Outside contributor Alan Arnette discusses his plan to climb the seven summits and raise more than $1 millon for Alzheimer's research—all within a year. To listen to the extended interview click here, or subscribe to our iTunes podcasts.
What’s the goal?
I’m trying to raise a million dollars for Alzheimer’s research and awareness of the disease, and to give visibility to the caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients.
I didn’t live in my car and rock-climb as an 18-year-old. Around my mid-30s, I started climbing. Since my 38th birthday, I’ve been on 25 expeditions around the world, including Broad Peak, K2, and Everest.
What motivated you to use climbing as a means for raising awareness about Alzheimer’s?
My mother Ida died of Alzheimer’s about a year and a half ago. As we watched her going through the stages of Alzheimer’s—losing your short-term memory, your long-term memory, your ability to care for yourself, your identity, and then your life—we felt horribly frustrated. I learned more and came to understand it can hit people in their 50s. It’s not related to diet or exercise. There’s no way to prevent it. And, worst of all, there’s no cure. So I said, “I need to do something to raise awareness.”
What did you do?
I’ve posted videos on my website and Outside to hopefully bring people in. One of the most poignant moments was when I sat down to talk with her about my dad, who was going through some physical problems at the end of his life. I said, “Mom, Dad is in some serious shape.” She said, “I know, I know. But who are you again?” She had no idea who I was.
How did that feel?
It was a wake-up call. Mom was always the memory keeper in our family. She could tell you what cousin Bill’s brother’s uncle did yesterday. So for her all of a sudden to not even recognize her own son was frustrating and sad. Later, I just totally broke down. It was a devastating personal moment.
How are the climbs going?
I’ve been overwhelmed by the number of emails I’ve received from people who have parents going through Alzheimer’s. It’s important to note that I never even touch a penny of the donations. The links on the site go straight to the causes. None of the money supports me or my climbs. I ask people to make a pledge of a penny a foot. Every time I raise another foot higher, it’s another penny in the bank.
But you take donations on the metric system as well?
Metric, imperial, intergalactic, you name it.