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Saturday, June 4, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 a.m.

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At 20, she's youngest to scale highest peaks on all 7 continents

The Associated Press

Danielle Fisher has been climbing mountains for nearly a quarter of her lifetime. Of course at 20, that's only been about five years.

The shy, soft-spoken young woman hardly comes across as a person you'd find scaling some of the world's highest mountains — as a teen she rarely did anything to break a sweat. But growing up in the Skagit County town of Bow, about 70 miles north of Seattle, she made many trips with her parents to explore the Cascade Mountains.

Now she has become the youngest person to climb the highest peaks on each of the seven continents, a feat accomplished when she reached the 29,035-foot summit of Mount Everest on Wednesday with an expedition led by David C. Morton, 34, a guide with Alpine Ascents International of Seattle.

Compared to the average mountaineer, Fisher's petite 5-foot-7, 130-pound frame is deceiving. Initially her fellow climbers considered her too weak to conquer a mountain, but she always persevered.

"She's very strong in the mountains," said Gordon Janow, director of programs for Alpine Ascents, which led the expeditions on Fisher's past four climbs in the Seven Summits circuit.

It's also her steadfastness that Janow says separates her from others who do multiple climbs — that and her age; most climbers are in their 30s, 40s and 50s. Other young climbers are more likely to get distracted with school or a new career.

Fisher, a student at Washington State University, delayed her studies to complete the circuit, but is registered to return in the fall.

"A lot of people start with this dream that they want to climb the seven summits, and they do maybe one or two," Janow said. "The world is a wonderful palette that she can pursue what she wants. She really persevered."

With the Cascades as her training ground, Fisher has developed amazing physical abilities that enable her to complete an 8,000-foot summit in a day without problems, which is unusual, says Todd Burleson, president of Alpine Ascents.

In nearly 30 years of climbing, he said she is likely the strongest female climber he has climbed with outside of world-class professionals.

He was with her when she reached the summit of 18,510-foot Mount Elbrus on the Russia-Georgia border on July 30, 2003, and recalled her enthusiasm upon returning to base camp and her drive to turn around and make the trek again.

"Her motivation to climb is just so overpowering," he said. "Sometimes I think the mountains are a calling that are very hard to define. You just see them, feel them and you just want to climb them. I think that's her case."

Her focus when climbing is another strength — one that belies the attention deficit disorder with which she was diagnosed in the sixth grade.

"You have to find a balance between knowing that you need help and making an effort to push through yourself," she wrote on her Web site. "I realize that medication helps me. It certainly makes it easier to focus, but I also have to make the personal effort to make my dreams possible."

Fisher hasn't always been so enthusiastic about climbing, especially when at age 15 her father, Jerome Fisher, took her to climb 10,778-foot Mount Baker.

"We climbed two peaks in one day. ... I hated it!" wrote Fisher, who yesterday was in Camp 2 at 21,000 feet on Everest and unavailable for an interview. Her father declined to be quoted for this story, but said she could be home within the week.

Despite a bumpy beginning, Fisher continued to climb, and eventually she was hooked.

"It wasn't until I climbed Mount Rainier that I really started to love climbing. Now, every time I go climbing, I love it more," she wrote.

She continued with climbs in the Tetons and South America. After scaling 22,834-foot Mount Aconcagua in Argentina on Jan. 5, 2003, she began focusing on the Seven Summits circuit.

During the next two years, she also reached the tops of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Mount Elbrus, Mount Kosciusko in Australia, Mount McKinley in Alaska and Mount Vinson Massif in Antarctica.

The Alpine Ascents' tab for climbing four summits — Everest, Kilimanjaro, Elbrus and Vinson Massif — was roughly $96,000, with Everest the most expensive at $65,000, Janow said.

The previous record holder, Britton Keeshan, of Connecticut, completed the Seven Summits last year at age 22. Keeshan is a grandson of the late Bob Keeshan, TV's "Captain Kangaroo." Britton Keeshan had bested a Japanese man who was 23 years and nine days old when he accomplished the feat in 2002.

Although she's broken Keeshan's record, Fisher's intrinsic love of climbing is likely to keep drawing her back to the sport.

"She's the type of woman that's going to go on and climb many, many more mountains," Burleson said. "This isn't the end of her climbing career. I think it's just the start of it."

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company


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