BY JEN LAHEY
The incomparable beauty and the man-against-nature battle make climbing Mount Everest an irresistible challenge for many climbers. And 40-year-old Martin Laniel is one of those adventurers: despite the serious risks, the Gatineau man is planning to climb to Everest’s base camp, at 17,600 feet. The catch? He’s not doing it just for the glory of the mountain. Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2003, Laniel is dedicating his October climb mainly to raising money for the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada (and maybe a little — well, a lot — to thumbing his nose at the disease).
Tell me about your experience with MS so far. It’s been on and off. I’m not always affected by it. The main symptom I have is fatigue. I’ve also had vision problems, mobility problems, spasms, stuttering when I’m tired — things of that sort.
What do you enjoy most about mountaineering? I think it’s the feeling of flow. When I’m actually hiking up a mountain, I get a sense of focus, of being in nature. It’s very spiritual for me. And it’s a challenge. I also kind of like having my butt kicked by weather, which is somewhat strange, but it adds a little challenge to it, you know?
How has MS affected your climbing? I’ve had MS the whole time I’ve been mountaineering. It’s what actually motivated me to start climbing. I wanted to do it because I can. I have to be careful, especially on descents. When we ascend, I’m usually in pretty good shape. When I’ve been climbing all day, coming down is harder. They always say the summit is optional; coming home is mandatory. When you’re at the top, you’re only halfway there. The second half of the day is harder for me. I get off balance. Overall, I think the MS has just motivated me to keep going.
You’ve climbed to 11,500 feet before. The base camp of Everest is 17,600 feet. What will you have to do differently for Everest? Train [laughs]. Train a lot harder. And actually, the summits I’m doing now are short. They’re somewhere around 4,000 to 5,000 feet. But the idea is to get as many climbs under me as possible. I’m doing a lot of circuit training and core training to get stronger for carrying a pack. The crapshoot is the oxygen deprivation. You can’t really prepare for that. Some people can be super fit and be very affected by altitude, and other people may not be as fit but won’t be affected by it at all. It comes down to genetics at that point. And there are drugs that help. I’m preparing to use those if I have to.
What’s next after Everest? My own personal mission is to climb as much as possible, because I can. I know a lot of people that can’t do this, and I have no excuse not to. What’s next is whatever calls me in terms of mountains, in terms of budget, and in terms of health. If anything, this diagnosis has motivated me to go forward and enjoy life. It’s about living and challenging myself.
Learn more about the climb at www.msclimb.ca/climbers.