Five years ago, Jess Wedel of Oklahoma was at her lowest point. But today, she’s on top of the world — literally!
In 2016, Jess was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She fought hard, undergoing several surgeries and months of agonizing chemotherapy. Luckily, she didn’t have to fight alone; her mom, Valari Wedel, was by her side every step of the way.
The mom and daughter are incredibly close. They share a love of the outdoors and mountain climbing, routinely traveling to distant peaks to plant their flag at the summit. So when Jess finally reached remission and was declared cancer-free, she was eager to get back out in the wilderness with a new lease on life.
What better way is there to celebrate a second chance than scaling the world’s highest peak?
Jess and Valari embarked on a trek up Mount Everest, which towers over the Himalayas at 17,600 feet, as soon as the passage was opened in the spring of 2021.
The two of them agree that they made the journey for more than just another feather in their cap. They are hiking as if each day is their last, because for a while, it seemed that death was a very real possibility. With such a tangible reminder that tomorrow is never guaranteed, they want to make the most of their time together.
While they hoped to be successful and become the first American mother-daughter team to reach Everest’s peak, it was always more about the journey than the destination.
“It feels like part of our healing was coming into the mountains and being able to enjoy each other and have fun and just live life,” Jess said.
Mount Everest is one of the most challenging climbs in the world. Their expedition soon encountered terrifying 60 mph winds and whiteout conditions for nearly two days straight, but they kept moving.
Unfortunately, on May 11, it all became too much for Valari, who is 61 and has asthma. Jess was heartbroken when her mother had to turn back, but she felt more determined than ever to scale the peak not just for herself, but for her mom, too.
Jess continued on her climb, and on May 25, she woke up excited to finally reach the summit after 55 days of climbing. Yet once again, fate had other plans. Her group’s Sherpas, the workers who were helping them up and down the mountain, fell ill.
“Our summit attempt was canceled because our crew was sick,” Jess wrote on Instagram. “And unlike most mountains, it is impossible to climb this one without their help.”
Even though Jess and Valari didn’t reach Mount Everest’s legendary summit, they were able to share the experience of trying. Not only that, but Jess is alive to try again, and that’s the most beautiful gift of all!
Share this story to wish Jess and Valari well in their future adventures.
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