Climbing The Seven Summits with Kim Hess
When facing a setback, you have two choices: Give up or fight for what you want.
Kim Hess overcame both injuries and a natural disaster in her climb to the top – literally. Take a look at how Kim is making history in the sport of mountaineering.
Kim Hess was searching for purpose when her older brother proposed a crazy idea: to climb the seven summits.
Erica Cobb: Tell me about the seven summits.
Kim Hess: The tallest peak on each continent – Denali, Aconcagua, Mount Elbrus, Kilimanjaro, Everest, Vinson, Kosciuszko.
People are like, “Aren’t you scared of this sport? What’s the fear associated with it?” Of course, there’s the fear. I’m scared of heights. If you’re not scared of heights you’re lying.
So for me the fear has always been committing to the financial side of these trips, the fear of am I ever gonna find the money, am I ever gonna make the money, am I ever gonna convince somebody that I’m worth the money.
Erica Cobb: With her brother by her side, she started her journey in South America. Once she got started, there as no stopping her.
Kim Hess: Next we went to Alaska to do Denali. This was kind of the first big challenge. It’s physically really difficult, it’s technical, the weather can be your worst friend. If we couldn’t get Denali done, Everest was never gonna happen.
Erica Cobb: While preparing for Denali in Alaska, Kim broke her foot. She decided to climb anyway. But while she was on Denali, the unthinkable happened.
Kim Hess: I had some bad luck associated with the descent. Took an awkward step and the snow broke away, and I ended up flipping over. My left arm got caught in the fix line, which is this rope attached to the mountain. As a result, it wrapped and just snapped my arm in a lot of pieces.
Erica Cobb: Let me get this straight. You finished the descent with a broken hand and a broken foot?
Kim Hess: Technically I wasn’t able to descend all the way. At that point, we set my arm, we splinted it, and then we waited for a helicopter.
Erica Cobb: Despite the physical injuries and the mental trauma, you decided to continue on with your goal of the seven summits.
Kim Hess: I did.
Erica Cobb: After several surgeries on her hand set her back, she wasn’t sure if she would ever climb again.
Kim Hess: It was hard, and definitely went into a dark place having to deal with that. It wasn’t until I was talking to a mutual friend where he said, “How are you?” And I was like, “I’m not well.”
But she came back. The next summit was a big one. Everest.
Kim Hess: About four weeks into the trip, there was a 7.8 earthquake that struck Nepal, ending the climbing season, and there I was in the middle of a natural disaster area.
It was shaking for what felt like a minute and 45 seconds. But it hadn’t really occurred to me that it was an earthquake. I thought that it was just a really big avalanche nearby that was shaking the ground.
But Kim decided that a broken foot, a broken hand, nor an earthquake could keep her down.
Erica Cobb: How do you keep getting back up and going?
Kim Hess: I went to Thailand and just kinda sat to digest where do I go from here? It was in Thailand by myself on a beach with a beer that I decided I had to go back, I had to get it done so I could just move on.
You work so hard for something, and it’s something that you dream about and you think about every single day, and then to have it taken away and have no control over that … It’s not like you failed, you didn’t get a chance to do it. I think had I waited, it would have eaten me alive.
Erica Cobb: And you completed it with your brother.
Kim Hess: And I completed it with my brother.
Erica Cobb: That’s awesome.
Kim Hess: Yeah.
A mountaineer once said, “The summit is what drives us, but the climb itself is what matters.”
As we speak, Kim is in Australia to climb the last summit on her list, Mount Kosciuszko. She will officially complete her goal of climbing all seven summits. But she’s not done. She decided to pursue the explorer’s grand slam, which includes traversing the north and south pole. She’ll be the only one of 13 women ever to complete this feat.