When planning how to summit 22,841-foot Mount Aconcagua in Argentina, Greeley resident Eric Nourse, as usual, chose the riskiest route.
On Saturday, the decision had terrible consequences. He and longtime friend David Reinhart of Lake Oswego, Ore., died, likely from complications of altitude sickness. Only Eric's twin brother, Greg Nourse of Portland, Ore., survived.
"He never wanted to die. He's just a large risk- taker," Greg Nourse said of his brother.
Greg Nourse spoke Tuesday via Reinhart's satellite phone from Mendoza, Argentina, where Eric Nourse's body was taken for an autopsy.
Reinhart met the Nourse brothers at a fraternity at Oregon State University in the late 1980s. They shared a taste for extreme adventure, and for the next 23 years they often traveled together to the Alps, Denali or the Andes in South America.
Eric Nourse, 41, had a Greeley flooring business. Whenever he could, he was in the wilderness: kayaking, rafting, scuba diving, skiing, snowboarding, fly fishing, mountain biking, hiking, hunting elk.
The twins and Reinhart would plan big trips for months. In 2004, the Nourse brothers rode motorcycles through Mexico, Guatemala and Belize for two months. They climbed Denali twice.
Eric Nourse was full of life, said his wife, Candee Nourse.
"He could climb a tree like a monkey. There was something that was not quite human about him," she said.
Candee Nourse said she never worried previously about her husband going into danger because he was never worried, but this time was different. It wasn't that the South American peak was a technically difficult climb.
"He said, 'It's the weather. It gets brutal, and it takes lives,' " she said.
The three friends reached the "high camp" tents at 19,200 feet in elevation on Mount Aconcagua by Thursday. They considered going on the Polish Traverse but decided to take the more challenging route up the face of the Polish Glacier.
At 4 a.m. Friday, the three embarked for the summit with Eric Nourse leading the way under a full moon.
The glacier was almost all ice with little snow for traction, and it was much steeper than they had anticipated. They had not carried enough ice screws and snow pickets along for the longer ice climbs.
"It was more taxing and time- consuming," Greg Nourse said.
They didn't reach 22,000 feet in elevation until after dark. Reinhart was suffering from altitude sickness and couldn't go any farther.
Eric Nourse said he was going to summit the mountain in the moonlight, find the less challenging trail down the mountain and get help.
Greg Nourse said his brother climbed another 600 feet and searched for the trail down. When he couldn't find the trail, he climbed down the steep north face of the mountain.
"It was basically a sheer cliff," Greg Nourse said.
The decision slowed Eric Nourse considerably. The next morning, 10 hours after his brother had left, Greg Nourse strapped his friend to an ice wall and climbed the mountain to find the easier trail down.
He waited near the summit for 2½ hours before the first climber of the day reached the peak so he could ask how to get down the mountain. While there, he called Reinhart's wife, Char, who set into motion an emergency response in Argentina.
"It was a really emotional phone call. She knew we were in trouble," he said.
Six hours later, Greg Nourse made it back down to the high camp. His brother limped into camp 90 minutes later, exhausted. Argentine EMTs advised Eric Nourse to climb down the mountain and not sleep. The oxygen content in his blood was dangerously low. Porters offered to carry their equipment down the mountain for them. But Greg Nourse said his brother felt that would have been admitting defeat.
"Eric wouldn't have any part of that. We carried our gear up the mountain, and after a little catnap he would carry it back down. He was never concerned about dying," Greg Nourse said.
Minutes after Eric Nourse went to sleep in his tent, emergency workers tried to rouse him. His heart rate dropped. When it stopped, they tried to resuscitate him.
But he was dead.
It took another 2½ days before porters reached Reinhart's body on the glacier. Reinhart had somehow climbed another 150 feet up the mountain before collapsing.