Near the top of a 22,349 foot mountain near the border of Nepal, someone told Jenn Drummond she couldn’t do it.
The problem was, Drummond was sick. She hadn’t eaten in four days and her climbing group was planning to push for the summit of Ama Dablam, the mountain some nine miles south of Mount Everest. “You’re not ready,” they told her.
“I’m ready,” Drummond said.
She had to be. Earlier in the trip, Drummond had received a message on social media, where she’d just started sharing her climbing journey. It was a thank you note from a girl with cancer who had once planned to climb Ama Dablam herself. “I get to live it through you,” she told Drummond. And just like that, Drummond wasn’t just doing it for herself. “I take energy from the collective,” she said.
Drummond didn’t just reach the summit at Ama Dablam; she was also the only climber in her group to make it there and back to base camp, while the rest of the climbers halted at Camp II, some 350 feet below the summit. At the top of the mountain, Drummond hung prayer flags for the girl who had inspired her.
Ama Dablam was a victory, but Drummond’s ultimate goal is to make history. She wants to become the first woman to climb all Seven Second Summits: the second-tallest mountains on each continent. And she wants to do it not just for herself or for the seven children she’s raising to believe in their own dreams, but for anyone who feels like they’re trying to do the impossible. She wants to show that the things we think are limitations, hard-and-fast barriers in front of our biggest goals, are nothing but lines that we ourselves have drawn in the sand. “It’s not me just doing it for me,” Drummond told POPSUGAR. “It’s me doing it for the bigger picture.”
Why the Seven Second Summits?
Drummond’s journey began with a near-death experience that had nothing to do with the towering mountains she now climbs. In 2018, she was in a car accident, hit by a semi-truck that rolled her car over three times, a wreck so disastrous that police officers later told her it was a miracle she didn’t die. “We rebuilt this accident 50 different times,” they said, “and we don’t have you surviving in one of them.”
It was a wake-up call. Drummond was the owner of a financial service company, but despite her professional success, she realized she wasn’t fully living. “If I was to die today, what would my story be?” she wondered. “What would they say about me?”
Her only prior experience with climbing had been in the Grand Teton, back in 2015 (she remembered the adrenaline rush of reaching the summit and the way the world below her looked like a “tapestry of art”), but a few months after the accident, her kids challenged her to climb Mount Everest. They came home with books about it. The family had a serious discussion about what that would actually be like. “What does it mean? What’s a big goal like that?” Drummond asked herself. “What is it like being at the top of the world, and where else can you be at the top of your game?”
“We all have mountains to climb.”
Before she knew it, Drummond had hired a coach to train her to climb the tallest mountain in the world, and it was her coach who told her that if she really wanted to make an impact, “you should do the Seven Summits.” Drummond was immediately intrigued by the possibility of doing something no woman had ever done, and what it might mean for others — her kids, and everyone else — to see it happen. Everest is still in the plans (more on that later), but in September 2020, Drummond started training to make history.
Seven Kids, Seven Summits
Mentally, Drummond knew she had to stop putting her life on hold for her kids. “Once they’re in college, then I can get back to me,” she used to think. Now she believes in living life “in parallel” with her children, supporting and loving them without feeling like her goals must take a backseat to their lives.
“I’m going to do me. You’re going to do you,” she described this approach. “We’re going to cheer each other on while we go for our things.” (Drummond’s kids, who range in age from 8 to 14, have come along on some of her pre-pandemic climbing trips, before COVID-19 restrictions made that impossible. When Drummond is away, they stay with a live-in nanny or family.)
Drummond is also “very intentional” about how she uses her time, scheduling workouts around her kids’s schedules, color-blocking her weeks, and being flexible when the unexpected happens, even if it means shuffling around training sessions. “I only have so many hours in a week,” she explained. “If I can manage my time better then I can be present in all things I’m doing.”
Training for Everest, K2, and Beyond
So how do you train to climb some of the highest mountains in the world? Drummond said it’s a little bit of everything. For cardio, she takes hikes in full gear, traipsing around the mountains in Park City, UT, where she lives. She focuses her strength workouts on correcting muscular weaknesses and avoiding injury. She even sleeps in tents designed to remove some oxygen from the air to simulate high-altitude conditions. When it gets tough, Drummond reminds herself that these workouts aren’t punishment. “I’m choosing this. I get the opportunity to do this.” (She gave us a sneak peek of her weekly workout routine, which included intense 10-mile hikes and rock-climbing.)
Every workout is important if she’s going to complete the Seven Second Summits, which Drummond said are more technically challenging than their larger counterparts, the Seven Summits. Mount Everest, for example, is the tallest mountain in Asia. But K2, the second-tallest (and one of the Second Summits Drummond is most excited to climb), is much deadlier. Only 377 climbers have ever reached its summit (compared with over 4,000 for Everest). To put it in perspective: fewer people have successfully climbed K2 than have been in outer space (553). “Everest is definitely has some challenging spots,” Drummond said, “but K2 is a 60 percent relentless grade the entire time. You have avalanche warnings.”
So, with two of the Second Summits already down (Ojos de Salada in Chile and Mount Kenya in Kenya), Drummond plans to use Mount Everest as a training run for her attempt at K2. If all goes to plan, she’ll have summited Everest by mid-May and be back home for a month before heading to the China-Pakistan border to attempt K2.
The danger doesn’t scare Drummond because she knows what her priorities are. “The goal isn’t worth my life,” she said simply. “I have it very much in perspective that if it takes two attempts to go climb one of these mountains, then it does. I’m coming home alive with all my fingers and toes intact.”
Failure doesn’t scare her either, because as much as she wants to become the first woman to climb the Seven Second Summits, she knows the journey matters more than the finish line, and that this goal has never been about her. Her journey is a platform to encourage people to be “in the realm of possibility,” she said. “If that’s possible, well who’s to say this is impossible? When you do big things that people can measure and relate to, it allows them to open that within themselves. We all have mountains to climb.”
Image Source: Jenn Drummond