Thursday, May 29, 2003

City native still dreams of reaching the summit



By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Twice in his lifetime Jean Ellis has looked at the roof of the world, but it was just beyond his reach.

In 1988 and 1991, the Cincinnati native climbed within about 2,700 feet of the summit of Mount Everest, the 29,035-foot Himalayan peak that was conquered for the first time 50 years ago today by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay.

Some day, Ellis hopes, he will close that gap and stand where Hillary and Norgay stood, looking down from the highest point on the face of the earth.

"A day does not go by when Everest doesn't flash through my mind," said Ellis, who is now an emergency room physician in Billings, Mont.

The graduate of Walnut Hills High School and the University of Cincinnati is now 57 years old, an age when most have either put aside the rigorous outdoor life or are on the verge of doing so.

But Ellis looks at the fact that the oldest person to have climbed to the summit of Mount Everest was 69 and figures he has at least another 12 years to reach the ultimate climbers' goal.

Nearly every year for the past two decades, Ellis has taken off up to 100 days to pursue his passion for mountain-climbing, most often traveling to the Himalayas, where the peaks are the highest and the challenges the greatest.

Seven years ago, Ellis became the first African-American to reach the summit of Everest's neighbor on the Nepal-Tibet border - Cho Oyo at 26,750 feet.

Marathons to mountains

As a young man, Ellis qualified as a marathon runner in the 1980 Olympic trials. But his dream of a gold medal in marathon was dashed when President Jimmy Carter pulled the U.S. team out of the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

It was not long after that that the physician saw an ad in a medical journal seeking climbers for a Himalayan expedition. He answered the ad and fell in love with the sport.

Making the transition from marathon runner to mountain-climber was not as difficult as it might appear.

"You have to have the same kind of skills in both," said Ellis, who grew up in Sycamore Township. "The runner spends a lot of time alone, doing a lot of drudge work. So does a mountain climber."

Ellis climbs with people he knows well. Trust of the man or woman next to you on the face of a Himalayan mountain is of paramount importance, he said.

"Going out for 100 days on a mountain is not the time to discover that you have some kind of Jack Nicholson character in your group," Ellis said.

He has found that his day job as a physician has helped him get on to many Himalayan expeditions. A climber with medical skills is highly valued.

"I'm a physician who is also a climber - check that, I'm a climber who happens to be a physician," Ellis said.

E-mail hwilkinson@enquirer.com




TOP STORIES
Docs here pioneers in new bypass surgery aid
Skaters roll out with less in wallets
Rescuers collect rare crayfish to save them
Budget plan outspends Taft

IN THE TRISTATE
City native still dreams of reaching the summit
A fancy dude in fancy duds
Mayor resigns county position
Mom's grief includes driver in son's death
Airport will have new trial to establish value of runway land
Obituary: Robert Dean, 65, FBI agent
Tristate A.M. Report

ENQUIRER COLUMNISTS
PULFER: Lead hazard
HOWARD: Some Good News

BUTLER, WARREN, CLERMONT
Mason in talks to get charges dropped
Inmate's guards may cost $300K
Voters to decide justice center issue
Mason invests in tracking students
Commissioners at odds over zoning changes
Township looks at zoning rules

OHIO
Former President Bush promotes son's economic plan
OSU to get $11M for tech center
Ft. Stewart remembers comrade
Inmate gets 10 years in plot to kill sister-in-law
Cafeteria will be scanning fingers
Man admits one slaying, not two
Ohio Moments

KENTUCKY
Slaying not random act, mayor says
Inmate freed by DNA accused of shoplifting
Skate shop hopes to cater to cool crowd
Kids with wheels test-driving park
Water, sewer districts form security pact
Ky. computer programmer claims $9.6 lottery jackpot
Gay dads hope 2nd pregnancy calmer
Kentucky News Briefs