It’s 4:45am on December 28th of 2016. The alarm just went off and the day that I have been dreaming about for months, if not years, has just started. My wife Anne-Cecile, my 2 children Estelle and Damien, and I are about to hike Mount Kosciuszko, the highest mountain in Australia and one of the famed seven summits (the highest mountain on each of the 7 continents).
After exploring Sydney for one week and trying to adjust to the new time zone (16 hours ahead of Boston), we left the city, drove 300 miles (470km) and arrived under the pouring rain in Jindabyne, NSW. It is a mountain resort town and a popular holiday destination due largely to its location as a gateway to the Snowy Mountains and Kosciuszko National Park. After checking in to our apartment and getting settled, we ate dinner and started preparing our backpacks for what I thought would be a relatively easy hike. After all, the loop that I had planned to do was only 13 miles (21km) with a total of 2,000 feet (611m) in elevation. We had checked the weather and it would be cloudy and windy but the temperature would be mild, around 65 degrees F (12C). Estelle then found out that there was still snow on the mountain. I was very surprised to hear that and became slightly anxious because although Anne-Cecile is very fit and athletic, she is more of a beach person than a mountain person, and hiking is not her number one choice of activities. However, it was very important to me that we all stood on top of Kosciuszko, so I tried my best to play it cool and dismissed this new information.
We left the apartment around 6am and drove the 30 miles to Charlotte Pass, the beginning of the hike. We started immediately as I was eager to beat the crowd at the top, also taking into consideration that we had to drive to Melbourne in the afternoon, a 7hr road trip. The mountain range was pretty barren and limited in greenery, but the view even at the trailhead was to die for. The Main Range Track started by going down 1 mile to the Snowy River that we had to go across via stepping-stones, then went up gradually for about 3 miles. We were all happy and cheerful and except for a flock of screeching crows, the mountain was silent. We arrived at the top of this uphill stretch, where we could see on our right Blue Lake, the largest glacial lake in mainland Australia. After a quick pause for water and photography, we kept going along the crest of the mountain range. However, the wind was now blowing really hard, and we were hiking directly against it. Then, after another mile, more difficulties came our way with our first patch of snow and ice covering the trail. It was a small (about 100 feet long) and easy to cross but soon thereafter appeared a much larger one. A misstep here wouldn’t be dangerous as it was on a flat surface, but I could sense that Anne-Cecile was not a happy camper. I held her hand (always a gentleman!) as we walked on the snow, making our way safely back on the trail. As we approached the intersection of Main Range Track and Summit Walk, which was only 1 mile from the summit, we hit the last section of snow but this time, it was too steep to go across. We had to go around by going uphill through rocks. We all managed it as seasoned scramblers (just kidding!), knowing that the summit was within our reach. At the intersection with the Summit Walk Trail, we turned right and found ourselves with dozens of other hikers who took a more direct and easier route via Summit Walk or even took a chairlift up Thredbo. Estelle and Damien went ahead of us as now the trail was circling around the last part of the mountain and with less than 500 feet to go. Finally, after hiking for 3 1/2hrs, Anne-Cecile and I joined our children and we all stood on top of Mount Kosciuszko. 2228m above sea level and the highest point in Australia!
We took a summit picture next to the rock despite the wind blowing so hard it was challenging to stand up. After a quick rest and snack, we started hiking down the mountain via the Summit Walk. As we walked down the mountain, we all still felt pretty good and for me relieved and proud that we all did it together. I thought it would be an easy hike but it was harder than I expected. Despite some challenges and my concerns that she would not be able to do it, Anne-Cecile was up to the task and I am extremely proud of her. Estelle and Damien are both outdoorsy and love this kind of challenge, despite (or because of) living in NYC and Boston. They enjoyed hiking Kosciuszko and I can’t wait to do more hikes with them. The final miles went by really quickly and we were back in our car in no time. All in all, it took us 5 ½ hrs to complete the hike and was a great experience. This summit picture of us standing on top of Australia was something that I have dreamt of for years and it will stay with me for the rest of my life.
1 down, 14 to go!
Elevation: 22,838 feet (6,931 meters)
Duration: 2-3 weeks
Challenges: Cold weather and high altitude.
