Kent Stewart is more than our client. He is a husband, a father, and an attorney. He’s a business owner, a Birmingham, Alabama, resident, and he has an impressive resume of someone who has worked hard and consistently. But in 2005, Kent added another title to his already extensive curriculum vitae—world-class mountain climber. Now, having summited the highest peaks on six of the seven continents, there is only one that still awaits his conquering, and despite all challenges, Kent is determined to reach the heights of that seventh—Everest.
His passion for mountain climbing was not a passion until recently. In fact, the 59-year-old CEO wouldn’t have considered it a passion or even something he particularly enjoyed until recently. Having not traveled much in his life, a 2004 trip to Africa and a push from his wife had him signed up to climb his first mountain: Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Though the experience was an incredible one, it was also exceptionally challenging and the most physically and mentally exhausting experience in his life to that point.
“After my wife and I completed the climb, I looked to her and said, ‘I’m done. I will never do this again.’”
(Mt. McKinley Summit Ridge)
But once back in Alabama, Kent says his mind graciously let him forget the cold and misery that was a very real portion of his Kilimanjaro journey, and he was left with an incredible sense of pride and personal accomplishment of doing something so unexpected in his life.
Ever in search of the next goal to reach, the next challenge to complete, Kent and his wife began exploring the possibility of reaching the highest points on each continent—the feeling of capturing that view from the top inspired them. So together they trained and traveled and trekked—at times enduring near torture in their pursuits—summiting the next four mountains together. After a failed attempt at Mount McKinley with his wife, Kent returned the next year to summit it. In 2013, Kent set out for the last and most treacherous of the seven summits.
To reach the top of Mount Everest generally takes eight weeks, requiring months of training, a great deal of research, a skilled team, and a rock-hard constitution before those grueling eight weeks even commence. It is a long and dangerous endeavor, and in 2013, Kent learned that even after extensive preparation, things can change without warning on Everest. Thirty days into his first Everest attempt, Kent made the partial climb before deciding he would need more training to safely accomplish the feat. He knew if he proceeded in his climb, his would be another life left upon the icy face of Everest. After the humbling descent, Kent was still determined to return and finish the looming task.
(Mt. Aconcagua, Argentina)
“Everest has a way of not letting you go,” says Kent, and once he regained weight and strength, he prepared for a 2014 climb. But days before his 2014 climb, after months of training, ice avalanches tore over the mountain. Everest was closed for the season and his trip cancelled. But for his 2015 attempt, Kent trained and prepared more than ever and felt confident in his chances of finishing his ten-year, seven-summit circuit. But the raw reality of nature, once again, would have other plans for Kent that April.
On the mountain, Kent had great success in his climbs as he began the process of acclimatization, and he worked his way up the painfully beautiful face of the mountain. On April 25th, 2015, Kent was scheduled to make the climb to Camp 3 on the mountain (having already hiked up and back to Basecamp and Camp 1), but decided on April 24th that he would take that next day as a recovery day. Little did he know how providential that decision would be. He woke up late on the morning of the 25th, rested around camp, and sat down to lunch at noon. A normal day, a restful day, a day of preparation became anything but as the unforgiving mountain that has claimed lives and limbs gave way itself, and the rock-solid mass shook and shifted violently beneath their feet.
A 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck Nepal and leveled villages and towns and cities below them, but within that tent, Kent and his team only knew that at that moment, they were okay. They had survived.
(Mt. Everest 2013)
They walked outside their tent to see avalanches peeling down the sides of neighboring peaks. Then, with a rush of 200 mile per hour winds, they looked up to see neighboring Mount Pumori’s disastrous shedding as snow, rocks, ice, and debris pummeled toward them. Then silence.
Kent and his team walked from their tent and realized their camp was still intact, but the relief did not last long as radios began crackling the bad news that theirs was the only camp, including the hospital at Basecamp, not destroyed by the earthquake’s damage. Soon the injured flocked to their camp for triage and treatment, where Kent was thrown into active duty attending to head trauma and ensuring all climbers were off the mountain before he and his team left.
19 people on Everest were killed. 72 were injured. More than 8,000 people in Nepal lost their lives. But Kent and his team escaped with even more respect for the power of nature and the enormity of the mountain. Once he returned to Birmingham, he used his nonprofit organization, the Seven Summits Foundation to raise money for the people of Nepal whose lives were forever changed by the massive earthquake.
(Mt. Everest, Earthquake Relief Efforts 2015)
“I’ll go back,” says Kent, ever persistent and fully committed. His training for his 2016 journey starts now. He’ll settle into endurance exercises, spending hours at a time optimizing his body’s ability to perform. He’ll become accustomed to eating 4,000 to 5,000 calories a day to maintain weight, and he’ll sleep in a hypoxic tent to prepare his body for the thin air he’ll climb into. He does all this on top of running a successful residential and commercial real estate title company, and it is clear he is truly committed to finding success in whatever he does.
“The training can be boring,” says Kent. It takes great focus to remember why the hours upon hours of training are necessary and worthwhile. The training itself is an exercise in perseverance and patience, building both physical and mental endurance to withstand the beleaguering demands of the mountain.
“It all starts with taking that first step,” says Kent. “If you’d asked me 10 years ago what I would be doing right now, climbing Mount Everest wouldn’t have even made my top 1,000 predictions!” But you never know where you’re going to be if you are open to all the possibilities of life. Don’t be afraid to take that first step.”
Those first steps toward the summit of Kilimanjaro have led Kent to where he is today, ready to complete this longstanding goal and then look to another. He says he tries not to overthink his endeavors, climbing-related or otherwise, and focus even through pain and trials. Ever increasing challenges have kept him going, always pushing him past his own self-expectations. Everest is in his sights, now more than ever, and he’s on the path to reach the top.