Back down to earth: Lucy Westlake returns from top of Everest to Naperville home, graduation
Back on the flat ground of Naperville, Lucy Westlake still feels on top of the world.
It's been a little more than a week since the 18-year-old became the youngest American woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest. In that short amount of time she's developed into a national celebrity, as she's trended on social media, made appearances on NBC's "Today" show and ABC's "Good Morning America," and granted interviews to countless other media outlets.
The spotlight may not be as exhilarating as reaching the highest point on the planet at more than 29,000 feet atop Mount Everest, but the experience has been a whirlwind for the adventurist.
"I'm going to enjoy every second I'm here at home," Westlake said. "I never expected to be on these huge TV shows. It's a little overwhelming, but definitely fun."
Being in Naperville grounds her literally and figuratively.
As much as she loves exotic locations, it's at home where she's able to relax and reflect on her journeys. Plus, she has unfinished business that needs attending.
Westlake is donning a cap and gown to participate in Naperville North High School's graduation on Sunday.
"I kind of mentally prepared myself that I wouldn't be back in time for prom and graduation," she said. "But now I get graduation. It's just amazing."
Back home after becoming the youngest American woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest, Lucy Westlake will participate in Naperville North High School's graduation ceremony on Sunday.
- Courtesy of Lucy Westlake
In the last decade, Westlake reached the highest peak in all 50 states including Denali in Alaska. She also scaled the highest mountains in Africa, Europe and South America, so experience was on her side in mid-April when she arrived in Nepal to take on Mount Everest.
Reaching the summit was actually a multiweek process involving the initial hike to base camp and then numerous test climbs to acclimate to the thin air. There were climbs to each of the three camps between base camp and the summit, and then the anxious wait for a window of decent weather for the final push.
She and her sherpa, Mingma Chhiring, were prepared when they set out for Mount Everest's summit at about 9 p.m. May 11 and climbed through the night.
One thing she wasn't comfortable with, though, was the oxygen mask she was wearing for the first time.
When Westlake reached about 23,000 feet -- a height she'd achieved only once before atop Aconcagua in South America -- she rarely took off the mask because of the risk of altitude sickness and oxygen deprivation.
Not wearing the mask also risked having it freeze up, which could have deadly consequences.
"I was even wearing the mask while I was sleeping, and that took a lot of getting used to," she said. "It was tricky, but I had my sherpa to help me."
The biggest obstacle during the final push was the traffic jam of about 100 other people climbing the same rope line. At times Westlake waited for hours, nearly falling asleep, before Mingma decided they'd scale along the side of the other climbers and pass them despite having to trek through deeper snow.
The most emotional moment for Westlake came when Mingma told her they were about an hour away from the summit. She knew history was within reach.
Just as the sun was rising, Westlake stood at the world's highest point. For about 20 minutes, she soaked in the view and took pictures and videos. She shouted out her sponsors as well as her causes for global water safety and the promotion of climbing opportunities for girls and women.
"That moment was incredible," she said. "It was perfect timing, because it was bright and you could see everything. I had a bunch of flags thanking people and my sponsors.
"I just took it all in," she said.
At 5:36 a.m. Nepal time on May 12, Naperville 18-year-old Lucy Westlake became the youngest American woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest.
- Courtesy of Lucy Westlake
She returned to base camp for a reunion with her father, Rodney, who had been her climbing partner on every other trip she's made. In Naperville, Westlake's mother, Amy, took over Lucy's Instagram account to provide the happy updates.
Then, just like that, Westlake was on her way to Naperville for the first time since April.
"It's crazy to look up and not see mountains here," she said. "That takes some getting used to after being away for so long."
Westlake's internal clock remains a little out of whack after leaving Asia, stopping in Switzerland for about 12 hours and arriving in Naperville on Tuesday. Media interviews, including a flight to New York City to appear on Friday's "Good Morning America," have occupied much of her time, but she's also relishing the chance to be a normal Naperville teen again.
She's reconnecting with friends and making plans for the summer. She also visited Naperville North's track and field team to wish the athletes luck before they headed to the state meet this weekend.
In the fall, Westlake will be a freshman at the University of Southern California, where she'll be on scholarship as a cross country and track and field runner. But not before a few more adventures.
She's returning to Switzerland next month, and there are trips scheduled to Louisville and the family's vacation home in Michigan, and possibly a rim-to-rim run at the Grand Canyon in Arizona.
It's only the beginning of her future plans.
As Naperville 18-year-old Lucy Westlake, right, made the final push to the summit of Mount Everest, her father, Rodney, anxiously waited at base camp. Meanwhile, Westlake's mother, Amy, left, kept the world updated from Naperville through Instagram posts on Lucy's account.
- Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer
The Grand Slam
Before leaving for USC, Westlake hopes to climb Carstensz Pyramid north of Australia and take another step in the Explorers Grand Slam. That's a challenge to reach the North and South poles and climb the highest mountains in each of the seven continents, known as the Seven Summits.
If she climbs Carstensz Pyramid, Westlake will have only Mount Vinson in Antarctica and both poles remaining in her attempt to become the youngest person to complete the Explorers Grand Slam, topping a Japanese woman who was 20 when she finished it in 2017.
Her goal is to climb Mount Vinson and reach the South Pole in December, and then cap the record achievement in April 2023 at the North Pole.
To do it, she'll need the continued support of donations and sponsors. A GoFundMe campaign and sponsorship money from Grape-Nuts and local businesses iHealth S.C. and Office Solutions and Interiors accounted for the $36,000 it cost for the Mount Everest trip, which got less expensive thanks to the expedition organizing company Xtreme Climbers in Nepal.
Westlake estimates that the Carstensz Pyramid trip will cost about $7,000. The North Pole will be $40,000, and the combination trip to the South Pole and Mount Vinson will cost $80,000.
"I'm hoping all the media coverage helps me get some sponsorships," she said. "I need to talk to my USC coaches, but hopefully the timing works out for me."
Meanwhile, the Naperville to-do list continues to grow -- including a desperately needed manicure and pedicure after the climb up Mount Everest hammered her hands and feet.
After making history, Westlake deserves the pampering.
"Even just the first 24 hours of being home was so much fun," she said. "I've been so excited to see everyone again."