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Craig Hanneman

Craig Hanneman

Craig Hanneman reached the top of the world's tallest peak in May

Why would Craig Hanneman, a former farmer, Oregon State and NFL player, Polk County commissioner and someone who had a career in the forest products industry want to endure endless deprivations at age 63 and climb Mount Everest, the world’s tallest peak?

“Well,” he told about 300 people attending the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce Membership Forum on Wednesday, “I’m a real crappy golfer, I don’t like to fish and I am better at mountain climbing than other things.”

By the time Hanneman retired in 2009, he was well into climbing. He got hooked in the mid-1990s while talking and walking on his lunch hour with former Oregon State University teammate Scott Freeburn, who also made the climb. Hanneman was a defensive lineman for the Beavers.

The Salem man used slides to illustrate the story of the trek he made with 16 others. On May 26, 10 members of the group reached the top of the 29,000-foot pinnacle that he said is the size of a picnic table.

It took Hanneman’s group nearly two months to make the summit. Most of that time was spent acclimating to the thin atmosphere. It only took five days to reach the top from their base camp.

There never was a day of rest because “we had to stay in tip-top shape.”

When Hanneman reached base camp at 17,500 feet, he was greeted by a rolling, rocky moraine populated by about 1,000 climbers waiting to make their ascent.

People, he said, were all over the mountain, either going up, getting ready to climb or on their way back down.

“We saw a half a dozen avalanches a day, some closer than others,” he said. “You started to get immune to them. We also saw someone being evacuated from the mountain about every other day because of injuries or altitude sickness.”

His group began the last part of their ascent at 8 p.m. so the climbers would have plenty of time and light to make it back to their camp the next day. The party, all wearing head lamps, reached the summit at 4:15 a.m. the following day.

“It was very dark when we started up so we just looked right in front of where we were going, watching every single step,” he said. “It was spooky because at times we’d come across a corpse.”

Hanneman said the bodies of about 150 people who died on the upper part of the mountain remain there.

“It took about a month to a month and a half to feel normal after I got back,” Hanneman said. “When you live at 17,500 feet for a month or longer you start to deteriorate both physically and emotionally.”

He lost about 20 pounds on his adventure.

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