How One Mountain Climber “Climbs Over” Pandemic

May 4, 2020

Andrew Hughes

With trips to Mount Everest canceled for this spring season, Andrew Hughes was devastated at this news as he prepared to attempt an exceptional back-to-back climb of Mount Everest and Lhotse. Andrew recently returned as the fastest and first American man to ever complete the Antarctica Trifecta in a single season by Skiing the Last Degree to the South Pole and reaching the summits of Mount Vinson (the highest mountain) and Mount Sidley (the highest volcano) in Antarctica in 43 days.

Over this next month, Andrew encourages us all to flatten the curve in the same way climbers must flatten the mountain, turning the summit into simply another step and transforming the top of the curve into only a marker on the path to full recovery from the impacts of this pandemic:

As a professional mountain climber, having your expedition to attempt Mount Everest and Lhotse in Nepal – the highest mountain in the world and the fourth highest mountain in the world – canceled due to COVID-19 after months upon months of training and years upon years of preparing and dreaming, must be tough.  Tell us how you are moving forward from this news.

On the mountain, we are beholden to the conditions that present themselves and must be ready to postpone one’s attempt should it be unreasonably dangerous to ascend. Amidst any storm, including a storming global pandemic, it is not about curing the weather of the day, but making reasonable decisions, validating the feelings arising from this alteration of one’s plans, and then starting the process of altering one’s perspectives to bring a sense of peace and continued purpose to the path ahead.

Amidst this pandemic, which has delayed the dreams of so many, I continue to grasp for gratitude and frame these times in a way that I cherish what this time offers, not what it takes away. The mountains will always be there, this is a time to prioritize being there for one another for even when we are distanced, we are not disconnected from one another in our effort to overcome Covid-19.

What suggestions do you have for the general population on flattening the curve in the same way climbers must flatten the mountain?

We must flatten the curve in the same way climbers must flatten the mountain, turning the summit into simply another step and transforming the top of the curve into only a marker on the path to full recovery from the impacts of this pandemic. We must seek beyond the summit and see beyond the curve.

This is a long journey and maintaining our own strength, focus, and wellness while being there for those in our communities, in any way we can, will ensure we simply don’t crest the curve of Covid-19, but carry ourselves safely back to being whole in all our communities.

Four ways of doing this include:

1) Seek Small Daily Summits

We have the power to navigate through these turbulent and uncertain times by seeking smaller daily summits and finding ways to guide ourselves ever onward. No matter how incremental each positive and productive step taken, it is one moving us toward those goals which still sit in our future awaiting our eventual arrival.

2) Seek Connection

Unlike the mountain, we have a vast number of means to remain in one another’s lives. Call family, friends, co-workers. Set up video chats and happy hours. We make it through hard isolating times by remembering we are never truly alone.

3) Seek Movement

Honoring our bodies by finding creative ways to remain active is vital not only for trying to hold onto that summer bod, but being active has been shown to improve mental health and boost your immune system. This doesn’t mean doing the training routines we have known, but remaining hyperlocal and respectful of social distancing.

4) Seek Positive Self Care and Improvement

When we are isolated often many of the things we would do normally seem impossible to do. However, as I was told long ago on the mountain, even when we are limited in training and developing our bodies, we can always do so with our mind, emotions, and spirit. For many this may be a time for increased self-care, to strengthen and improve ourselves in ways perhaps we often don’t have time or a schedule to do from meditation, to yoga, to a creative pursuit.

What is your personal approach to fitness right now during COVID-19.  What are you doing day-to-day?

Even though my routine and training has been uprooted and altered, I continue to find ways to honor my body and train for the unknown, always keeping in mind though this is a period of time where my own training desires can’t outweigh the common good of combating Covid-19.

I continue to do what I can daily to work towards my now delayed dreams, even if it seems my progress is immeasurably small, minute movements create momentum. I know I have the power to navigate through these turbulent and uncertain times by seeking smaller daily summits and finding ways to guide myself creatively forward with my fitness training.

