After the record has just been broken for the oldest 7summiteer (see this post about Ramon Blanco here
, there is a big chance that the record for the youngest will be broken in a few months!
In his bid to become the youngest person to climb the tallest mountain on each continent Britton Keeshan is using inspiration from his deceased grandfather; Keeshan is the grandson of Bob Keeshan, who died last month at 76 after a career in which he entertained millions of children as the walrus-mustachioed television Captain Kangaroo.
If he makes it on Everest, he will be 22 years old.
Climber gains on his goal
By Michael Dinan
February 2, 2004
The minus 40-degree sleeping bag, snow goggles and pile of dirty clothes spilling from a red backpack onto the worn cedar floor are just where Britton Keeshan dumped them when he returned last month from the south pole to the Cos Cob antique barn he calls home.
"I pretty much live out of a duffel bag," said Keeshan, a 22-year-old Greenwich native who spent five days in January climbing the highest mountain in Antarctica, 16,067-foot Vinson Massif.
"It's actually colder here than it was in Antarctica," he said.
It will get colder again for Keeshan, who flies to Nepal next month to tackle the world's tallest peak, Mount Everest, to complete the seventh and final climb of his Seven Summits adventure.
Only 78 people in the world have climbed the Seven Summits since American Dick Bass first accomplished the feat in 1985. The Seven Summits
are the highest peaks in each continent: Mount McKinley
in North America; Mount Aconcagua
in South America; Mount Elbrus
in Europe; Mount Kilimanjaro
in Africa; Mount Kosciuszko in Australia; Vinson Massif
in Antarctica; and Mount Everest
If he successfully ascends the 29,029-foot "roof of the world," as Mount Everest is known, Keeshan will break Japanese climber Atsushi Yamada
's 2002 record as the youngest person to complete the Seven Summits, eclipsing the mark by six months.
"The record is kind of the icing on the cake, but by no means is it the sole reason for my climb," Keeshan said. "With each climb I've learned a little more about myself. This has become less about the record and more about the journey on each mountain."
Keeshan's journey began in 1999, while he was on summer break from Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass.
"I was in a program with the National Outdoor Leadership School at the Waddington Range Traverse in British Columbia," said Keeshan, a 1997 graduate of Greenwich Country Day School. "It was a monthlong program and I learned everything about how to climb, walking techniques and basic survival skills. They taught us how to travel in a rope team, how to extricate people from glaciers, and how to extricate ourselves."
Keeshan used those mountain smarts late that summer on "Denali,"
as Mount McKinley is known in the native Alaskan language.
"When you're on mountains, you try to minimize the risk as much as possible, though there are objective hazards beyond your control," Keeshan said. "Our Denali route took us under a hanging glacier which occasionally spits out ice chunks, some as big as cars and some as big as houses. We minimized the risk of getting crushed by crossing under that ridge as quickly as possible, and we crossed at night so that the ice would hopefully be frozen onto the glacier."
The ice fall started 15 minutes after Keeshan's group had passed. Despite such dangers, Keeshan decided to try the Seven Summits immediately after Denali. It took more time to earn his parents' support, he said.
"I brought it up with my parents and their first reaction was to stay the course: Go to school," Keeshan said. "I told them I could become the youngest person to do it. It took a little while, but they realized it was an achievable goal and a good thing for me to do. I finally got their support."
In February 2001, Keeshan entered Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vt. Taking as much time as his schedule allowed between January and April of that year, he finished three more continents on the Seven Summits list, climbing the highest peaks of South America, Europe and Africa.
The last of those was Mount Kilimanjaro.
"Every mountain has its incredible moments, but the one that stands out the most in my mind is when I climbed Kilimanjaro," Keeshan recalled. "We started our summit climb at three in the morning when everything was dark. Kilimanjaro is actually a volcano and we made it to the rim of the crater at 5 a.m. It was about an hour to the summit and just as I took the last few steps to the highest point, the sun started coming up on the horizon. Kiliminjaro
is not the only high peak in Africa. It's the only one that really stands on its own, and all you see from the mountain top are the Serengeti plains, completely flat all around you. I'm not usually an emotional person, but I started crying."
Keeshan looked out on the Serengeti with a climbing team he met through Alpine Ascents International, a Seattle-based mountaineering school that organizes travel arrangements, equipment, tents, food and guides for climbers.
Expedition manager Andy Tyson guided Keeshan's team on Vinson Massif last month.
"Britton is a super high-energy, very engaged climber who is excited about both mountains and people," Tyson said. "On that particular mountain, a lot of the folks are older, but they enjoyed his presence."
Keeshan was alone, a year and a half later, atop Australia's Mount Kosciuszko, by far the lowest of the Seven Summits at 7,310 feet.
"That wasn't really a climb, it was more of a hike," Keeshan said. "I did it in a day and just brought a newspaper with me to the top and took a picture of myself to prove that I had done it."
That was last April, and Keeshan had just two continents left: Antarctica and Asia.
The problem was that those trips required a lot of money, and the mountains' ideal climbing seasons conflicted with his schedule as a double major in religion and molecular biology-biochemistry at college.
"I called Middlebury and told them I'm taking the spring semester off to do this," Keeshan said.
He asked various companies in the United States to sponsor him and cover the cost of the expensive expeditions. He received a positive response from AT&T.
Eric Lilja, director of consumer sponsorships at the company's Morristown, N.J., office, reviewed Keeshan's proposal.
"We basically felt it was a very inspirational story and there were many links with themes to his climb that we also believe in," Lilja said. "Certainly he's a remarkable individual. Climbing the world's tallest mountains takes teamwork."
With his sponsor on board, Keeshan was ready to tackle his last two summits.
Now, with only Mount Everest between him and his quest, Keeshan is back in Cos Cob, contemplating what it will take and what he will do after he has completed next month's trek.
"It's a two-and-a-half-month climb," said Keeshan, as his 10-month-old Bernese mountain dog, Denali, nipped playfully at his hands. "You spend a lot of time sitting and waiting for the right weather conditions and for your body to acclimatize to the altitude. I definitely need to stay healthy."
He also needs to stay heavy. Keeshan loses about 15 to 20 pounds on each climb.
"I lift weights and do endurance training, and I also have to eat a pint of Ben & Jerry's ice cream every night to increase my fat," he said.
But the biggest challenges are not the physical threats that Mount Everest presents to his 5-foot, 6-inch, 140-pound body, Keeshan said.
"You have to be able to mentally handle everything that's thrown at you," he said. "That's the great thing about climbing. You have to have incredible focus, and it comes down to just putting one foot in front of the other to get through it. Climbing allows me to leave all the problems of a hectic day to day at sea level. It allows me to escape and be introverted and think about things that I have no time to think about."
An aspiring doctor who plans to take the Medical College Admission Test this fall, Keeshan's feet will be planted firmly on the ground in Nepal.
"I'll probably be the only person in the history of Everest to bring his MCAT book to base camp," he said.
Copyright © 2004, Southern Connecticut Newspapers, Inc.
We wish Britton all the best of luck and safety and hope to add him to the official seven summits statistics