UA grad determined to defeat seven summits

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Patty Vaughan

More than two years have passed since Andrew Hillery graduated from the University, and in two years time, he has climbed three of the seven summits.

After Hurricane Katrina displaced his family in 2005, he became determined to fight back against Mother Nature by climbing Mount Everest.

“It was as clear as anything that has ever come to me,” Hillery said. “To climb Mount Everest just came to me as a way to get back after what had happened to my whole family.”

Gregg Harris, a close friend of Hillery for eight years, said something changed in his friend after Katrina.

“I think Andrew probably woke up a different person the day after Katrina, and I think that’s where a lot of his motivation comes from,” Harris said. “I’ve never met anybody that loved New Orleans as much as he did or had as much pride for the city.”

In summer 2005, Hillery worked two jobs and set aside every paycheck towards the mountains.

Along with saving money, Hillery had to get into shape. Every day while he was in school, Hillery would sneak into Bryant-Denny Stadium to run the stairs.

“People would see me after class throwing my book bag over the fence or if it was open, I would sneak in,” Hillery said. “Every now and then a guard would say something, but I would just tell them ‘I’m training for Everest.’ I always got a weird look.”

Along with running the steps of the stadium, Hillery ran for two to four hours each day along the Riverwalk and swam the Black Warrior River three or four times. Hillery started participating in triathlons, including the Collegiate National Championship Triathlon hosted in Tuscaloosa.

Some friends of Hillery believed that his goal was farfetched. However, his best friend, Brendan Batt, was determined to stand by Hillery.

“Brendan definitely had a huge part in everything,” Hillery said. “It was half and half with everything that got started,” he said. “We came up with the idea together.”

In 2006, Batt and Hillery attended Mountain Madness, a seven-day course that trains people in glacier climbing and rescue. By traveling to the Cascade Mountains, Batt and Hillery spent seven days on a glacier at the base of Mount Shuksan. At the end of the seven days, the students had a choice to either summit the mountain or turn back. Without hesitation, Batt and Hillery chose to climb the mountain.

After reaching the summit of his first mountain, Hillery couldn’t get enough. Immediately following Mount Shuksan, he climbed Mount Rainier, which is also located in the Cascade Mountains and is the tallest peak in the lower 48 states.

After these two feats, Hillery decided he needed to change his goal about climbing Mount Everest.

“My goal started at Mount Everest, but after I learned more about Everest, I changed my goal to the seven summits, which are the highest mountains on each continent,” Hillery said.

Andrew Hillery Trains, Surfs, and Summits Mt.McKinley 20,320ft – 2009 from andrew hillery on Vimeo.

In 2008, Hillery and Batt climbed the first of seven summits in Russia by scaling Mount Elbrus, which is 18,841 feet high.

“I dragged my snowboard all the way to the top and snowboarded from the summit, which doesn’t happen much,” Hillery said. “After that one, I really knew I could handle the high altitude because I performed well that high up. It just kept getting more real and more real.”

However, as Hillery’s goals slowly changed, so did Batt’s. Their priorities landed in different places, so after climbing Elbrus in 2008, Hillery found himself alone in accomplishing his goal.

In 2009, he defeated the second summit by climbing the 20,330-foot Mount McKinley in Alaska.

“I summited that in 15 days, which is a pretty good time,” he said. “It usually takes anywhere from 20 to 25 days, so I summited pretty quickly, and it was pretty brutal weather. The more mountains I climb, the more experience I gain.”

Most recently, Hillery has returned from climbing Mount Aconcagua in Argentina, which is 22,841 feet high.

“Two days before the summit, I raced this porter, a Sherpa who carries the pots and the pans and all the heavy gear up,” Hillery said. “I raced him down from about 18,000 feet down to 15,000 feet.”

Hillery thought he was going to have four days to climb to the summit and be able to stop at the various camps. However, due to a storm, Hillery only had one day to rest after the race before climbing the mountain.

“We went from base camp to camp two to summit back to base camp in 29 hours,” Hillery said. “It was one of the fastest times of the whole season for all climbers. I was pretty proud of that one.”

Because of his physical ability and quick times in climbing the mountains, Hillery has been trained enough to join an Everest team that going up in March 2011. However, between now and then, Hillery must raise $25,000 — five times more than he needed for any other mountain he has had to climb.

Currently in Los Angeles and working as a ship supplier, he continues to sacrifice everything, including paychecks, toward the mountains, like he did through college.

“All I basically do out here is surf, work and train, and that’s it,” he said.

About once every six months, Hillery makes T-shirts with particular quotes that he sells in California, Alabama and his hometown of New Orleans to raise money towards his mission. He is currently working on starting a Web site called hillery2everest.com, where he can sell his T-shirts.

Climbing a mountain is nothing like he has ever experienced, and he said he will continue to always love the thrill.

“Taking that final step to the top of North or South America or Europe is just so self- fulfilling,” he said. “Getting to the top is just amazing because it’s so beautiful, and it’s so remote. The sky just looks different out there. It’s really, really blue. When you’re up 20,000 feet, it doesn’t look anything like it does down here.”

Mount Everest will not be the end for Hillery. Instead, he plans on continuing his goal by completing the rest of the seven summits by planning on climbing Mount Vinson Massif in Antarctica in 2013.