Steamboat adventurer Kim Hess prepares to bag 7th summit in epic quest to climb each continent’s tallest peak
February 23, 2018
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — There are no avalanches, strict payment deadlines, third jobs or rigorous training regimens for Kim Hess to worry about this spring as she prepares to embark on the final chapter of an epic seven-year-long adventure.
There will be no danger in lingering on top of the final summit.
No pressure to make it down the final mountain.
Hess, a Steamboat Springs adventurer who is about to achieve her goal of making it to the top of the highest peaks on all seven continents, isn't waking up in the middle of the night stressing out about where to find the large sums of money she needs for the trek up to Everest.
And for the first winter in many years, she didn't have to work on Christmas Day.
The days of stressing and losing sleep thinking about the upcoming expeditions are over.
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"Relief is the word that comes to mind," she said.
That's because Hess has saved the easiest of the Seven Summits for last.
All that stands in Hess's way from accomplishing her amazing feat of bagging the Seven Summits is a long flight to Australia next month and a 10-mile hike to the top of a peak that should be no more difficult to climb than Steamboat's Emerald Mountain.
The summit on Mount Kosciusko is so friendly and accessible, Hess's parents, who are approaching their 70s, will be at the top to celebrate the completion of the Seven Summits with her.
Hess gave her parents Fitbits months ago to help them prepare for the hike.
There's even an option of taking a chairlift to the top.
"We'll sit on the top and reflect on where we started and enjoy sharing it with our parents," Hess said Tuesday. "I'm sure it will be emotional, even though I'm not a very emotional person."
The final trek will be a far cry from previous summits, some of which involved risks ranging from deadly avalanches to broken bones from slips on soft snow.
Hess started her quest of summiting the highest peaks across the planet seven years ago.
Hess's sister-in-law will make a banner to mark the momentous occasion of the final one.
Then it will be off to wine country in Australia to celebrate.
This week, as she reflected on her adventure so far, Hess had plenty of amazing anecdotes to share.
The stillness and beauty of the nothingness atop Antarctica's tallest peak.
That incredible sunrise on Mount Everest.
The sense of accomplishment of doing something very few other women have done.
Hess will certainly have a lot to think about atop of Mount 'Kozzie.'
From the endurance and perseverance it took to attempt the summit of Mount Everest not once, but twice, to the broken bones she has overcome along the way.
The Seven Summits haven't been an easy feat.
And she says she's done it all for the underdogs.
"On the inside, I'm thinking I'm celebrating for the underdog, for everybody out there who feels like they can't do something, and for everybody who overcame a challenge or massive setback," she said,
The quest to summit the tallest peaks on every continent started more than seven years ago as a simple bet Hess had with her older brother Steven.
"I had just been traveling for two years after college, and I didn't know what I want to do," Hess said. "When he brought up this great idea, I didn't have an apartment, so I said let's do this."
There would be some trial runs first.
The two siblings learned they could survive on an epic adventure together when they shared the same tent along the Colorado Trail, a long distance trek through the Rocky Mountains.
It wasn't glamorous sharing a tent with her brother, she said, but the siblings would turn out to be great adventure partners.
The Hesses began their Seven Summits journey summiting Aconcagua, a 22,841-foot peak perched in the Andes Mountain Range between Chile and Argentina.
The thought was to tackle some of the most inexpensive expeditions first.
"We wanted to make sure we liked it, and we could handle the altitude," Hess said.
Then the peaks got progressively more expensive, and difficult.
Hess broke her wrist descending Denali.
And her first attempt at Everest in 2015 was halted at Camp 2 due to an earthquake that caused deadly avalanches.
She went back to reach the south summit of Everest on May 20, 2016.
"When I got to the south summit on Mount Everest, I said 'this is all in the bag,'" Hess said.
For the underdogs
Hess's most recent summit was unlike any other.
When she stood on the top of Mount Vinson in Antarctica, the only other living thing around her besides other members of the expedition were the lichen on the rocks.
"I kind of wrestled with what do I say about this expedition because it was a flawless expedition filled with nothingness," she said. "There are no birds. There are no sounds. There's nothing to see. It's just white, pristine whiteness in 24-hour daylight. Time ceases to have a meaning, and you're not sure where the ground ends and the sky begins. It was beautiful."
Hess has planned her adventures without focusing too much on the itineraries.
She said she doesn't want to get caught worrying when it appears there's a delay.
"I had no idea it would take two weeks to trek to (Mount Everest) base camp," she said. "I thought it would take two days."
Hess said her parents hope that after the summits are done, she will find a 9-5 job.
She isn't so sure that's the next step she'll take.
For now, she's enjoying the ability to sleep in and go skiing on days off.
But she still has a dream of accomplishing what's called the Explorers Grand Slam, which includes getting to the top of the Seven Summits while also traversing the North and South poles.
Hess said less than 60 people have ever completed the Explorers Grand Slam, and only 12 are women.
Fundraising for those extra treks to the poles, which cost tens of thousands of dollars, are ongoing.
As Hess approaches the final summit in Australia, she's feeling a mix of relief, and some disbelief.
"A lot of people doubted this would ever happen, even myself," she said. "Being a male-dominated sport, when you throw a young female into the mix people are always going to doubt and hate.
"I think a lot of that propelled me to keep going and prove whomever wrong, including myself," Hess continued. "It then became a love of the sport. The places I get to go to. The physical challenge and the mental challenge of it all is something that keeps me going."