Start the Presses: Reaching the summit of achievement

Sometimes, just sometimes, you run across people who refuse to let anything stop them.

Take, for instance, Paul Fejtek and his wife Denise. The two recently climbed Mt. Everest despite the fact that Paul has full use of only one hand. The 1988 Hoover High graduate was born with Brachial Plexus Palsy, a disorder resulting from nerve damage.

The two live in Newport Beach, but will be returning to their hometown Wednesday to talk about a book they wrote about their experiences called “Steps to the Summit.” The talk is at 7 p.m. at the Glendale Central Library.


For the Record: 

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that all proceeds from the book "Steps to the Summit" would be donated to the Challenged Athletes Foundation. Instead, all profits from the book will be donated.

The 2010 climb was the final stop in their quest to climb the highest peaks on each of the globe's continents — fittingly called the Seven Summits Quest. The couple have raised $114,000 for the Challenged Athletes Foundation as part of the quest, doubling up their adventures with philanthropy.

Fejtek said all profits from the book will also go to the foundation, which organizes events and provides grants, among other things, to athletes either born with disabilities or caused by disease, violence or war. More info on the book can be found here:

Now, I've twice climbed Half Dome in Yosemite, which is an exhausting experience, but hardly mountain climbing. Frankly, it's a longish hike, requiring no more than a good supply of water and a few granola bars. I also have full use of all of my extremities, and my health.

Everest, frankly, just sounds way too cold, too high, too much. I tend to like my vacations with beaches and rum-based cocktails.

Yeah, I would be a mess up there. Fejtek said the climb was breathtakingly cold, perhaps even more so than the one he and Denise completed immediately before — the Vinson Massif in Antarctica.

“It was a good prep for the 30 below zero we would experience,” he said, referring to a temperature that has remained — and hopefully will remain — completely theoretical to me.

“Was that Celsius or Fahrenheit?” I asked.

“Funny thing,” Fejtek responded, “at 40 below the two match up. Basically, at 30 below, it doesn't matter any more.”

I asked him if he ever feared for his life during the climb. Fejtek noted that there was “one fairly poignant moment.” Only one? This guy is making me look bad.

“My hand was getting bitterly cold,” he said. “I had spilled some water on it, and it instantly froze. It was my left hand, my good hand.”

The hand simply refused to get warm, and he was losing feeling, never a good sign in an environment where frostbite can pop up in a matter of minutes.

Fejtek said he swung his arm around and around, trying to warm up, trying not to dwell on a Japanese man he and Denise met in Antarctica, a man who had lost all 10 digits to the cold while climbing Everest.

And the worst part?

“The Japanese guy didn't make it to the summit,” he said.

Bummer. Really, what else is there to say to that?

But Fejtek said there is a lesson to be learned. Being successful in mountain climbing, in business, and in life is all about properly managing risk.

“If you properly prepare and train and acquire the proper skills, the risk for me to climb one of these mountains is much less than it would be for…” Fejtek paused.

“Someone like me?” I asked with a laugh.

“I wasn't going to say that,” he said, laughing as well. “What I mean is if you have a goal you want to achieve, there is a means to get there. Take the proper step, take the time to do it, and you'll get there.”

That's certainly something I can get behind, despite a desire to remain fairly close to sea level.

DAN EVANS is the editor. Reach him at (818) 637-3234 or

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