Best season to climb: Dec - Feb
Aconcagua is the highest mountain in both the Western and Southern Hemispheres, the tallest peak on earth outside of the Himalayas, and one of the fabled Seven Summits. It is located in the Andes mountain range, in the Mendoza Province, Argentina. Aconcagua is considered the highest non-technical mountain in the world, since the northern route does not absolutely require ropes, axes, and pins. However its elevation and cold weather can make the climb very dangerous to unprepared climbers who underestimate the risks.
Appalachian Trail (or AT):
Location: Eastern United States
Length: 2,200 miles (3,540 km)
Trailheads: Springer Mountain, GA and Mt Katahdin, ME
Duration: 3-5 months
Challenges: weather, animal encounters, insects.
Best season to Hike-Thru: Early spring
The Appalachian National Scenic Trail, generally known as the Appalachian Trail or simply the A.T., is a marked hiking trail in the eastern United States extending between Springer Mountain in Georgia and Mount Katahdin in Maine. The trail is about 2,200 miles (3,500 km) long. The trail passes through 14 states: Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. About 600-800 thru-hikers try AT every year with only 20% succeeding in the end.
Location: North America
Elevation: 20,310 feet (6,190 meters)
Duration: 2-3 weeks
Challenges: Extremely cold weather and high altitude.
Best season to climb: May - July
Denali (also known as Mount McKinley) is the highest mountain peak in North America, with a summit elevation of 20,310 feet (6,190 m) above sea level and is part of the Seven Summits. Located in the Alaska Range in the interior of the U.S. state of Alaska, Denali is the centerpiece of Denali National Park and Preserve. Denali is a mountain of extreme conditions where a climber may encounter 100-mph winds and – 40°F temperatures. The unpredictable weather coupled with the high altitude requires not only technical snow and cold weather skills, but also endurance and fortitude.
Elevation: 18,510 feet (5,642 meters)
Duration: 1 week
Challenge: Unpredictable weather.
Best season to climb: May - Sept
Mount Elbrus is the highest mountain in Russia and in Europe, the tenth most prominent peak in the world and one of the Seven Summits. A dormant volcano, Elbrus forms part of the Caucasus Mountains in Southern Russia, near the border with Georgia. Elbrus has two summits, both of which are dormant volcanic domes. With its slightly taller west summit, the mountain stands at 5,642 meters (18,510 ft); the east summit is 5,621 meters (18,442 ft). Though Elbrus is the highest summit in Europe, it is one of the technically easiest of the higher peaks on the continent. But the weather can make the climb very difficult.
Location: Between Nepal and China
Elevation: 29,029 feet (8,848 meters)
Duration: 3 months
Challenges: weather, altitude, avalanche, logistics, cost, climbing route congestion .
Best season to climb: May
Mt. Everest is on the border between Nepal and Tibet (China). It is in the Himalaya mountain range, and is the highest peak in Asia and the world. There are over thirty mountains higher than 25,000 feet and fourteen over 26,300 or 8000 meters. Today, hundreds of climbers from around the world use the South Side Route to try to stand on top of the world. It is considered slightly more dangerous than the North Ridge Route due primarily to the instability of the Khumbu Icefall. However some considered it slightly easier than the North due to the absence of the ladders and rock climbing on the steep steps of the North Ridge route.
John Muir Trail (a.k.a JMT):
Location: California, United States
Length: 210.4 miles (338.6 km)
Trailheads: Happy Isles (Yosemite) and Mt Whitney
Duration: 2 weeks
Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous
Challenges: Snowmelt, altitude, animal encounters
Best season to Hike-Thru: July - Sept
The John Muir Trail (JMT) is a long-distance trail in the Sierra Nevada mountain range of California, passing through Yosemite, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. From the northern terminus at Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley and the southern terminus located on the summit of Mount Whitney, the Trail's official length is 210.4 miles (338.6 km). For almost all of its length, the trail is in the High Sierra backcountry and wilderness areas. For about 160 miles (260 km), the trail, named for naturalist John Muir, follows the same footpath as the longer Pacific Crest Trail.
Elevation: 19,341 feet (5,895 meters)
Duration: 1 week
Difficulty: moderate to strenuous
Best season to climb: January – March and June - October
Mount Kilimanjaro with its three volcanic cones, "Kibo", "Mawenzi", and "Shira", is a dormant volcano in Tanzania. It is the highest mountain in Africa and part of the Seven Summits. It rises approximately 4,900 m (16,000 ft) from its base to 5,895 metres (19,341 ft) above sea level. The mountain is part of the Kilimanjaro National Park and is a major climbing destination. The mountain has been the subject of many scientific studies because of its shrinking glaciers. It is predicted that the ice cover on Kilimandjaro will disappear by 2040!
