Colin O'Brady has gone were few Portland Timbers fans have gone before.
In late May, the Portland native completed the Explorers Grand Slam, a challenge to scale the highest points of each of the seven continents—otherwise known as the Seven Summits—in a world record 139 days, besting the previous record by nearly two months.
O'Brady also set a record that will likely never be duplicated: he raised a Portland Timbers scarf on each of the tallest peaks of every continent on Earth.
“When I was taking off for this journey I knew I wanted to have a piece of home with me at all times to represent [Portland], and I thought what better way than the Timbers – a team that I love and embrace and who just won a championship – as a way of representing home and representing such an awesome sports franchise.”
On Christmas Day 2015, O'Brady set off for Antarctica to reach the South Pole and summit Mt. Vinson, the continent's highest peak. It marked the first leg of O'Brady's record-setting attempt, a dream born nearly two years earlier when O'Brady, a triathlete and adventurer, felt that competition had grown stale for him.
“I decided that I wanted to do a project that still continued in the vein of endurance sport but that also had a charitable component to it and a larger platform to it: a platform to inspire healthy, active kids,” O'Brady says.
O’Brady and his organization BEYOND 7/2 looked to use his quest to help raise $1 million in partnership with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. Their goal is to reduce the prevalence of childhood obesity and to empower kids to develop lifelong, healthy habits.
From Antarctica, O'Brady traveled to Argentina where he summited Aconcagua (22,838 feet) in the Andes mountain range. Then, with almost no break between climbs, O'Brady traveled to Tanzania in Africa to summit the famed Mount Kilimanjaro. Because he was already acclimatized to altitude, O'Brady completed the summit in only 12 hours.
“I wanted to see if I could speed climb it, so I did it in a single twelve-hour push from the edge of the park all the way to the summit,” says O'Brady. “That is something that would only be possible if I was pre-acclimatized and even then that was a massive undertaking.”
Calling O'Brady's entire journey a massive undertaking almost seems like an understatement when you consider that he spent fewer than six months traversing the entirety of the globe while climbing and trekking in some of the most inhospitable environments on the planet. O'Brady's trip took him from Antarctica to Argentina to Tanzania to Australia to Indonesia to Russia to the North Pole to Nepal to Alaska.
All of it – the travel, the climbing, the altitude – took its toll on O'Brady.
One night, high atop the world at 21,200 feet and sitting in his tent at Mount Everest's Camp 2, O'Brady found himself seized with doubts. He had just spent some 30 minutes taking off his boots and as he spoke with his fiancée Jenna Besaw over the phone, his mental and physical exhaustion overwhelmed him.
“I have no idea how I'm going to find the energy to do this,” he remembers telling Besaw.
There he was, 8,000 feet short of the mountain's peak and with one other summit, Denali in Alaska, still left to climb before the end of his journey. O'Brady had to reach down deep to summon up the energy to keep going.
During his first, thwarted attempt at Everest's summit, O'Brady and his Sherpa guide, Passang Bhote, tried to push from Camp 2 to Camp 4 (at 25,700 feet) in a single attempt. The weather, however, had other plans, and despite reaching their destination at Camp 4, O'Brady and Bhote had to descend back down to Camp 2 to wait out the adverse conditions.
A second attempt at Camp 4 took longer than he had anticipated, but O'Brady's patience paid off; the weather cleared up long enough for he and Bhote to begin their final ascent.
At 7:40 a.m. on May 19, O'Brady stood atop the world's highest peak, Timbers scarf in hand. After all the hardships he'd endured to get there, those 30 minutes atop Everest were some of the happiest moments of his life.
But after all the challenges of Everest, O'Brady's journey still wasn't done. As soon as he completed his descent of the mountain – an often overlooked danger of the climb – O'Brady hopped on several planes, flew from Kathmandu to Dubai to Seattle to Anchorage, and began his final ascent of North America's highest peak: Denali.
This last leg, as O'Brady sees it, may have been the most difficult of his entire record-setting trip.
“I summited Mount Everest on the May 19 and then I summited Denali on the May 27 so there were only eight days [between] those summit days, including getting down from Mount Everest, flying halfway across the world to Alaska, getting on a bush plane, flying into the glacier, the whole thing,” he says. “That consecutive nature was ultimately the biggest challenge throughout this whole process.”
With his adrenaline pumping and knowing he was within sight of breaking yet another world record – scaling the Seven Summits in a mere 132 days (that's approximately one summit every 19 days) – O'Brady made one final, exhausting push up the mountain. On May 27, he reached Denali's summit.
Looking back on his achievement, O'Brady is understandably proud, but he's also happy that he had the chance to represent his home city, even if it was sometimes difficult to get the perfect picture.
“If you see some of the photos, you'll see that on some I did a better job of displaying the scarf than on others – the wind was blowing a bit hard on Everest – but I brought it up to the top of every single one.”