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Edwards Sailor conquers seven summits

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Julius Delos Reyes
  • 95th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
What do Kilimanjaro, Aconcagua, McKinley, Everest, Kosciuszko, Vinson and Elbrus have in common? Aside from being the tallest mountains on the seven continents, all of them were also conquered by an Edwards pilot. 

Navy Cmdr. Michael Hsu, U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School instructor, started climbing on July 4, 2003, reaching Mount Whitney's pinnacle in Lone Pine, Calif. However, his interest in mountains goes back to his Cambridge University stint in the early 1990s. 

There, he started reading books about mountains. It was an interest he never thought would someday enable him to reach the top of each continent. 

"I've hit a milestone," Commander Hsu said. "I didn't even think I would climb Mount Everest. I didn't quite have a goal to climb the seven summits until 2006 when I realized I could do it." 

The first continental peak Commander Hsu climbed was Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, which is Africa's highest peak at about 19,340 feet.

On July 1, 2004, Commander Hsu conquered North America's tallest mountain, Mount McKinley. About six months prior, he reached the top of Mount Aconcagua in South America.

After Mount McKinley, Commander Hsu was reassigned as a department head at an operational Super Hornet squadron. He had to wait for more than two years before his next conquest as he provided humanitarian assistance to a tsunami-stricken Indonesia in 2005, as part of Operation Unified Assistance. He served as a liaison to the Indonesian military as well as a pilot in some of the relief missions.

But it was worth the wait. On May 16, 2007, Commander Hsu finally reached the mother of all summits -- Mount Everest.

"Physically, Mount Everest was the most difficult climb I'd ever had," he said. "You would only expect that because you are so high up in altitude, and the air is so thin. But it was a breathtaking moment for me. I could see other tall mountains below me and some clouds."

Commander Hsu next climbed the smallest of the seven summits, Mount Kosciuszko, Australia. He reached the summit of Mount Vinson Massif in Antarctica on Dec. 28, 2007, and concluded all his summits on June 17, when he climbed Mount Elbrus in Russia. Next stop for Commander Hsu is a return to Indonesia to climb Carstenz Pyramid, which is considered to be the highest peak in Oceania. 

"It is pretty exhilarating to be on the top of a mountain," the U.S. Naval Academy graduate said. "It is neat to be looking around you. You can see a breathtaking vista before you." 

Before embarking on an expedition, Commander Hsu performs a lot of strength and cardio training including, running and weight lifting. He also climbs nearby mountains, such as Mount Whitney, which he's climbed 16 times. Depending on the climb, each preparation is different. When Commander Hsu started travelling on ice-capped mountains, he took a glacier travel safety course that involves technical equipment and techniques as well as travelling with a team. 

These are also in preparation for various challenges Commander Hsu faces on an expedition, including enduring physical challenges, getting the body accustomed to high altitude and carrying equipment up on the mountain. In addition, he also carries a 30- to 100-pound load, containing human necessities such as clothing, fuel, tents, stoves, oxygen and medicine. 

"But, it has always been for fun," he said. "I enjoy this adventure because it is a combination of travel and climbing. I enjoyed seeing new places. It was neat to see those countries and get to know the people a little bit." 

Commander Hsu is a member of several commercial expedition teams.

"As a team player, he is a role model and a natural leader to the other mountaineers who climbed alongside him," said Phil Crampton, team leader during Commander Hsu's expeditions to the Himalayas in Tibet. "He is liked by all climbers who have been fortunate to climb with him. His easy going personality and attention to important details make him a valuable asset to any expedition team." 

Commander Hsu showed this during his bid for Mount Everest. He had to make a decision to continue and summit or abort his dream, just shy of the summit. Mr. Crampton asked him to give his second unused oxygen bottle to another team member descending from the summit in distress. 

"Without his second bottle, he would most likely be in trouble himself on descent, but he did not hesitate to give his oxygen to save the life of a team mate," Mr. Crampton said. 

And still, he climbed the mountain and finished on top. 

"The challenge of mountain climbing itself is what ultimately keeps me coming back," Commander Hsu said. "There is much more to each expedition than just achieving the summit. I've enjoyed meeting lots of great people and seeing many interesting places. It certainly is a beautiful world we live in."