Summer may be over, but that doesn’t mean outdoor adventures have to end. Just ask Melissa Arnot.
This ace mountaineer has summited Mt. Everest—the planet’s highest peak at 29,029 feet—five times. She says it’s beautiful at the summit because you can see the curve of the Earth.
But that’s not all. Just 30, the lovely 5’3”, 120-pound dynamo has completed over a hundred high-altitude climbs around the world. As she begins an exploration of four unclimbed peaks in northern Nepal, we tracked her down to ask about climbing, keeping fit and getting the most out of life.
“Climbing is such a great metaphor for life. The uncomfortable parts are never our choice, but once we get through them, they never seem as big as they did at the start.”
What was your initial inspiration to become an awesome mountaineer?
It was always people around me. I saw other guides working and thought, I can do that, so I would push myself. I remember when American Ed Viesturs summited all 14 8,000-meter peaks without supplementary oxygen. I was so impressed. And, I thought, I can do that some day. That’s one of my goals.
You hold the record for an American woman climbing Everest. Are you looking to get back the world record at six summits?
I will never be chasing a record on Everest, that is a sure way to fail. I go back every year and I work for my sponsors or as a guide for my company, Infinity Expeditions. It gives me incredible joy to work in this beautiful place. Each season I have climbed without clients, I have tried to simplify what I need. Climbing alone, with just a partner and no support team, and also to climb without oxygen, is very appealing to me. I want to see what my own limits are. I have spent the past seven years on Everest preparing for this.
How do you get in shape for a major climb?
My goal is to be 100 percent stronger than I think I need to be, that way if something goes wrong I can be an asset. I train by hiking 3,000 feet up Bald Mountain in Idaho with a 60-pound weight vest three to five times a week. I also train in the gym for strength and sprinting speed, while doing yoga for stretching. And I have added the training of a marathon right before I leave to give me the long slow endurance. It’s a lot! But I challenge myself to a really high physical level and anything below that just feels lazy to me.
You’ve mentioned that strength and flexibility in your core and legs is key. Could you explain, and does it actually help that you have a low center of gravity?
Climbing for me is all walking uphill, not pulling uphill. When my core is strong, my endurance is better. My legs are the strongest muscles I have, so I keep them ready for the long days of up and down. I’m not sure if my size is an advantage or a weakness, but it’s working for me so far!
You’ve said that being on Everest or any summit is “a sacred place that can kill you in a blink.” Can you describe this duality?
People always think that the summit is this place of celebration. But for me it is always filled with trepidation. You are halfway. All the same dangers you faced to get there are in front of you. I try to be appreciative and humble at the same time. And I never push to the limit to get to the top. I push to the limit to get back down.
Another day, another summit: Arnot allows herself a moment of joy after topping Everest for the fifth time.
Is there a metaphor with life and mountaineering?
Climbing is such a great metaphor for life. The uncomfortable parts are never our choice, but once we get through them, they never seem as big as they did at the start. I often just tell myself “You’ve got this” and that is enough.
What new Eddie Bauer gear has you stoked?
I am so lucky to have been involved with building the Eddie Bauer First Ascent gear since day one in 2008. I’m always helping them test and tweak every item to make it expedition ready. Their packs are amazing. I helped design the Alchemist and Sorcerer packs that are versatile enough to expand from 40 to 55 liters and super sleek and lightweight. I love all of their down apparel, like the StormDown that is treated so it doesn’t get wet.
Tell us why you created your non-profit organization, Juniper?
In 2010, my climbing partner, a local Sherpa worker, was killed in an icefall avalanche while we were climbing in Nepal. After the accident I was made aware of how insufficient his life insurance and the government support was for his family. So in 2012 I started The Juniper Fund to help make donations to families of high altitude workers [who suffer accidents or deaths] in Nepal. My goal is just to provide some relief from these tragedies, whatever I can do.
What do you do away from the mountains?
I am a pretty active animal so when I am not climbing I like to ride my bike. I rode solo from Yellowstone to Glacial National Park and then back around, a 700-mile trip. I go on little adventures with friends. But I am also a total binge watcher of cable TV series like Showtime’s House of Lies.
Given your EMT experience, what advice do you have for adventurers caught in an emergency situation?
Preparation is key if you are going to survive an emergency. It is the lightest thing you can bring and you have no excuse to leave it behind. A basic Wilderness First Aid course will set you on the right path. I always carry simple rain gear and a small custom first aid kit from Remote Medical International—they trained me too! There is no replacement for a calm attitude though.
High achiever: As you may have noticed, Arnot is always looking ahead to the next challenge.