A countdown is running on his homepage. With around three weeks to go, former American football player Mark Pattison will fly to Nepal to climb Mount Everest and Lhotse – with bottled oxygen. If he succeeds in reaching the highest peak on earth, the 59-year-old would be the second ex-professional of the National Football League (NFL) to complete the Seven Summits, the collection of the highest mountains on all continents. The first was Craig Hanneman in 2019, who made his living as a professional in the NFL in the 1970s.
Pattison played as a wide receiver with the NFL’s Los Angeles Raiders and New Orleans Saints in the 1980s. After his career ended, Mark became a successful businessman. Today, he is an executive of Sports Illustrated magazine and a motivational speaker. He produces his own podcast called “Finding your summit”.
Six of the Seven Summits
Pattison found his way to mountaineering ten years ago during a personal crisis: he separated from his wife of many years, and his father died after a severe stroke. Mark set himself a new goal: to climb the Seven Summits. He started in 2013 with Kilimanjaro (Mark scaled Africa’s highest mountain a second time in 2017). This was followed by Mount Elbrus (Europe’s highest mountain) in 2014, Mount Kosciuszko (Australia) in 2015, Aconcagua (South America) in 2016, Denali (North America) in 2018 and Mount Vinson (Antarctica) in 2019. So now he wants to climb the 8,849-meter-high Mount Everest and then, as the icing on the cake, within 24 hours also the neighboring 8,516-meter-high Lhotse.
Mark, you have already scaled six of the Seven Summits, and now you are going to attempt the highest of all mountains. How do you feel about this expedition?
I was disappointed when I was scheduled to go last year but then did a pivot and looked at it as an opportunity. I have trained harder and decided to take on both Everest and Lhotse within 24 hours. I live in Sun Valley, Idaho which is based at 6,000 feet (about 1800 meters). I will have made 50 skin up’s to the top of the ski mountain which is a 3200 feet (1000m) climb or 160,000 vertical feet (48,800m) overall to prepare. I’m ready!
Some want to climb Everest just for themselves, others want to send a message. What’s about you?
My daughter has epilepsy and so I partnered with a non profit here in Sun Valley called Higher Ground. We called the campaign “Emilia’s Everest-the Lhotse Challenge”. The goal was to raise the height of Lhotse (27,940) dollars but we have raised over 50,000 with the help of the NFL and Las Vegas Raiders.
Last year, the Everest climbing season in Nepal was canceled because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic continues. Don’t you have any concerns about that?
I had major concerns about being at 17,500 feet (Everest Base Camp is at about 5,300m) for two months with no vaccine but I will be fully vaccinated by the time I reach Nepal. I am no longer worried about it.
In spring 2019, traffic jams on the Everest summit ridge made headlines around the world. How do you feel about possibly having to share the mountain with several hundred climbers?
According to reports, there will be half as many people there. I am encouraged that 2019 was a freak year in terms of the monsoon not lifting except for two days which created summit fever. My tent mate from Antartica was the first American to die on top: Don Cash. (He) Wasn’t prepared enough and then was caught in all the lines.
You also want to climb Lhotse right after Everest. Why?
I am trying to become the first NFL player to climb both mountains while doing something for my daughter Emilia. Not that many first left in the world 🙂
In what ways does your past as a professional NFL player help you in climbing?
Being a professional athlete took incredible amount of mental toughness. By pushing myself physically, it has helped develop that same mindset that I will need when things get tough up there.
You’ll turn 60 years old this year. Do you see your Everest-Lhotse project as the culmination of your mountaineering career?
I have learned after going through a tough time ten years ago that setting high goals keeps you fresh in life and motivated. I feel like this is just the beginning. So much I haven’t done that I want to do. Each one will have a demanding physical challenge to it. Only way to live in my opinion …
And what do you find in the mountains besides the physical challenge?
Beyond the physical challenge, I have found peace and serenity in the mountains while being in nature. Going around the world to the different continents has been an amazing journey to meet people from different cultures and experience their country seen through their eyes. The mountains have been a blessing.