2011-06-16 / News

Jamestown surgeon reaches the top of the world

By Margo Sullivan

Dr. Louis Mariorenzi of Jamestown reached the summit of Mount Everest on May 24. Although he only spent 15 minutes at the top – 29,025 feet above sea level – he found the time to take a photo with his hometown newspaper, the Jamestown Press. Dr. Louis Mariorenzi of Jamestown reached the summit of Mount Everest on May 24. Although he only spent 15 minutes at the top – 29,025 feet above sea level – he found the time to take a photo with his hometown newspaper, the Jamestown Press. The top of the world is serene, beautiful and barren, with the only sounds coming from the snow “crunching under your boots” and the wind whispering in your ears.

That is how Jamestown orthopedic surgeon Dr. Louis J. Mariorenzi described his experience atop Mount Everest.

Mariorenzi, who went back to work Monday at his Cranston medical practice, reached the summit around 7:15 a.m. on May 24.

He had spent 10 weeks scaling Mount Everest, working through a series of smaller climbs and accustoming his body to hiking in extreme cold and at high altitudes until he reached 26,000 feet above sea level, the point where the body cannot do any more acclimatizing.

In an interview this week, Mariorenzi called his adventure to the top of the world “very enjoyable” and added he’d do it again “in a heartbeat.”

At the summit, he saw the peaks of the surrounding Himalayas “poking through the clouds like little pyramids.” He stayed about 15 minutes, he said, enough time to look around and take some photographs. Climbers don’t dally at the summit, which is precisely 29,025 feet above sea level, for a couple of reasons, he said.

“You still have a lot of climbing,” he said, referring to the return hike to the high camp that takes about nine hours. The oxygen supply is also a factor, he said. He carried a tank and wore a mask to deal with the thin air. And then he had to consider the danger.

“You want to head down before the snow gets soft,” when it turns heavier and the rocks start slipping underfoot.

But he did manage to snap a few pictures, including one that showed he did not forget his hometown on the way to Nepal. A Sherpa, who is a person from the ethic group that resides in the most mountainous regions of Nepal, snapped a photograph of Mariorenzi holding a copy of the Jamestown Press.

The final hike to the summit started at 10 p.m. on May 23 from “high camp,” some 26,000 feet above sea level. The plan was to arrive at the summit when the snow was frozen and to start back while the snow was still hard, he said.

It was 10 below when they started out. For the trip to the summit, he suited up in a down jacket, down pants and wore a hat, heavy gloves and a fighter pilot style oxygen mask.

Mariorenzi and his Sherpa guide walked through a snowstorm “that became a blizzard” until they literally climbed above the weather.

Despite the conditions, he never felt frightened, he said. “I felt very comfortable on the mountain. At times, you worry you may not have the strength or the stamina.”

Mariorenzi knew he could stand extreme cold and high altitudes because of his past mountain climbing experience. He had already climbed Mount Rainier (14,411 feet; Washington), Kilimanjaro (19,341; Tanzania, Africa) and Mount McKinley (20,320; Alaska), and he worked with a guide service he knew.

“They require that you climbed with them before,” he said, “and they evaluate you.” Had he not been Mount Everest material, the company would have told him, he said. “Everest preselects people who tolerate altitude and cold well,” he said, and people who have physical and mental stamina.

Mariorenzi started climbing by taking a mountaineering course on Mount Rainier. He’d recommend that route for anyone who’d like the challenge of the mountains. They’ll find out if they can stand the extremes of cold and altitude, he said.

“It’s a physical challenge, and it’s a mental challenge,” he said. “You do need to control your fears.”

Four people died this spring on Everest; and although all the deaths appeared due to heart attacks and exposure, an avalanche or a fall is always possible.

“It’s something one is aware of, but it’s at the back of your mind,” he said. That night, the conditions suddenly improved, too.

“So suddenly, the wind calmed. We saw the moon and stars above. It was a full moon, a calm beautiful night.”

Although Mariorenzi traveled with a team of five climbers and three guides, he stood alone – with a Sherpa guide – at the summit.

“I arrived first in my group,” he said. “Unlike other climbs when you’re roped together as a team, at Everest, you go individually with a Sherpa.”

The temperature was 20 below.

Climbing Mount Everest has probably changed him for the better, he said, stressing he most enjoyed the physical and mental challenge.

“It takes me out of my comfort zone,” describing the climb as a journey that pushed him out of his daily routine, forced him to accept new challenges and ultimately left him wiser “with a better understanding of myself, having done something different.”

Mariorenzi also suspects medicine and mountain climbing have some similarities.

What do being on Mount Everest and being in an operating room have in common? “You need to control your emotions, be careful and have [a plan].” The skills he brings to surgery probably helped him with mountain climbing, he said.

Mariorenzi, a Cranston native, studied at Moses Brown School before going to college at Brown University. He continued his education at Brown Medical School and did his surgery training at St. Luke’s Hospital in New York City. Orthopedic surgery was “sort of the family business,” he said. His father and brother are also doctors at the Cranston practice.

He moved to Jamestown with his wife, Priscilla Szneke, about 15 years ago. He wanted to live by the water, and she wanted a community, so Jamestown offered both. The couple met at Boston’s New England Medical Center where he was doing his orthopedic training and she was a nurseanesthetist.

His wife and family supported his Mount Everest adventure, although his mother was “a little concerned,” he said.

He does plan more mountain climbing expeditions. Now that he succeeded on Mount Everest, he wants to complete the Seven Summits challenge, by climbing the highest mountains on all the continents: Having already climbed Kilimanjaro (Africa), Everest (Asia) and McKinley (U.S.), the remaining peaks would be Vinson Massif in Antarctica, Kosciuszko in Australia, Elbrus in Europe and Aconcagua in South America.

“Now that I’ve done the hard one,” he said, “I may as well knock them off.”

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