Dave Mauro told himself that climbing Mount Baker would be his first and last ascent. That was back in 1992. Then six of the world's tallest mountains called to him. He answered, and climbed them all. Now, only Mount Everest remains.
"Here I am. One left," said Mauro, a 50-year-old financial planner at UBS in Bellingham and an improv actor.
He leaves Bellingham on March 29 for Mount Everest in his quest to climb to the highest summit on seven continents. Mauro will arrive in Kathmandu, Nepal, on March 31.
He will spend weeks acclimating his body to the high altitude. If all goes as planned, he will summit the 29,029-foot Mount Everest, the world's tallest mountain, on May 18.
Success would make Mauro just one of 65 Americans to achieve the seven summits quest, he said.
He also hopes to succeed in raising $29,029 for the Bellingham Boys & Girls Club as part of his latest expedition - one dollar for each foot of Everest.
Mauro knows about Boys & Girls Club because his younger sister is one of two national lobbyists for the organization. What attracts him most about it, he said, is what Boys & Girls does for underprivileged children.
"(They) give them a safe place to go after school. They provide help with homework. They make sure that kids get at least one good balanced meal a day," Mauro said, although he noted that not all children who go to Boys & Girls Club are impoverished.
He grew up poor himself.
"We were doggone poor. We lived on welfare, food stamps," he said, adding that his bed and clothes were donated by a church.
He didn't go to a Boys & Girls Club then, but he would have benefited from doing so, Mauro said.
Jill Reid, director of Bellingham Boys & Girls Club, praised Mauro for the message he gives to the club's youngsters, who will be following his climb via his blog.
"He is so inspirational. His big thing is for kids to follow their dreams. What a generous man to do this," Reid said.
Roosevelt Elementary and Meridian Middle school students also will follow his exploits, Mauro said.
BAKER TO EVEREST
Before all the other mountains, there was Baker.
Mauro and a handful of friends climbed the 10,781-foot mountain with the help of a guide from the American Alpine Institute because they wanted to stand on top of the volcano that graces Whatcom County's skyline.
With that goal accomplished, Mauro figured he was done with mountain climbing.
Then in 2006 his brother-in-law, an accomplished mountain climber named Ty Hardt, invited him to summit the 20,320-foot Denali in the Alaska Range.
The expedition would be filmed for a documentary and include some non-climbers for the human-interest side.
Mauro said no, at first.
A few months later and at a low point with the death of his brother and the ending of his marriage, Mauro said yes.
"I felt so bad that failing wouldn't bother me much," Mauro reasoned, adding that he thought if he could summit, maybe it would turn things around for him.
He took the ascent seriously. He trained for eight months with the help of a personal trainer, knowing that he would have to haul his own gear - 100 pounds on a sled and 60 pounds on a pack on his back while trudging uphill.
"It's a beast. You come to really hate the sled," Mauro said, wryly noting that the experience reminded him of the myth of Sisyphus, the king forced by the gods to forever roll a boulder up a hill only to see it roll back down - an act that he had to repeat forever.
The climb did get easier as the ascent continued because some of the gear was left behind, Mauro said, but the newbie mountaineer remembered being "extremely fatigued" because of the thin air at the high altitude and the heavy gear.
"McKinley is not a starter's mountain," he said, referring to the mountain's other name.
There's a clip of Mauro on June 13, 2007, when he summited Denali. In it, his oxygen-starved brain is struggling to put words together, until he eventually gasps: "It's an incredible moment. I can't believe I'm sitting here. I probably look as bad as I've ever looked and I probably feel as good as I've ever felt."
After Denali came Kilimanjaro, Aconcagua, Elbrus, Vinson Massif and Carstensz Pyramid. Now, Everest in the Himalayas.
Mauro couldn't tell you when it was that he decided to attain all seven summits, only that it wasn't what he intended to do.
"Each of these mountains was a singular event. I was never committed to doing all seven," Mauro said.
After Denali, for example, he again thought that was it for mountain climbing. But then he grew curious about the other mountains, reasoning that two or three of the other summits had to be easier than Denali.
That included his climb of Kilimanjaro in 2008, which Mauro also thought would be a great excuse to see Africa.
He hasn't stopped since. Mauro said the mountains called to him, and he went.
The thing about getting to the summit, Mauro said, is you have to strip down to the basics of who you are. You give up on your hygiene to some extent, being able to sleep as much as you need to, or breathe as much air as you need to. But, then, after a push for the summit that starts at night in order to reach the top just before dawn, you find yourself standing at the highest point of a continent at sunrise.
"You're the first thing that light hits. For a few brief moments, you're the only thing that light hits," Mauro said.
"Below you it's dark, but you're standing there in this warm glow. You feel this sense of pure love rushing through you."
HOW TO HELP, GET INFO
Donate to Bellingham resident Dave Mauro's "Climbing for Kids" fundraiser by going online to whatcomclubs.org. Mauro hopes to raise $29,029 to support the Bellingham Boys & Girls Club as part of his ascent of Mount Everest, which is 29,029 feet tall.
More on Mauro's quest to climb the highest mountains on each of the seven continents - Mount Everest is the last - is on this website.
The direct link to his Mount Everest quest is at mauroeverest.blogspot.com.
Reach Kie Relyea at email@example.com or call 715-2234.