Scaling the Heights

I’m fascinated by heights. No, not the man-made kind such as the view from the Empire State Building or the Golden Gate Bridge. I’m talking about real heights—like those from the tops of majestic mountains. There’s nothing like looking down on the rest of the world from the summit of Pike’s Peak or the tip of the Matterhorn to get your blood pulsating. Ever since Sir Edmund Hillary scaled the heights of Everest, I’ve heard the beckoning call to climb. When UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart successfully summited Mt. Kilimanjaro, the gauntlet was thrown down for me to do something just as dramatic.

You’ve no doubt heard of the Seven Summits challenge, where an adrenaline junkie with a death wish tries to climb to the top of the tallest mountains on all seven continents? Well, for somebody approaching sixty with bad feet, I’m going to try something almost as daunting. Rather than Everest, Denali, Kilimanjaro, Aconcagua, Mont Blanc, Elbrus, Puncak Jaya, and Vinson, I’m going to try and scale 13 summits—the thirteen highest peaks in my home state of Kentucky. Rather than the lack of oxygen in the death zone of Mt. Everest at 30,000 feet, I’ll be dealing with the thistle and bramble of rhododendron on Pine Mountain at 3,000 feet. Instead of frostbite, I’m worried about snakebite. Although there’s no chance of altitude sickness, I’ll still be dodging salmonella, sunburn, and shotguns. After all, we ARE talking about the mountains of Eastern Kentucky.

This is not an expedition you want to undertake alone, so fortunately I’ve found some other brave souls who’ll be sharing in this experience with me. The core group consists of my Saturday morning running buddies. It shouldn’t surprise you that we came up with this harebrained scheme together during one of our group runs when our beer muscles were flexing and our brains were hypoxic. I thought about changing some names in this blog to protect the innocent but decided in the long run that none of these characters are really innocent.

Our expedition leader is Lee Meyer, Ag Economics Professor at UK, who in his sixties, remains an athletic freak. Lee is the only one in our group who can still go shirtless in public without shame. Politically, he’s a bit of a socialist but he had a swimming pool put in his backyard last summer so I always try to remain friendly with him.

We’re joined by Tony English, UK Physical Therapy Program Director, whose countless sidewalk consultations have undoubtedly prolonged the functioning of our geriatric joints over the past decade. Tony will serve as our medic. Although he also leans left on his political views, he’s a Texan at heart who can spin tall and entertaining tales. A bit of a renaissance man, Tony will talk your ear off–a useful addition when traipsing through bear country (or when we’re just plain bored).

Also recruited to join our escapade is Bob Stoops, chief architect of the recent upgrades at Rupp Arena. My hope is that Bob’s technical expertise will make him a modern-day mountain MacGyver, with the ability to turn shoestrings into snares and trail mix into trail magic.

Lee Edgerton, another retired UK faculty member (Do I sense a pattern here?), will also be along on this journey. Lee’s been slowed by a recent leg injury, so he’ll be playing hurt—but his penchant for common sense planning and practical advice will be critical to keeping our remaining testosterone levels in check. A gifted orator, Lee will be our spokesman should we encounter difficulties, delay, or ultimate demise.

Of course I’ll be there also to report on all the action, or to offer assistance should someone accidently break a bicuspid or muck up their molar. You just never know what might happen over the course of the next few weeks, or months, or years–or however long it takes for us to complete this treacherous adventure. Following our first climb, we might already be one and done—but I wouldn’t bet against us. Like Sir Edmond Hillary and Mitch Barnhart, we’re dauntless dudes looking to scale some perilous heights. You’re more than welcome to join us.

John Huang is a retired orthodontist turned wannabe sports journalist and travel writer. You can follow all his adventures on twitter @KYHuangs. He can be reached at


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