Humility, humanity and bravery are written on the first page of the book “Die Trying.”
For some, these are just 26 letters making up four words. But for Bo Parfet, a CSU alumnus and author of the book, it’s the lesson learned by climbing the Seven Summits —- the highest mountains on each continent.
Parfet is an energetic man at the age of 31. He has a spring in his step matched only by that in his voice, and he is alive. More alive than most people. To say he has an air of livelihood about him would be an understatement.
His mouth is full of Buffalo Chicken pizza as he pauses from speaking to throw his hands in the air and exclaim “Delicious!” in the quiet and classy California Pizza Kitchen. He doesn’t care. He’s just happy to have pizza.
And after spending months on Everest in two tries at the summit — eating Snickers, Ramen noodles, yak meat and rice and beans — who wouldn’t be ecstatic for pizza?
‘For me, it was racecars’
If one were to define Parfet by strict boundaries, he is a businessman and a mountaineer. But he’s always wondered if he would have been a racecar driver if he’d grown up around it, he said.
“If your parents put a golf club in your hands at 2 years old, would you be the next Tiger Woods?” he asked. “I’ve always wondered that question. And for me, it was racecars.”
Parfet grew up in Kalamazoo, Mich., with two sisters, a brother and parents whose divorce wasn’t smooth. Amid what he called a “tough home environment,” he was seeing letters backwards because of his dyslexia. In first grade, Parfet started receiving special help in class, but, nonetheless, as he stood with his parents, his second grade teacher told them he would never graduate high school.
“Retrospectively, what it taught me was that if I could make it through a day of first grade, I can make it through anything,” he said.
Remember, the man has climbed the highest mountains on Earth, an adventure totaling 149,425 vertical feet. But for him, it was still easier than first grade.
Now Parfet has come to a very stern conclusion about adversity. He says it can be a debilitating obstacle or a tremendous motivator. For him it was both, leaving him feeling worthless as a child and motivated as an adult.
“Because of all those people that told me I couldn’t achieve, there’s a fire in my belly that still burns today,” he said. “And I need to thank them because I have tremendous drive.”
The door cracked open
When Parfet was an undergraduate economics student at CSU, he often hiked around Fort Collins with his friends, he said.
He recalls a hike to Horsetooth Rock when many of the people he was with got tired. He said he started carrying their water and encouraging them.
“And I became their Sherpa, essentially,” he said, referring to the Tibetans who are often employed as guides on the route up Mount Everest.
After that, he began to hike all over the state and at higher elevations, which turned into rock scrambling and then rock climbing, he said.
While in a military skills class, Parfet overheard his classmates discussing their upcoming Longs Peak climb. After persuading his instructor to let him come — even though he wasn’t part of ROTC — he tagged along unregistered, as if he were never there.
“The door to mountaineering cracked open,” he said. “It didn’t open all the way. It just cracked open.”
Since then, Parfet has climbed the Seven Summits and many mountains in between. He also worked to set up philanthropies, including student scholarships, on each continent before he went.
“I view climbing mountains in some of the most beautiful places on Earth as a gift, and I wanted to honor that gift by doing philanthropic things on each continent,” he said.
The way the Seven Summits were chosen is a little tricky, but Parfet explains it in his book by saying, “There are two different versions of the Seven Summits: The list first postulated by Richard Bass and another then compiled by Reinhold Messner, which replaces Australia’s highest mountain with the tallest mountain in Oceania/Australasia.”
So the Seven, or technically eight, Summits are as follows: Kilimanjaro in Africa, Cerro Aconcagua in South America, Denali in North America, Vinson Massif in Antarctica, Mount Elbrus in Europe, Carstensz Pyramid in Oceania/Australasia, Mount Kosciuszko in Australia and Mount Everest in Asia. And each mountain drew Parfet closer to becoming a strong leader and steered him toward the ultimate lesson of humility.
Parfet has gained a more quiet confidence since his Seven Summits expedition because he’s accomplished something, said Richard Wiese, a friend of Parfet’s and president of the Explorer’s Club — an international club promoting field research and exploration — from 2002 to 2006.
“There was a time when I would have led Bo, and now I would look to him for leadership in certain aspects,” Wiese said
Parfet knows he wasn’t always a good leader, and Wiese said Parfet would be the first to admit he is still growing in that area.
Parfet said there are three components to a good leader: Knowing when to lead, knowing when to follow and knowing when to be quiet and listen.
“On a mountain and in life, the real magic is when you learn how to combine all those things and the real successful people in life have made that an art,” he said. “There’s a magic in it. And that really comes from knowing yourself.”
Climbing Everest was the last of Parfet’s Seven Summits expeditions. And it wasn’t until his second attempt at the summit that he learned humility, which carries through to all aspects of his life, he said.
On the climb he was preparing his gear at the Everest Base Camp with his Sherpa, Top Jin. He asked him if he had any final words of advice, and Top Jin replied, “Be humble.”
Parfet said he always thought you needed a stubborn ego to climb mountains. But he admits now that he was very wrong.
“It took me a long time to learn humility. Remember all the mistakes I kept making?” he asked. “They say you learn from your mistakes and other people’s mistakes. If that’s true, then I should be Albert Einstein. But I don’t think I’m that unique. It takes a lot of people a long time.”
A mantra Wiese quotes furthers Parfet’s sentiment: “The real mark of a climber is how they pull themselves out of a crevasse. It’s not how you stand at the summit holding a flag.”
A part still lives in Nepal
For those that know Parfet well, it’s clear that he’s changed since his Seven Summits expeditions. And by talking to those that know him well, it’s clear that he left an impression on them.
“He’s a very entertaining guy, which sounds like a small thing,” said Mike Davey, who met Parfet in 2005 and summitted Everest with him in 2007. “He’s good company, and when you’re on a mountain for two months in freezing cold and missing your family, that’s a big asset.”
Parfet said that while a part of him wanted to continue climbing mountains away from home, coming home was necessary because his family and his income are in the U.S.
But part of him will always live in Nepal, he said.
“I have a problem,” he said. “The problem is that I get to go back to climb every few years.”
Parfet hasn’t done much climbing since his Everest summit in May 2007, but he is training to climb Manaslu in Nepal and working at MPI Research, a contract research organization, as well as with Iconic Development, a green real estate company that he and a friend started.
Parfet spent a year writing his book and said it was a challenge, but he is happy with the way it turned out.
“The book is for anyone who wants to be inspired or change (his or her) life for the better,” he said. “I also wrote it for my kids and grandkids so they can say, ‘Hey if grandpa did it, I can do it.'”
Staff writer Cece Wildeman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.