Rebecca Long, a 29-year-old Boston woman who reached the top of Mount Everest on Thursday, dreamed of being an explorer and had an appetite for adrenaline, her twin sister said.
When they were young kids growing up in Andover, Melanie Long recalled, their parents had different methods for calming them down if they became fussy.
A close embrace from her parents could put Melanie at ease. Rebecca, on the other hand, required the thrill of being tossed high in the air over her father’s head to excite her and take her mind off whatever was upsetting her.
“I was not as adventurous,” Melanie Long said with a laugh during a phone interview Thursday.
When Rebecca Long told her sister and parents that she planned to summit Mt. Everest this spring, they were worried but not surprised. She had just completed Aconcagua earlier this year, the tallest mountain in the Americas, Melanie said.
A graduate of Boston University, Rebecca Long quit her job in financial services in Boston to take the Everest trip after her boss wouldn’t allow her to take leave, Melanie Long said.
“She’s the type of person once she decides to do something, nothing will change her mind,” Melanie Long said in a phone interview Thursday, hours after receiving a text from Rebecca’s satellite phone reporting that she reached the summit shortly after sunrise in the Himalayas.
“I’ve never been more tired,” Rebecca Long wrote in a text message to Melanie. “It was terrifying but beautiful up there.”
Rebecca Long and the team she hiked with are now making their way back down, and Melanie expects her sister will be back in Massachusetts in a matter of days.
It marks the end of a long journey that Rebecca Long has chronicled in detail across several blog posts on Medium, sharing notes and observations from her flight across the Atlantic to the hike up to Everest base camp. She took the trip with the Washington-based International Mountain Guides (IMG) organization.
The journey was not without tragedy. In April, Long and her expedition group learned that three Sherpa climbers died after falling into a deep crevasse at the Khumbu Icefall just above Everest base camp.
Later, a member of Long’s expedition group, Jonathan Sugarman, died at Camp II on May 1 after feeling unwell. Sugarman was a retired doctor from Seattle and clinical faculty member at the University of Washington, where he was known for his work in Native American health care and international health, according to the Associated Press.
Sugarman also had local roots. He went to Needham High School and graduated from Harvard in 1976, according to an obituary. He climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro with his daughter in 2010 and went on to “climb the tallest mountains in North and South America and undertake three major expeditions in the Himalayas,” the obituary said.
Amy Willinsky, a high school friend from Needham, said Sugarman had recently been in town for their high school class’s 50th reunion and “was anticipating his climb this spring.”
“Our high school group of friends was stunned and deeply saddened to learn of his death,” Willinsky wrote in an e-mail. “He was just really smart, kind, funny, and a nice, nice guy.”
In a blog post, before he died, Long described Sugarman as being a “thoughtful and kind guy” who was in “unbelievably good shape.” On their way to Lobuche Base Camp, she said he “offered me an earbud and we listened to some inspirational gospel music together on the tough last stretch up.”
She wrote that his death came as a “shock to all of us” in the expedition group. At basecamp, they gathered a collection of white rocks to shape Sugarman’s initials JS near the IMG helipad.
Melanie Long wasn’t sure what her sister’s plans are now that she has reached the tallest point on earth. She’ll likely want to get back to her apartment in downtown Boston and reunite with her dog.
But the journey home is also a long one.
“Back to base camp in the morning,” Rebecca wrote in a text to Melanie on Thursday. “God, I hope I have it in me.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated on May 20, 2023, to include Jonathan Sugarman’s background as a Needham High School and Harvard graduate.