Adventure 2017: Kim Hess — Summiting Mt. Everest en route to the Seven Summits
March 28, 2017
The details, especially the miserable ones, have mostly fallen away for Kim Hess. She's forgotten how hungry she got while climbing Mount Everest, how long she went between showers and how boring some times were and how tiring others were.
When she thinks back on her summit day, May 20, 2016, she remembers just a few things after those final steps to the top of the world.
"I remember it was a hell of a sunrise, and I remember it was really cold," she says. "I don't think I cared much about the cold. All you remember is how awesome the summit was, and all the great friends you made. You forget the bad stuff."
Summiting Mount Everest allowed Hess to check another peak off her quest to climb the Seven Summits — the tallest mountain on each of the globe's seven continents. It was her fifth. She'd already climbed Denali in Alaska, Aconcagua in Argentina, Mount Elbrus in Russia and Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
Some of those accomplishments were more difficult in some ways. She broke her wrist descending Denali and had to get rescued from a lower camp. None, however, have had the resonance of summiting Everest.
Hess reached the summit on her second of back-to-back attempts. Her first, in 2015, was halted midway at Camp 2 where she rode out a massive earthquake that rocked Nepal and the ensuing avalanches on Everest that took a deadly toll.
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After two years so utterly focused on one goal, she has mixed emotions watching her friends in the climbing community prepare for the 2017 season.
"It's a relief not to be packing for a nine-week trip," she says, "but I also have FOMO (fear of missing out). I'm sad and longing to return to such a beautiful place with some of the few people I can relate to."
Everest still dominates her life, however. She's given official presentations about it to sold-out theaters, and an infinite number of informal talks to friends and acquaintances. Bartending at Backdoor Burgers downtown can mean talking to an awful lot of people, many to whom she's just "the Everest girl."
She's struggled with that, with how to relate such a personal experience to people she barely knows. Some challenge her about her own reasons for climbing, or lecture her about the treatment of the Sherpa people or the collection of garbage on the mountain.
"People want to ask really personal questions, and they already have an opinion," she says. "It's like talking politics with someone."
Hess is already thinking about how to expand on her initial Seven Summits goal. If she also hits both the North and South Poles, she'd have reached the Explorer's Grand Slam.
She has two mountains left. One is easy, Mt. Kosciusko, in Australia. That amounts to nothing more than a hike. She doesn't have a firm date for that trip yet, but she's hoping to knock off the other outstanding mountain soon, Antarctica's Mount Vinson Massif.
That could come late this year or early next, and Hess says she already knows what she hopes to find at the top of that mountain.
"I hope it's not too cold," she says, "and I hope the sunrise is awesome."