Adventurer broadens students' horizons

Aiming high

Posted: Wednesday, January 09, 2002

Adventure quickens the pulse of young and old alike. Imagine standing on the summit of Mount Everest, mushing down Front Street in Nome or going on a photo safari in East Africa.

Such things fire the enthusiasms of children, but too often such dreams are set aside as they become adults.

But Monday third- and fourth-graders at Mountain View Elementary in Kenai learned that dreams can endure and come true.

Real-life adventurer Bob Hempstead, who lives on Ciechanski Road, has done all of the above and more. He showed slides, told stories and answered questions about his 2000 run in the Iditarod and his mountaineering adventures in Antarctica, Canada and Nepal.

He told the students they can get what they want if they focus and persevere.

"You need to set a goal. I wanted to climb Everest so bad," he said.

His audience was rapt and enthused.

Hempstead told the children that growing up in Nebraska's flatlands somehow gave him an urge to climb mountains. He came to Alaska in 1978 while in the Army and began climbing mountains. He went to work for Arco on the North Slope, a career that gives him the income and blocks of time off to pursue his passions.

In 1992, he summited Mount McKinley.

Since that time, Hempstead has resolved to tackle what mountain climbers call the seven summits: the tallest mountain on each of the seven continents. He has climbed Everest in Asia, Aconcagua in South America, McKinley, Kilimanjaro in Africa and Vinson Massif in Antarctica. He is planning to pursue the last two, Europe's Mount Elbrus and Mount Kosciusko in Australia.

His unique twist is that he carries a cowboy rope and tries to do rope tricks on each summit.

Hempstead began with pictures of the Antarctic expedition, where he was one year ago this week. Although it was the middle of the polar summer there, the mountain was frigid. Temperatures ranged from minus 10 to minus 30; the sun was up around the clock, but it moved in the wrong direction.

He also showed a series of pictures of his rookie race in the Iditarod two years ago. He talked about his lead dog, Tulip, and the amount of organization and endurance the race required.

One student asked if he had ever won a race like that.

"No," he replied. "But I always finish. ...

"A lot of things can go wrong on that race."

He showed slides of Mount Logan in Canada, which he described as a difficult technical climb. At one point, his team was weathered in for seven days with a two-day supply of food. They slogged through deep snow up a razor-thin ridge with precipices on either side. In such a situation, if anyone falls, the companions roped to them must jump off the cliff on the other side.

"Nobody ever fell," he said. "But it was tricky."

Hempstead wound up his presentation with pictures from two trips to Nepal culminating with a climb to the summit of Everest, nicknamed "the roof of the world."

He emphasized the dangers of the trek.

"There are a thousand ways to get really sick," he warned the students.

"I ended up getting stabbed, and they had to sew me up."

Mild weather helped him reach the top, but the mountain was intimidating. Nearly six miles above sea level, the summit is in what he called "the death zone" with too little air to support life without oxygen bottles.

"It was a pretty feeble rope trick up there," he told the kids.

Afterward, the children examined climbing gear Hempstead brought along and peppered him with questions. Sled dogs and Mount Everest were the main subjects. He told them Everest and the Iditarod were the most difficult of all his adventures.

For the most fun, he picked a photo safari he took after climbing Kilimanjaro.

The students were impressed.

"I think he's really cool, and he can do that kind of stuff," said fourth-grader Jake Cheek.

"I thought he was really inspiring," said fourth-grader Alexia Noel. "It's great that he has such goals and perseverance."

She does not want to climb big mountains herself, but she could see the appeal.

"You could really feel proud of yourself when you got to the top," she said.

Many expressed interest in mountain climbing, dog mushing and the safari. They found Hempstead's icy photos and his frank talk about fatal falls sobering, but they were inspired to think of their own potential adventures.

"I might start out with an easy mountain and work my way up," said third-grader Chad Franklin.

Zack Moore, also a third-grader, said he was interested in the emphasis on safety: having the right equipment, taking enough food and the cautionary tales about pitching camp on top of crevasses.

Quinn Sawyer said the parts about Everest were the most interesting, but he would be leery of trying such things himself.

"It would probably be scary and dangerous," he said.

Several said they were seriously interested in dog mushing and might take a crack at the Iditarod themselves someday. Others had other ideas, such as playing sports or capturing the Loch Ness monster.

"I have a mega goal," Cheek said. "It's the only goal I have: to become a professional hockey player."

Some decided to opt for less-stressful terrain.

Chyna Fisher said it reminded her of an incident when her dad had to outrun an avalanche, and she preferred safer adventures for herself.

Third-grader Rachael Quiriarte said, "I really want to go to Hawaii and figure out about animals and stuff."

The teachers were impressed, too.

John Wensley, whose fourth-grade class was in the room, said Hempstead's vivid tales helped make the adventure books his students read come alive.

"There is no greater way to tie it in than with real-life adventure," he said.

"And it teaches them some world geography."

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