Len Stanmore has climbed the highest peak in every continent (the “7 Summits”), skied to both the North Pole AND the South Pole, and run across 3 of the 4 major deserts of the world: the driest (Atacama), the windiest (Gobi), and the hottest (Sahara). Impressed? From November 22 to December 3, 2012, Len will race across the last major desert: the coldest (Antarctica) with Racing the Planet’s 4 Deserts series. With this race, Len will be the only (yes, THE only) person to have ever accomplished all these remarkable feats – a true ultimate global explorer (with all due respect to explorers of other eras)!!
I had the good fortune of meeting Len last September as he supports a non-profit organization close to my heart, Trekking for Kids (TFK) with whom I trekked in Romania earlier this year. Len has supported TFK before and is now using his Antarctica race as a fundraiser to help TFK improve the lives of orphaned and at-risk children around the world. Check out more about Len’s support of TFK via his Trekking for Kids page and support him!
Why I am sharing Len’s story?
Len’s story has inspired me to go somewhere I have never sought to go before: the summit of Kilimanjaro.
Believe it or not, I was NEVER hoping to or interested in climbing “Kili“. But Len’s story of how he got going with this incredible journey inspired me to aim for this summit. See, Len decided at 49 years old he had to do something to improve his health. He chose a goal that would push him and he chose Kili. I thought to myself: gosh, I am younger than he was and in good physical condition – so why am I NOT trying to climb Kili??? That, and talking to Len and a couple of other veteran Kili hikers sealed the deal for me. So in February 2013, I will be headed to Tanzania for the climb of my life!
Len graciously made some time to talk to me as his training and prep wind down and the big day gets near and I wanted to share that with you…
Now to the interview… Everyone, meet Len Stanmore
–> Len, the set of races/climbs that you will complete in November with your run across Antarctica sounds like beyond the reach of mere mortals: Was this part of a grand goal you set for yourself after your first climb or how did it come to happen?
My first and only goal at the time was Kilimanjaro. It was while doing Kilimanjaro that I first heard the term “7 Summits”. I decided during that hike that the Vinson Massif, the tallest peak in Antarctica, would be next – for no good reason! I guess it not being that tall at around 16,000 ft made it seem quite attainable. Of course, I did not stop to think about how cold it would be! From then on, I would just hear of the other types of expeditions and then pursue them.
–> Did you ever feel that one of the goals was be too big of a challenge to accomplish?
I had not done much research on the 7 Summits so I was not sure early on if I would get to summit Everest. I will say that the scariest of all was McKinley. The climate is quite harsh (not that Everest’s isn’t!). In fact, I first attempted to summit McKinley but it was too stormy and I decided not to pursue it that time. Then I did Everest. Eventually I returned to McKinley and reached the summit. The other thing about McKinley is that you don’t have porters. You take ALL your stuff UP the mountain breaking into sweat for real: carrying a bag weighing about 60 lbs and pulling a sled with another 70-80 lbs (at this point, the interviewer was feeling out of breath and breaking into a sweat just thinking about it!).
–> You have said that Kilimanjaro was your favorite hike. Why is it?
Kilimanjaro is the only one of the places I have tackled that I would go back to. I love Africa. And I love that climbing Kilimanjaro allows you to experience so many ecosystems. It, along with Everest, are the better known mountains of the seven and Kili is quite doable (though training is still required!).
–> Len, I heard you say you were scared of heights…
I still am! Going up a ladder to about 20 feet is about it for me!
–> How did you work through that fear to climb the 7 Summits? How did you avoid thinking about it?
What makes you think I DIDN’T think about it?! My stomach tightens up in those situations… Usually it’s the downhill that’s the worse. I just force myself to focus and keep moving.
–> Of all these expeditions which one was your least favorite? If you had to do all these again but were allowed to exclude one, which one would it be?
Oh wow. Let me recap all in my mind… (pauses for a moment) I think it would be Aconcagua. At the time it was the highest altitude I had attempted so I felt the lack of oxygen. It was really hot in the valley you crossed to get there. Plus, it was not very scenic, not breathtaking like the others.
–> Of the day-to-day things on your expeditions, what are the worst things you wish you did not have to deal with?
Oh, the worst part is when you are at altitude or in a very cold place and you wake up and have to get out of your warm sleeping bag! Then rush to find your things and pack up quickly in very little time. There is a lot of pressure in the morning. When you start for a summit, many times you leave at night. It’s a dash, trying to do everything with the headlamp, and then you realize most people are ready and you are not. It’s nerve-wracking!
–> And what do you look forward to in the day-to-day of these expeditions (beyond finishing!)?
Besides the camaraderie of the group hiking together, the best part of the every day is simple. You have left camp and started the day’s hike, past the hustle of getting ready. Thirty minutes to an hour after the start of the day’s hike, your body calms down, your heart rate goes down, and you start appreciating where you are and you soak it all in.
–> You have selected Trekking for Kids and its mission to benefit from your accomplishments – what led you to select this organization?
I was hiking Cotopaxi in Ecuador and my guide, Luis Benitez, asked me if I wanted to go with him to an orphanage he had to make a stop at. I accompanied him and saw the situation where the girls in the orphanage at a certain age have to leave. I thought to myself: if these girls do not get an education or skills, what will happen to them? And even before that day comes, at the orphanage it felt it was almost a matter of day-to-day survival. I have been skeptical of organizations that ask for money for orphanages for a long time. But it is different with TFK. The money goes to specific projects that the orphanage identifies and that TFK vets (with receipts being submitted, etc.). It blew me away the work TFK does with the orphanages – it’s amazing. I know that the funds I give to and raise on behalf of TFK is going to benefit the kids, not a middleman or an organization.
–> What would you hope people who learn about your story get from it?
Simple. My hope would be that they would identify their own quest or challenge, and that they go for it whatever it is!
–> Finally, and the most important question: You, your wife Liz, myself, and others will be hiking Kilimanjaro next February with TFK. I just did my first big hike in the Transylvanian Alps in Romania last July. On a scale of 1 to 10, how concerned are you that I will beat you to the summit?
(laughs) VERY concerned! Are you kidding me??!! In all seriousness, we will get to the summit at the same exact time as one group!
What now? And a more important reason why I share his story with you
Now? I am now eagerly following Len’s preparations for Antarctica and will follow him during the race via TFK’s Facebook page where daily updates will be posted. It will be exciting to hear about his race! Best of luck, Len, in this last leg of a great series – and I will see you and Liz in Tanzania in February!!
I find Len’s story to be an amazing one and I hope that sharing it with you may inspire you to your own epic journey (be it of this kind or any other!) as it has inspired me to push myself physically and mentally to do Kili!