California man Rick Hitch dies climbing Mount Everest

A photo taken on Sept. 30, 2010 shows Mount Everest (C) from the window of a Druk Air aircraft during a flight from Bangkok to Paro. Everest is the world's highest mountain above sea level, at 29,029 feet high.
Ed Jones

A northern California man who was climbing Mount Everest died on his final approach to the summit of the world's tallest peak.

Rick Hitch, 55, died of an apparent heart attack on May 1, collapsing at 23,000 feet as he approached the last base camp before the Mount Everest summit, the Associated Press reports.

He had been raising money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention after his 25-year-old daughter Cory died last year, the Daily Mail reports.

Hitch, with the International Mountain Guides (IMG) team, collapsed on the way up to Camp 3. His guides tried to revive him for 45 minutes, but Hitch never regained consciousness.

In his last blog entry on Apr. 26, he described feeling tired and the air being so thin that putting on his boots took his breath away. 

He also wrote: "Everything is just about on schedule and I am doing fine. Am reading a book about the beginnings of In & Out Burgers. It is very interesting. Yesterday we all got our oxygen masks and were given instructions on how to attach them to the bottles. Somehow that brought me to the realization that I am on Everest. Hope everything is going good for you folks back home, and thanks for following. If you see Loretta, give her a big HIGH FIVE, she was awesome."

Friends and family say Hitch was an experienced climber who trained for 15 months before traveling to Nepal in March. 

He had already climbed six of the Seven Summits — Kilimanjaro (August 2008), Denali (June 2009), Aconcagua (February 2010), Mount Elbrus (July 2010), Mount Kosciuszko (October 2010), and Mount Vinson (December 2010) — and needed only to top Everest to complete his life list.

He's survived by his wife, Loretta Hitch, and two adult daughters.

Loretta Hitch trekked to Mount Everest base camp with him, then returned to California on Apr. 12.

She told the Folsom Telegraph: "We enjoyed all of our adventures together. He truly was my soul mate. I'm just so grateful for the three weeks I was able to share with him on this trek. It was an amazing adventure to do with him. He helped me and encouraged me along the way."