Birthplace: Hickory Corners, MI (near Kalamazoo)
Currently Residing: Back in Hickory Corners, via Ft. Collins, Ann Arbor, New York, Beijing, Bangkok, Katmandu, Chicago
Career Highlights: Exploration/Mountaineering: In addition to his success climbing the Seven Summits, Bo made it to the top of numerous other challenging mountains. These include: the Matterhorn in Switzerland; Mont Blanc in France; Ama Dablam in Nepal; Cho Oyu in Tibet; and Mt. Aspiring and Mt. Cook in New Zealand. Bo has also participated in some notable scientific discoveries, alpine skiing and car racing: · The youngest American to ski down Cho Oyu · Skied solo down from the summit of Russia’s Mt. Elbrus · Skied down America’s Longs Peak and Mt. Washington in Winter · Vanguard member of scientific research team that discovered 29 new species in and around the crater of Kilimanjaro · Member of the prestigious, Explorers Club · Member of The Adventurers Club · Participated in the first Stateside “Gumball 3000” car rally, from New York to Los Angeles, in 2002, driving a 1971 Ferrari Daytona 365 GTB4 Professional/Education: Bo holds a masters degree in Applied Economics from the University of Michigan and an MBA from the Kellogg School of Michigan. After serving as a Research Fellow at the Financial Accounting Standards Board (the organization responsible for establishing the accounting rules followed by all U.S. businesses), Bo worked on Wall Street, working as an investment banker in corporate finance for J.P. Morgan. Today he is a successful “green” real estate entrepreneur. Bo is also a published author of, “Die Trying: One Man’s Quest to Climb the Seven Summits” and a contributor to “They Lived to Tell the Tale.”
How you got started: My second grade teacher told me because of my dyslexia and learning disabilities that I would never graduate high school. For a long time I was convinced I was stupid. I grappled with overwhelming odds to disprove the assertions of my teachers and fellow pupils. As an adult I had worked hard to succeed in a frequently literate world and achieve what I’d been assured was impossible. I learned to channel my frustration into mountains. The mountains taught me courage, perseverance, humility and focus. From a low place I started a metaphysical climb that would lead me to complete two master’s degrees, publish a book and a temporal climb of the tallest mountains on every continent.
Advice for Beginners: People think that climbing is about reaching the summit. Really, it’s about taking the first step up the mountain. If you can take the first step, you have passed the beginner phase. Passion, grit and determination will get you up the next couple steps…from there train your butt off.
How much you practice: Physical and mental training ideally happen continuously. I started climbing mountains “Cold Turkey,” and not only was it painful, at times it was dangerous. I learned the hard way that being prepared is more critical than your athletic prowess.
Signature Move: Close my eyes and pray.
Worst Injury: My ego.
Most Epic Day Ever: It was following my stint as an exchange student in Bangkok that, eager to capitalize on the recent reopening of Carstensz Pyramid, I flew to the “Wild East” Indonesian province of Papua on December 1, 2005, and found myself in the rudimentary, dilapidated surroundings of Timika Airport. Habitually guilty of not researching the places I’d be visiting, I had actually read that, back in November 1961, Michael Rockefeller, the youngest son of billionaire New York governor and future U.S. Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, had disappeared during an expedition in the Asmat region of southwestern New Guinea. His body had never been found, yet there was plenty of suspicion that he’d been killed and eaten by cannibals. Now here I was, waiting for my luggage, being eyeballed by a forty-something guy wearing baggy pants, a threadbare t-shirt, and dogs-teeth necklace, wondering whether he, too, thought I might make a tasty snack. Initially we got into a staring contest. The bags still hadn’t arrived, so peering into his eyes helped pass the time. The expression on his face remained stone cold, heartless, but since other people were all around I didn’t feel overly concerned. After a couple of minutes I looked away and pretty soon I forgot all about him. Still, when I did look in his direction a good half-hour later while waiting for that gosh darn luggage to find its way onto the conveyor belt, the guy was still staring at me. He hadn’t moved one inch. Now I was spooked. Being sized up like a slab of beef by a man who probably moonlights in nothing but a penis gourd wasn’t my idea of fun. He was like a lion sizing up its prey, ready to pounce. You can wave your hands and whistle all you want, but that lion’s got an agenda. It’s operating on pure instinct and nothing’s going to stop it. This guy was the same. If I’d thrown a baseball at his forehead he probably wouldn’t have budged. People had certainly stared at me before, and I’d also got into my fair share of fistfights, but I’d never, ever had anyone fix me with a lock-down laser stare like this. It was unsettling, scary, bizarre, and for the first time in my life, slouching around with a sickly expression, I did my best to look…well, let’s just say unappetizing. Still, in no way was this about to overshadow my preoccupation with Carstensz, the 16,023-foot colossus also known as Puncak Jaya (“Peak of Glory”) that’s not only Oceania’s highest mountain, the highest point between the Andes and the Himalayas, and the world’s highest island summit, but also located in one of its remotest places. From its inception the journey was difficult. Permits from ministries, army, police etc. were required for travel