Standing On Top of the World

On May 25, 2008, Alan Mallory, a Toastmaster from Barrie, Ontario, Canada, stood on the summit of the world’s highest mountain and thought, “I can’t wait to get down.”

It was a clear day with an incredible view of the neighboring Himalayan peaks. But the temperature was minus 40 degrees and he was exhausted and cold, mindful of the fact that reaching the summit was only half the battle. He still had to get down safely.

Alan, 23, was accompanied on the narrow and steep summit by his father, Dan, and his older brother, Adam, 25. Before heading down, he did what any serious mountaineer would do: He posed for pictures, exposed his bare hands to the cold wind and filmed the view. He also did what most mountaineers would not do: He dug deep into his backpack for his club’s 3-by- 4-foot Toastmasters banner, tried to unfurl it in howling winds so the text would be visible, and posed for more photos. (See cover image.)

“If only you knew how long we stood there, in the freezing cold at the elevation of a ­jet­liner’s cruising altitude, trying to shoot this banner before the wind furled it again,” chuckled Dan, Alan’s dad. “Most ­people stay a few minutes on the summit; we must have stayed 40 minutes.”

Climbing Mount Everest is an incredible physical and mental challenge. No rescue is possible at its higher elevations, so climbers must bring emergency gear. Space is limited in a backpack that averages 50 pounds in weight and includes precious oxygen tanks to help with breathing in the thin air. As a result, climbers go to extreme lengths to shave off ounces, including removing labels from clothing and cutting toothbrushes in half. The Port Credit Toastmasters banner took up valuable space and weight in Alan’s pack. Why did he bring it? “It was left in my bag, and on summit day I thought I might as well bring it,” he says with a shrug.

The Toastmasters banner must have brought good luck to Alan, his brother and father. They all returned safely to base camp, but not without a scare: Alan had forgotten to turn off his oxygen while at the summit, and as a result ran out of air when he needed it during a crucial point in the descent. He started to panic when after borrowing an oxygen cylinder from a Sherpa, he still couldn’t breathe, and feared the onset of cerebral edema, a potentially fatal condition in which blood leaks into the brain. Too weak to hold onto the rope, he risked falling off the 7,000-foot vertical drop on either side of the ­summit ridge.

Fortunately, his dad found that the oxygen valve had been accidentally closed, and when opened, Alan could breathe – and move – again.

More Family Feats
Alan’s younger sister Laura, then a 20-year-old student at the University of Western Ontario, accompanied her father and brothers to Everest and fully intended to join them on the summit. But illness delayed Laura’s summit push. She did reach the summit a day later, making her the youngest Canadian woman ever to summit Mount Everest. In addition, the Mallorys became the first family of four to make it to the top of the world.

Alan’s mother, Barbara, had also ventured with her family all the way to Everest base camp, but fell during a training climb and tore her Achilles tendon. She returned home to Barrie, Ontario, where she supported her family by posting blogs on their progress.

Alan, drawing on his Toastmasters skills, now gives presentations about the Everest experience. He uses the family’s adventure to inspire others to achieve their own goals. Says fellow Port Credit club member and former District Governor Janice Weir, DTM: “Alan’s journey is a perfect metaphor for Toastmasters itself: reaching for the top, scaling new heights, getting out of your comfort zone, and then feeling on top of the world when you achieve your goals.”

At 29,035 feet (8,850 meters) elevation, Mount Everest has long been the object of inexplicable passion for climbers. Since Edmund Hillary first climbed it in 1953, this peak has been the subject of movies and books, as well as the site of many tragedies. Approxi­mately 180 people have died trying to scale its icy slopes. Rock falls, avalanches and crevasses, altitude sickness and weakness brought on by inability to eat, are among many challenges that test climbers’ limits on Everest. Yet they pay approximately $65,000 per person for the opportunity to do so. They endure months of pain­ful acclimatization training – all for a chance to enter what’s commonly known as the “Death Zone” and for a few brief moments stand on top of the world.

Why do they do it? It was British mountaineer George Mallory (who reportedly reached the summit of Everest before Edmund Hillary did, but died on the descent), who famously said, “If you have to ask the question, you won’t understand the answer.”

For the Mallorys (no relation to George Mallory), it all started with an idea proposed by Alan’s dad over dinner: “Who wants to climb Mount Everest?” While most families would laugh this off, the Mallory family did not. Besides sharing a surname with George Mallory, this family thrives on adrenaline. Instead of lounging on beaches, the Mallorys spent holidays camping and climbing, and trained together for the Everest climb by entering endurance races.

“We are an ordinary family who had a collective and ­daring dream,” Alan says. “We followed through and we made that dream come true.”

As the family contemplated its Everest plans, Alan graduated from Queens University in Kingston, Ontario, and started his job as a mechanical engineer. An athlete and avid outdoors adventure seeker, he was an experienced climber who had already reached the summit of Alaska’s challenging Mount McKinley. To climb Everest, he had to request a leave of absence for two and a half months from his new job. His employer not only granted his request; the company, an engineering company called Hatch, sponsored a portion of the trip. 

Making Memories...and Conversation
In hindsight, was it all worth it? “This experience changed my life,” Alan says. “The memories still make us smile, even while we shake our heads in amazement. It sure gives us something to talk about at the dinner table.”

Alan also acknowledges that the family’s Everest adventure “opened a lot of doors for me.” Having joined a Toastmasters club while still in college, he is the family’s spokesman, fielding requests from all over the world to share their adventure with a wide range of audiences. Complete with extraordinary photos and video clips, Alan’s presentations highlight “how goal-­setting, teamwork and pushing beyond perceived limitations can help audience members achieve their dreams.”

Alan joined Toastmasters because he felt he needed better communication skills in his future career as an engineer. “I like to try new things, to get involved and get better at what I’m doing,” he says. After graduation, he moved to Mississauga, Ontario, and joined the Port Credit Toastmasters club. A job transfer brought him to his ­current club, To the Point Toastmasters, in Kincardine, Ontario. “Toastmasters skills help you out with everything in life,” he says.

His employer, Hatch, has hired Alan to speak at many of its corporate events and sponsors several Toastmasters clubs as a result of Alan promoting the benefits of membership.

Past District Governor Weir says Alan is “an excellent and captivating orator. He is ­modest and unpretentious; ­listening to him tell his Everest story is like listening to a friend tell you about his weekend.”

Would Alan return to Mount Everest or another 8,000-meter peak? He laughs. “No, I’m not going anywhere near there; it’s just too painful.” But he’s grateful for the experience: “I enjoy the challenge of doing something not many people have done.”

His next challenge? Marriage. Alan tied the knot in August.

“That’s going to be a harder challenge than climbing Everest.”

You can read more about the Mallory family’s Everest adventure at

Suzanne Frey is the editor of the Toastmaster magazine and a member of Unimasters Toastmasters club in Lake Forest, California.