The Australian climber who died on his descent from Mt Everest during a fundraising expedition was hopeful his journey to tame the “beast” could help others staring down challenges similar to his own, he revealed in his final interview.
Jason Kennison died Friday, with his family confirming in a statement the 40-year-old “stood on top of this world but sadly didn’t come home”.
WATCH THE VIDEO ABOVE: Jason Kennison’s final interview before tragic death on Everest
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The diesel mechanic living in Perth was raising money for Spinal Cord Injuries Australia, having overcome a string of severe challenges in his own life.
Kennison twice had to relearn how to walk — once after a car crash in his early 20s where he suffered a broken femur and dislocated shoulder and again after complications from a spinal procedure.
“I’ve always challenged myself, internally, for overcoming these things,” he exclusively told 7NEWS.com.au before departing for Nepal and the world’s tallest peak.
“Everest sort of became like this symbol to me of overcoming those challenges and getting that fulfilment.
“I knew that I was pretty strong mentally. I knew that I was pretty strong physically and those sorts of aspects with resilience and determination — I could push through barriers, I could push through physically and mentally.
“It hasn’t always been healthy, but I’d sort of recognise it as strength.”
A mountain of a challenge
Mt Everest is considered a mecca for adventurers. With an elevation of more than 29,000 feet above sea level — as high as a cruising airliner — climbing it is no simple “walk in the park” and definitely not for the faint-hearted- or ill-prepared.
Climbing companies warn potential climbers there are many threats ahead — from acute mountain sickness caused by the increasing altitude to snow storms, freezing temperatures, shifting ice, falls, crevasses, and avalanches.
More than 300 lives have been lost on the mountain.
Kennison was turned on to the idea after watching documentaries, noticing the same attributes in famous mountaineers that he saw in his younger self, before his setbacks.
“They had all the characteristics, all the traits of what I probably used to do when I used to race motocross, when I used to play footy, when I was growing up, until it was chipped away from all these accidents,” he said.
“Mountaineers with the courage, the confidence, the logical thinking, the trust, the resilience, the mental and physical strength that they had — all those characteristics … I sort of could see myself with.”
As a 22-year-old, Kennison was confronted with his first major hurdle.
His car collided with a truck, landing him in hospital with a broken femur, dislocated shoulder and ligament damage, on top of a knock to the head and a brain haemorrhage.
Stubborn and in denial, he “didn’t want to accept there was anything permanently wrong, physically wrong, mentally wrong” and so he “pushed through”.
But then a training accident preparing for a bike race and later a spinal cord injury which had him staring down years of rehabilitation chipped away at his confidence and his mental state.
But he was determined not to let his injuries define him and maintained that he wanted to own his destiny.
“When I set up this (Everest) goal originally it was to be the person to be able to attempt it, to build myself up in all the areas that I felt I needed to improve or when I was honest with myself those areas I really needed to address to be the person I knew I could be, be my authentic self,” he said.
“It was about being in a position to attack the mountain. That’s where I wanted to be. It’s cliche, but it was a journey.”
Kennison had planned meticulously, marking milestones on a path to complete what is arguably one of the toughest challenges known to man.
His training included flying to New Zealand for mountaineering courses, abseiling, rock climbing, and even preparing for ladder crossings with a setup in his backyard.
The pain remained, and Kennison knew it would be there during his whole adventure.
“I think in a way, training with the injuries has made me a little bit stronger,” he said.
“I feel fortunate enough to be able to make these decisions, to be able to go to the gym, go abseiling, fly to New Zealand for training and go and attack a beast like a mountain like Mt Everest. I feel really fortunate.”
Kennison said he wanted to ensure others who suffer spinal cord injuries receive the type of support they need.
But the challenge was an emotional and highly private one too.
“A personal goal out of this for me is that fulfilment — just to put together all my experiences and just be the person I know I can and act with integrity and live by my beliefs and values. To be able to accept that I have had injuries but I’m still OK,” he said.
Kennsion’s journey was tragically cut short on Friday, with his family issuing a statement confirming the news.
“He was the most courageous, adventurous human we knew and he will be forever missed,” they said.
A friend also shared on social media his sadness at the loss of a “very good guy with a kind heart”.
“I’m happy he made it to the top! He died doing something he was passionate about. Jason, we’ll see you again one day my friend,” he said.
An expedition organiser told local media Kennison had been assisted from the summit after becoming unwell before collapsing on a platform below.
Poor weather conditions had prevented rescuers from reaching him.
Kennison’s death is reported to be the 10th fatality on Mt Everest during the prime spring climbing season.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it was providing consular assistance to the family of an Australian who had died in Nepal.
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