When Carlos Buhler attended Huxley College, he already knew he wanted to go to the top.
Of the mountain, that is.
Buhler became hooked on climbing at age fifteen while attending the National Outdoor Leadership School in Wyoming, where he began to transform from the “pudgy and unathletic” boy he describes as his youth. He climbed Pyramid Peak.
In the decades since, he’s been at the peak of his peculiar profession, summiting Mount Everest on new, difficult routes and becoming the first American to climb Kanchenjunga in the Himalayas, the third-highest peak in the world.
Carlos, of German and Spanish Basque descent, is a 1978 graduate of Huxley and a winner of a Distinguished Alumni Award. He’s made more than three dozen major ascents on five continents and was rated one of the eleven best American climbers by Climbing Magazine. He specializes in daunting climbs with small teams and no oxygen.
Buhler supports himself financially as a motivational speaker to corporations, explaining how climbing skills such as preparation, organization, teamwork, and goal-setting can be applied to business challenges.
Climbing Magazine wrote that he carried in his wallet an inspirational quote that continued to drive him after summiting Everest. “The people who succeed and do not push on to a greater failure are the spiritual middle-classers. Their stopping at success is the proof of their compromising insignificance. How petty their dreams must have been.”
Buhler became fluent in Spanish while spending two years in Spain, first as a high school student and then at the University of Barcelona in 1972. There he began climbing in the Pyrenees and the Alps. He then attended Huxley, where he managed to weave his passion into his course work.
He devised an independent study project based on climbing and wrote a thirty-page paper called “Interpersonal and Group Relationships as a Function of Mountaineering Stress.”
It worked: Buhler is known for his management of climbing groups.
Upon graduation, he focused on peaks in the Andes and then the Himalayas. While he brushed death several times, what fascinated him was not so much the physical challenge as the psychological one. “Climbing in the Himalaya is really a study in interpersonal relations – not climbing,” he told the magazine. “The amount of time you actually spend climbing compared to the amount of time planning is the most inefficient expenditure of time you can imagine.”
Buhler’s mother actually trailed him to Mount Everest in 1983, staying at base camp to keep an eye on him and remind him not to get killed.
Now he lives with his wife in Bozeman, Montana, where he works as a climbing consultant and speaker, combining the philosophical with the physical.
Even after being forced to turn around 100 meters short of the summit of the Himalayan peak Makalu, fifth-highest in the world, he felt good about the prudent decision and the experience of having tried.
“Last night I went out and bayed like a coyote at Makalu,” he wrote back at base camp. “I like it here. I feel changed. Even after nearly two and a half months out here, I feel no hurry to return anywhere. I like the food, I like the sun . . . I’ve given up on the mountain.”