Three friends in his mountain climbing group made it to the top, but did not make it down.
(WBIR-South Knoxville) Imagine climbing a mountain that reaches 26-thousand feet into the sky. It's a challenge an East Tennessee man took on last summer.
Then something went horribly wrong. Writing a book about it has helped him cope with loss.
"To climb is to climb and the only bad climb is the one you don't take," John Quillen said.
The East Tennessee native hiked every trail in the Smokies and then about ten years ago started tackling bigger mountains.
"My first real mountain climb was in 2004 and we went to Seattle to climb Mt. Rainier," he said.
John Quillen has climbed mountains in Alaska, Ecuador, Peru, Russia, China and most recently, Pakistan.
"I love to travel. It's a good excuse to go different places and have a focus and a goal and it gives me a reason to exercise and train and be in shape," he said.
Although he has made it to the summit on most of his climbs, the experience is more about the journey.
"If you go to the top of a high mountain you're only going to be there for maybe 15 or 20 minutes so you can't measure the breadth of an expedition by the small amount of time you may get to spend on the summit," he said.
Last summer, he was part of a team of 11 experienced mountaineers who set out to climb K3 or Broad Peak in Pakistan. Eight of the 11 survived.
"We were at 20,000 feet at Camp Two. And we have been climbing for roughly 40 some days I guess. We had acclimatized going up and down the mountain and we had stocked our camps and we were fully in preparation to make one more rotation which would have been our final summit attempt. And on the way descending back to base camp is when Brian had his accident," he said.
His long time climbing partner Brian Moran fell about 100 feet and shattered his leg. John made a splint. One of the other climbers, an Iranian, helped get Brian down to base camp. Weather delayed a helicopter evacuation for almost a week.
John's decision to stay with his injured friend at base camp and then come back to the U.S. may have saved his life.
"Who knows what would have happened. I mean, none of our team members truly summited and survived so only God knows the answer to that," he said.
The three Iranian climbers in the group continued toward the summit and made it. They lost their way on the way back down. Their bodies have not been found.
"This one, there's a lot of people who are never going to be ok," he said of the climb.
He shares the story in his book, "Tempting the Throne Room: Surviving Pakistan's Deadliest Climbing Season 2013."
"Writing the book was a catharsis for me. It was a way that I could kind of deal and put it into some kind of perspective and kind of, I don't know, put it away for myself," he said.
He's donating all proceeds from the Farsi translation of the book to fund a climbing school in honor of the three Iranian climbers who died: Aidin Bozorgi, Pouya Keyvan and Mojtaba Jarahi.
"The most important part of that expedition was the time I got to spend with these young guys their last days on earth. And I hope I was able to capture that in the book. They were some of the finest young men I have ever known," he said.
John Quillen survived a tragedy and is preparing for his next adventure.
"Yes, I'll climb again. And Brian will climb again too if he gets healed up sufficiently.It's in your blood. Once it gets in your blood it stays there," he said.