Pride and relief for Steamboat’s Kim Hess after climbing Seven Summits
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — On March 11, Steamboat resident Kim Hess, along with her brother, Steven, became the first brother-sister team to complete the Seven Summits, climbing the highest peak on each continent.
“I knew this day would come, eventually, but to finally be here is pretty unbelievable,” Hess, 33, said. “After more than seven years of chasing my Seven Summits dream, to finally reach the finish line is incredible. I feel an incredible sense of pride and accomplishment, but also relief and a bit of sadness.”
Hess knocked off the final — and easiest — chapter of her epic seven-year adventure by hiking the 10 miles to the summit of Australia’s 7,310-foot Mount Kosciusko. Her parents, in their 70s, were at the top to celebrate the feat with her and Steven.
“It was great to share it with our parents,” said Hess, who moved to Steamboat in 2009. “It was pretty emotional.”
The final trek was a far cry from her previous summits, which included everything from deadly earthquakes and avalanches to broken bones. Hess started her quest seven years ago after making a simple bet with Steven.
“I had been traveling for two years after college, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Hess said. “When he brought up this great idea, I said let’s do this.”
Deciding to tackle the least expensive expeditions first, the Hesses began their journey summiting Aconcagua, a 22,841-foot peak in the Andes between Chile and Argentina. “We wanted to make sure we liked it and could handle the altitude,” Hess said.
Then the peaks got progressively more expensive and difficult. From there it was off to 18,510-foot Mount Elbrus in the Caucasus Mountains of Russia before traipsing over to Africa to bag 19,341-foot Kilimanjaro.
Then things became a bit more technical. When climbing 20,310-foot Denali, Hess summited but broke her wrist in a fall during the descent. Her first attempt at Everest in 2015 was halted at Camp 2 due to an earthquake that caused deadly avalanches. She went back to reach the 29,029-foot summit May 20, 2016. Last year, she trekked all the way to Antarctica to climb 16,050-foot Mount Vinson.
“That one was hard to describe,” she said. “It was a flawless expedition filled with nothingness. No birds, no sounds, nothing to really see. Just pristine whiteness in 24-hour daylight. Time ceased to have a meaning, and you’re not sure where the ground ends and the sky begins.”
Back in Steamboat with the Seven Summits behind her, Hess, who bartends at Back Door Grill while growing her motivational speaking business, is enjoying the ability to sleep in and take advantage of Steamboat’s recreational pastimes. But with that comes a bit of sadness.
“That’s another emotion I struggle with,” she said. “It’s sad to be done climbing around the world with my brother. With it comes a sense of being lost and in need of a new life compass. It consumed every avenue of my life, and now that it’s over, I sort of don’t know what to do with myself — kind of like parents entering the ‘empty nest’ phase of life. It takes a bit of soul searching. I have to redefine what this next chapter in my life looks like, which is a pretty scary but exciting place to be.”
Nevertheless, she’s relieved the quest is in the books.
“It’s nice having nothing to worry about anymore,” she said. “Sometimes I couldn’t sleep at night — the stress of working, saving money, finding sponsors, blogging, social posts, staying healthy and training damaged my mind and body more than I care to admit. So there’s great relief in finally being able to say, ‘I climbed the Seven Summits,’ instead of saying I’m trying to climb them. As with any big project in life, there’s always a big sigh of relief at the end when it’s all over.”
Of course, knowing Hess, it might not be all over.
She still has a dream of accomplishing the Explorers Grand Slam, which adds traverses of the North and South poles. Hess said fewer than 60 people have completed the feat, and only 12 are women. As with the Seven Summits, it’s the physical and mental challenges that are alluring.
“I’m celebrating for the underdog, for everybody out there who feels like they can’t do something, and for everybody who overcame a challenge or setback,” she said.
That and what she’s learned along the way.
“The places I’ve traveled, the mountains I’ve climbed, and the people I’ve met have taught me and changed me in ways I can’t begin to comprehend,” she said. “I’m forever grateful for the opportunity to have experienced this wild rollercoaster of a journey and look forward to what’s next. I’m not quite ready to dive into the next adventure, but when I wake up from my slumber, I promise it will be exciting.”
Editor’s note: This was excerpted from the Summer 2018 issue of Steamboat Living magazine.
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