Oct 112011
 
Authors: Allison Sylte

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 Arnette’s mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, forcing Arnette to take an early retirement to care for his mother. After she passed away in 2009, Arnette made Alzheimer’s awareness his life’s mission, using mountaineering as a means to raise awareness.

In addition to summiting all 54 of Colorado’s 14ers, Arnette, now 55, recently completed six of the “Seven Summits,” or the seven highest peaks on each continent, as part of a campaign aimed at raising $1 million for Alzheimer’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 Alzheimer’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 you’ve done since her death?

A: I would tell her that what she went through wasn’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 Alzheimer’s awareness?

A: I always say that if I could sing or dance, I would, but I don’t. What I am good at is keeping an audience entertained through speaking and though climbing mountains. I’ve learned that you’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 Alzheimer’s researcher. On Mt. McKinley (one of the Seven Summits) I didn’t ultimately make it to the top, which other people consider a failure, and I just consider that a lesson learned –– 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.

What’s the coolest expedition you’ve been a part of?

A: Of all of the Seven Summits, Everest was definitely the highlight, especially because I’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 you’re at the bottom of the Earth is very satisfying.

How has your outlook changed after climbing the Seven Summits?

A: I’ve become more and more struck by the power of Alzheimer’s. On a lot of my climbs, at least half of the people have been impacted in some ways by the disease, and I’ve just realized the profound human impact that it’s had.

I’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 Alzheimer’s.

I’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 “and” or an “or,” 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 can’t be beat.

There were things I learned from climbing I was able to carry over into my corporate job. My motto is, “Is it hard, or is it impossible?”

That’s something you really wonder when you’re at 22,000, and it’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. I’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.

You’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!

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