As of yesterday, American businessman and adventurer Martin Frey has become the first person on record to scale the highest peaks on every continent, and sail across all seven seas.
He arrived in Seattle after sailing across the North Pacific from Qingdao, China, with a crew participating in the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race. The race marked the end of a 10-year endeavor that began in 2005 and became a tribute to a fellow adventurer who died unexpectedly.
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Before leaving from China on his final leg, Frey spoke with me via Skype. He said that, while a number of others are scrambling to accomplish the same feat, he had a head start. According to his team's research, Martin Frey really is the first one.
Frey previously worked as a senior director for Cisco in Silicon Valley and then moved to Utah with his family, where he focused on business development. The 56-year-old did distance running, endurance sports, and adventure racing before getting drawn to mountaineering.
In 2005 he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and four years later set out for Denali with his good friend and climbing partner Steve Gasser. While the two were weathering a six-day whiteout on Denali at 17,000 feet, Gasser planted the seven summits, seven seas idea.
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"We couldn't go up, we couldn't go down," Frey told me. "[Steve] said, hey we're up here, we're going to get this done. I wonder if we should think about climbing the seven summits."
Several months after returning from Denali, Gasser died suddenly during a bike race in Utah. Frey decided to continue climbing as a tribute to his buddy. He carried his photo to the top of Mount Aconcagua in South America, Mount Everest, Mount Elbrus in Russia, Carstensz Pyramid (and Mount Kosciuszko) in Oceana, and Mount Vinson in Antarctica.
Everest wasn't a lifelong dream for Frey. Instead, it came together when he met the expedition leader during a ski trip. He proved himself on Aconcagua first. "I kept having these opportunities and trying to take advantage of them," he said. Although he admits that it hasn't been a cheap endeavor, and he envies climbers who have sponsors.
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Frey talks about his achievements in a casual way -- but the lows were quite low. He watched a man die on Everest, he said. Their guide on Elbrus fell into a 30-foot crevasse and they had to haul him out.
Mere months after completing his seventh summit, Frey set sail from Gibraltar to cross the North Atlantic. He decided the South Pacific voyage would be calm enough to include his wife, Kym, and his younger daughter, Lily, who is disabled.
"While she was still portable, we realized now is the time to go," he said. "And now is the time to have some big adventures." Afterward, Frey went on to cross the Indian Ocean, the South Atlantic, the Southern Ocean, and the Arctic Ocean.
Ironically, the adventurer gets seasick very easily. Eight days into the North Pacific with the Visit Seattle crew, everyone bounced around like they were in a washing machine, he wrote in a blog update. "For two nights I slept on the floor on top of a sail, unable to get out of my own life jacket and foul weather gear as I threw up repeatedly."
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A visit to Seattle's 70-foot monohull required each of the 20 crew members, including Frey, to work constantly in shifts to keep everything going. They ship also lacked a shower, so Frey told me that showering would be right up there with hugging his wife as soon as he landed.
The crew wasn't the first to arrive in Seattle for this leg of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race -- the Derry-Londonderry-Doire made it there on April 13. But the voyage marked the culmination of more than 10 years of expeditions for the humble Frey. "I'm just an ordinary guy who stuck with a particular goal," he said.