UA graduate a record-breaking climberBy Morgan Reames | 04/01/2013 11:00pm
Andrew Hillery said when he told people he wanted to climb mountains after graduating from college everyone laughed at him. However, after graduating from The University of Alabama in 2008 with a communications degree, Hillery has not only climbed mountains, he has broken records.
Hillery and his climbing partner and best friend, Brendan Batt, set the American record for fastest time up the most dangerous route on Mount Kilimanjaro, the world’s highest free-standing mountain. The route taken by Hillery and Batt is known as the Umbwe via the Western Breach, which had been closed for eight years.
“It’s not even a trail,” Hillery said. “It’s raw and very, very tough. The path is almost entirely vertical.”
The high altitude of the climb created a limited amount of oxygen, along with a limited supply of food. The original record was set in three days, and Hillery and his partner managed to make it in two and a half.
“The toughest parts were climbing 48 hours straight on a pure vertical sect,” Hillery said. “And my partner throwing up because the high altitude was making him sick.”
Among the many difficulties, Hillery said they experienced loose rock, gravel and ice as they traveled 1,700 feet up with no sleep or rest.
“Mentally, I try to never think about the top of the mountain,” Hillery said. “I just think one step, one more maneuver.”
Hillery’s interest in climbing began at age 18, during college, when the first thing he spent his income on was glacier climbing and safety school, he said.
“I had always had a interest in large mountains,” Hillery said. “I guess the older I got the more I felt a bit of a void in my life.”
After Hurricane Katrina destroyed his parents’ home in 2005, Hillery became more determined than ever to achieve his goals. During a sushi lunch with Batt, it was decided they would begin their climbing journey.
“By the end of the lunch it was settled that we were going to take all the money we had, work the entire summer, and head to the cascade mountains to start and refine our alpinism skills,” Hillery said. “We both agreed that we would start to climb large mountains right then and there.”
Hillery has since ascended many mountains, including San Jacinto in California.
“We used to live together in California, and one weekend we saw a mountain while driving and made an attempt at it the following weekend,” Chris Cannizzaro, a long-time friend, said. “Andrew was leading the way but he didn’t know the route, and we got lost and ran out of food.”
Cannizzarro said the local sheriff’s department was contacted, and they were airlifted off the mountain.
“I have the news clip from that day, which is always good for a laugh,” Cannizzarro said.
Despite the difficulties they faced with San Jacinto, Cannizzarro said they followed it with a successful climb.
“We also climbed Aconcagua together, which we did summit and was a good expedition,” Cannizzarro said.
In 2009, Hillery ascended Mount Aconcagua, the largest mountain in the southern hemisphere, located in Argentina. He planted a UA flag on the mountain’s peak that stands at 6,960 meters high.
“I usually try to plant an Alabama flag on all my climbs,” Hillery said. “I always try to represent Alabama, especially here in Australia. But when I climbed Kilimanjaro, we barely brought anything.”
To prepare for his climbs, Hillery said he worked a lot on lung expansion.
“I like raw workouts like flipping a tire up a hill or sprinting with a rope around you tied to a weight on the beach,” Hillery said. “Anything to get your heart pumping. Those brutal workouts are great but I like to focus on things that make me happy like surfing and paddle boarding.”
Aside from scaling mountains, Hillery’s extreme hobbies include ice climbing, paddle boarding and head diving off of various sized cliffs.
“It wakes you up and never gets any easier before you jump,” Hillery said. “A few weeks ago we heard about a 100-foot waterfall jump, but it was a seven-hour trek in the Australian jungle. Nevertheless, we found it and both had some crazy head dives. It’s so high my head was bruised for a week.”
Hillery said even in his undergrad days he enjoyed a milder version of cliff jumping.
“Even at Bama I loved to go to the cliffs and jump. I wouldn’t say I was doing the things I’m doing now though,” he said.
Hillery and Batt formed a nonprofit called Hill Batt after Katrina to give back to the victims, as well as donate money toward things they are passionate about such as Muscular Dystrophy and the Bengal tiger. They have created T-shirts representing the brand along with other merchandise.
“When I was in school I used to take T-shirts to Gallettes and sell them,” Hillery said. “Everything we do we use to give back.”
When asked what’s next, Hillery said he has many plans that include scaling the Carstensz Pyramid in Papua New Guinea and breaking the record there.
“The record is 18 days, and we plan to do it in four,” Hillery said. “It’s in the Indonesian jungle, and there are things like cannibals out there so you have to be really careful.”
Hillery said while he still plans to reach his long-term goal of climbing Mount Everest, he has his sights set on a new mountain.
“Our main focus was Everest and we lost interest pretty quickly due to commercialization,” Hillery said. “Our focus now is K2.”
K2, also known as Savage Mountain, is the second largest mountain in the world, located in Pakistan. For every four people who have attempted to ascend K2, one has died trying, he said. Regardless of his unorthodox career path, Hillery said maintaining a college degree is an important staple that sets you apart from others and opens your future to many new things.
“It helps to have strong ambition and never be content,” Hillery said. “I’m always improving, but man without that degree I would definitely not be where I am today.”
Hillery currently resides in Australia where he works selling medical lasers and spends his spare time surfing and rock climbing.
“Unfortunately I haven’t been back since I graduated in 2008, but that school is with me everyday,” Hillery said. “I knew I wasn’t going to be back for a long time when I left but that’s life. It’s a chapter.”
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