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May 24. 2012 12:11AM

Nottingham climber carries a cause to the summit of Mount Everest


Joe Pratt of Nottingham rests with others in his group during his recent climb to the summit of Mount Everest. (COURTESY)


Nottingham resident Joe Pratt and others in his group reached the summit of 29,000-foot Mount Everest on May 20. (COURTESY)

NOTTINGHAM -- Friends of Joe Pratt began to panic when they heard on the news that four people had died after summiting Mount Everest last weekend.

The 56-year-old outdoorsman from Nottingham and member of the Raymond Area Rotary Club was among the estimated 150 people who took advantage of a brief period of good weather to reach the summit of the world's tallest mountain in the Himalayas of northern Nepal.

But during the rush, four climbers died after reportedly suffering from exhaustion and altitude sickness in what was described as one of the deadliest days on the mountain.

“There were obviously some scary moments for a lot of his friends,” said Steve Puderbaugh of Candia, a friend and fellow Rotarian.

Fortunately, Pratt didn't get stuck in the “traffic jam” that slowed other climbers down and left them at higher altitudes longer than expected with a limited oxygen supply. That's because he was climbing on the more difficult north face of the mountain where there were fewer climbers, said his wife, Lori.

She was relieved when she got a call from her husband after he successfully reached the summit of the 29,035-foot mountain and had made his way down.

Lori Pratt said she's been worried about him ever since he left in early April to begin preparing for the climb of his life — all to raise money for the fight against polio.

“I had the first full night of sleep when I heard his voice after he summited,” she said.

After reaching the summit, Pratt had no idea that four people had died on the mountain until he called his wife to share the news of his successful climb and she told him what had happened.

Puderbaugh said he learned early on that Pratt was OK, but others didn't get the word right away.

“We had to assure a lot of other people that he wasn't one of the ones that died,” said Puderbaugh, who is working with his wife, Deb, to keep people updated on Pratt's journey via a Facebook page called “Climbing Everest to End Polio.”

A captain for Delta Airlines, Pratt is an experienced climber and has always been physically active, ice climbing in North Conway as well as doing downhill and water skiing.

He and his son, Joey, climbed Mount Rainier in 2010 and he took on Mount McKinley later that year. He spent the last year training for Everest.

Last October, the Pratts and Puderbaughs traveled to Pakistan to assist with polio immunizations for babies.

“Somebody had the great idea, 'Well, if you climb Everest why not do it for a reason,'” Lori Pratt said.

Despite efforts to eradicate polio worldwide, the virus continues to affect children and adults in Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan.

With that in mind, Pratt decided to climb for polio eradication and set a goal of raising $100,000.

Pratt left around April 7 and arrived in Katmandu, Nepal, where he spent the last several weeks gearing up for the expedition with a group of climbers. The group loaded up their equipment and climbed to a base camp where their lungs began to adjust to the decreased oxygen levels.

Pratt left the base camp on May 17 and began making his final push to the top. He arrived at the summit early on May 20 and then returned to the base camp.

His wife said he had some trouble with his eyes on the descent due to the lack of oxygen, but was otherwise in good health.

“He said it was probably the hardest thing he's ever done,” she said. “You're facing death the whole way, so it opens your eyes and pushes your physical limitations.”

Pratt is expected to arrive home May 29.

His wife is looking forward to his return.

“I told him that this was a once-in-a-lifetime midlife crisis that he's getting,” she said.


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