Peak Performance 12/21/2009
Written by STEPHEN REGENOLD
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Ice axes and enzyme capsules helped along the way.
The Jeep revved its engine, then jerked to a stop. Men with guns were outside, guarding a checkpoint at a gold mine in Indonesia’s Maoke Mountains. There were muffled shouts. A pause. Then the Jeep was moving again.
Troy Aupperle, an American mountain climber, was hidden in back. He crouched on top of his pack, concealed under a tarp. He waited for the truck to gain speed. He exhaled in relief.
It was January 2007, and Aupperle, a small-business owner from Alexandria, Minn., had hired a travel company to get him to the wilderness near Carstensz Pyramid. The summit — a 16,023-foot fin of rock, the highest point in all of Oceania — was on Aupperle’s checklist as a must-climb mountain peak.
“Clandestine human smuggling was not initially part of the plan,” he said during a recent presentation at an REI store in Roseville, where he recounted his attempt at setting a time record for climbing the highest mountain on each continent.
Aupperle, 44, did not make his hoped-for time, overshooting the deadline by more than a year. But in May, on a desolate perch at 29,029 feet, the veteran climber pulled off his oxygen mask and posed for a victory photo atop Mount Everest, the final peak on a continent-hopping quest that had consumed his life.
As mountaineering feats go, climbing the Seven Summits — peaks in Alaska, Argentina, Russia, Nepal/China, Antarctica, Tanzania and Indonesia — is an ultimate accomplishment.
Conceived almost 25 years ago by Dick Bass, the owner of Utah’s Snowbird Ski Resort, the Seven Summits concept continues to fascinate. Each year a few more adventurous — and mostly affluent — climbers tick off the continental circuit.
Aupperle said he spent more than $150,000 in travel expenses, permits and guide fees. The challenge of climbing high peaks and the adventure of international travel — Jeep smuggling episodes and all — were primary draws.
But Aupperle, who is pursuing a master’s degree in nutrition, had other motives with his high peaks spree. As the founder of Enzymology Research Center, a manufacturer of mixes used in supplemental nutrition products, Aupperle said accomplishing the Seven Summits would demonstrate the effectiveness of a certain underappreciated amino acid group.
“Completing these peaks was my first step in the ultimate goal of introducing enzymes to the world,” he said.
Indeed, Aupperle expresses not a hint of irony in this statement.
The full disclosure is that his company sells enzyme-based products to resellers. The fine print is that, as an athlete, Aupperle has long believed in the effectiveness of enzymes, the proteins found in many foods that catalyze chemical reactions at a cellular level.
He takes about 10 capsules of enzymes and other supplements each day. He credits this regimen with increasing his energy levels and aiding in digestion.
“Your body is more efficient and effective with enzyme supplements,” he said.
His company, which employs 11 people, offers plant and fermented microbial enzymes such as glucose oxidase, fungal lipase and serratiopeptidase. Traveling around the planet, Aupperle packed bottles of the stuff alongside his mountaineering boots and ice axes.
“The digestion process consumes ridiculous amounts of energy, so if you can relieve the body from those duties, you will have more energy to put towards your climb,” he explained.
Health experts disagree on the effectiveness of enzyme supplements, which are sold over the counter in dozens of types. Promised effects range from easing upset stomach to increasing a person’s life span. The supplements are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but most do not require administration approval.
Aupperle also is a proponent of other unorthodox supplements, including antioxidant products, probiotic bacteria, medicinal silver and a liquid solution that contains digestible oxygen. Smoked salmon and a meal-replacement product called the ProBar are other favorites for high-altitude adventures.
“I have a system down,” Aupperle said, noting that he suffered almost no illnesses or altitude sickness during his quest.
Take or leave Aupperle’s nutritional advice, but his efficiency on expeditions on peaks from Russia’s Mount Elbrus to Vinson Massif in Antarctica is a case study in how to do the Seven Summits right.
Carstensz Pyramid, where smuggling climbers in trucks was once a common practice, might be another story. Aupperle said the Indonesian travel company he hired had promised helicopter transport to the base of the remote mountain peak. He said he confirmed several times before leaving the United States.
“There was no helicopter when I arrived,” he said.
He took it in stride. He got in the Jeep, pulled the tarp over his head, and they bumped along.
In a few hours, he was in the jungle, hiking toward Carstensz Pyramid for a solo ascent. He set up camp in the Indonesian outback, rock walls towering above.
Early the next morning, he shouldered his pack. The sun was rising as he neared a final ridge. He popped some enzyme capsules, and then climbed on, not stopping until he reached the top.
Minneapolis Star Tribune
North America: Mount McKinley (Denali), Alaska, 20,320 feet
South America: Aconcagua, Argentina, 22,841 feet
Africa: Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, 19,340 feet
Australia/Oceania: Carstensz Pyramid, Indonesia, 16,024 feet
Europe: Mount Elbrus, Russia, 18,510 feet
Antarctica: Vinson Massif, 16,050 feet
Asia: Mount Everest, Nepal/China, 29,029 feet