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Joby Ogwyn is profiled in the January/February 2001 ADVENTURE's Chronicle department.



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Joby Ogwyn
Seven
Summitter
Age 26
Home
Shreveport, Louisiana
 
  Joby Ogwyn   "My friends and family just thought I was going on some hiking trips."
 
profile-box-bottom
 
 

In 1999, at 24, Joby Ogwyn was the youngest American to conquer Mount Everest. Now Ogwyn has set his sights on a loftier goal: becoming the youngest mountaineer to climb the highest mountain on each continent—the so-called Seven Summits.

Ogwyn's next test, and the final hurdle in his quest, is Antarctica's 16,067-foot (4,897-meter) Vinson Massif. Just 800 miles (1,287 kilometers) from the South Pole, Vinson Massif is the kind of place where kerosene can turn to jelly and fillings have been known to drop out of teeth. Its -20°F (-29°C) temperatures and seemingly impregnable 70-mile-an-hour winds promise to truly challenge his climbing sensibilities.

A successful climb will mark the end of Ogwyn's quest, which began when he scaled Mount Kilimanjaro in 1996. By conquering Vinson Massif, he'll join the 52 other Seven Summitters and secure his place in mountaineering's history books.
 

  What fueled your interest in the Seven Summits?
 

I went to climb Kilimanjaro in 1993 and some of the guys on the trip had been on other mountaineering trips. When I got back, I had all these ideas in my head.

I really wanted to do more climbing, so the next summer I went to Bolivia for a climbing seminar. That was when the Seven Summit idea came up. I liked the idea of going to each continent to climb mountains, and I thought it was incredible that so few people on the planet had ever done the Seven Summits.

 
  Is your last of the Seven Summits, Antarctica's Vinson Massif, also the toughest?
 

The mountain itself is pretty straightforward, but the difficulties are the remoteness, the cold, the extreme weather.

The climb itself is not a really technical one, and it's just over 16,000 feet (4,897 meters). But if you run into problems on Vinson Massif—get hurt or get trapped in a storm—there is nobody there to help you. For me, that's attractive.

 
  Will you be climbing alone?
 

Most of the trips that I go on are either by myself or sometimes with a team that I've paid to join. This will be the first trip I've planned with guys I've climbed with before. Our expedition will be a self-contained team of four people.

This time I'll be able to share the experience, the finishing of something that is huge to me.

 
  Why do you usually climb alone?
 

Because you don't have to count on anybody, and nobody has to count on you. And I enjoy being by myself in these really spectacular settings. Climbing is not like any other sport; it's truly a solitary pursuit. But on this next trip, I'll enjoy being with my friends.

Another reason I lack climbing buddies is that, when you live in Louisiana there aren't a lot of mountains, so I don't have a lot of friends who are interested.

 
  Is there more pressure on you now, this being the last peak you need to complete the circuit?
 

I put pressure on myself, but pressure also builds from other people expecting me to be successful because I've already had so much success. When you put so much time and money into something, you want to make sure that you complete what you set out to do.

After this, every mountain will stand by itself, and I'll be able to accept defeat. But I've got to finish this set of seven.

 
  What will it feel like if you make it to the top?
 

It will be by far my most emotional climb. In a lot of ways it'll be sad, because I'll have to move on to something else.

 
  What do you attribute your success to?
 

There is always a lot of luck involved. You're dealing with things that are out of your control, like the weather—and certainly I've had some good luck there. But if you are strong enough, and you want it bad enough, you can climb any time of any year.

I think a lot of it's in your head. You have to imagine yourself doing it, you have to say, "Nothing is going to get in my way." If anything, the key to success is single-mindedness. I don't think I'm an incredibly gifted climber, but I am mentally focused and strong-minded.

 
  How do you train when you live in the flats of Louisiana?
 

I have a program that works really well for me. I run maybe five to six miles [8 to 9.6 kilometers] a day, I lift weights about an hour a day—mostly for the upper body—and I do stairs, either the Stairmaster or the stairs in one of the buildings where I have an office.

That's mostly what climbing is all about: your heart, your lungs, your aerobic capacity, and your overall strength.

 
  What did your friends and family think when you started climbing seriously?
 

They didn't understand. I think they just thought I was going on some hiking trips. But I didn't talk to them a whole lot about it—when I was in college, I was always known as the guy who was off doing my own thing.

My parents liked it because they thought their son was traveling. They considered it part of my education and thought I was staying out of trouble.

 
  Is it true you were almost involved in the 1996 Everest tragedy, chronicled in Into Thin Air?
 

I was going to go to Everest in 1996 with [the late climber] Scott Fischer. I was booked and everything. So that whole Into Thin Air thing—I would've been there. But at the last minute I dropped out because I got an opportunity to go to business school in Denmark.

I called Scott and said, "I've got this opportunity—Everest will wait." I didn't think about it until everything broke down. At that point, my parents and friends were like, "I can't believe you were supposed to be there."

 
  How did your family react when you finally did decide to go to Everest, in 1999?
 

Everyone freaked out. My parents were against it. Some of my friends thought I was going to die. But over time my parents realized they couldn't talk me out of it, and then they were really supportive. When I came back as the youngest American to do Everest, it was a big deal.

 
  What was it like being on top of Everest?
 

You put so much time and effort into climbing Everest and risk so much, so at the top there's a lot of relief. You think about your family and friends worrying about you, and that pressure is released at that point.

But you also look around and realize how high up you are and how far away from safety you are. So you don't let yourself enjoy it completely, because you're only halfway there.

 
  How long were you able to stay on the summit?
 

We stayed up there almost an hour, a very long time. The weather was perfect—it wasn't cold, the skies were clear. We had a lot of time to take it in, but it's overwhelming.

When you look down, everything is so big and you have the whole planet beneath your two feet.

 
  What's after the Seven Summits?
 

Lecturing is really my big thing now. I have done a lot locally and am on MacGillivray Freeman Films' list of speakers at science centers [MacGillivray Freeman produced the IMAX film Everest, among others.] I'm putting together two or three different types of presentations with slides and digital video. Being the youngest person in the world to do the Seven Summits will work out well for me.

If I can't lecture enough, I can do some guiding along the way. Either way, I want to make enough money so I can choose where I want to take my trips.

I'm in love with the mountains, and I love to travel. I also love sharing my experiences and showing how you can set goals and make these dreams come true.

—Katie McDowell

[Editor's Note: On December 9, 2000, Joby Ogwyn summitted Antarctica's Vinson Massif. Read more at National Geographic News.]


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