Al Hancock, Professional Climber specializing in 8,000m peaks and proud Edmontonian, is aiming above the clouds having embarked on becoming the first Canadian to summit the 14 highest mountains in the world (known as 8-Thousanders). This is known as the Big 14 Challenge, five being in Pakistan, two in Tibet and seven in Nepal. Only one North American (Ed Viesturs, US) has summited all 14, but no Canadians, and Al plans to change that.
In 2008, Al became the 13th Canadian to complete the Seven Summits (the highest mountain on every continent). He has successfully summitted Mount Everest twice, Mount Cho Oyu (2011), Mount Shishapangma (2011), Mount Manaslu (2012), Mount Makalu (2014) and K2 (2014). That’s 6 of the Big 14, and Al plans on completing them all within the next 3 years.
But this Canadian hadn’t always had his sights set on mountain peaks.
Roughly 17 years ago, Al stumbled upon a basic alpine course taking place in Canmore and decided to try something new. Even though that particular weekend he was sick, he went anyway. During his class section of the course he kept hearing plans to climb Mount Denali or Mount Robson from his fellow mountaineer classmates, but Al wasn’t interested, he was just out for the weekend ‘trying something new’. As the course took the class through and up the Athabasca, in the Rockies, Al got half way up and was on his hands and knees struggling with his Flu. He disconnected from the group and made his way safely down. On his way down Al overheard on his 2-Way radio voices of sheer joy, “We’re on top! We’re on top! We’re at the summit!” hearing this Al thought to himself, ‘Boy, I’m heading down, I wanna be up there’.
So Al’s first time on a Mountain wasn’t a success, he made it down which in mountaineering is known as a success, but he didn’t reach his objective, his goal. That didn’t deter him. He kept going back to do more and more courses.
In 2003, a US colleague of Al’s (who had done a full traverse of Mount Denali) was reeling Al in to join him on a climb of Mount Denali (highest in North America). And they completed it with a full traverse. A couple years later, Al sneaked off to Russia to climb Mount Elbrus successfully, then hitting South America the next year to climb the Aconcagua. That was where he was invited to climb Mount Everest, which he successfully summited for the first time in 2007.
Al then went on to complete the last 3 mountains on the 7 Summit list in Australia, Antartica and then Africa, completing the 7 Summits in 2008. And now, Al has his eyes on one of the biggest challenges in the world. The Big 14. And if Al completes it, he will be the first Canadian and on a very short list worldwide (only 33 Verified ascents on all 14 peaks).
We asked Al what has been the toughest part of his journey so far, and with certainty he said “Death, mother nature is a fierce mistress and not everyone gets to come home.” In 2014, on Mount Makalu, Al was the team-leader and a team member had edema setting in. 20 people were involved in the rescue, but during the rescue the member succumbed and passed away. As team-lead, it was Al’s responsibility to inform the rest of the team and then collect the belongings from the body and get them prepared for their family. That’s the toughest part, dealing with death.
“Mother Nature is a fierce mistress and not everyone gets to come home.”
“And that’s a constant in the mountains, death, and that’s why safety is a core value in mountaineering. Sometimes it’s just wrong place, wrong time. But if we were to do a rudimentary analysis of what happened, when these accidents take place, you’ll find it’s wrong decision making.” Al explains, “So good decision making and safety is always front and center of the mind when mountain climbing.”
“Good Decision and Safety are core values, safety above all else.”
Al trains at World Health Edmonton 6 times a week giving himself a day to recuperate and if he feels he needs an extra day he’ll take it. Recovering from training is crucial, as you train you are creating small tears in your muscles which need proper time to rebuild, proper form and nutrition help immensely in the training stages to build muscle and endurance for the mountain. Listen to your body, Al says, because if you don’t you can seriously injure yourself and you wouldn’t be seeing any mountains any time soon if that happens.
What’s next for Al Hancock?
Find out more about Al visit his website alhancock.com