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Almond Board gets tips from survivalist

What happens when you put a Bear in front of a bunch of almonds?

Well, if the bear in question is famed adventurer Bear Grylls and the almonds are the attendees of the Almond Industry Conference, you've got a recipe for inspiration.

The star of the Discovery Channel series "Man vs. Wild" gave the keynote address Wednesday at the gala dinner for the Almond Board's 37th annual event at the DoubleTree Hotel in Modesto.

For a conference aimed at almond growers, almond researchers, almond machinery manufacturers and all-around almond enthusiasts, bringing a Bear into their midst might seem, well, nuts.

But the outdoor survival specialist and self-professed "almond-lover" has a partnership with the Almond Board to promote its "healthy men" initiative.

Still, Grylls' talk touched less on nuts and more on the inspiration it takes to succeed in any endeavor.

Granted, no one in the room of hundreds at the three-course dinner had accomplished — let alone attempted — most of Grylls' endeavors.

At 35, the TV host has done enough to fill several lifetimes.

He spent three years in the British Special Forces, became the youngest Briton to successfully climb Mount Everest at age 23, circumnavigated the United Kingdom on jet ski, crossed the Atlantic Arctic Ocean on inflatable raft and held an open-air dinner party suspended from a hot air balloon at 25,000 feet.

Also, he once slurped the liquid off of elephant dung as the cameras rolled.

Hey, who wants a second helping of chocolate cake?

Grylls wisely steered clear of discussing the many unappetizing things he has ingested for "Man vs. Wild," including larvae, frogs, snakes, beetles and his own urine.

The topic instead was on his comparatively more polite though physically more challenging ascent of Everest 11 years ago.

Trim and wearing a casual button-up shirt and dark jeans, Bear took the stage and jumped right into his passion for climbing. It started as a boy when he did it to spend time with his father.

"It wasn't that I loved being cold and scared up a mountain," he said, "but if I wanted to be close to (my dad) I had to climb."

Then, in 1996 while serving in the U.K. Special Air Service, he broke his back in three places during a parachuting accident.

While recovering he started to focus on Everest, the highest point on Earth.

"I was just determined to find a way, however hard that was going to be, of making that dream of Everest a reality," he said.

Twelve months later, he started his ascent.

Dramatic account

Grylls' presentation included dramatic photographs from his expedition. But nothing was more dramatic than his personal account of the difficulty it took to climb the 29,030-foot mountain that is so massive it has its own weather system.

He talked about how hard it was to walk, breathe and even eat once his party reached the perilous "death zone" — which he called "a phenomenally uninspiring name" — above 26,000 feet.

"It's like trying to climb a mountain of treacle (type of molasses) up to your waist whilst trying to give someone a piggyback who is then for good measure trying to stuff a pair of socks in your mouth," he said.

Near the summit, Grylls also passed the body of fellow climber Rob Hall who had died on the mountain in 1996. Everest has some 180 bodies on it from failed attempts, but it's too treacherous to remove them.

"I remember sitting next to Rob, his hair still blowing as if you could nudge him, and he'd stand and he'd climb with me," Grylls said.

Once he and climbing partner Neil Laughton reached the summit, he said, he cried because he had silenced "that big part of me that ever since the hospital never believed I'd be able to do it."

Grylls showed a picture of himself on the summit, hair blown wildly in the wind and oxygen mask on his face.

After accomplishing the feat that since the first successful attempt in 1953 only some 600 people have ever replicated, Grylls said, his mother had a typical reaction after seeing his photo.

"Wouldn't it have been nice if you could have combed your hair for the summit," he said, mimicking her voice.

Grylls still keeps a bottle of snow, now water, that he took from the summit. He said he used it to christen his three children. He attributed his successful expedition to two things: friendship and prayer.

"The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is often just that little word 'extra,' " he said. "Successful people give that little bit extra. That's what this whole conference is about. That little bit extra will keep you, your business and the Almond Board on top."

Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at mrowland@modbee.com or 578-2284.

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