DHS student climbs highest mountain in Americas

Thursday, May 30, 2013
Jim Heckethorn's view of the summit climb of Aconcagua. The climb was led by Rainier Mountaineering Inc., an organization with over 40 years of experience, which places an emphasis on ensuring everyone reaches the summit safely.
Jim Heckethorn, a student at Dyersburg High School who will begin his senior year in the fall, takes a moment to smile for the camera during his climb of Aconcagua. Heckethorn took a once-in-a-lifetime trip this past January to climb Aconcagua, the second highest of the Seven Summits of the world, and the highest point in the Americas.

"Every mountain top is within reach if you just keep climbing." -- Barry Finlay, author of "Kilimanjaro and Beyond"

There are some that dream about climbing the Seven Summits of the world, the highest mountains in each of the seven continents. Many never have the opportunity to climb even one but one resident in our community can proudly say that he has already climbed two. The amazing thing is he is not even old enough to vote.

After climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, 17-year-old Jim Heckethorn had a unique opportunity earlier this year to climb Aconcagua, the highest mountain in South America and a part of the Andes mountain range in the province of Mendoza, Argentina. After two slots opened up with Rainier Mountaineering Inc. (RMI) late last fall, Heckethorn's brother-in-law, Todd, asked for permission for Heckethorn to join him in the climb.

"My parents were very supportive," said Heckethorn, the son of Patrick and Amy Heckethorn. "They understood it is not something you get to do quite often."

Heckethorn's parents, although supportive, were adamant about two things: first that he receive the blessing of his Dyersburg High School teachers, counselors and Principal Jon Frye and ensure that the climb, which would require Heckethorn to miss three weeks of school during his junior year, would not adversely affect his studies; and second that he physically prepare. Heckethorn said the latter is good advice for anyone interested in taking up climbing.

"You really need to be in the best physical condition to make a climb like this," said Heckethorn. "You also need to have all necessary equipment. The rest is up to you on how you want to prepare."

As for his studies, he received a lot of support from his teachers, counselors and Frye.

Group photo of the climbers at the top of Aconcagua, which is the highest point in South America at 22,844 feet.

In order to prepare physically, Heckethorn said he trained with DVDs of the Insanity workouts, a popular series of exercise routines that include plyometric drills with nonstop strength, power, resistance and abdominal training moves. Heckethorn noted that the training increased his cardio stamina and believes it helped a lot in making the climb easier than he expected it to be.

Heckethorn arrived in Argentina two days before the start of the climb. RMI, which has been in business for over 40 years, has a reputation for making the safest climb possible and according to Heckethorn, approximately one-third of the scheduled time for the trip was set aside as rest days in order to allow climbers to adjust to altitude gains.

"Climbing Aconcagua is not a long climb mileage wise," Heckethorn said. "But it is a lot of altitude gain in a short time."

The extra down time was ideal for Heckethorn who spent a lot of his rest time reading and making sure he stayed on task with his school assignments. He commented that the time was also spent meeting and conversing with the different climbers on the trip.

Aconcagua is located in the Andes mountain range in the province of Mendoza in Argentina.

"The best part was being able to converse with adults in a different setting," said Heckethorn, who was by far the youngest climber on the trip. "You get to meet people on a whole new level."

Heckethorn says that as the youngest climber he ironically bonded with the oldest climber, a gentleman by the name of Peter, who was in his 60s but shared Heckethorn's love of music. As guitarists they spoke a common language, which was amusing to the rest of the climbing party.

The biggest concern on the climb was always weather. Although January is the peak of summer in Argentina, weather systems can move in at a moment's notice, making a climb virtually impossible. Heckethorn recalled that a group just a week earlier was delayed by weather. RMI's itinerary builds a couple of days in for weather but it is a constant variable. Fortunately, the weather was ideal during their climb and did not delay Heckethorn's group in the least, giving them extra time at the end of the trip to explore Mendoza.

"It was challenging," Heckethorn says of the climb. "It never got to the point that I thought I could not do it. As prepared as my dad made me be, I don't think I really could have been surprised.

"You really have to be ready for anything," added Heckethorn.

Heckethorn's final advice for future climbers besides preparing physically and purchasing the right gear?

"Be confident," he says. "A lot of people talk about climbing and they think they cannot do it."

After climbing 22,844 feet, Heckethorn says the experience was one of the most memorable thus far and although he intends to continue climbing as a hobby, he is not sure he has to climb all Seven Summits to say that he has reached the pinnacle in climbing. However, there is this one mountain called Everest that he would like to climb one day.

"If you put your mind to it nothing can hold you back except weather."

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