Mountaineer offers tips for navigating icy city
Focus and fitness are paramount for navigating city’s sidewalks, laneways
• Montreal Gazette
• 28 Feb 2019
• BILL BROWNSTEIN
Theodore Fairhurst is the oldest person on Earth to have scaled the world’s Seven Summits as well as its Volcanic Seven Summits.
The advice is simple and to the point: “Focus, plan your path, take small steps, wear sensible footwear, preferably with crampons, and, above all, feel confident, because fear of failure will bring you down almost every time. So will answering your cellphone.”
This advice comes courtesy of renowned Montreal mountain climber Theodore Fairhurst.
Two months ago, Fairhurst became the ninth and oldest person on the planet to scale the world’s Seven Summits as well as its Volcanic Seven Summits — the highest mountains of each of the seven continents in these two categories. Fairhurst, 71, is also the first North or South American to have accomplished these feats.
But Fairhurst’s aforementioned advice to this intrepid explorer does not relate to me attempting to scale the peaks of Everest or Kilimanjaro. (As if.) No, he has set a daunting new challenge for us: navigating our icy city sidewalks and laneways.
Fairhurst concedes he has taken his fair share of tumbles in his slippery Shaughnessy Village ’hood. There has been some salting on the sidewalk in front of his home, but it is buried so deep that even a mining prospector would have to rely on power tools to dig it out. As for the abrasive-less laneway adjacent to his home, he could conceivably skate on it, were it not for the foot-high rut running through the middle.
On the plus side, Fairhurst has determined we won’t be requiring his ice picks, grips, ropes or rappel gear for this odyssey, although helmets could have come in handy.
“Fitness is as paramount here as it is for mountain climbing,” Fairhurst notes. “But I don’t think anyone can avoid falling from time to time. There’s some pretty wicked stuff out there. Obviously, the city hasn’t maintained its streets and sidewalks as it should have. Although the winter has been particularly bad, there are parts of the city where it is more safe.”
But the important thing is that we made it through our jaunt, and without even having resorted to any double Salchow moves to stay vertical.
Back in the 1970s, our government aired PartipACTION messages, decrying the fact that the average 60-year-old Swede was in better shape than the average 30-year-old Canadian. Well, I defy the Swedes to come up with a 71-year-old in better shape than Fairhurst. Though he weighs but 130 pounds, he regularly bench presses more than 200 pounds. And he does all manner of sports.
But what possesses someone to undertake the mountain-climbing adventures he has?
“Again, it’s about following a path, but on another level,” says Fairhurst, also an artist and videographer who dabbles in real estate. “And when you follow it long enough, you continue pushing your limits further and further.”
He began his climbing odyssey in 2006, taking on Aconcagua in Argentina, the highest mountain in the Southern and Western Hemispheres. Over the next eight years, he would complete climbing the Seven Summits, including Everest, Denali and Kilimanjaro.
In 2014, after scaling the mountains, he set across the North Atlantic with a team in a 65-foot ocean-racing boat. And in 2015, he took it a tad easier, mountain biking across Scotland.
But those feats were clearly not challenging enough for Fairhurst. So, upon turning 70 in 2017, he decided he would then undertake to ascend the world’s Volcanic Seven Summits, but in just one year. He had done two of the mountains, Elbrus and Kilimanjaro, before in the Seven Summits series, but decided to do them over again for this quest.
“I got six of them done in eight months, but I got shut down twice with the seventh, the Ojos del Salado mountain in Chile. I was just 75 metres from the summit, too,” recalls Fairhurst, married to a “most understanding” spouse. “So I went back in December to finish.
“It all may sound pretty wild, but I don’t have a death wish whatsoever. I really love life and want to continue doing this. You evolve. It’s not like I went from nothing to climbing Everest.”
Fairhurst’s most daunting experience, even more than dealing with our sidewalks, came while descending Everest, at 29,000 feet high.
“Instead of twisting in, I twisted out, just hanging perilously on a rope with only my two hands. My heart was racing. I was in serious trouble. But somehow I was able to get twisted back.”
For a follow-up, Fairhurst had contemplated becoming the first person to cycle through the South Pole on a fat-tire bike.
“But someone beat me to it, so I just don’t see the point of doing it now. It’s kind of nice to be the first, so I’ll just have to find something else.” firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter.com/ billbrownstein