This week on the Denali Report, KTNA’s Phillip Manning updates this season’s climbing statistics and speaks with a climber who just broke an impressive record.
As of Thursday afternoon, 1,029 climbers have registered to attempt Denali, and 523 are currently on the mountain. 227 climbs have been completed, and forty-two people have made it to the highest point in North America. The summit rate so far for Denali is quite low for the season at eighteen percent. Eighteen climbers have registered to attempt Mt. Foraker. Nine climbers are currently on the mountain, and nine have completed their climbs. There have been two summits of Mt. Foraker thus far in 2016.
While Denali’s summit rate is very low, some people have managed to make it to the top of North America. One of those people is Colin O’Brady. O’Brady’s summiting of Denali marks his completion of the Explorer’s Grand Slam. Not only does he join the list of fewer than fifty people to complete the challenge, but he is by far the fastest to do so. With a name like “Explorer’s Grand Slam,” one would expect an epic challenge, and the name does not disappoint, as Colin O’Brady explains.
“The Explorer’s Grand Slam is a mountaineering challenge to climb the Seven Summits, so the tallest mountain on each of the seven continents, plus an expedition across the last degree of both the North and South Poles.”
O’Brady began his attempt at the grand slam in January by skiing the last degree of latitude to the South Pole, then tackling Mt. Vinson, Antarctica’s highest mountain. He then moved on to conquer the highest peaks in South America, Africa, Europe, and Australasia before skiing to the North Pole and traveling to Asia to take on Mt. Everest, the world’s highest mountain. Colin O’Brady, a professional triathlete, is no stranger to physical and mental endurance, but he says the pace of climbing each mountain consecutively takes a different kind of toll. Even just getting off of Everest and to Alaska took quite the effort.
“Coming down from that, rather than catching my breath, it was, ‘Can I get down from this quickly? Can I get a helicopter to Kathmandu? Can I fly to Alaska? Can I get a bush plane out to the glacier?’ That’s my recovery. To be mentally prepared and physically prepared for that sort of consecutive nature of this challenge was very tough.”
Despite the rigor of the challenge, O’Brady made it to the summit of Denali before the end of May, less than five months after setting out. While on Denali, he and his team discovered that he was within the window for setting the speed record for both the seven summits and the Explorer’s Grand Slam. Setting both records would mean a risky attempt at the summit, however.
“We were the only people on the route, and we decided to go up in forty, fifty mile-per-hour winds. Fortunately we got the summit, but that’s just an example of…calculated risk, going ‘Hey, we have a chance of setting not one, but two, world records. Let’s go for it.’”
The windy summit bid was successful, and Colin O’Brady and his climbing partners returned safely to Talkeetna. O’Brady says, for him, the Explorer’s Grand Slam is about more than the challenge itself.
“I wanted to do something that not only excited me in the endurance sporting realm for my own personal achievement, goals, and challenge, but also had an impact on the community.”
Now that the challenge is done, O’Brady says his attention will be focused on raising funds to promote active lifestyles for America’s youth and fight childhood obesity.
“Setting goals, dreaming big, and living an active and healthy life. We partner wth the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, which is a great non-profit. Our goal was to raise a million dollars to give directly to them.”
O’Brady says he intends to spend much of the rest of the year promoting healthy, active lifestyles through his Beyond 7/2 campaign.