7 Summits, 7 Seas, 7 Questions...
Mike Ragogna: Martin, you’ve climbed seven of the world’s toughest summits to mount and crossed seven seas. How have these accomplishments changed you and what have they inspired you to do from here?
Martin Frey: Along the journey, I’ve learned a lot about the process of achievement. I’m no longer intimidated by the size of the challenges I face, and I’m much more confident in my resourcefulness to find a way to overcome the obstacles we encounter along the way. I’ve also learned a lot about teams and what makes them effective during stressful situations. I hope my next adventure will simply be to encourage people, especially youth, to find something that inspires them and give them a reason to strive to achieve it.
MR: What were a couple of stories about the hardest journeys?
MF: Climbing Denali was a real eye opener for me. It was my first true mountaineering expedition. We hauled sleds up the glacier to 14,000 feet. It was also very cold with temperatures at least 35 degrees below zero. Three climbers died while we were on the mountain, and we got stuck in a complete whiteout storm for six days at 17,000 feet. My climbing partner Steve Gasser had terrible altitude sickness and it was only because of the storm delay that he recovered, and we were the only climbers on our expedition team to reach the summit.
Recently, racing a sailboat over 6,000 miles across the North Pacific with a watch system of four hours on deck, and four hours off was very grueling for me. We had constant storms and rough conditions with waves over 35 feet and winds gusts over 100 miles per hour. We even broke our bowsprit. During the race I suffered a lot with seasickness, and was often so wet and cold that I’d just lay in my bunk shivering instead of sleeping during my time off watch.
MR: Were there ever any points when you thought it would be best to retreat, regroup or even abandon your climbs or crossings?
MF: On Everest, we had high winds at 25,000 feet, which required us to quickly descend all the way to basecamp. At the time, I was so exhausted I didn’t think there was any way for me to climb back up through the Khumbu Icefall and the Lhotse Face. Fortunately, I was able to rest and emotionally regroup, and in a few days I was able to go for another summit attempt.
MR: What motivated you to take on the challenges of climbing seven of the world’s toughest peaks and crossing seven bodies of water?
MF: My friend Steve first came up with the idea of us trying to climb the Seven Summits while we were on Denail. He died within four months of that climb at age 46, and that solidified the idea for me. I took his picture with me to each summit to remember him. I also climbed because I wanted to test myself and partially feel what the great climbers like Mallory and Hillary experienced.
Our idea to go sailing came about because my wife and I wanted to find something adventurous we could do together as a family, especially before our handicapped daughter became too big to carry. We are grateful we went and loved visiting with people on many of the islands across the South Pacific. Having made it to Australia, my next challenge was for me to complete a sailing circumnavigation and following that, I just couldn’t resist the idea of sailing across the remaining oceans that made up the Seven Seas.
MR: Who were your heroes growing up and who inspired you to attempt these challenges?
MF: Growing up, Jacques Cousteau was my idol. I hoped to be a marine biologist and wanted to save the oceans. I learned to scuba dive at a very young age and even studied French for six years so I could speak when I got to the Calypso. Later on, I admired the amazing endurance and leadership of adventurers like Shackleton and Amundsen, and sailing explorers like James Cook who discovered Australia. These were fearless men and great leaders who led their teams through unbelievable challenges.
MR: What advice do you have for anyone else attempting what you did?
MF: I learned a lot from the climbers who dropped out of our expeditions. Many were physically stronger than I was, but often their doubts and fears got the best of them. Becoming comfortable dealing with uncertainty and having a process for personal renewal are key to persevering through challenging ordeals. While climbing Everest, we didn’t see the summit for 30 days and often had to descend again and again to complete our acclimatization. During this time, I had to constantly exercise my faith that I was making progress toward my goal.
When we were sailing in Panama, we encountered other sailors who couldn’t leave the comfort of their harbor and cross the Pacific even though that had been their primary goal. Christopher Columbus said, “You can never cross the ocean unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.” I’m still not sure if they have left yet.
MR: How will you be utilizing your newfound celebrity?
MF: My hope is to focus my time on enabling others to achieve their dreams or overcome their challenges. Life is hard for many young people and they may struggle with the process of how to get ahead. Other people, including organizations, can sometimes become trapped in comfortable routines and therefore can’t see or reach their potential.