Minnesotan summits Mount Everest — but he has another mission as well

Minnesotan conquers Mount Everest

On May 20th, Ryan Rivard was quite literally, at the top of the world.

“It’s pretty fantastic, it’s kind of a surreal experience,” he says. “The viewpoint from there was just spectacular. You see the sun coming up over the mountains, and one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.”

But for Rivard, 41 — from Wayzata, the climb, at 29,032 feet — about five-and-a-half miles above sea level — comes after a journey of recovery when he was just a teenager.

“When I got sober at nineteen, I had no regard for what I was going to be in life,” he recalls. “I was just trying to save my life at the time.”

Rivard says he was addicted to heroin, prescription pills, and alcohol, after the loss of his grandfather, who died by suicide.

After undergoing detox and taking part in a 30-day Hazelden Betty Ford teen and young adult recovery program, he’s been sober for twenty-one years — celebrating by planting a Hazelden flag on the summit.

“I saw a picture of that, gave me goosebumps when I saw that,” declared Tim Helmeke, an operations manager with Hazelden Betty Ford.

Rivard says Hazelden donated about $10,000 to help pay for the trip, about one-sixth of the total cost.

Lessons in perseverance and hope.

“That you can achieve any heights and goals, if you put your mind to it,” Helmeke notes. “But also understanding there so many people supporting this cause, supporting recovery, supporting mental health.”

Rivard says after several weeks at base camp, it took his team five days to reach the summit, and two more to come down.

Typically, Mount Everest has brutal conditions, including eighty mile-per-hour winds, and minus-forty-degree temperatures.

“So, it’s conditions of wind, and snow, and ice — and at the top, my summit suit, even with heat packs inside, froze,” Rivard says. “The zipper froze, I had to crack the summit suit from time to time, the oxygen mask freezes.”

He and his party saw firsthand the day after their summit, how dangerous Everest can be.

“The next day was a beautiful sunny day, and because of that, more people wanted to summit that day,” Rivard says. “Unfortunately, four of them lost their lives on the way down because the sun melted a cornice (an overhanging mass of frozen snow) near the top, near the Hillary Step, and it collapsed. Two people have still not been found after falling off the mountain.”

Now, welcomed home by his family, he hopes successfully — and safely climbing the world’s tallest peak will inspire others.  

Rivard, who owns a marketing firm, has launched a non-profit called ‘Let’s Fuel Growth.’

Its goal is to establish scholarships and funding for youth recovery programs.

Rivard also hopes to return to the Mount Everest base camp next year, as part of a field trip for young people undergoing their own recovery journeys.

“You know, don’t give up on your dreams, life is very short,” he says. “If you’re going to do something, the time is now. Take the opportunity, take that trip, take that adventure, take that risk, and push yourself, see what happens because a lot of good things will come of it.”

You can find out more about Rivard’s Mount Everest trip here: https://www.theryanrivard.com/