I’ve adopted a practice of hyperlocal hiking, donning heavy packs and weight vests within my own neighborhood and exploring what is near in further depth then I have ever done. Beyond these hikes a few times a week, I have started a #StepUpTogether Challenge to share the goal of being active in and around one’s home with those in my social network and will be aiming to complete my own #AtHomeEverest on April 30th, completing the elevation gains from Everest Base Camp to the summit of Everest and back again all on my own humble stairs leading to my front door.

Additionally, I do strength training with body weight exercises or other items around the house to add resistance and weight. Running and cycling locally and socially distanced is integrated for more cardio. Using the many free online yoga practices helps to balance out my training.

It is also so important to view this time when perhaps physical fitness is more difficult to maintain at the same level we had been previously as an opportunity to strengthen our minds by developing deeper knowledge of skills, planning out logistical requirements for future adventures, and partaking in mental wellness practices like meditation. We do not reach our individual summits because of the strength of our bodies, but because of the strength of our minds, hearts, and spirits – so train those hard during this time.

What was the catalyst for you to pursue mountain climbing?

For most of my life, I pursued a path that checked all the boxes that aligned with the socially acceptable narrative of success from what I studied (obtaining four degrees), to the suited and booted career (running for US Congress), and even my relationships (married briefly, then divorced). Looking back I let the fear of not fitting in and an aspiration to always make others happy form the choices I made and be the determiner of the paths I took personally and professionally.

All the while on my horizon sat a 14,000+ foot mountain I would be moved by every time I caught sight of it. Somewhere within the dream began to grow to climb its glaciated and volcanic heights. I had no idea that the process leading to ascending Mt. Rainier in 2014 would ignite a passion to pursue the highest mountains in the world and from that pursuit businesses and brands would be further born.

The mountains and climbing became where I began to rediscover myself. I embraced the journey of redefining my relationship with discomfort, which altered my perspective of achievement, and unified the fragmented aspects of myself.

What are your top lifetime goals for mountain climbing and beyond?

At the heart of what I do is the mountains and my absolute humility for the heights I have reached which I believe sets me apart, as ego and conquest for me is not what the outdoors are about. I continue to spend months a year on expeditions and seeking to do what few have done, but do so because it is where I fuel my passion, creativity, and personal growth.

I continue on a journey exploring the world and its’ highest mountains. I have completed six of the Seven Summits (highest mountains on each continent) and six of the Seven Volcanic Summits (highest volcanoes on each continent) and am in pursuit of the rarely realized Explorers’ Grand Slam – climbing all of the Seven Summits and reaching both the North and South Poles.

This spring I was supposed to in Nepal attempting a rare back to back of Everest and Lhotse, the highest and fourth highest mountains in the world making me only the 44th person ever to do so. Of course, like so many quests this has been postponed to 2021 now.

I also recently became the fastest and first American man and third person ever to complete the Antarctica Trifecta with my climbing partner by consecutively Skiing the Last Degree to the South Pole and reaching the summits of Mount Vinson (the highest mountain) and Mount Sidley (the highest volcano) in Antarctica in 43 days roundtrip from home.

Describe a typical day in your life (COVID-19 time fine) from when you wake up to when you retire.

Working for myself and being an entrepreneur means the substantial shift for many to working from home has not altered my schedule dramatically in that respect – of course the current months I was supposed to be in Nepal climbing Everest, so my being home now means building out a schedule during a period I was supposed to be gone.

Beginning the day with thoughtfulness and some form of meditation frames the first part of my morning. Training for climbing the world’s highest mountains demands the time asked of a full-time job and since these sessions are required to be fasted they are front loaded in my day. During the time of Covid-19, the hours spent physically training have shifted to skill training and developing other projects and products I’ve been working on the last year.

Any calls and emails are scheduled if needed in the late morning or early afternoon leaving time to work on any deliverables I have for myself, for those I am working with, or which I have set for projects I am in the midst of working on to be realized by day’s end.

Evenings are reserved to reconnect with friends and loved ones (now a days online or on the phone), reading to decompress and get away from the screen which is often before me all day, and again conclude the day with a practice of gratitude. I also love cooking so making my girlfriend dinner and having time together is cherished.

Sleep is crucial and I am a firm believer 8 hours in the long run is essential on average and neglecting this will draw from productivity and your full potential.

Then repeat.