Endurance treks almost seem to be a dime-a-dozen lately. You know, those walks, runs or bicycle rides across the country for some charity or to prove a point.
But the latest of these efforts, the Fifty Peaks Project, may be one of the most ambitious and unusual of all, and it has has strong Utah ties. Its goal: to put a team of five climbers, four of whom have some physical disabilities or challenges (see related story on C3), atop the highest point in each of 50 states during a 100-day attempt to break a record between April 24 and Aug. 1.Richard L. Porter of Provo, the organizer, says it fulfills a dream born almost four years ago as a result of his adventuresome background.
The project will be funded by $300,000 from corporate sponsors and is also designed to raise awareness for 50 of the nation's most disabling diseases as well as raise as much as $50 million - $1 million each toward the prevention and cure of each disease.
Porter said the effort currently has the endorsement of 50 national organizations, including AARP, the American Heart Association, Muscular Dystrophy Association and others. Eventually the organizers hope to have 150 organizations involved. ABC Sports, PBS and National Geographic have also shown interest in the expedition.
The group's first hike is April 24, to the top of the Mauna Kea Volcano in Hawaii. Utah's Kings Peak, 13,528 feet above sea level, is to be the group's 44th peak, June 1-4. The expedition is planning a special media day June 5.
The final of the 50 visits is the toughest - Mount McKinley in Alaska, at 20,320 feet above sea level. The total project involves 20,000 miles of traveling and visits to most major U.S. cities.
Porter said he originally wanted to do all the trips himself, but he got heavily involved in the planning and financial aspects and eventually expanded it to include disabled persons. Porter's oldest son, Adam, now 11, was born with spina bifida. Since then, the family has developed an interest in, and appreciation of, the disabled.
"We wanted to show people that the average person can do it," Porter said. The nationwide search last summer for the five hikers didn't necessarily look at their climbing qualifications, but rather whom the trip would benefit.
"We want to show America that we're all in this together," he said.
Porter has put his video production career on the line, sold his house in Chicago, as well as his boat, and moved in with relatives in Provo to concentrate on the Fifty Peaks Project. He grew up in Chicago but attended Brigham Young University.
With a wife and four sons to support, Porter has still managed to finance most of the project so far.
"I've put every dime into it," Porter said.
The project is still looking for additional corporate sponsors, particularly transportation companies.
Porter admits that not all the climbers will likely make it to all 50 high points. Although the five don't look disabled, two of them have never done any mountain climbing. But except for the West, the high points in many states can be reached by car. Only 13 of the 50 are more than 11,000 feet above sea level.
He said if the five climbers are in shape, they have a good shot at making the first 49 peaks, with the toughest - Alaska - last.
"The most important goal is to bring the causes to the top," he said, explaining that health care is expected to be one of the key national issues during the climbing periods. "This isn't about disabled climbers climbing mountains. It's about challenges in life."
Still, he said it would be great to have the world climbing record too.
Two other Utahns involved in the project are Nickson Kasue, a registered nurse at the University of Utah, and Owen Hatch, Provo, the senior project coordinator. Other Utah involvement includes BYU as a participating resource and sponsor. Another local participant is Howard Gray of the BYU recreation department, who is developing long-range educational programs on climbing for the disabled. Mike Kelsey, a Utah mountain climbing expert, is a member of the Fifty Peaks Advisory Committee.
If the group can do all 50 peaks in 100 days, it would break the existing world record by one day. In fact, Adrian Crane, current record holder, will be the group's technical climber and guide in Alaska.
Agencies or organizations interested in tie-ins, special promotions or contributions for the project can contact the Fifty Peaks project at 800-50-HI-PTS or 375-7173.