Granby man sets out to climb the "Seven Summits" of the world
February 25, 2008
The mystical rise of Mount Kilimanjaro out of the African foothills has lured many an adventurer.
Not long ago, Granby resident Al Barrett was one of its latest summiters ” checking off another peak in his quest to climb the highest peaks on seven continents.
He’s already reached the top of North America’s Mt. McKinley (Denali) in Alaska, a three-week excursion in 2006 that was his first “real expedition of a real technical mountain.”
Riding on the high of a McKinley 20,320-foot summit, Barrett then set out to climb Mount Aconcagua, South America’s tallest land form in Argentina at 22,834 feet. That successful excursion lasted three weeks.
Reaching the top of Kilimanjaro last month brought his total to three.
“I knew (Kilimanjaro) was going to be a trail rather than a climb,” he said about the equatorial cone-shaped peak, “not as technical as McKinley or Aconcagua. It’s still 19,800 feet, and it’s still a mountain to be respected and not to be taken lightly.”
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Back at home in Granby, he now is training for the next peak on his list ” Asia’s powerful Mount Everest, 29,035 feet.
He leaves March 26 for a 60-day climb that will last through April and May.
“I have a lot of respect for Everest,” Barrett said. “Probably more than other mountains I’ve climbed. But I feel like I’ve been trained well. I’ve always been fortunate to train with good people.”
In the climb toward his ultimate goal, summiting the highest mountains of each of the seven continents of the world, he is acclimating himself for the toughest stretch yet.
“God willing, whatever works out, if Everest goes well,” he said, he will aim his mind toward Europe’s Elbrus in Russia, Antarctica’s Vinson Massif in the Ellsworth
Mountains and Australia’s Carstensz Pyramid.
The notion that he could do this, he said, manifested a few years ago when he began climbing the famed fourteeners of Colorado.
“I did it for exercise and to set a goal. If I don’t set a goal, I don’t do anything,” he said.
Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park was his first in 1994, which he climbed with his son-in-law.
From there, he hiked more and more.
“I worked construction outdoors,” Barrett said, now a retired construction business owner in his 50s. “So, I was in OK shape. I did sports in high school, but I was never a super athlete or anything like that.”
He trains with cardio exercise, such as aerobics, lifting weights, jogging and cycling. He climbs as often as he can in the Rockies, snowshoeing up fourteeners in the winter.
“I’m in better shape now than I have been in 25 years,” he said.
During a trip to Alaska in 2004 with his wife, Darlene, Barrett met a guide who talked to them about climbing. It planted a seed that grew upon their return to Colorado. Barrett enlisted in alpine training and mountaineering classes at the Colorado Mountain School in Estes Park.
In 2005, he climbed Mount Ranier as a prerequisite to McKinley.
During that climb, he met up with others who spoke of the adventure of climbing the “Seven Summits.”
“I didn’t take it real serious but then had people calling me throughout the hiking world,” he said.
Before he knew it, he was on his way to accomplish the goal of a lifetime ” one that has already involved frost bite on his face from a 30-hour storm on McKinley and watching a member of his team lose equipment from a tent that tore apart on an alpine ledge.
Climbing the Seven Summits required mental toughness as much as physical endurance.
“Sometimes the altitude gets to you and you start to feel rundown. Everyone helps each other and keeps each other up,” he said. “Some days, you just don’t feel like climbing. So then, what do you do? You climb.
“But if somebody’s sick, we stop. It’s a buddy system.”
Once at the summit, “it’s quite a feeling of accomplishment,” he said. “In a sense, it’s like, ‘I can’t believe I just did that.’ It’s one of those things you read about or see on TV and think, ‘Ah, that would be cool,’ but never thought you could do it.”
His friends and family follow his progress, and his wife joined him in Tanzania after the Kilimanjaro excursion.
“My wife and daughters are supportive of it. So, as long as they support me, I’ll keep doing it,” he said.
Asked what it’s like to be on top of the world, Barrett said, “Standing on top of the mountain, I feel a sense of awe and feel blessed to be there. I’m a good climber, but definitely not the best.
“It’s humbling to know that everything worked ” the weather, the team, my health, the equipment. It’s a whole different world. You are higher than the clouds, higher than anything around you. Seeing the sunrise from this vantage point is magnificent and reaching the summit is exhilarating. It’s almost a sense of disbelief, that I really made it. I feel so privileged to be there.
“I feel like a little kid who just got the best Christmas present ever.”
” Tonya Bina can be reached at 887-3334 ext.19603 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.