If you’ve seen recent reports of death at the top of Mount Everest, you may have dismissed the stories as faraway news. But Lake Highlands High School 1998 grad Merry Morgan Holotik grappled with those dangerous conditions when she summitted the world’s tallest mountain on May 23. Holotik, who began climbing eight years ago, was on Everest for 52 days, acclimating to altitude and waiting for optimum weather and rope-fixing teams. She’s recovering now, catching up on sleep and remembering her experience.  

Why climb Mount Everest?

It’s spiritual for me. I’ve summited the Aconcagua in the Grand Tetons and Kilimanjaro, but I’ve always wanted to do Everest. I work as a pediatric ICU nurse at Children’s Medical Center Dallas, and when you see those kids so sick, you understand just how precious life is. I’ve done Iron Man competitions — things they can never do. I like to push it.

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You live part time in Dallas and part time in Florida. How does that work?

My mom used to fly for Delta, and I travel back and forth. I sell real estate in 30A [Florida’s panhandle], and I spend a lot of time on the beach.

When you were on the mountain, Everest was making news because of “traffic jams” at the summit and multiple deaths. Did you hear about that while you were up there?

That was on the south side in Nepal, but we were climbing on the north side from Tibet. They limit the number of climbers on that side, so it’s not quite as crowded. My sherpa, Karma, found out about that and made sure we didn’t have to stand still in lines, getting cold. We left at night and summited at daylight. We were up there for two minutes, then we began going down when other people were coming up. He made sure I was prepared for it. 

Was climbing in the dark scary?

It’s scarier going down in the light. We could see how exposed we were and just how dangerous it was. Coming down, we were more exhausted — that’s when people die. By the time we came down, we’d been up for 36 hours with no sleep, very little water and very little food. It was exhausting. We were in the death zone.

Who was in your group?

I didn’t know any of them before we started. Dolores Shelleh was from Jordan, and she became the first Jordanian woman to summit Everest. There were four Italians, and only one made the summit. There was one guy from Australia, but he became very ill and had to be evacuated before the summit. We each had our own sherpa, and Karma was amazing. I heard stories of people being left by their sherpas, but Karma stayed with me every second. He was my mountain angel. He was intense and serious and light-hearted and funny. He was serious about keeping me alive. 

What did you learn about yourself?

I spent a lot of time in prayer, and I learned God is in control. I learned I could achieve something, even if I didn’t summit. It’s not about having to achieve that goal; it’s about living out your dreams. That’s enough for me. You can reach your goals in many other ways. God has a plan for you, even if it’s not your plan.

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What’s next for you?

Marriage! I’m getting married in September. I also want to climb Mount Elbrus in Russia, then Denali in Alaska. 

Does your fiancé climb?

Nah, he’s more of a golfer. I don’t think I could get him in a tent.

Were your parents worried?

My mom had a lot of people praying for me while I was on the mountain. My dad took me to Shanghai then waited for me in Beijing. They and my fiancé, sisters and other loved ones were scared, especially when news came out about people dying. They threw me a big party at Mi Cocina when I got home.