On Top of the World
Jenn Drummond ’01 Becomes the First Woman to Ascend the World’s Seven “Second Summits”
The air was painfully frigid and the wind lashed at her face like a million tiny whips, but Jenn Drummond ’01 felt nothing.
The sun shone intensely and the view was otherworldly, but Jenn Drummond saw nothing.
The wind yelled at decibels akin to a raucous football stadium, but Jenn Drummond heard nothing.
There, at 19,551 feet above sea level atop Mount Logan in Canada’s Yukon, having just completed a two-and-a-half-year “project” to successfully climb the second-highest peaks on each continent, Drummond temporarily lost all of her senses. Then, with a rush as furious as the wind, cold, and view that surrounded her, they all flooded back and with them, an overwhelming sense of wonder and appreciation. Drummond had just set a world record as the first woman (and only the second person) to ascend to the world’s Seven Second Summits.
“You take this breath in, and the minute you take this breath in, everything disappears,” describes Drummond of the summiting experience. “There’s no sun, there’s no mountain, there’s no Jenn, there’s no wind. There’s just awe.
“Then you take a breath out,” she continues, “and you start to pixelate into a being again. The mountain starts to separate from you and the sky separates from you and all of the sudden you are human again. . . And you realize, it’s not about the mountaintop, it’s about the journey.”
Drummond’s journey to the top of the world actually started after a low moment in her life. In December 2018, the Holland, Michigan-native and current resident of Park City, Utah, miraculously survived a catastrophic car accident when her SUV was struck broadside by an oncoming semi-truck, flipping her three times before crashing into the highway’s median. Surviving such a violent crash had .01 probability; yet, Drummond not only survived, but escaped with minor injuries.
As most potentially fatal events go, the accident was emotionally jarring, but it was also epiphany-inducing. An unsettling feeling unrested Drummond. And then a good friend died not long after Drummond’s car accident.
“I do not get to choose when I die, but I sure get to choose how I live.”
“She was running on a trail and asked me to go with her,” Drummond remembers. “I said I couldn’t. It was wet out. She slips, hits her head, and never comes home. So the sequence of those two events next to each other was pretty significant for me. They made me realize I do not get to choose when I die, but I sure get to choose how I live.”
Admittedly, Drummond says her bucket list grew four lifetimes long when she began to think of all the things she now wanted to see, do, eat and accomplish. Though already attaining the two main goals she had for her life – motherhood (she has five boys and twin girls ages 10 to 17) – and career success (she’s a financial advisor and owner of Clearwater Wealth Management headquartered in Michigan), she experienced a mini-identity crisis.
“It’s 2019, and I don’t even know who I am anymore,” she recalls. “I don’t even know what my favorite color is. So I started 2019 really figuring out who I was again. And I told my kids, ‘Hey, Mom’s going to start doing stuff she gets excited about. If this feels awkward to you, we need to talk. We need to have discussions because things are going to shift.’ They were like, ‘Okay, let’s do this.’”
Through her coach’s suggestion and her kids’ inspiration, Drummond landed on climbing the Seven Second Summits when she learned that no woman had accomplished the feat. Most mountaineers view these peaks as more challenging than the seven first summits because there is less infrastructure and fewer safety nets since the Seven Second Summits are not as commercialized as the higher mountains.
“I’m still the same human as the person. I mean, I had this cool experience, but so is waking up. So is driving your kids to school. It’s all the little things.”
Still, Drummond was committed, and though she had climbed a couple mountains in the Tetons in 2017, she had never slept in a tent before. She was physically fit as a runner but she was not a vertical athlete. To become one, she needed a whole new training regimen, but it had to be within the perimeters of her life as a mother and business owner.
“I would build my calendar around family and business, and then I’d give it to my coach and say, ‘Fit (my training) in,’” says Drummond, who was a business major at Hope. “She was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ ‘No, I’m serious. I am a mom first, a business owner second, and an athlete third, and this is how it’s going to work.’
“So I was the mom who went to soccer practice with a 12-inch (exercise) step and a backpack full of water bottles and when my kid was playing, I’m up and down on that thing the entire hour and a half.”
As she has with most things in her life, Drummond tackled her training with avidity and tenacity. Becoming a serious mountaineer required it. Besides the physical workouts, she also slept under an acclimation tent positioned over her bed to get used to what thin air felt like at high altitudes.
By the end of 2020, Drummond had climbed Ojos del Salado, between Chile and Argentina (elevation 22,615 feet). Next came Mt. Kenya in Africa (17,057 ft), then Gora Dyka-Tau in Russia (17,077 ft), both in 2021; Mt. Tyree in Antarctica (15,919 ft), K2 between China and Pakistan (28,251 ft), and Mt. Townsend in Australia (7,252), in 2022; and finally Mt. Logan in 2023. She threw in Mt. Everest (29,032 ft) in 2021 for good measure as training for K2, a treacherous peak that she failed to reach on her first attempt. And each time she summited a mountain, she did so with a local guide team and not an American one.
Since her first few ascents, and now because of the entirety of them, Drummond has become a podcaster of “Seek Your Summit” and a motivational speaker. She visits college campuses regularly, telling her story in her seriocomic manner and hoping to inspire others, especially women, to strive for their own mountaintops. She is also an author, having written BreakProof, due out in January, 2024, a volume that details the seven lessons she learned about resiliency and goal-setting through her recent journey.
Looking back, Drummond sees the blessed path of safety and success that paved her way and exclaims, “If you didn’t believe in God before [hearing her story], you do now. It gives me goosebumps, and I’m humbled. I can’t even believe this is my life.”
Through it all, she valued and adored the down-to-earth moments that define her journey, too. Those are the ones that remind her that while she did an audacious thing, she still remained true to herself and family.
“So, I come back from my last climb, right?” she recalls. “I just set a world record and I’m feeling pretty good about myself. I get off the plane, my son meets me at the airport, gives me a hug and says, ‘Mom, you have bad breath.’ Yep, I do. I’ve been on a plane for a long time, buddy.
“But, that’s what it feels like, too. It feels like I did this cool thing, but I’m still the same Jenn. I’m still the same human as the person. I had this cool experience, but so is waking up. So is driving your kids to school. It’s all the little things.”