While most students are enjoying their holiday break by sleeping in a lazing around the house in their pajamas for most of the day, one Carlsbad High school Student has enjoyed a much different winter break. On Dec. 27 sophomore Joey Szalkiewicz set off on a month long journey to climb Mt. Aconcagua.
This 6961 meter high mountain is part of the Seven Summits, the tallest mountains on each continent, and will be the third of the Summits that Szalkiewicz will have climbed in a mission to summit all seven before he graduate high school.
Outdoor activities have always been common in the Szalkiewicz family, but he first became interested in climbing at age 10, when he climbed Mt. Whitney.
“He thought that there was no way that I would make it to the summit, but low and behold I made it to the top, “ Szalkiewicz said. “When I got back down, all I could think was ‘What’s the next thing I could do?’I found out more about something called the seven summits which is the highest peak on each continent and I’ve been climbing ever since.”
The two summits Szalkiewicz has conquered so far have been Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa and Mt. Elbrus in Russia. Each of these mountains are over 5,500 meters high, which by itself makes climbing the summits intimidation, but when you add in the short window during which you can climb some of these mountains, extreme weather conditions and having to carry your own gear, reaching the summit of just one of these mountains seems nearly impossible for a teenage to accomplish. Preparation for these climbs requires a lot of dedication.
“Every Saturday, I wake up early in the morning and just go climb for the entire day. I do a lot of leg work outs and lifting heavy weights because for Aconcagua you have to carry 50-60 pound packs every day,” Szalkiewicz said. “The most important thing for me is to remain confident. Like most things, it’s a mental game. If you can beat the mountain mentally, then the rest will follow.”
Besides working hard physically to prepare for his journey, Szalkiewicz has to study hard in order to maintain good grades when he has too miss so much school.
“Well I’ll be getting back from Aconcagua the day before finals week so that will be fun, but my parents tell me that I have to have good grades before I leave. Right now I have straight A’s so their pretty cool with it, but I study hard when I’m on the plane traveling to the mountains.” Szalkiewicz said.
As if climbing seven of the world’s tallest mountains by the time he graduated high school wasn’t enough, Szalkiewicz has decide to use his personal journey to give back. When he climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, he brought school supplies to a group of at risk teenagers and since then has stated his own non profit with his father.
“When my dad and I started the climbs, we wanted it to not just be about climbing, because the stuff you see when you go to the areas around these mountains makes you want to reach out to people,” Szalkiewicz said. “When I was in first grade I cracked my skull which permanently damaged my vision and I found out that there was a lack of people can afford the eye-care they need. When I wake up in the morning and I don’t have my contacts in, I’m blind so to think that people live like that made me want to reach out. We started a nonprofit called Share the View and we want to donate a pair of glasses for every meter that I climb and we’re pretty close to our goal.”
Szalkiewicz will be sharing his journey to and charity work in Aconcagua on his website, www.haretheview.org, where he also provided a way for people to help donate to the cause. Szalkiewicz has a long journey ahead of him if he wants to climb all Seven Summits before he graduates, but for now he’s just enjoying his climbs and sharing the view.
“I have to do it for the experience,” Szalkiewicz said.