I met Dutch mountaineer Eric Arnold in Kathmandu in April the day before he was set to leave for Base Camp to make his fourth official attempt to climb Mount Everest. Arnold was sitting at a long table at a dinner given by one of the Nepali climbing companies, drinking a beer and eating “momos” -- dumplings -- along with several other teams from countries like Iran, Spain and Australia. The excitement in the room was palpable.

Even among several dozen experienced adventurers on hand, Arnold’s story stood out.

Arnold, 36, a professional mountain climber and motivational speaker, told me he was trying again to reach the summit after previous tries ended in disaster.
He survived the avalanche at Base Camp the previous year that left 18 dead, and was there the year before when 16 Sherpa guides were crushed by a falling block of ice. In 2012, bad weather forced him to turn back just yards from peak.

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.”