Adventurer to the End
NW Doctor, 69, Dies Descending Everest
By Monte Reel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 12, 2004; Page B01
Nils Antezana furnished the study inside his Northwest Washington home, and the room provides a telling glimpse of a man who was determined to see the world from as many angles as possible.
In the right-hand corner of the bookshelves sit medical texts, which is natural for a past chief of pathology at the former Jefferson Memorial Hospital in Alexandria. But on the more accessible center shelves sit books about mountain climbing, hiking, deep-sea diving and aircraft flying. And on the opposite wall hangs a poster of wide-eyed owls with the legend: "Who can sleep with so much to learn?"
"He didn't want to just learn about things from books," said David Okonsky, 42, a friend of Antezana's. "He wanted to experience them."
On May 18, days after his 69th birthday, Antezana experienced the view from the top of the world, becoming the second-oldest person to reach the summit of Mount Everest, just six years after he took up climbing. But on his descent, he became exhausted. A guide and two sherpas returned to a base camp without him. Antezana died on the mountain, and subsequent searches were unable to locate his body.
"He was always an adventurous spirit," his daughter, Fabiola Antezana, said yesterday. "And in the last years of his life, that adventurous side really began to come out."
Antezana was born in Bolivia, where he attended medical school before coming to Washington to complete his residency in 1963. Here, he met and married Gladys Sologuren. After a couple of years at a military hospital in Delaware, the couple returned to Washington, where he joined the staff of Jefferson Memorial Hospital, and they raised a daughter and a son.
In recent years, his medical career became the backdrop for an emerging love of adventure that afforded him spectacular views of nature. About 10 years ago, he fulfilled a childhood dream of flying, and helped satisfy his love of views above the clouds, by getting his pilot's license and buying a single-engine Cessna. He windsurfed, he hang-glided, he went on safaris. He became a certified scuba diver. He parachuted out of a plane at 14,000 feet. When his daughter took up rock climbing, he did, too. When she got married in Italy two years ago, he spent the morning of the wedding hiking up Mount Aetna, then was in his coattails by 1 p.m.
"He always kept himself in incredible shape -- he maintained the same weight from the day he was married to the day he died," his daughter said.
The family learned May 20 that Antezana hadn't made it back to base camp. Shortly after, Fabiola and her husband traveled to Katmandu to try to learn what happened. They talked to numerous people involved in mountain climbing there, but the precise circumstances of his death remain unknown.
What they did find out, however, was that even in the days before his death, he was true to the personality that guided him throughout his life. Louanne Freer, a doctor at a medical station for climbers called BaseCampMD, told them that she met Antezana; he visited the camp several times, offering his assistance.
"If you had a flat tire, he'd stop to help you change it," Okonsky said.
Antezana spoke of Everest for decades, his daughter said, and prepared for the climb for years. He climbed the Bolivian volcanoes Illimani in 2000 and El Sajama in 2001. Last year, he climbed Huayna Potosi in the Bolivian Cordillera Real, and climbed to the summit of Argentina's 22,800-foot Mount Aconcagua, the highest peak in the Western Hemisphere.
According to the family, he traveled to Katmandu on April 4 to climb the summit. On May 17, his team left a base camp and, approaching from the south face, reached the 29,035-foot summit the next day. After spending 30 to 45 minutes at the summit, the group began the descent.
Antezana became one of seven people to die on the mountain this year. A memorial service will be held for Antezana from 2 to 3 p.m. today at Our Lady of Victory Church, 4835 MacArthur Blvd. NW.
Since Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first people to reach Everest's summit in 1953, the peak has been reached about 2,200 times by fewer than 2,000 people.
Tom Sjogren, a climber who has reached the Everest summit four times, helps run the climbing Web site www.explorersweb.com. He said the weather wasn't unusually harsh when Antezana made his descent, but he speculated that problems could have arisen if Antezana was running short of oxygen. Many of the deaths on Everest come on the descent, after climbers have exhausted their adrenalin to reach the summit.
"Out of an 18-hour summit, he had about 16 hours done," Sjorgen said. "He had already done the hard part."
Antezana's death was a shock to family and friends, who said he had passed his sense of adventure along to them.
"I had dinner with him two weeks before he left on this trip and I told him, 'I'm going to live my life just like you,' " Okonsky said.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
"In the last years of his life, that adventurous side really began to come out," Fabiola Antezana says of her father, Nils, above on Mount Everest.