Ain’t no mountain high enough

Randy Peeters

Photo By Larry Dalton

Randy Peeters was a young Explorer Scout when he did his first rock climbing. It was a frightening experience, but he kept at it, even though it spooked him. He took Sierra Club classes and discovered he had a high tolerance for fear and a globetrotting appetite for ascending mountains. He retired in 2000 as chief scientist at Aerojet, our local rocket-propulsion company. Now, at 58, he wants to become the 43rd and the oldest person to climb the “seven summits,” the highest mountain on each of Earth’s seven continents. He has climbed Denali, Aconcagua, Mont Blanc, Mount Elbrus and Mount Everest. He leaves this month for Kilimanjaro. That leaves only Carstensz Pyramid, Mount Vinson and Mount Kosciusko.

But do the math, Randy. Your summit list adds up to nine.

Some people argue that because Elbrus is really very close to Asia and not really in central Europe that Mount Blanc should count instead. Elbrus almost straddles Asia and Europe, while Mont Blanc is right in the middle of Europe. I’ve done both. The most disputed of the seven summits is Kosciusko vs. Carstensz Pyramid. Kosciusko is in Australia, and it’s like a big hike. Carstensz Pyramid in the New Guinea jungle is a real rock climb, like about 16,000 feet. They are on the same continental plate, and the dispute is which one should be the summit. I’m doing both. Very few people have done all nine.

Have you ever stared death in the face on these adventures?

When my climbing partner on Everest died a year ago, that was pretty scary. He and I had a Sherpa that we were going to summit with together. [My partner] fell about 1,000 feet.

Did that give you pause to maybe not climb again?

Absolutely. I got frostbite and came down to base camp to get enough oxygen so I could heal my hands. He died that next day. I think if I had had my gear, I’d just have kept marching right on out. But I came back with the idea that I would just pick up my gear. And then once you get your head back in the game, you can do it.

Is climbing almost a Zen-like experience?

Yeah. I got into it really heavy in graduate school. I would go out and climb, and I wouldn’t be thinking about my dissertation or some problem I had to deal with. I could climb, and it was like flushing your head. It was therapeutic. It is a physical form of pure thought. It is not the big macho thing that a lot of people think.

What’s the coldest weather you’ve experienced?

On Everest, I was in maybe 60- to 80-mile-an-hour winds at about 25,000 feet. It was probably 20 below 0 plus the wind-chill factor.

How far up have you been just literally hanging by a rope?

I’d say [I] could have fallen easily 10,000 feet off Everest in places.

What kind of physical conditioning do you do?

Right now, I’m training about two-and-a-half hours a day. I stretch, lift weights, use a cross trainer, cycle and hike with a heavy pack.

What about food? Are you on a special diet?

Last night, I had macaroni and cheese with garlic bread. It was pretty good. I wouldn’t say it was too special. I’m a lot heavier than I’ve ever been. When I came back from Everest, I was 151 pounds, and I am 6-foot-2. My body goes, “You ain’t screwing with me again. I’m putting the weight on, and it ain’t coming off.”

Do you participate in other adventure-type recreation?

I kayaked the Grand Canyon twice in the last two years. I do a lot of ski mountaineering and snowboarding. I used to sky-dive and base jump and scuba dive. I surf a lot, too.

Ever run across any sharks?

Thought I did. Once. I was 11 years old when I started surfing. I was paddling around and saw fins. I paddled so hard that I paddled right off the front of the board. It was porpoises, but I thought for sure I was dead.

Are you superstitious?

No. I pray a lot. I have a lot of Christian friends from different churches. I put out e-mail updates, and they were sending them to 10 or 12 people, so hundreds of people were praying for me, and I didn’t even know it. Everything has just got to go perfect to make Everest. I think God was on my side. I was the one who had to do it, but I think he was watching out for me.

Any other comments?

One quote that I think is really good. It’s not mine but from Anatoli Boukreev, a famous Russian climber who died in an avalanche. When you are climbing high, like on Everest, you are spending a lot of time above 8,000 meters. That’s a magic number. It’s called the death zone from there up. Boukreev said, "Lingering above 8,000 meters has all the pleasurable aspects of picnicking in a minefield." And that’s really true. If you are not careful, you are really gonna get it.