OTTAWA _ As Sean Egan’s children prepare to head to Nepal tomorrow morning to reclaim their father’s body, a fellow Ottawa mountaineer has decided to end his own quest of reaching the top of Mount Everest.
Larry Legault, an orthopedic surgeon from Ottawa, called home early yesterday and announced his intention to leave the perilous mountain and return to his wife and four children. He has already begun his descent and is expected to fly out of Nepal by next week.
While on the mountain he befriended Mr. Egan, and was deeply disturbed by the death of the 63-year-old University of Ottawa professor. He took it as a signal from God to return home, his wife, Lyn Legault, told the Citizen yesterday.
“It pushed Larry to decide to come home,” she said. “As far as I am concerned, Sean saved Larry’s life.”
Mr. Egan dropped dead Friday morning, apparently from a heart attack. He had been suffering from a respiratory infection and other altitude-related ailments.
The departure of Mr. Legault and the broken leg that forced Ben Webster to abandon his climb a week ago, leaves only two of the original five mountaineers from Ottawa on Mount Everest: Shaunna Burke, who is climbing from the south side of the mountain and Peggy Foster, who is climbing from the north side.
They are attempting to become only the second Canadian woman to ever reach the summit of Mount Everest. Ms. Foster is also vying to be the first Canadian woman to scale the “seven summits,” the highest peaks on all seven continents.
Family members of each confirmed yesterday that the women plan to carry on with their respective pursuits.
Mr. Legault, though, has had enough.
On Friday, he made his sixth trip through the dangerous Khumbu Icefall and reported that it was getting scarier every time. The crevasses were expanding and a nearby avalanche that dusted him with snow made him reconsider the risks of carrying on to the summit.
Mr. Legault, who is studying to be a deacon at his church, decided to let God lead him to a decision. Shortly thereafter, he received a phone call notifying him of Sean Egan’s death. He considered it a sign.
“He said he was happy he got to touch the face of Mount Everest and he decided it wasn’t worth it to go any higher,” his wife said. “God is a very big part of Larry’s life. Someone is helping to look after him.”
Mr. Legault grew up in Ottawa and attended St. Pius High School and the University of Ottawa. Ten years ago, he and his family moved to Kingsport, Tennessee, yet, they return to Ottawa each summer for six weeks.
He decided to invest in a summit attempt of Mount Everest as a gift to himself to mark his 50th birthday.
An avid mountaineer, rock climber, biker, runner, skier and kayaker, he had already climbed three of the world’s “seven summits”: Mount Aconcagua in South America, Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa and Mount McKinley in Alaska.
As the highest point on earth, at 8,848 metres, the peak of Mount Everest was to be his ultimate challenge.
He was having the time of his life. Unlike Ottawa’s other climbers, Mr. Legault had had no major health problems. He had reached Camp Two, was prepared to go on the Camp Three and was well along in his acclimatization treks up and down the mountain. He was even well enough to put his professional training to good use last week after Mr. Webster snapped his fibula and tibia.
But the end of Mr. Egan’s life made Mr. Legault re-evaluate his own.
The two had met three weeks ago at Base Camp when Mr. Legault joined Mr. Egan and his Kanatek teammates in a hockey game on the Khumbu glacier. “The real summit series,” as it was dubbed, went into history as the highest game of hockey ever played, at an altitude of 5,363 metres.
They had since grown closer, frequently exchanging Everest stories and talking about each others families, according to Ms. Legault.
Like Mr. Egan’s life partner, Mrs. Legault, too, did not want her husband to go on the dangerous climb. Since he departed on March 19, she had been fraught with anxiety. She even had difficulty sleeping. Alone in bed, she secretly wished for him to say he was coming home.
Yesterday’s 6:30 a.m. wake up call seemed like a godsend.
“It was an answer to my prayers,” she said, her voiced filled with joy. “I feel like I have made the summit of Everest. I’m at the top of the world.”