When Alan Arnette was 38 and working for Hewlett-Packard in Switzerland, he discovered his passion for climbing. Since then, he has gone on at least one major expedition a year.
But tragedy struck in 2007, when Arnetteâ€™s mother was diagnosed with Alzheimerâ€™s, forcing Arnette to take an early retirement to care for his mother. After she passed away in 2009, Arnette made Alzheimerâ€™s awareness his lifeâ€™s mission, using mountaineering as a means to raise awareness.
In addition to summiting all 54 of Coloradoâ€™s 14ers, Arnette, now 55, recently completed six of the â€œSeven Summits,â€ or the seven highest peaks on each continent, as part of a campaign aimed at raising $1 million for Alzheimerâ€™s research.
Arnette, a Fort Collins resident, will be speaking at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Lory Student Center Room 220-222.
You summited Mt. Everest in May. What was that like?
Arnette: I felt tiny and very humbled. It was amazing, just the sheer size of it. It takes 10-15 hours to get to the top, and from the summit, I could see the curvature of the Earth, and even the sun rising from far away.
I was lucky enough to talk about my mom on the summit, and to continue to raise awareness for Alzheimerâ€™s, which I also felt very blessed to get to do.
If your mom were still alive, what do you wish you could say to her, after all that youâ€™ve done since her death?
A: I would tell her that what she went through wasnâ€™t in vain, that what she went through is actually helping people as they live with that terrible disease.
Why use climbing as your means to raise Alzheimerâ€™s awareness?
A: I always say that if I could sing or dance, I would, but I donâ€™t. What I am good at is keeping an audience entertained through speaking and though climbing mountains. Iâ€™ve learned that youâ€™ve got to just take advantage of the talents that you have.
But I also think that there are a lot of parallels between being a climber and being, for instance, an Alzheimerâ€™s researcher. On Mt. McKinley (one of the Seven Summits) I didnâ€™t ultimately make it to the top, which other people consider a failure, and I just consider that a lesson learned â€“â€“ which I imagine is the same mindset researchers might have when a clinical trial fails.
You learn something every time, and I always tell myself that there are a thousand reasons to stop, but only one reason to keep going, and you have to find what that reason is.
Whatâ€™s the coolest expedition youâ€™ve been a part of?
A: Of all of the Seven Summits, Everest was definitely the highlight, especially because Iâ€™ve tried it three times before, but weather and health ultimately turned me around. So summiting it was a special accomplishment.
Mt. Vincent in Antarctica was also astounding. Getting to Antarctica was a challenge in itself, and just the knowledge that youâ€™re at the bottom of the Earth is very satisfying.
How has your outlook changed after climbing the Seven Summits?
A: Iâ€™ve become more and more struck by the power of Alzheimerâ€™s. On a lot of my climbs, at least half of the people have been impacted in some ways by the disease, and Iâ€™ve just realized the profound human impact that itâ€™s had.
Iâ€™ve also realized that I can make a difference. At least 13 million people have been exposed to my message, and getting the chance to talk about climbing and the disease and to raise awareness has been a great opportunity.
What advice do you have for other people who want to make a difference?
A: Find something personal to you and that you can immerse yourself in. People often ask me about climbing, and I tell them that climbing is the vehicle for me to spread my greater message about Alzheimerâ€™s.
Iâ€™m also lucky in that I have an incredibly supportive family, including a wife and a grown daughter, who are absolutely amazing.
How does spending a lot of your time climbing differ from the time you spent in the corporate world?
A: I never considered climbing vs. being a corporate employee an â€œandâ€ or an â€œor,â€ necessarily.
But, by the same token, getting out of the windowless conference room, feeling the breeze in your face and climbing a mountain is something that canâ€™t be beat.
There were things I learned from climbing I was able to carry over into my corporate job. My motto is, â€œIs it hard, or is it impossible?â€
Thatâ€™s something you really wonder when youâ€™re at 22,000, and itâ€™s a question that I used to ask my co-workers at HP when there were things that we needed to get done.
How do you train for all of these expeditions?
A: Longs Peak is my local training peak. Iâ€™ve climbed on it 100 times, and summitted it more than 20 times, in almost every month, while carrying a 60-pound pack.
I also do a few laps of Horsetooth while carrying my pack.
While training for the Seven Summits, I used to do a 14er a weekend, and I ended up doing 30 in a year.
Youâ€™re currently 55 years old. Do you see yourself slowing down anytime soon?
A: Not by design, although I did sprain my ankle coming down Kilimanjaro this September!