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Rocky Hill Man Finishes 5th Of Seven Summits

By DEREK TAM

The Hartford Courant

August 17, 2009

ROCKY HILL -

Five mountains down, two to go.

Town resident Rohan Freeman inched closer to his goal of climbing all "Seven Summits" - the highest mountain on each of the seven continents - when he reached the summit of 29,035-foot-high Mount Everest on May 19. In the process, Freeman, 43, became the first African American man and the first Jamaican-born citizen to ascend to the top of the world's tallest peak.

"When I reached the top, I thought, 'Wow! I can't believe I made it,'" Freeman said. "But then I thought, 'It doesn't count unless you get down safely.'"

All he could process, he added, was the spectacular view of the Earth's curvature and the layers of the atmosphere.

Freeman began his ascent of Mount Everest from the Nepalese village of Lukla on April 1 accompanied by two sherpas, or Nepalese mountain guides. From Lukla, which is 9,380 feet above sea level, Freeman trekked 35 miles over eight days to a base camp on the south side of the mountain.

Progress slowed once Freeman reached the base camp, located 17,500 feet above sea level. Besides the challenges of the terrain - there are numerous ledges, ice walls and the occasional avalanche to negotiate - a climber also needs to adjust to reduced levels of oxygen. Because there is only about a third as much oxygen at the summit of Mount Everest as there is at sea level, the body must produce more red blood cells to compensate. Otherwise, headaches, a gradual loss of consciousness or even death may occur.

The acclimatization process takes weeks, Freeman said. To adjust, climbers never sleep more than 1,000 feet higher than where they slept the day before. The higher the elevation, he added, the longer it takes to adapt.

But there are limits to how much the body can acclimate. Above 24,500 feet, Freeman, like many climbers, uses supplemental oxygen. Even with the extra oxygen, he said, each breath was a challenge.

"You take five breaths for every step," he said. "You never catch your breath."

Loss of appetite was another issue throughout the climb, Freeman said. Despite forcing himself to eat high-calorie food, when he returned to Connecticut, he had lost more than 10 pounds.

Death was never far from Freeman's thoughts, he said, although it was more of an acknowledged risk than a constant fear. Most books about Mount Everest "celebrate death," he added.

But one incident nearly caused him to reconsider his climb. The day before Freeman scaled a notorious glacier - the Khumbu icefall - an avalanche struck a party and killed one climber. Words of assurance from his sherpas, Freeman said, helped him overcome the mental hurdle of climbing the icefall.

"I remember walking by the spot where the body should have been," he said. "I thought to myself, 'This could have been me, this could have been anybody.'"

A former track star at the University of Connecticut, Freeman said he first wanted to climb mountains in 1998, when he booked his first vacation to a winter resort. One winter sport led to another, he said, and in June 2002, Freeman and several friends climbed Tanzania's Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest mountain. He then scaled three of the other "Seven Summits" - Mount McKinley in Alaska in June 2004, Mount Elbrus in Russia in June 2006 and Aconcagua in Argentina in December 2006 - before he attempted to climb Mount Everest.

Freeman's climb cost about $100,000, $75,000 of which he paid himself. The Urban Strategy America Fund, a real estate investment fund based in Boston, was a sponsor of Freeman's climb. The fund made a $2,500 contribution to support outdoor activities at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hartford, where Freeman is a board member.

"Just the idea that he's done outreach and work with the youth of Hartford and has shown them a much broader world ... that was very important [to us]," said fund President Kirk Sykes.

If he secures enough funding, Freeman said he plans to climb the last two of the "Seven Summits" - Vinson Massif in Antarctica and Mount Kosciuszko in Australia - in early 2010. But before that, he has a different goal to accomplish.

"When I returned from Everest, I stared my own engineering company," Freeman said. "I'm trying to see if I can make that a success."

Copyright © 2009, The Hartford Courant

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