Location: Big Island, Hawaii
Distance: 2.4 miles swim, 112 miles bike, 26.2 miles run
Duration: 17 hrs max
Challenges: Heat, wind
When: Every October
Honolulu-based Navy couple Judy and John Collins proposed combining the three toughest endurance races in Hawai’i—the 2.4-mile Waikiki Roughwater Swim, 112 miles of the Around-O’ahu Bike Race and the 26.2-mile Honolulu Marathon—into one event. On February 18, 1978, 15 people came to Waikiki to take on the IRONMAN challenge. In 1981, the race moved from the tranquil shores of Waikiki to the barren lava fields of Kona on the Big Island of Hawai’i. Now The IRONMAN World Championship is help every October where over 2,000 qualified athletes will embark on a 140.6-mile journey that presents the ultimate test of body, mind and spirit to earn the title of IRONMAN.
Location: Kosciuszko National Park, New South Wales, Australia.
Elevation: 7310 feet (2228 meters)
Distance: 13.6 mi (21.9 km)
Best season to hike: year-round
Mount Kosciuszko is the highest mountain in Australia. Although not much of a mountaineering peak because of its relatively low altitude and gentle slopes, Kosciuszko is located in one the more beautiful national parks in the world. Mount Kosciuszko is located half-way (280 miles/450 km from each) between Sydney and Melbourne in Southeastern Australia. Mt Kosciuszko is part of the “Seven Summits” or the seven highest mountains on each continent. It is by far the easiest of the Seven, which are topped by Everest in Asia.
Molokai Channel Swim:
Location: Between Islands of Molokai and Oahu, Hawaii
Distance: 26 miles
Duration: 12-20 hrs
Challenges: wind, Hawaii jellyfish, waves
Best time: year-round
The Moloka'i Channel (also known as the Ka'iwi Channel) is a waterway between the islands of O'ahu and Moloka'i in the State of Hawaii. The nearly always rough channel is 41.8 kilometers (26 miles wide) with an abundance of marine life including sharks, jellyfish, whales, turtles and dolphins. Its maximum depth is 2300 feet (701 meters). Laau Point is the traditional starting point of swimmers who attempt to swim from Molokai Island to Oahu. It is considered one of the most difficult swimming channels in the world and is part of the Oceans Seven.
Pacific Crest Trail (a.k.a PCT):
Location: West Coast, United States
Length: 2,659 miles (4,279 km)
Trailheads: Campo, California and Manning Park, British Columbia
Duration: 4 to 6 months
Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous
Challenges: Weather, animal encounters, resupply.
Best season to Hike-Thru: Early spring
The Pacific Crest Trail or PCT is a long-distance hiking trail closely aligned with the highest portion of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges. The trail's southern terminus is on the U.S. border with Mexico, just south of Campo, California, and its northern terminus on the Canada–US border on the edge of Manning Park in British Columbia; its corridor through the U.S. is in the states of California, Oregon, and Washington. The Pacific Crest Trail is 2,659 mi (4,279 km) long and ranges in elevation from just above sea level at the Oregon–Washington border to 13,153 feet (4,009 m) at Forester Pass in the Sierra Nevada. The route passes through 25 national forests and 7 national parks.
Race Across America (a.k.a RAAM):
Location: United States
Length: 3,069 miles (4,938 km)
Start: Oceanside, California
Finish: Annapolis, MD
Duration: 12 days max
Challenges: Weather, saddle sores, hallucination.
Start of the race: Every year in June
The Race Across America, or RAAM, is an ultramarathon bicycle race across the United States that started in 1982 as the Great American Bike Race. RAAM is one of the longest annual endurance events in the world. The route travels west to east, traversing three major mountain ranges (Sierra, Rocky and Appalachian). Also, passing through such iconic American landmarks as the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts, Monument Valley, Great Plains and Gettysburg. In The RAAM, the race has no stages, meaning it’s basically a nonstop event from start to finish, with the fastest competitors needing slightly over a week to complete the course and sleeping on average 2hrs per day.