and climbing. And there was the additional threat of the Indonesian army, with a long record of human rights violations, who frequently sealed the area for indefinite periods of time, rendering all permits void. There are dozens of guerrilla movements on the island. Some fight for control of local resources and political life, believing they’ve been exploited by successive Jakarta governments only interested in taking their gold, copper, timber, and land. Others to maintain their ethnic identity. Fighting them all is the Indonesian military, with a long record of human rights violations. In the old days the Freeport mine gave permission to climbers to use their road. From the pit it’s only a few hours walking to the mountain. The powerful mine is the largest gold mine and third-largest copper mine in the world. Owned by a Louisiana financier, much of its profit goes to the United States, another source of resentment for many Papuans. The government has a 20% stake in the mine. It’s therefore regarded as a national asset. In fact, it’s the Indonesian Government’s largest taxpayer, paying out $180 million a year in taxes and royalties. The mine employs the Indonesian Army, Military Police, Freeport security, and Airport security to protect it from foreigners or non-Freeport employees coming to the area, making it impossible to enter without a permit. The alternative route through Singa village is now also forbidden due to violence in the area. The only current possibility for climbing Carstensz is to fly in and out of the area by helicopter. Discovered by a local guide named “Frankie”, climbers can avoid the mine completely by bribing Jakarta for special permits then chartering a helicopter to fly directly to base camp, the Zebra wall at 12,800 feet. After five days of waiting for rain and freezing sleet to clear, and with an unfavorable forecast, Frankie announced that we had to go through the mine. Using a solution employed in countless Third World countries, we would bribe our way across. We were told to be ready at midnight, that we would leave under the cover of darkness. In previous climbs I’d managed to steer clear of local conflicts. It appeared this time my luck had run out. A car took us to a military outpost outside the mine where a bribed military escort, awaited our arrival. In order to avoid detection by Indonesian military and private security guards, we were given military fatigues- hat, shirt, and pants- then told to lie down on our bellies in the back of a military vehicle filled with weapons, dynamite and other military equipment. We were then covered us with a heavy military blanket. Wedged between our climbing gear and one another, faces down, arms out straight, and palms up, we began the six hour drive into Indonesia’s “wild east”, a conflict region where the security forces have a bad reputation for corruption and brutality. We began our ascent from sea level to what would eventually be 11850 feet. Posing as Army Soldiers and hidden under jackets, clothing and equipment, we had to pass through five checkpoints where squads of soldiers with machine guns kept the area clear of trespassers. We passed through the first and second without incident, a brief exchange and we were on our way. As we rolled up beneath the floodlights of the third checkpoint, the doors were thrust open. I could sense the nervous tension as men in military uniforms surrounded our vehicle. I imagined their rifles were pointed at the windows. I could see the light from several flashlights penetrating the blanket. I wondered if they could hear my heart beat. It didn’t matter who was more intelligent, they were without a doubt better armed. We weren’t in much of a bargaining position. After several minutes of what sounded like shouting, our “hired” military captain got back into the vehicle and continued beyond the range of the floodlights toward the next checkpoint. The road was cripplingly steep. In fact, drivers need a special license because of the dangerous nature of trip. It came as little surprise when the engine overheated. We each donated a water bottle and after the engine and waited. When the truck recovered, we continued our journey. The next to overheat was an older climber in our group. The thin air makes it hard to breathe and the packed vehicle wasn’t equipped with air-conditioning. He began gasping for air and attempting to turn over onto his back. His panic attack put all of us at risk. Fortunately I hadn’t donated my second water bottle. I gave the man my reserve. Once hydrated, his panic subsided. We were given no warning about the next detail of the trip. Instead of continuing to drive through the tunnels, we were to switch to a Swiss made cable car. It would get us from 2700m to 3500m quickly. The truck backed into a car and we were told that, on the soldier’s command, we were to dive chest down (with our gear) into the car to avoid detection by security cameras monitoring the activity. Terrified, we did as we were told. Undetected, we arrived safely at the top. We got back into the truck the same way we got out, diving chest down to avoid detection. They covered us with blankets and again, we were on our way. We still hadn’t reached the end of the mine when the sun started to come up and we became at risk of being spotted by mineworkers. We pulled into a barracks and hid in a small container holding 5 to six people. Huddled on twin mattresses in a cramped, unsanitary room covered with graffiti and black holes the size of tennis balls, I sat among the four other climbers waiting again for midnight. Our stomachs protested and we requested a snack. Within minutes we were presented with a plateful of fried bat, followed by the coup de gras- a hefty serving of rat. As I