College business professor Mark Milewski, MBA ’00 is a faithful student of Mother Nature, having spent scores of summer and winter breaks in her glorious classroom.
In late 2019, he aced her final test. The alumnus is approximately the 160th person ever to successfully climb the “Seven Summits” – the highest mountain on every continent. The experience makes him an in-demand speaker for outdoors groups and informs his teaching at Tunxis Community College in Farmington, Conn.
My parents had me on skis as soon as I could stand, so I was comfortable in the outdoors very early. Then I got into Boy Scouting, which taught me the beginning skills I would need later on. I’ve brought my Boy Scout neckerchief to the summit of all seven mountains, in gratitude for the huge influence it had in my life.
EDUCATION IN GRIT
The first big adventure for me after college was the Appalachian Trail, hiking six months straight from Georgia to Maine. It taught me grit and endurance. Every day is not sunny and beautiful. Some days you’re exhausted, but you have to push through because you still have miles and miles to go.
There’s a point in climbing Mt. Everest, at the top of the Hillary Step, where you have just a couple hundred more feet to go. When I reached that spot, I realized I was about to stand on top of the world. It was minus-40 with wind chill, but sunny and very pretty. I spent 20 minutes at the summit, just cherishing the moment.
STAYING LEFT OF DANGER
On my last climb, in August, we were near the summit of Mt. Carstensz Pyramid. My guide, my teammate and I were roped together when a boulder came flying down; my guide yelled, “Rock, rock, rock!” Time slowed down, I stepped to the left, and the rock barreled by. If I hadn’t looked in time, we all would have been seriously injured or killed.
Everest by Number
days on the mountain
calories burned per day
hours in longest day of climbing
HEAD OF THE CLASS
Denali is the mountain that mountaineers really admire. It’s a dangerous, big mountain where you do everything on your own: cooking, melting snow for water, digging your campsite out of the snow. You’re hauling a 60-pound backpack and 80-pound sled up a steep mountain with crevasses and winter storms. It’s got everything.
EVENING THE ODDS
I’ve made peace with the danger that’s involved with high altitudes. I know I’m taking calculated risks, and do my best to minimize them. There’s always a chance that something bad can happen, but I don’t dwell on it. Like any athlete, I’m always thinking about how I’m going to succeed.
SHEPHERD AND SCHOLAR
This is my 10th year teaching at the college level. On the first day of every class, I share my background with my students. I think it takes many students to a different world and inspires them. They see that thinking big can lead to big results. They also learn it’s not all easy. There are hardships to endure along the way, but the key is to persist until you achieve your goal.
In a way, I’m a mountain guide in the classroom. I assess the strengths and weaknesses of my team, evaluate the environmental conditions, and make decisions all the time about how to move us forward toward success. Not just academic success, but personal as well.
I enjoy sharing my adventures with groups, whether big or small. One of my most memorable presentations was about Everest, for the Bentley Outdoors Club back in March 2017. We met in Back Bay A of the Student Center, and the officers and club members were really enthusiastic; it was fun. I enjoy giving back to the organizations that have helped me along the way. Bentley is certainly at the top of that list. I earned my MBA there, made lifelong friends, and ultimately went from studying business to teaching it.
My audiences are increasingly interested in the traffic on Everest. I experienced those crowds during my summit bid: I was stuck for an hour at 28,000 feet. There was a line of 20 climbers or so who had to move one at a time over this rocky outcrop above the Balcony. I was concerned that my fingers and toes would become irreversibly cold, but fortunately I stayed warm. On the descent, I had to wait again for an hour at the top of Geneva Spur, as a seemingly endless line of climbers ascended the fixed line. There are too many unqualified people on the mountain right now, but it’s big business for the Nepali government. They charge about $11,000 per person for a permit to climb Everest. There is increasing pressure to do something about the crowds, but little action so far.
Whenever you have two choices — to maintain the status quo or have an adventure you’ve always dreamed about — go have the adventure. I wasn’t born with a dream to climb Everest; it evolved into that. As I gained skills throughout my life, it became apparent that I could climb Everest — so I did. I took the step.