Sharing the Chair: 7 Summits Climber Kim Hess

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Kim Hess atop Mt Vinson
Kim Hess atop Mt Vinson

You never know who you’re going to end up on the chair with here in Steamboat. 

On March 11, 2018, at age 33, local badass Kim Hess and her brother, Steven, became the first brother-sister team to complete the Seven Summits, climbing the highest peak on each continent. Hess, who moved to Steamboat in 2009, knocked off the final—and easiest—chapter of her seven-year-long adventure by bagging Australia’s 7,310-foot Mount Kosciusko (her parents, in their 70s, met them at the top). “To finally be there was pretty unbelievable,” says Hess, now 38, whose quest involved surviving everything from deadly earthquakes and avalanches to broken bones. “After more than seven years of chasing my dream, to finally reach the finish line was incredible. I felt an incredible sense of pride and accomplishment, but also relief and sadness.” We caught up with her for her take on the summits, life in Steamboat and more. Ooops, gotta’ raise the footbar now…

Mt Vinson

S&C: Your quest for the Seven Summits started with a bet with your brother?

Hess: Yeah, I’d been traveling for two years after college and I didn’t know what I want to do. When he brought up this great idea, I said “Let’s do this.”

S&C: How relieved were you after climbing the last one? 

Hess: It was nice not having anything to worry about anymore. Sometimes I couldn’t sleep at night—the stress of working, saving money, finding sponsors, blogging, social posts, staying healthy and training damaged my mind and body more than I care to admit. So, it was relieving to finally be able to say, ‘I climbed the Seven Summits’ instead of saying I was just trying to climb them. As with any big project in life, there’s always a big sigh of relief at the end.

S&C: What have you learned from the mountains? 

Hess: The places I’ve traveled, the mountains I’ve climbed and the people I’ve met have taught me and changed me in ways I can’t begin to comprehend. I’m forever grateful for the opportunity to have experienced this rollercoaster of a journey and looking forward to what’s next. I’m not quite ready to dive into the next adventure, but when I wake up from my slumber, I promise it will be exciting.

S&C: How’s the keynote/motivational speaking business going? 

Hess: In the aftermath of COVID-19, the landscape of keynote speaking underwent significant transformation, mirroring the shifts seen in many other industries. The thriving work-from-home culture and a general reduction in business expenditures, particularly on corporate events, have undeniably impacted the keynote speaking business. For a while, presentations were exclusively held on virtual platforms like Zoom. It’s heartening to see a gradual return to the traditional stage setting for these impactful speeches. My talks try to celebrate the underdog and are for everybody out there who feels like they can’t do something, and for everybody who overcame a challenge or setback.

S&C: How’s the book coming along?

Hess: Still working on it– it’s a work in progress. 

S&C: Where else are you working on these days? 

Hess: I’m currently working to open a business of my own with my brother Steven. While we’re not quite ready to share more yet, if anyone has a 1,500-square-footspace they want to lease, get in touch!

S&C: Any further progress on accomplishing the Explorers Grand Slam? 

Hess: As of now, the North and South Pole expeditions are in a holding pattern. Since 2018, manyh North Pole trips have been halted, primarily due to political tensions between Russia and Ukraine, compounded by the impact of COVID. Fingers crossed expeditions start launching again in 2024. That said, both of these expeditions will present immense challenges and be downright grueling. The ordeal will be unlike anything I’m accustomed to, so my motivation for undertaking them must be crystal clear. Without a compelling purpose or a strong “why,” success will remain elusive, and at this moment, I find myself lacking that essential “why.”

S&C: How does skinning good ol’ Mt. Werner compare to some of those peaks? 

Hess: It’s all about perspective. When I’m at my peak fitness, ascending Mt. Werner can feel as effortless as a stroll through the Kansas plains. But on those tougher days, it can be more like trying to push concrete uphill. 

S&C: Any big plans for this upcoming winter? 

Hess: Like everyone in town I’m praying for a snowy winter like last year and certainly wouldn’t hate an early start again. Other than powder days I’m looking forward to continuing to learn and grow in the backcountry to better manage my fear and understanding of avalanche terrain.

S&C: What do you like about Steamboat? 

Hess: I originally came here in January 2009 for what was meant to be just one ski season, but here I am, still rooted in this place. The reason? Well, it’s the incredible community and friends, the snow, the summers, and the overall lifestyle. 

Seven Summits By the #’s

Seven Summits with check marks in the four that have been completed by Kim Hess.
Seven Summits with check marks in the four that have been completed by Kim Hess.

109,632 air miles 

133,487 feet ascended

21,467 photos

2,631 days of planning

181 nights slept in a tent at altitude

7 continents

7 mountains

1 dream

The peaks (in order): 1. Aconcagua (22,841 feet); 2. Elbrus (18,510 feet); 3. Kilimanjaro (19,341 feet); 4. Denali (20,310 feet); 5. Everest (29,032 feet); 6. Vinson (16.050); 7. Kosciusko (7,310 feet)