pulled the flesh from my meal (still covered in patches of fur), I thought about the cannibals. Human flesh is said to taste much like pig. Looking down at my meal it crossed my mind that perhaps, considering their alternative fare, they were onto something. For the first time since our departure into the mine, we had an opportunity to question why we had chosen to travel to a country known mostly to the rest of the world as a hotbed of police brutality, killing, torture, hostage taking, and ethnic cleansing. I nibbled on my rat and thought about times in my life during which I was faced with adversity. Less than 200 people have successfully climbed Carstensz Pyramid, and the goal to climb the seven summits had been branded into my head. Although I hadn’t been prepared to take this adventure to another level, we had crossed the Rubicon. I would not be deterred by a few men with rifles and some fried rodents. After all, this was the stuff of an Indiana Jones movie. Again, I was filled with adrenaline and optimism. At some point I dozed off, awakened by something crawling across my cheek. As I swiped the creature with the side of my hand, I could hear the noise of his scaly flesh ripping in two. His tail end fell to the ground, lightening the load of his head and front legs, which continued to scurry across my face. Looking around I realized that the tennis-ball-sized holes in the wall were not holes after all. This, too, was the stuff of Indiana Jones… At one a.m. we drove about an hour to the Zebra Wall, the end of the mine and beginning of our trek. Although the route is relatively straightforward, unlike the other seven summits, it’s a climb of moderate difficulty. We rearranged our backpacks and set off on the 3-hour hike to base camp. After our arrival we waited for several hours. When the six military soldiers who had been commissioned to carry our excess gear didn’t show, a couple of us volunteered to retrace our path. Exhaustion had overcome the porters and each had collapsed at a different point. Without the energy to even pitch a tent, they burrowed beneath the canvas to protect themselves from the sleet and snow that had begun to fall while waiting for our arrival. We took food and other necessities and returned to base camp. For three days there was no respite from the rain, sleet, and snow. We were forced again to wait it out. It was our intention to make it from base camp to the summit and back in one day. When the weather cleared, we hastily got geared up and began the seven-hour ascent, following a line up the north face route pioneered by Heinrich Harrer in 1962. After numerous pitches we climbed up the obvious crack system leading to an exposed, knife-edged ridge, which would eventually lead us to the summit. We climbed and rappelled down the first notch, then up and over a huge bolder and back down onto the other side of the notch bottom. Next was the most dangerous part of the climb, a steep 40 ft shear rock inverted wall with a single (old) fixed rope that would get us back up to the ridge. On the north and south end of the notch was a 2000-foot vertical drop. We didn’t know how long the rope had been there and what condition the anchor was like up top. To make things worse, the weather conditions had become unstable again. After everything we had been through to get to this point, we were not about to turn back. I was the second to attempt to climb the rope. My friend had gotten five feet from the ground, but the rope was frozen and his jumars wouldn’t hold because of the ice. I made it about halfway up when I heard a noise much like a freight train. It came up fast and absolutely without warning, the wind whipping both me and the rope across jaded rock with complete malignancy. My body and mind rebelled with fear, my legs dangling 2000 feet above the surface. I thought of Wylie Coyote when he runs off a cliff–hanging in the air for a moment before plummeting to earth. Perhaps we should have left climbing, I thought, to those seeking a religious experience or simply trying to rescue goats. I missed my mom, my dad, school…America. I wanted to go home. But I thought again about times in my life when I had been faced with adversity. Suddenly, with a clear head, full of resolution, I realized I had no choice but to push forward. No way was I going back to Jakarta without reaching the summit. At the top I fell and lay for some time. We strive to reach the highest peaks in our lives, I thought. I wasn’t doing this just for the pure adventure of it. After a long stretch of scrambling with a few steeper moves I reached the summit. I waited at the top for about an hour before the next climber emerged. “We have to go down. It’s going to get dark in a couple of hours,” I told him. “What time do you think it is, Bo?” “Four p.m.” “It’s ten in the morning,” he replied.
Craziest travel story: See Most Epic Day Ever.
Favorite food: Fried bat, fried rat – in Timika, Indonesia you should try it. (Hold the hot sauce)
Favorite bands: Rascal Flatts, Tim McGraw, Kanye West, Metallica, Eminem, 50 Cent, Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, Guns and Roses… you know, the classics.
Favorite non-action sport movie: Top Gun, “Hey Slider…you stink.”
Favorite action sport movie: The Eiger Sanction, with Clint Eastwood
Favorite Hangout: Bikram Yoga Studio and old diners
Hero: Teddy Roosevelt – He embodied conservation and paired exploration and daring with intellectual acuity and lifelong learning.
Hobbies: Climbing, skiing, reading, business, meditation, philanthropy, studying architecture, yoga, eating…eating.
School: MBA, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University MA, Applied Economics, University of Michigan BA, Economics, Colorado State University