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Mike Posner on climbing Mount Everest: 'It was completely overwhelming'


When Mike Posner made it to the top of Mount Everest on the morning of June 1, a rush of emotions flooded over him. 

"Everything that I put into getting there came back out in the form of tears," Posner said Wednesday on the phone from Colorado, where he was safely, securely back on the ground. "The emotion of the moment was completely overwhelming. I've cried on the top of mountains before in my training, but this one was a little different."

Reaching the summit of Everest, elevation 29,000 feet and some change, was the culmination of a year and a half of Posner's life, during which he spent preparing to climb the world's tallest mountain. And for the Southfield-bred singer-songwriter, who in 2013 sang a song called "Top of the World," reaching the literal top of the world was a feat that will never be, well, topped.  

"It's pretty crazy, man. I can't believe I did it," says Posner, the Grammy nominee behind the smash hits "I Took a Pill in Ibiza" and "Cooler Than Me." He dedicated his journey to raising money for the Detroit Justice Center, a nonprofit law firm in Detroit, in a nod to his father, Jon Posner, who was a criminal defense attorney in Detroit for 40 years before his death in 2017. So far, he has brought in $236,000 of his $250,000 goal.

He's still working through his feelings on the climb, and in a couple days he's off to a silent retreat at a Buddhist monastery in Colorado to contemplate the adventure and what it means.

But after starting his training for Everest immediately after finishing his 2019 walk across America, he's not looking to take on any big athletic tasks anytime soon. 

"My plan is to just stop and do nothing," says Posner, "and out of that emptiness I can create something."

Scaling the mountain

Posner started thinking about climbing Everest while he was on his six-month walk across America. Soon after he completed the journey from Asbury Park, New Jersey, to Venice Beach, California, on Oct. 18, 2019, he was climbing Mount Hood in Oregon, which at 11,250 feet is no slouch but is about 40% the size of Everest.

Along with his trainer, Dr. Jon Kedrowski, Posner climbed high peaks around the United States and South America for the remainder of 2019 and throughout 2020. In all, they made their way up more than 70 mountains in preparation for the big quest. 

Kedrowski, who had scaled Everest four times previously, knew Posner had the work ethic to make it to the top, and he worked to teach him everything else. 

"He bought into it 100%, and he was really extraordinary," Kedrowski says. "He’s a very talented musician, he makes a living doing that, and you can see why, because he works his ass off at that. It was the same when it came to training for this." 

Posner announced his Everest climb and launched his fundraiser at the end of March, and he arrived in Nepal in early April. Once on the mountain, he faced physical challenges due to acclimating to the extreme altitude, external challenges in the form of avalanches and other weather-related issues and internal challenges, such as the question of whether or not it was all worth it. 

MORE: Walking the walk: Mike Posner travels across America

"I almost gave up 100 times," Posner says, but he knew that in most cases, giving up meant death. He explains feeling exhausted for days on end, drifting off to sleep at night and waking up gasping for air and repeating this process over and over. 

There were times, especially at Base Camp 2, which is about 21,000 feet up the mountain, when Posner would say to himself, "Man, this is stupid," he says.

"In some ways, it is kind of stupid, you know, but it's also beautiful and amazing. I think it's both those things at the same time." 

Posner's summit climb began around 8:30 p.m. May 31 and pushed through the night until he and his group, which included a pair of Sherpas, Dawa Chirring and Dawa Dorje, arrived at the mountain's summit at around 4:30 a.m. Posner and his team spent about 20 minutes that Posner says felt like 5 minutes and take it all in before the next part of the journey began.

"Then you've gotta get back down," he says.  

There were around 100 people summiting that day, all of whom Posner passed on the way back down the mountain. "There's only one rope," he says. "so that can get a little nerve racking." 

It was around an 18-hour day in total, and Posner says his body was dehydrated and began emitting weird smells he couldn't quite identify. "It's not B.O., but I was like, 'Is that my endocrine gland dumping?'"

After another rigorous couple of days of descending, Posner made it to the ground and reached his hotel in Katmandu, where he slept for 24 hours. After waking up and taking a COVID-19 test so he could come back home to the U.S., he flew to Colorado and slept another 12 hours upon arrival.

Kedrowski was thoroughly impressed with his student, and he said it was a way for Posner to get away from the pressures of his life and focus his mind on something else.  

"I know he went through a lot with the death of his father, and other stuff relating to the music industry," Kedrowski says. "This stuff changes him for the better."

There's still lots to sift through, but Posner's immediate takeaway, he says, is he needs a break. 

"I never really stopped, I've just been going for three years now," he says. "So I'm going to take a few weeks here and stop and do nothing, and I think I'll have a better sense of what all this means." 

Starting fresh

The walk across America and the Mount Everest climb, Posner says, complete the big athletic goals he wanted to accomplish. 

"I have a million things I want to do in my life, a lot of them are artistic, intellectual, spiritual, things I want to study, things I want to learn, things I want to make. But these were the two that were explicitly athletic," he says. "I remember thinking when I was 29, maybe I should start working on those now. Now I'm 33, I did them both, and it took a few years. So we'll see what I put my mind to next. There will be something." 

Whatever it is, he says, he's learned to approach his goals by going all in on them. "If I put all my energy towards something, I'll accomplish it. That seems to be working," he says. "If you really want something and you dedicate your life to it, it seems like you can have it."  

He went all in on his last album, "Operation: Wake Up," a 10-song concept album he released with minimal advance notice in December. The set is full of dark, depressing subject matter, tackling themes of depression and suicide, and finds Posner's narrator charactor taking his own life at the end of the album. 

It was a jarring project for a figure who presents himself as a spiritually upbeat, motivating personality; "Keep going!" has been his motto since he adopted it on his walk across America. Posner says the album was recorded four or five years ago and was essentially burning a hole in his pocket, so he decided to put it out into the world, partly because it made him so uncomfortable.  

"It almost became a burden," he says. "I love the writing, I thought it was really accomplished from a writer's perspective, the songs connected, the transitions were cool and the songs still were good, I think. So I had these mixed feelings of pride and shame, because it was so dark. So I just thought man, I've gotta put this out."

Posner was in Pakistan doing winter training for his Everest climb when the album was released. It was presented complete with an Instagram campaign that explored the album's dark subject matter and had fans questioning Posner's mental health.

But soon after "Operation: Wake Up's" release, Posner did an artistic 180 and released the upbeat "Momma Always Told Me," and he recently followed it with the similarly bouncy "Jealousy," featuring his sometimes partner-in-crime, singer-songwriter blackbear.

He doesn't mind the wild mood swings, he says, and it keeps both him and his fans on their toes. Whether he's making music, walking from one end of America to the other or climbing the world's tallest mountain, he's going to follow his muse wherever it takes him, no matter the consequences.

"I sort of like building this thing up of 'Mike Posner' for a while, and then setting it on fire," he says. "I think in some ways that's healthy."

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama