On the Cover : Alan Arnette
Cover Date: October 26th, 2014
An Interview with Alan Arnette
Editor: You summitted K2 on July 27th, 2014 on your birthday, a very special day. Congratulations on an amazing triumph. But there is a very special reason behind this climb. Would share that with us?
Alan Arnette: Thanks, yes this was more than just another mountain climb for me. In 2006, I sat across a table in a Memphis, Tennessee restaurant talking with my mom, Ida, about my dad, her husband of 55 years. In the middle of the conversation about how sick he was and how he might not survive, she paused, looked at me then asked a question that changed my life forever. “Now, who are you again?” It was at that moment I knew my mom was not getting old but she was sick. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.
I took early retirement to oversee her care and she passed away in 2009. Seeing her go through the Alzheimer’s journey shook me to my core and drove me to redefine my life’s purpose as an Alzheimer’s Advocate. In 2011 I took on the 7 Summits, the highest mountain on each continent, and reached 30 million people with a message of hope, need and urgency around this disease, but was frustrated at the lack of progress on finding a cure. So in late 2013, I decided to take on K2, the world’s hardest mountain to fight the world’s hardest disease, Alzheimer’s. I am very proud that we reached 5 million people in the 2 months it took to climb K2 and brought the total contributions to well over $250,000 - all going to Alzheimer’s non-profits and mostly for research.
Editor: K2 is beautiful, but also has a high fatality rate. How did you mentally prepare for one of the globe’s toughest mountains?
Alan Arnette: Yes, K2 has the second highest summit to death ratio with about 312 summits and 83 deaths or 26% through 2013. Only Annapurna is higher at 32%. In comparison, Everest has about 7,000 summits and a death ratio of 4%. I fully understood what I was getting myself into. I was not so much worried about my ability to climb K2, even though I absolutely knew it would be the most challenging climb of my life. It were the factors outside of my control that bothered me: weather, route, politics.
Many professional and highly skilled climbers had died on K2, so it was a real factor that I too could die on the Savage Mountain. I studied the route, talked to climbers who had been on K2 and spent time on my training climbs visualizing myself high on the rocky slopes fighting the harsh weather K2 is known for. But in the end it was my 20 years of climbing with 35 major expeditions under my belt that gave me the proper experience, preparation and confidence to attempt K2.
Editor: How did your prepare your body for such a difficult challenge? What fitness regimen did you rely on?
Alan Arnette: I did real-world training almost exclusively. Because I live in Colorado, have the time and am close to 14,000' mountains, my training consisted of 3 outings a week; each with a specific purpose. For example, long days as in 10 hours for stamina, short days, 3-5 hours with a 30 lb pack pushing for speed and another day with the pack for strength. I always had a purpose and tried to be consistent but had rest days. After all I am 58 years-old!
Editor: At 28,251 feet, did the weather cooperate? Did you have to deal with high winds, heavy snow or low hanging clouds?
Alan Arnette: We were very fortunate that a long weather window emerged with somewhat stable weather for over a week. This was quite unusual on K2 and contrary to what we have seen in the high mountains in 2014. When we reached high camp at 25,000’, there was bit of snowfall that evening but it all cleared out when we left for the summit at 10:00 pm. On the summit it was perfectly clear, with almost no winds and mild temps - for K2 - hovering around 0 degrees fahrenheit.
Editor: How did you keep down the stress-level that inevitably creeps up on climbers?
Alan Arnette: My passion is climbing and my purpose is Alzheimer’s. On K2, there were several distinct moments when I hit the wall. While at no time did I consider quitting or turning back, there were real moments where I lacked the strength to go on. In the dark of July 26 about an hour out of our high camp, I lost all my strength and conviction to go higher.
I stood in the snow, slowly feeling the life drain out of my body. As I drifted off, my thoughts went to my supporters, my purpose and my mom. I can’t explain what it was or how it happened but all I can say is that I felt a renewal of energy come back into my body. I starting climbing again and eventually found myself on the summit.
Editor: You’ve summited Everest (which you have climbed more than once), K2, Manaslu, and had solid attempts on Broad Peak, Cho Oyu, Shishapangma. What draws you emotionally to these great peaks? Did you want to venture into mountaineering early on in your life?
Alan Arnette: Mountains feed my essence. I find the natural beauty and dangers provide goals and challenges rarely offered in life. I thoroughly enjoy the comradeship of my teammates and being exposed to new cultures. It is my passion. I started climbing at age 38 with Mont Blanc as my first real climb and have never stopped.
Editor: Who are your mountaineering icons? What are your feelings towards the Sherpa community?
Alan Arnette: I admire anyone who gets out. Yes, there are the famous climbers who set new standards and help us to see what is possible, but for me I admire the person who saves for years to go to Everest, the one who sacrifices by training at 4:00 am before work to attempt Rainier, the climber who goes back after a failed attempt on Denali. These are the people who set a benchmark for living their dreams, they fuel the passion in others.
The Sherpa community has my utmost respect. I have been climbing with Sherpas since 1997 and have many long time friends. I have seen a new generation grow into the sport, obtaining the skills needed to be world-class guides. I have also seen too many deaths and my heart aches when anyone dies on the mountains either their by choice or profession.
Editor: You seem to be a very sought after keynote speaker. What is your message to your fans and readers of this article.
Alan Arnette: My public speaking ranges from subjects on Purpose and Passion to Leadership lessons to Alzheimer’s. I speak to corporate, education and health care audiences. I use my mountain climbing as the metaphor and try to pass on my experiences with rhetorical questions like “Is it hard or is it impossible?” when attempting a difficult goal and “There are a 1,000 reasons to stop and only 1 to keep going.” My message to our readers is to live your life to the fullest. Share your experiences generously. Find your passion and pursue with zest. Live your life with purpose. If we all do this, we will benefit.
Editor: Thank you for your dedication to your cause, your devotion to your beloved Mother, and for taking the time to speak with us. We are deeply honored and hope to do many follow-up interviews you.
UPDATE! Following up with Alan:
"I’m humbled to have received my official K2 summit certificate today. Thanks again to Garrett Madison. As I reflect on that climb it provides me the strength and inspiration to launch my next effort: Project 8000 for Alzheimer’s where over the next 5 years I will attempt the remaining 11 mountains above 8000 meters that I haven’t summitted.
With the summits of Everest, K2 and Manaslu and good efforts
on Shishapangma, Broad Peak and Cho Oyu, I feel well prepared to attempt these 11 mountains and optimistic we can raise $1.1M for Alzheimer’s research.
I’m looking for sponsors and would appreciate your help in spreading the word or with contacts.
There are 14 mountains above 8000 meters or 26,246 feet. 34 people have summitted all 14, and only one American, Ed Viesturs. All donations will go to Alzheimer’s and none to me. Through my climbs I have reached 50 million people and raised $250,000 for Alzheimer’s.
You can read more at alanarnette.com
Join Alan's fight against Alzheimer's today - Spread the word and talk to people so that Alan can complete his mission. Donate and make a difference:
Interview conducted by Vera Kaikobad L. Ac.
Editor of the Facebook page: 'An Interview With'.
Editor-in-Chief of ClimbSkiBoulderMagazine.com
Interview © Vera Kaikobad L. Ac.
All images © Alan Arnette
Slideshow - Alan Arnette on the summit of K2.
All Images © Alan Arnette.