I didn’t sleep a wink. I didn’t sleep the night before. Going for the summit, I hadn’t slept in like two days because with the altitude, it’s really difficult, even on supplemental oxygen.”

They made the climb to the summit in the dark. The only thing Harris saw was the three feet in front of him illuminated by his head lamp.

“That’s one of the most nerve-wracking times, because from that point on, you’re on your own. No one is coming to rescue you. Either you’re getting down on your own two feet or you’re not getting down,” Harris said.


Time spent at the summit is measured in minutes. Enough time to remove the oxygen mask for a few pictures. A photo of Harris at Everest’s summit is a photo of achievement personified. His goggles are on his forehead, his oxygen mask under his chin. Harris’ right arm is raised in victory. He knows the journey isn’t close to complete. Plenty of climbers have perished coming down Everest after summiting. On one side of him was a 5,000-foot drop into Nepal. On the other, an 11,000-foot drop into Tibet. It’s like the view from an airplane, Harris said.

At that moment, Harris was calm.

“It wasn’t until we reached the summit my anxiety started to kind of dissipate. I realized, we’re going to be all right. Fears subsided, we’re going to make it down safely,” he said.

Everyone in Harris’ group of 11 climbers made it home, although not all reached the summit. Three had to take a helicopter from camp to a hospital in Katmandu because of frostbite, he said. When he summited, Hamill called Harris’ girlfriend, Megan Smyth, to let her know.

Harris’ new goal is to climb the Seven Summits, the highest point on each continent. He has Everest, Denali and Kilimanjaro checked off. He’s eager to make another attempt at Aconcaqua. There’s also Vinson in Antarctica, Elbrus in Europe, and Australia’s Mount Kosciuszko.

That’s the thing about pushing yourself. Each time you do it, the line moves.

“I love climbing mountains. I love being in nature. I like pushing myself to see what’s possible,” Harris said. “I accomplished something. That’s great, but how can we take this to the next level? If I did this, maybe I could do that. Maybe I couldn’t, but let’s give it a shot.”

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