EAGLE COUNTY — Brandon and Kristine Chalk may be a match made in heaven, and they are climbing toward it.
They leave in a week and a half for Mount Vinson in Antarctica, the seventh of their Seven Summits together. The Seven Summits are the highest mountain on each of the seven continents and when they summit Vinson, they’ll have bagged them all together.
“Going for the summit can be a life or death decision, and we make them together,” Kristine said.
They’ve been married four years and celebrated their honeymoon on Mount Everest, the third of their Seven Summits.
“In lieu of china, we asked for donations for our Everest trip,” Kristine said, laughing.
When they summited Everest, they became the youngest American couple ever to do it, according to the Himalayan database that keeps track of that sort of thing. Brandon was 32 and Kristine was 31 when they made it to the top.
A blizzard forced them back from their first summit attack, but the next day they pushed seven hours to reach the top, 29,035 feet. They took in the views, took in some oxygen and headed back down after about 20 minutes.
They scaled Aconcagua in Argentina together, Brandon’s second time and Kristine’s first. Kilimanjaro in Africa was the summer of 2011.
High on their checklist is an actual honeymoon, somewhere warm.
They thought about an Asian honeymoon after descending Everest, but by that time they’d been on the mountain for 60 days and out of the country three months.
Mountains and marriage
Marriage means metaphorically putting your life in someone else’s hands. When climbing the world’s tallest mountains, it’s real. The Seven Summits will make several serious attempts to kill you.
In all this climbing, they’ve never had one moment when they looked at each other and wonder what they were thinking. They’re insistent. Never, not once.
“It became apparent last year when we had another climbing partner. He’s a great guy, but when it was just the two of us everything was so much smoother. We just know each other so well,” Kristine said.
Brandon says Kristine is mentally stronger than he is, especially when it comes to the big trips. She says he’s a better technical climber.
They met climbing when a mutual friend introduced them. For a few years, they were just climbing buddies, but as they started talking about their Mount McKinley climb in Alaska’s Denali National Park — the first of their Seven Summits — they spent all their time together planning and training.
“Somewhere in all that time we looked at each other and said, ‘Hey!’” Kristine said.
Climbers occasionally think they’re done with all this, or they’re too sick to ascend, but both Chalks say they’ve have never had that moment with each other.
“It’s the best of both worlds,” Kristine said.
Kristine teaches fourth grade at Red Sandstone Elementary in Vail. Brandon is a mechanical engineer with Beaudin Ganze in Avon.
“We’re regular people with regular jobs. We don’t do this professionally,” Kristine said.
And then there was one
Mount Vinson in Antarctica is their last one because it’s the most expensive and most remote. Mount Everest cost them $50,000 together. The Vinson expedition is $78,000 for the two.
Also, it fits into Kristine’s school calendar. They’ll be back by Jan 5, when Christmas break ends and Kristine has to be back in class.
It’s the dead of summer at the South Pole, which means the daytime temperature on Mount Vinson will “soar” to between -10 degrees and zero. That does not account for the wind, and there’s always wind.
But the sun never sets, so they’ll have that going for them.
Mount Vinson is 16,066 feet. They figure they’ll be on the mountain between four and seven days.
Mount Vinson is 700 miles inland. They fly into Punta Arenas, the furthest south city in the world. From there they take a five-hour flight on a Russian cargo plane to a base camp on Union Glacier. It’s just permanent tents for South Pole trekkers, climbers and researchers. Once they get there, they take a small plane to the base of the mountain and start climbing.
“This one is more expensive than Everest because it’s so remote, but, it’ll be an adventure,” Brandon said. “I can’t imagine anyone would go there to climb this mountain if they weren’t doing the Seven Summits.”
When they’re done, they’ll do what they’ve always done, climb, but on mountains no one has heard of, maybe the Himalayas, maybe something closer to home, and always with each other.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.