Colin O’Brady six months, seven mountains, two poles – and the pursuit of one record

January 12, 2016 7:07 am

O’Brady began his trek to the South Pole last week, skiing across
Antarctica and officially starting the clock on his attempt at the
Explorers Grand Slam. (Colin O’Brady/ )

• Athlete Colin O’Brady is trying to become the youngest and fastest human to ever complete the Explorers Grand Slam.
• The Explorers Grand Slam is an adventurers challenge to reach the north and south pole and climb the Seven Summits.
• The seven summits are Mount Everest, Aconcagua, Denali, Kilimanjaro, Mount Elbrus, Mount Vinson, and Carstensz Pyramid.
• O’Brady’s goal is to get it done in five months.
• Only 44 people have ever completed it

week Colin O’Brady reached the bottom of the world. He planted his
flag, snapped some photos and before long strapped back into his skis
and left the South Pole. The clock had started on his journey.
the course of the next 51/2 months, O’Brady is chasing a record as
unique as it is difficult, a nine-part adventure known as the Explorers Grand Slam. The journey officially started with a successful trek to the South Pole.

What follows is daunting. He must summit the tallest mountains
in each of the seven continents and also trek to the North Pole. Just
42 people have completed all nine feats, and only two have done it in
less than a year. O’Brady hopes to break the record, which stands at six
months and 11 days.
“I know it won’t be easy,” O’Brady said in
an interview via satellite phone from Antarctica. “To set the world
record is the goal and would be a dream come true, but coming back with
all my fingers and toes and making it home safely is the priority.”
30, is a professional triathlete who has competed in 25 countries over
the past seven years. He has enjoyed the travel and the competition but
still felt called to do something bigger.
“He got to a place
where he realised that endurance sports are pretty self-serving,” said
Jenna Besaw, his fiancée. “We looked around and thought, can we use his
endurance and ambitions to create a greater impact in the community?”

Mount Everest. Photo / Getty Images
Mount Everest. Photo / Getty Images
He calls this incredible endurance challenge an
“inspirational campaign,” and he hopes to promote active, healthy
lifestyles throughout his travels. He has partnered with the Alliance
for a Healthier Generation and is accepting donations on his website
( to help fund programs that will combat childhood obesity.
“Triathlon for me was a dream come true, but this creates a platform that’s a little bit more interesting,” he said.
journey itself is already paid for. Sponsors have taken care of costs
associated with travel and the climbs, including all the gear. The final
price tag is expected to be around $500,000.

Aconcagua. Photo / Getty Images
Aconcagua. Photo / Getty Images
O’Brady left his Portland, Ore., home on Christmas, flying
to Chile and then Union Glacier in Antarctica. He started his trek last
Monday from 89 degrees south latitude, then over the course of nearly
seven days, he skied the 69 miles to the South Pole – 90 degrees south.
He did so hauling a sled loaded with his gear, at least 70 pounds in
all, he estimated.
O’Brady has the next 51/2 months mapped out by
the day. He’ll start with Mt. Vinson (Antarctica, 16,050 feet) later
this month and then attempt to scale Aconcagua (South America, 22,838
feet), Carstensz Pyramid (Australia, 16,024 feet), Mt. Kilimanjaro
(Africa, 19,341 feet) and Mt. Elbrus (Europe, 18,510 feet) by the end of
March. He’ll trek to the North Pole in April before tackling Mt.
Everest (Asia, 29,029 feet) and Denali (North America, 20,310 feet).

Denali. Photo / Getty Images
Denali. Photo / Getty Images
O’Brady has climbed mountains most of his life, but the only one of those seven summits he’s previously reached is Kilimanjaro.
first leg of the grand slam highlighted much of what was to come:
extreme temperatures, camping on snow, isolation, fatigue. Skiing toward
the South Pole, O’Brady didn’t seen any wildlife – or human life,
outside of his trekking companions – in several days. The sun never set,
and temperatures were consistently around minus-20 degrees. When his
satellite phone froze, he stuck it in his sleeping bag to warm up before
making calls home.
“It’s just a white abyss out here,” he said.
“Loneliness and isolation is certainly a part of this. To me, that makes
the journey more interesting.”

Kilimanjaro. Photo / Getty Images
Kilimanjaro. Photo / Getty Images
While he planted his flag in the snow Sunday, the more
treacherous of tasks still lie ahead, none as challenging than Everest,
where avalanches have killed 36 people the past two years. No one was
able to summit the mountain last year at all. Even if conditions
cooperate, the high altitude keeps many from reaching the summit, and
the extreme temperatures impact many others.
“Mountains are in
some ways inherently dangerous,” O’Brady said, “but any good mountaineer
will tell you it’s all about assessing risk. You try not to put
yourself in a situation that’s outside of your control.”

Mount Elbrus.
Mount Elbrus.
To make matters worse, he’ll attempt Everest in May – No. 8
of the nine feats on his quest – right after trekking to the North
Pole. The North Pole is at sea level and will hardly help his body
prepare for the altitude and thin air of Everest.
“There’s a lot
of risk involved,” Besaw said, “but it really is about managing that
risk out there. Barring some natural disaster happening, I’m fully
confident that Colin has the skills and wherewithal to make the right

Mount Vinson.
Mount Vinson.
The grand slam didn’t become a grand plan until about 18
months ago. O’Brady and Besaw were living in Spain, training for
triathlons when pie-in-the-sky dreaming turned into actual scheming.
They pitched sponsors, researched charitable causes and when they
secured funding in late 2014, they began plotting out logistics in
O’Brady worked with a strength trainer back home in
Portland, lugging a sled around the gym to prep him for his treks to the
poles. He continued competing last season on the triathlon circuit and
climbed Manaslu in the Himalayas – the world’s eighth-tallest peak —
immediately following a race to gauge how his body could handle
back-to-back endurance challenges. While many Everest dreamers might
spend months or even years preparing to summit the world’s tallest
mountain, O’Brady will count the other summits on his journey as his
Everest prep.

If all goes as planned, he hopes to climb Denali in Alaska in mid-June, completing the grand slam in less six months.

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