Even among several dozen experienced adventurers on hand, Arnold’s story stood out.
What must he have felt then, when he finally reached the pinnacle of the world Friday?
We may never know the answer, because Arnold died while experiencing altitude-related symptoms on his way back down the mountain, the first of two climbers killed on Everest this year.
Arnold had enough bottled oxygen with him, but he complained of weakness and died before he was able to reach lower altitude, Pasang Phurba, a representative of Arnold's Nepali guide company, told the Associated Press. A second climber from that team, Australian Maria Strydom, died Saturday. More than 250 people have died climbing Mount Everest since 1953, many from altitude-related illnesses.
Arnold said he dreamed of climbing Everest since he was a little boy -- and had a poster of the mountain taped next to one of actress Pamela Anderson above his bed. After last year’s earthquake, he said, he had thought long and hard about whether he should come back again.
“I didn’t decide immediately to go back. I waited until my emotions were more stable,” Arnold said. “But Mount Everest is my big childhood dream."
He was from Rotterdam, the son of a retired harbor worker and a mother who cried at the airport every time he left for another try at the world's highest peak. He had a girlfriend of three years, Joreke, who was very supportive of his quest.
"The second sentence of my online dating profile was 'I'm a moutaineer,' so she knows there is no Eric without mountains," he said.
I’m haunted by what he told me that night in Nepal -- that after all his failed trips, friends had often wondered if climbing Everest was his fate. Aside from the three previous official attempts, he was also felled in 2013 by a freak ice skating accident after months of training. He scoffed at their concern.
“A lot of people say, ‘Maybe it’s not your turn, maybe it’s not your fate, maybe the mountain is telling you not to climb it,’ ” he said. “But I still have a passion for it. When I realized that, I decided I have to go back.”