University of South Carolina nursing professor Patrick Hickey was on top of the world, but only for about 20 minutes.
Hickey, 51, reached the summit of Mount Everest late last month. As he made his final 12-hour ascent to the top — the highest point on earth at 29,035 feet — temperatures fell to 40 below zero and the wind whipped at 40 mph.
Hickey already had climbed the highest peaks on six of the world's seven continents when he set off for Mount Everest. Now, he's one of about 100 people in the world, and the only nurse, to have reached the tops of the Seven Summits.
He's using his climb, he said, to draw attention the national nursing shortage and to raise money for scholarships for nursing students at USC.
When he reached the summit of Mount Everest, Hickey said, he marveled at the view. "I ran out of road," he said.
A Sherpa took a few photos of him. Hickey then took out an urn of his childhood friend's ashes and released them to the wind.
Sean Egan, who Hickey grew up with in Canada, died while climbing Mount Everest in 2005.
Then, Hickey sat down to calm himself because he's afraid of heights. But he had to get up quickly and keep moving to get out of the cold and down to a safer altitude. After only about 20 minutes at the top, he began the arduous climb back down. He was exhausted, low on oxygen and was having trouble seeing. "My needle was below E," he said.
But he knew he had to be careful. One out of eight climbers who reach the summit die on the way back down, Hickey said. They reach the summit on adrenaline but then, overcome by exhaustion, fall to their deaths on the descent.
After 64 days on the mountain, spending more than $30,000 on his Mount Everest trek and seven years working toward his goal of climbing the Seven Summits, Hickey was on his way home.
When he got back down to the base camp, he gave the Sherpas all of his climbing gear.
He had promised his wife he would stop the dangerous climbs after reaching the summit of Mount Everest, he said.
"It would be bad karma to push it further than I have already," he said.
Now, he plans to do some motivational speaking and make presentations about the nursing shortage and what can be done about it. He'll continue to raise money for nursing scholarships. So far, he's raised about $8,000 for his Summit Scholarship, but he wants to raise $29,035, $1 for each foot of Mount Everest.
He thinks more groups will be interested in what he has to say now that he's accomplished his goal. He has "the highest soap box in the world."