Colin O’Brady summits highest peaks in all 50 states in 21 days
Colin O’Brady set a world record by climbing to all 50 American high points in 21 days, and he did it for you.
Well, partially he did it because he likes to push his body and create challenges, but also because he wants to motivate people to get out in their own backyards and be more active.
“This is about inspiring people in general,” the 33-year-old told The News Tribune on Wednesday. “Hopefully there’s a ripple effect of people coming out and doing these things.”
The old record was 41 days.
The Portland resident stopped the clock at 2:54 a.m. Thursday when he reached the summit of Mount Hood, Oregon’s tallest mountain, after 21 days of constant movement.
That was barely a day after he summited Mount Rainier with a 12-hour climb.
O’Brady is deliriously tired. His feet are sore, blistered and covered with tape. He’ll devour any food you hand him and give you bonus points if you bring him La Croix.
The journey started June 27 on the summit of 20,320-foot Denali in Alaska. He finished a day early, so he changed the original plan and flew to Hawaii to climb Mauna Kea.
From there, he crisscrossed the country.
On his busiest day, O’Brady ticked off six state high points (Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana).
His hardest day was tackling 13,804-foot Gannett Peak in Wyoming, 40 miles up a technical mountain considered to be the ninth most remote in the contiguous United States.
“We both started crying on the summit because it was so hard and emotionally taxing,” said Jon Kedrowski, a friend and fellow climber who joined O’Brady for the 10 hardest high points.
O’Brady said he literally screamed when pulling off his mountaineering boots.
But it’s the moments spent with strangers who came out to cheer him on or join him on the trail that he remembers the most.
Like the 80-year-old woman in Illinois who briefly hiked with him and said the secret to life is to keep smiling. Or the 67-year-old man in South Carolina who said he’d spent 36 years tending to the same stretch of trail. There was a rock star who climbed with O’Brady in Montana and regaled him with stories in the early-morning hours to keep them awake. And the two young men in the parking lot of Mount Rainier National Park who waited patiently to meet him so they could offer congratulations and tell O’Brady they’d come to practice crevasse rescue.
“There have been little sparks of energy from a lot of people,” O’Brady said.
He first got the idea for the project two years ago, but the need to push himself and encourage people to lead a healthy life goes back to 2008.
While on a backpacking trip in Thailand, O’Brady was severely injured in a fire. Doctors told him the burns covered 25 percent of his body and he might never walk again.
O’Brady’s response? A vow to complete his first triathlon once he recovered.
He signed up for the Chicago Triathlon in 2009 and stunned the sporting world when he took first place.
Sponsorship offers came the same day, and O’Brady quit his job in finance, going on to race in 25 countries on six continents.
“I got to this point where I thought, ‘This is amazing, but I want to do something more than push my body,’” he said.
So he and now-fiance Jenna Besaw started Beyond 7/2, a nonprofit to raise awareness and money to ensure children and their communities lead active, healthy lives.
O’Brady snagged his first world record on May 27, 2016, when he summited the tallest peak on each of the seven continents and skied to the North and South Poles in 139 days.
He was also the first person to Snapchat from the summit of Mount Everest, attracting 22 million viewers and making a name for himself in the world of social media.
“I always come back to the inevitable question of what’s next?” O’Brady said.
On Wednesday, he left the Paradise parking lot about 1:40 a.m. to climb Mount Rainier with Kedrowski.
They reached Camp Muir by sunrise and after navigating recent icefall on the standard Disappointment Cleaver route, stood on the summit at 9:20 a.m.
A small group met them on their way down, bringing snacks and La Croix, handshakes and hugs, and a few blissful minutes of pulling off the boots and sitting still.
O’Brady doesn’t sit still easily, though.
“The idea for us to set the record was for me to always be in constant motion,” he said.
He means that literally.
There was no time set aside for a good night’s sleep or really any sleep at all.
O’Brady only caught shuteye in a 30-foot RV while friends drove to the next destination, or while on a plane. Jumping in cold lakes, rivers and pools took the place of proper showers.
He briefly considered sleeping Wednesday night before starting up Mount Hood but changed his mind at the last minute.
Braving 40 to 50 mph winds, the team set out in the dark with the idea of pitching a tent on the summit once the challenge was complete.
His two partners stopped below the summit, but O’Brady sprinted to the top. Then he settled into a sleeping bag to sleep soundly for the first time in 21 days.
“For the first time in a while, I’m on a mountain and not in a rush,” he said in an Instagram story Thursday morning. “So just taking it all in, enjoying the descent, reflecting on the entire journey. It’s been a wild ride. I feel very proud.”