Photo Courtesy of Kunwoo Kim '15

Kunwoo Kim ’15 proudly holds up the Cornell flag at the 20,310-foot summit of Denali on the fourth of July.

August 24, 2016

STUDENT STORIES | Alumnus Summits Tallest North American Peak

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What began as just a way to “seek adventure” for Kunwoo Kim ’15 snowballed into nearly seven months of training and climbing, culminating in reaching the 20,310-foot summit of Denali — the tallest peak in North America — this fourth of July.

Kim said he never considered himself an “outdoorsy guy,” but once he started climbing he couldn’t stop.

“You could say that climbing is a calling or an addiction,” he said.

Kim said he has climbed four of the Seven Summits, the highest peaks of the seven continents: Mount Elbrus — the tallest peak in Europe, Aconcagua — the tallest peak in South America, Kilimanjaro — the tallest peak in Africa and Denali — the tallest peak in North America.

After successfully summiting Aconcagua, Kim said he decided to pursue Denali.

“I wanted to really challenge myself mentally and physically and to see if I am ready for the Himalayas,” he explained. “As a climber living and loving America, why would you not want to climb Denali?”

Kim said his training lasted six months, during which he cut beer and red meat out of his diet for four months to shed weight. His physical training consisted of early morning jogs seven days a week, stair exercises with 70 pound weights three times a week, weight training, bouldering and indoor ice climbing.

“Training for [the Denali climb] required complete and utter emotional and physical devotion,” Kim said. “It hurt my relationship, friendships and many other things, but in the end, it was completely worth it. I came out of it stronger than ever.”

Kim said he was accompanied by ten other “extremely strong climbers” for his three-week journey to the summit. They carried all their equipment on their packs and sleds.

“Our group was so strong and the weather always willing that we never stopped for a day,” he said. “Then it somehow ended up that we summited the tallest peak in North America on the Fourth of July! It was crazy because that was the day we planned on summiting. Things never go according to plan, but it did for us.”

Kim said the most difficult part of the climb was the descent.

“Carrying about 100 to 110 pounds of gear on our packs and sleds, we descended for two days breaking trail,” he said. “That was not fun, and that is why my toenails are all falling out now.”

The most exciting part of the trip was the autobahn — the first major hurdle you come across when you leave the high camp for the summit push, according to Kim. He called it the “scariest and riskiest” part of the whole trip.

“The sun was not up yet so we were all freezing,” he said. “However, our team smoothly passed [the autobahn] without any problem — a testament to our teamwork and strength.”

Kim carried two flags with him to the Denali summit — his home state of Hawaii flag and the Cornell flag. He said those two flags “represent me the best.”

Kim added that he hopes to complete the Seven Summits as well as climb Ben Nevis in Scotland, Mount Olympus in Greece, Eiger in Switzerland and Matterhorn in Europe.