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Fall 2004 Issue
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The Young and the Adventurous

The NOLS alumni featured in this section aren't sitting on their laurels. They're qualifying for the Olympics in cycling, working at a medical clinic in the Dominican Republic, climbing the Seven Summits, and circumnavigating the U.S. on a bicycle.

Britton Keeshan
Britton Keeshan
Youngest to Climb the Seven Summits

Britton Keeshan was backpacking on a clear day in Alaska’s Talkeetna Mountains when he first laid eyes on Denali rising above the clouds. He was 15 years old, and his first thought at the sight of the tallest mountain in North America was, “I want to climb that.” Little did Keeshan know at that first glimpse that he would soon become the youngest person to climb each continent’s highest summit before he even turned 23.

Only 90 people have accomplished this feat since 1985, when American Dick Bass first conceived and completed the Seven Summits challenge. Keeshan started climbing the Seven Summits at age 17, completing all seven peaks in just four years and 326 days, all while attending Middlebury College with a double major. “I set a goal for myself and was determined to accomplish it,” says Keeshan.

As the grandson of the late Bob Keeshan, better known as the children’s television star Captain Kangaroo, the climber has been encouraged to strive toward his goals since an early age. “My grandfather devoted his life to children’s literacy, and he believed that kids should expand their horizons,” says Keeshan. “I credit him for inspiring me to go out and do amazing things. Climbing the seven summits was part of his whole ideology of setting goals and achieving them.” When Keeshan reached the summit of Everest on May 24, 2004, he buried a picture of himself and his grandfather in the ice.

Keeshan grew up in a suburb of Greenwich, Connecticut, an unlikely starting point for a successful mountaineer. “I wanted to break the mold and do something original,” Keeshan says of his desire to pursue a sport far from home. It was this attitude that brought him outdoors, first through a program where at 14 he learned rock climbing and whitewater kayaking skills. The next summer he went to the Talkeetna Range, where he first encountered NOLS. “I was hiking along and we came across a NOLS course,” says Keeshan. “It just seemed so intense, I knew at that point, NOLS was the next step up and something I should definitely do.”

The very next summer Keeshan enrolled on the Waddington Range Mountaineering course, where he says he experienced the most physically challenging day of his life. “It was the first day of my course and we had to hike up 3,000 feet just to get going on the glacier,” Keeshan remembers. “I was only 16 and felt so small. I got to the top and was convinced I wasn’t going to make it to the end.” But the young climber successfully completed his course and enjoyed his experience so much that he enrolled the following summer in the NOLS Denali Expedition course, where he could fulfill his goal of climbing North America’s largest peak.

The lessons he learned at NOLS not only gave him the technical skills, but also the interpersonal skills imperative for the teamwork associated with mountaineering. “My NOLS experiences were unlike any others I’ve ever had,” he says. “The courses gave me all the skills I needed to climb mountains, work as a team, and inspired me to summit the seven peaks. My time at NOLS has shaped me into the person I am today. The lessons I learned at NOLS have come with me everywhere I go.”

Keeshan has brought his NOLS lessons to the far corners of the world. When he’s not mountaineering, the climber is working at his other passion, third-world medicine, which he has skillfully managed to incorporate into his mountaineering adventures. While preparing for the altitude challenges of Everest, he spent time in Ethiopia, volunteering at a Mother Theresa AIDS Clinic, helping in the physical therapy of bedridden AIDS patients in the morning and training for his summit in the afternoons. He has also volunteered in a Leprosy clinic in the Himalayas, to immerse himself in Indian culture. “My main goal is to make a positive difference in people’s lives,” Keeshan says.

Whether in a medical clinic in the Himalayas, studying at Middlebury in preparation for medical school, or on a mountain, Keeshan consistently challenges himself, striving to accomplish his personal goals. “It feels great to have climbed the Seven Summits, not because I set a record, but because I completed something I set out to do,” the climber says. “The record was just sort of icing on the cake.”

-Susanna Helm

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