This month we interview Rohan A. Freeman, a Jamaican who has climbed five of the seven summits in the world. Freeman is the first black male and the first Jamaican-born climber to accomplish this amazing feat. Lets cheer him on as he tries to complete the next 2 summits carrying the Jamaican flag.
Q. How did you become interested in climbing the “Seven Summits”?
As an ex-track athlete in college I wanted to keep my athleticism going after graduation, so I worked out frequently. My interest started with me trying to find an active hobby to supplement my active lifestyle. I also needed to find something to do in the winter that would help me to appreciate winter. First it was snowboarding, then came ice climbing, followed by winter hiking and backpacking, next it was adventure racing and on and on. I started wanting to try new things and after reading Jon Krakauer’s “Into Thin Air” I started climbing. At the time I thought that climbing Everest was suicidal, but once I started getting into climbing I wanted more. After climbing three of the seven summits, I decided that I’d go for them all. The added bonus is that I love to travel and this gives me the opportunity to travel with a purpose and to see all seven continents.
Q. What did your friends and family think?
The natural reaction is for people to think that you’re crazy and have a death wish or that you take unnecessary risk. Although my family and friends were all very concerned for my safety and well being, they were very supportive. Once they got used to the idea, they thought it was very cool.
Q: How were you able to afford the quests?
The lion’s share of the cost came from personal accounts, but I did get a small amount of funds for my Everest climb through a funding raising effort for a charity that I’m involved with, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Hartford.
Q. What was the first summit your climbed and what was it like?
My first summit was Africa’s highest peak, Kilimanjaro. This provided a huge confidence boost, because up until this point I was not sure how the altitude would impact me and how my psyche would hold up. I experienced a pure adrenaline rush and joy in succeeding. It was a true sense of accomplishment.
Q. How many summits have you climbed so far?
I have climbed five of the seven summits to date:
Kilimanjaro (19,340 feet), Africa, June 2002
Mount McKinley (20,320 feet), North America, June 2005
Mount Elbrus (18,510 feet), Europe, June 2006
Aconcagua (22,841 feet), South America, December 2006
Mount Everest (29,035 feet), Asia, May 2009
Q. How do you prepare for the climb?
It helps that I lead a very active and healthy lifestyle, so I’m constantly running, swimming, biking, practicing yoga, hiking, climbing, lifting, etc. Usually I do a lot more hiking and climbing when I have an upcoming climb. I also work out with a trainer and lift quite a bit.
Q: Did it really help when you did your first climb?
All the preparation that I did for Kilimanjaro propelled me to the next level of mountaineering. I gained a tremendous amount of confidence from that climb, and increased my mental and physical strength, and my ability to deal with altitude.
Q: I have heard about shortness of breath, loss of appetite and headaches when climbing these submits. Did you experience any of these?
I have experienced all of these symptoms and more, especially the shortness of breath because I’m asthmatic. I’ve learned to deal with this condition effectively, and I usually try to stay within my limits.
Q. What are the major dangers of the climbs?
The dangers that you encounter depend on the nature of the climb, but some examples of major dangers include natural disasters (extreme weather, avalanches, crevasses, rock/ice falls), injury (falling or slipping), faulty equipment, or health related problems (pulmonary edema, cerebral edema, weakness hypothermia). Any and all of the above-mentioned dangers can lead to death.
Q. Some say you will be making history as the first Jamaican to climb all Seven Summits. How do you feel about being the first?
To say the least, it would be a major accomplishment for me on a personal level, but I think that it’s also something that all Jamaicans can be proud of. Historically, Jamaicans haven’t been known for actively participating in winter sports and it sends a message that you can do anything that you set your mind to. This accomplishment defies stereotypes and I truly hope that it can be an inspiration to others. I grew up in Jamaica and I identify very strongly with Jamaica and Jamaicans in general. As a matter of fact, I don’t consider myself anything but Jamaican. Being Jamaican, one would not expect me to participate in winter sport, so it’s definitely continuing the proud legacy of Jamaican pride and accomplishment all order the world. Needless to say, I would be very proud if I can achieve this feat.
Q. Some people say you go through a new self discover when you climb to the highest point on a continent. What has this quest taught you about yourself?
Ain’t no mountain high enough! Whatever you dream can be a reality. Each summit presents it own challenges and difficulties. You have to reach within to gain both physical strength and mental fortitude to get to the top. They all teach me that I can always reach a little deeper to attain my goals and I use this to my advantage in my daily life, in work and my relationships. The impossible is always possible if you want it bad enough and you can reach deep enough.
Q: What is the most interesting thing you learned about the people who live near each of these submits?
A common aspect of all of the summits is that the access to them is fairly remote. Therefore, people living close to these summits are usually well grounded and humble. For the most part they love the outdoors and that’s the reason they live there. I have always had very positive experiences with these people.
Q: You have 2 more submits to go? What are they? When is your next climb?
The two summits that I have left to climb are 16,050 feet Mount Vinson in Antartica and 16,024 feet Carstenz Pyramid in Australia. My next climb could be as early as January 2010 when I will head to Antartica to climb Vinson, but I’m not sure yet.
Q: Any advice for someone who would like to go on this quest?
Take climbing and mountaineering courses and then go out and practice. Start with small hikes and work your way up to bigger mountains. Use a guide for the first couple of climbs, so that you can learn the ropes first hand. Don’t feel like you have to summit all the peaks at once. Be patient, you have a lifetime to complete this task. Never be afraid to turn-around and come back to redo a climb. It’s better to take a second attempt at a climb than it is to lose your life.
Q: Thanks for the interview. Any final thoughts?
Climbing the Seven Summit has opened my eyes in ways that I would have never imagined, and the experience has definitely made the world a much smaller place. It has taken me to some very beautiful places that I never knew existed. It has also thought me to realize that I can always dig deeper and to get more from myself. Life isn’t complicated and we really don’t need a lot to survive. So, I appreciate the things I have and don’t take anything for granted. Thanks for the interview.