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Khumbu Icefalls with the Western Cwm in the distance

Featured Article

Climb Every Mountain

An interview with Andrew Hughes in advance of his North Pole expedition

You’ve probably known people who challenge themselves with marathons, sales goals at work, or learning a new language. 41-year-old Andrew Hughes set a goal of climbing the Seven Summits - the highest mountains on each of the seven continents - within five years, and achieved that in May of 2021. Previously, Hughes became the first American man and third person ever to complete the Antarctica Trifecta with his climbing partner Roxanne Vogel, by consecutively Skiing the Last Degree to the South Pole and reaching the summits of Mount Vinson (the highest mountain) and Mount Sidley (the highest volcano and one of the most remote peaks on Earth) in Antarctica during the 2019-20 season. 

This April, Hughes has set his sights on reaching the North Pole on skis and completing the “Explorer’s Grand Slam” - an adventurers’ challenge to reach the North Pole, the South Pole and all of the Seven Summits. Just over 70 people have ever completed it, and by reaching the North Pole in April 2023, Hughes will join this elite group. A dual citizen, he will become only the 19th American and 13th British/UK citizen to ever achieve this.

Originally from Poulsbo, Hughes has gone to law school and run for Congress along his path to becoming an adventurer extraordinaire. He says, “The call of Rainier on the horizon drew me in nearly 10 years ago and after a stormy and challenging, but successful, summit my life was set in a new direction.” He’s motivated by the promise of a meaningful impact in the world, committed to the principles of sustainability, conservation, and combating climate change. Hughes uses his expeditions to raise awareness and funds for Human Rights Watch’s work on the Environment and Human Rights.

To reach the North Pole, Hughes and his team will come up through Svalbard, Norway, the northernmost inhabited place on Earth. Each season, Barneo Ice Camp is set up on the Arctic sea ice for as long as it remains stable. Tractors are air-dropped in to build a runway so small planes can access the camp, then it’s taken down weeks later and supplies hauled away by boat when the ice becomes too dangerous to traverse. There hasn’t been an Arctic expedition season for four years due to COVID and geopolitical issues, but everything seems on track for 2023. The North Pole trip will take 9-14 days and Hughes mentions that when you’re in the Arctic, “You’re on ice the whole time, which moves and floats throughout the trip.”

Hughes says “You’re at the mercy of geopolitical events and weather in these expeditions, so I focus on what I can control: Training.” Which for this trek entails a focus on muscular endurance, meaning heavy pack work on inclines, as well as mobility training to maintain peak muscle and joint function. Using heavy sled poles in cross-country skiing helps him prepare for this extreme challenge.

He and his team will take the “Nordic approach,” pulling gear on sleds while they ski. Sub-freezing temperatures (-20 to -30F), the weight of gear, and ensuring that no one and no materials get wet are important considerations. Gear is so critical to what Hughes does in these expeditions that he is planning to launch a cold-weather adventuring gear company

Another goal of Hughes’s is to help break down the socio-economic barriers that may prevent people from enjoying outdoor adventuring. “Creating paths for expanding the community and making it more inclusive” is a priority, providing greater access to our natural spaces is part of his “perpetual purpose beyond the peaks.”

Follow Andrew’s journey on Instagram @andrew_i_hughes

Each season, Barneo Ice Camp is set up on the Arctic sea ice for as long as it remains stable.

  • Alpenglow at Everest Base Camp
  • Everest Summit
  • Khumbu Icefalls with the Western Cwm in the distance
  • Sunrise on Rainier summit push
  • Sunset at Camp 2 on Everest