Thursday, May 5, 2011

Wife: Calif. man who died on Everest led full life

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- As a longtime coach of youth soccer and softball in his Northern California community, Rick Hitch would often instruct his players to "LIOTF" - leave it all on the field.

That passion and dedication characterized all of the Roseville resident's pursuits, whether as a businessman, a husband and father of three, or a mountaineer who successfully scaled the highest peaks on six continents, said his wife of 23 years, Loretta Hitch.

On May 1, Rick Hitch died of an apparent heart attack while climbing Mount Everest, the world's tallest peak and the last of the famed Seven Summits he had hoped to conquer.

"He always said you should do that in life, give it all you have if you want to reach a certain destination," Loretta Hitch said. "He gave all he had to accomplish the goal he had."

Hitch said her husband had just gotten over a cold but was feeling good when she spoke to him for the last time on April 26, two days after his 55th birthday. According to his fellow climbers, he was hiking near the middle of the group Sunday when he collapsed near the final base camp before the summit, at about 23,000 feet.

Guides administered CPR, oxygen and a shot of epinephrine over a 45-minute period, but Hitch failed to regain consciousness, his wife said.

Hitch began climbing seriously in 2005, two years after selling his plastering company. He started with Washington's Mount Rainier and moved on to mountains in locations as varied as Tanzania, Australia and Russia.

Hitch was joined by his wife on the 11-day trek to Everest Base Camp. They arrived on April 9, their wedding anniversary, Loretta Hitch said.

"As we approached the entrance, he was about 10 feet ahead of me, and he stopped and held out his hand so I could grab it," she recalled by phone Thursday. "That was the kind of person he was. He wouldn't have just walked into base camp on his own."

But climbing wasn't Hitch's life, his wife said, noting that he carried two things to every summit: a family picture and a cap from his days coaching the Roseville Diamonds, a local girls' soccer team.

"He told us the summit (of Everest) was not that important to him; just trying it was his goal," she said. "He knew he did not want to summit at all costs."

Hitch's body was transported off the mountain by helicopter and is expected to arrive back in California on Monday, his wife said. Funeral plans have not yet been finalized.

In the meantime, the family has received a flood of support from the surrounding community as well as Hitch's former climbing buddies, his wife said.

"He was so much more than just a climber who died on a mountain, so I'm glad that other people realize that," she said. "The last thing you do shouldn't define your life; it's just one of the moments in your life."

In addition to his wife, Hitch is survived by two daughters, ages 28 and 21, as well as his parents. His middle daughter died in October at the age of 25, and his brother and sister died in 2008.

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