Location: Mount Rainier National Park, Washington, United States.
Elevation: 14,411 feet (4,392 meters)
Duration: 1 week
Challenges: Weather, avalanche, rock and ice fall
Best season to hike: May - Sept
Mount Rainier is the highest mountain of the Cascade Range of the Pacific Northwest, and the highest mountain in the U.S. state of Washington. It is a large active volcano located 54 miles (87 km) south-southeast of Seattle. Mountain climbing on Mount Rainier is difficult, involving traversing the largest glaciers in the U.S. south of Alaska. Most climbers require two to three days to reach the summit. Climbing teams require experience in glacier travel, self-rescue, and wilderness travel. About 8,000 to 13,000 people attempt the climb each year.
Run Across America (a.k.a RUNAAM):
Location: United States
Length: 3,069 miles (4,938 km)
Start: San Francisco, California
Finish: New York City Hall, NY
Duration: 2-3 months
Challenges: Weather, feet and joint issues, diet.
Best time to start: Spring or early fall
Running across America isn't new, and it's become increasingly more common the past decade. Every year, around 20 people run across the country, either for a cause or for breaking a record or just the pure physical and emotional challenge. The fastest time is 42 days and 6 hrs, broken just a few months ago by Pete Kostelnick.
Location: Ellsworth Mountains, Antarctica.
Elevation: 16,050 feet (4,892 meters)
Duration: 3 weeks
Challenges: Extreme cold, wind, logistics.
Best season to hike: Dec - Feb
Mount Vinson is the highest peak in Antarctica, at 4,892 meters (16,050 ft) and is part of the seven summits. It was first climbed in 1966. An expedition in 2001 was the first to climb via the Eastern route, and also took GPS measurements of the height of the peak. As of February 2010, 1,400 climbers have attempted to reach the top of Mount Vinson. Not a technical climb, Vinson is mostly known for its unpredictable weather, extreme cold and a logistical/financial nightmare due to its remote location.
I am 54 years old, still healthy and in a pretty good shape. However, time and mathematics don’t lie, so it’s unfortunately safe to assume that I’m closer to the end of my journey than I am to the beginning. Because of that somewhat painful truth, about a year ago I started to make a list of things/adventures that I wanted to do in life. I had it in mind for many years but looking at all of it on a piece of paper was both exciting and intimidating. The physical challenges were a big question mark but the more pressing issue was cost. I didn’t know where to start and it was still very much a dream until a few months ago, when the Whitehead Institute at MIT hired me as a Cell Sorter Specialist for their evening shift in addition to my full-time job at Boston College. The distant dream was becoming more realistic. I would have to work a lot and it would be hard to find enough time to train but now I could support my family’s needs and envision checking one or two “adventures” off my list per year. My children are both independent - my daughter Estelle is living in NYC attending Columbia University for graduate school, and my son Damien is a 16-year-old sophomore in high school. As for my wife Anne-Cecile, we’ve been married for almost 30 years, therefore she knows me very well. In many aspects, we’re cast from the same mold - we make impulsive decisions, whether it’s emigrating from France and starting a new life in the USA or planning a trip to go somewhere or registering for a challenging race. The point being: we never know what the outcome will be but we are not afraid of trying, knowing there is a possibility of failing. Although she would probably never set foot on Mt. Everest, she understands why I want to do this.
Immediately, I was thinking of the next steps. My family and I always wanted to go to Australia. Once I was officially hired at MIT, I texted them the news and immediately Australia was on everyone’s minds. The texts flew back and forth between NYC and Boston. It was hilarious because I couldn’t keep up answering all their questions with my one-finger “dad” texting skills. Like all of our previous family vacations, our Australia Christmas break trip was all set in a matter of days. Now, we’re just 2 weeks away from leaving Boston and we can’t wait to visit Australia and start the first of my “15-dreams” project by hiking Mt. Kosciuszko as a family.
Below, you will find a small description of all 15 of my dreams. Except for Mt. Kosciuszko where the difficulty is just getting there (it really is just a “walk in the park” kind of hike), the other 14 are challenging both financially and physically. I expect this to be a long and difficult journey, but I hope I get the opportunity to complete my list. As the saying goes: “If it were easy, everyone would do it”. I will definitely be bringing my family with me on as many adventures as possible because, well, that’s the way it should be!