Fresh off of summiting Aconcagua, the highest peak in South America, Alan Arnette is at it again. This spring, he will attempt to summit Everest—the highest peak on Earth at 29,035 feet. Everest is the third mountain in his 7 Summits Climb for Alzheimer’s: Memories are Everything campaign—his yearlong mission to scale the highest peak on each of the seven continents to raise money for the fight against Alzheimer’s.
“I’ve always been someone who’s tried to make a difference,” says Arnette. “But before my mother showed signs of Alzheimer’s a decade ago, I represented the typical person who didn’t understand the disease, who didn’t know what to look for, and who believed that losing your memory was just part of what happened when people got old.”
Arnette’s mother used to ask him the same questions over and over again, but he only realized there was something seriously wrong when she asked him over breakfast one day, “Now, who are you again?” Eventually, Arnette watched his mother and her two sisters pass away from Alzheimer’s, but he couldn’t just let them fade away. That’s when he combined two of his passions—mountain climbing and fighting Alzheimer’s—in an effort to get closer to a cure.
The Alzheimer’s Immunotherapy Program of Janssen Alzheimer Immunotherapy and Pfizer Inc. are completely funding Arnette’s journey around the world. That means 100 percent of donations for his climbs will go directly to the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund and now National Family Caregivers (NFCA). Arnette hopes to raise $1 million in donations this year.
“We welcome NFCA to the 7 Summits Climb for Alzheimer’s and look forward to ways we can work together and help promote this incredible campaign,” says Tim Armour, president and CEO of Cure Alzheimer’s Fund. “In order to fight Alzheimer’s effectively, we need to fund more research to find a cure and we need to support the caregivers and families who are on the front lines dealing with the disease every day.”
For 50 weeks a year, a jet stream with 100 to 150 mph winds hovers over Everest, making it impossible to climb. But in May, the jet stream moves to the north and creates a “weather window” for about two weeks, which attracts climbers from around the world. “But even in May,” says Arnette, “Everest is a big, scary mountain and there’s a process to climbing it.”
It takes a week just to hike into base camp, and a month to go up and down the mountain. Arnette explains, “you have to go up to a certain altitude to let your body acclimate and then come back down and rest. Then you go up to the next altitude and come down again. It’s sort of a zigzag process that allows your body to generate red blood cells so you can operate efficiently at each altitude.”
Although he has attempted to summit Everest before, this time feels different for him. “There are so many people whom I’ve interacted with over the last few years who are so supportive of what I’m doing—including people from Cure Alzheimer’s Fund, NFCA and researchers like Rudy Tanzi. When I think about Rudy toiling away in his lab, and all the other people working to fight Alzheimer’s, I realize that what I’m doing has a much broader meaning than just trying to climb mountains. That’s what keeps me going.”
A few years ago, when Arnette was climbing one of the Colorado 14ers, he met a woman whose mother had died of Alzheimer’s. She told him she had tried to raise money to support research, but in the end never saw any progress and gave up. “Like climbing mountains,” Arnette says, “there are thousands of reasons to turn around when you’re tired and freezing to death, but there’s only one reason to keep going. Not giving up is what this whole struggle against Alzheimer’s is about.”
Scenic view of Aconcagua
Alan Arnette on the summit of Aconcagua, January 2011