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Adventurer Colin O'Brady attempts new record in Explorers Grand Slam


COURTESY PHOTOS: COLIN OBRADY - Portland resident Colin OBrady flashes a flag representing his nonprofit Beyond 7/2 at the summit of Aconcagua in Argentina. He decided to climb the 22,841-foot Aconcagua alone, and encountered strong winds.As Colin O’Brady prepared to tackle the fourth adventure in the Explorers Grand Slam, climbing 19,341-foot Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, he informed local organizers that he would be trying to reach the summit in one day.

And, as the story goes, more than a few Tanzanian guides refused to go with him.

“They told me afterward that about 30 different guides said no to the trip,” says O’Brady, via telephone from Australia, during a break in his epic quest. “They said, ‘He’s crazy, it can’t be done like that.’

“But, I found a great guide, Frank — I don’t know his last name. It’s not commonly done in one day. We did it in one 12-hour push. Proud moment for me. It was a different, more challenging route than I had done before (in 2013), and I did it in one push.”

It’s an example of just how crazy, er, dedicated O’Brady is. The Northwest Portland resident, and 2002 Lincoln High School graduate, will be trying to conquer the tallest summits on seven continents and reach the North and South poles on skis in less than six months, which would be a record for the Explorers Grand Slam. Barring a setback, O’Brady should accomplish the feat in about five months, which would easily be the record.

He started preparations Christmas Day 2015, and then reached the South Pole on Jan. 10, the official start date of the Explorers Grand Slam. O’Brady summited Mount Vinson in Antarctica seven days later and, soon after, conquered Aconcagua in Argentina (South America).

Having recently ascended Kilimanjaro (Africa), he started this week climbing Carstensz Pyramid in Indonesia (Oceania). Also in March, he plans to summit Mount Elbrus in Russia (Europe).

“Then it gets serious,” O’Brady says. “I’ve always looked at the final third of the project as the most challenging. In quick succession, it’ll be the North Pole (in April), Mount Everest (Nepal/Tibet, Asia, in May) and Denali (in Alaska, North America, in June). They are all longer and very cold and tense expeditions. That’s a 2 1/2-month timeframe.”

O’Brady plans to be done in early June, which would make it a five-month record feat.

“I feel very confident in my physical ability to climb mountains. There are certain things you can’t control — abjective hazards, avalanche, weather.

But, we’ve done a great job with logistics, things I can control. And there’s a little bit of luck involved.”

The idea to accomplish the Explorers Grand Slam arose a few years back, when he and fiancee Jenna Besaw visited a bookstore and noticed the book “Climbing the Seven Summits,” by Mike Hamill. O’Brady bought it for Besaw’s birthday, and the two then decided that maybe O’Brady should try accomplishing the feat, and more — the Explorers Grand Slam. They established the nonprofit Beyond 7/2, set out to find financial backing, and found it mostly from Brian Gelber, of the financial Gelber Group of Chicago, and the Nike Foundation. O’Brady and Besaw, Beyond 7/2’s executive director, backbone of the project, and his emotional support, have dedicated the

enormous activity to combating childhood obesity, hoping to raise $1 million and partnering with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.

“It’s a meaningful project for the both of us,” Besaw says. “We look forward to telling our kids about it, and making sure they’re active and healthy and getting outdoors.”

The project also has roots in O’Brady’s own life. Born in Olympia, Wash., he was 9 months old when his family moved to Portland. He grew up competing in swimming and soccer, and participated in each at Lincoln High, and then swam on scholarship at Yale University.

COURTESY PHOTOS: COLIN OBRADY - Portland resident Colin OBrady flashes a flag representing his nonprofit Beyond 7/2 at the summit of Aconcagua in Argentina. He decided to climb the 22,841-foot Aconcagua alone, and encountered strong winds.In 2006, while backpacking through Thailand, O’Brady suffered an accident while fire-dancing (jumping a flaming rope) and suffered burns on 25 percent of his body, mostly his legs and feet. Doctors told him that he wouldn’t walk normally again, which inspired O’Brady to prove them wrong, and he engaged in triathlon training. He eventually competed in the 2009 Olympic-distance Chicago Triathlon, finishing as the top amateur, and then set about competing in triathlons as a professional.

The sight of “Climbing the Seven Summits” got things started on this big adventure and preparations began after O’Brady completed a half-Ironman triathlon in 2014.

“Jenna and I thought this is amazing, and we wondered if there was a way to create a platform, rather than it be about personal success or failure,” the 6-foot, 165-pound O’Brady says. “This record pursuit is my own passion, but it’s also a way of building and strengthening community outreach.”

O’Brady describes the Carstensz Pyramid as “the most technically demanding” part of the project, because it likely will be in dry conditions and requires rock climbing rather than simply traversing snow and glaciers. However, the first four parts of the Explorers Grand Slam haven’t been without peril.

A storm slowed the North Pole march on skis, and ambient temperature on Mount Vinson was minus-30 degrees, and with wind chill at the top it was minus-50. “I had never experienced that level of cold in my life,” he says. “You expose your skin for a minute, you can get frostbite.”

For Aconcagua, a mountain just under 23,000 feet, he went without his climbing partner to get it done more quickly, and high winds slowed him. “It was certainly a challenging way to do it,” O’Brady adds.

Ahead of schedule, he then found a Tanzanian guide (Frank) to go with him up Kilimanjaro and summited it in a day.

O’Brady says all mountaineers go on adventures knowing the risks and when to exercise caution and safety. For example, for Aconcagua, he aborted his ascent briefly because of high winds.

“It’s important to come back safe with all your fingers and toes,” he says.

Preparation, experience and O’Brady’s fitness and heart combine to give him and his fiancee confidence.

Says Besaw: “We control what we can control. Barring any major disasters or natural disasters, I’m pretty confident we can pull this off. I’m confident of him on the mountains. He’s the most fit he’s ever been. He’s ready for this.”

For updates on O’Brady’s Explorers Grand Slam, see www.beyond72.com, and you can follow him on Twitter.