Phil Lakin flew to Switzerland a couple of weeks ago and climbed the Matterhorn and then came down the mountain and had a beer or two and then flew home and boy was he happy when he got back.
Sounds exhausting, right? See why Phil Lakin drives me crazy?
I don’t understand this guy.
Take that back. I do. He’s a husband, a father, a CEO and a Tulsa city councilor. He’s done OK.
So here’s what drives me crazy about Phil Lakin: What the heck is he doing flying all over the world climbing mountains?
I mean big mountains. Lakin says he’s trekked to the top of mountains 14,000 feet or higher at least 100 times, including all such protrusions in Colorado. He’s also done Mount Rainier twice, the Grand Tetons and six fourteeners (that’s climbing lingo) in California. He went up to the base camp at Mount Everest and to the top of Cotopaxi in Equador.
“I have always focused my life to be able to do things outside, because I really do prescribe to that notion that we only get to live once, and I am not going to live it with regrets,” Lakin said. “Luckily, I have a job, a wife and a family that allow me to do that — and a desire, too,”
The Matterhorn has been on Lakin’s mind for years. As a kid he would ski the mountains of Colorado and loved them, yet his mind always drifted to the Swiss Alps and the Matterhorn.
“I very vividly remember wanting a Swiss ski badge whenever I was in Colorado. I was probably 12 or 13 but out of all the badges I could have gotten — that said Breckenridge … or whatever — I wanted that Swiss badge,” Lakin said.
“It really burned in me that I really wanted to be on that mountain to have the opportunity to see if I had what it took to get to the top, and that stayed with me.”
So on July 23, off he went to Zurich, where he caught a train for the four-hour ride to Zermatt. As postcard-worthy settings go, Zermatt is hard to beat, with the snowcapped Matterhorn providing a perfect backdrop.
Not that Lakin, who turned 49 on Friday, had a lot of time to sightsee.
He spent three days training with his guide, Markus Beck, who wanted to be sure Lakin was acclimated to the conditions and had the technical knowhow and physical stamina to make the climb. Nowhere was that stamina tested more than on the last day of training, when Lakin and Beck raced up the mountain for an hour as fast as they could, then raced back down as fast as they could.
It was as strenuous a workout as Lakin’s ever had, leaving him to wonder what the next day would hold.
He didn’t sleep well that night.
“It was helpful in a way to familiarize myself with what ground I would be covering the next morning when all I could see was a light of a headlamp in front of me,” Lakin said. “But it was also daunting to realize the magnitude of what lay before.”
The next day, Lakin and Beck headed back up the hill at 4 a.m., and this time they were not stopping until they got to the top.
Lakin said there wasn’t much time — make that no time, really — to stop and look around. They moved at one speed — fast.
And with other climbers on the mountain, and only one established route up and down, Lakin at times found himself holding on to complete strangers as they made their way past him.
Typically, Lakin said, the trail was about half the width of a lane on a track and field track. Two or three feet, tops, with plenty of “exposure” on both sides of the trail.
Lakin has climbed higher, steeper mountains than the Matterhorn, but none that challenged his stamina more.
“You have to have your head in the game all day long because it is just so steep and the exposure is so significant that on your way up (if) you slip and fall you are going to end up in a not very good stage of life, probably won’t be living in many cases,” Lakin said. “And the same way on the way down. There is no room for error.”
The climb, bottom to top and back, took 10 hours. Less than 10 minutes of that was spent on the summit, enough time for Lakin, who is part Italian, to make a quick jaunt to the Italian side of the mountain.
It was his first trip to Italy.
Lakin sometimes gets emotional when he reaches the top of a mountain. Yet after all of his years of wanting and wishing and hoping to climb the Matterhorn, when he reached the summit of the 14,692-foot-high mountain, he felt nothing.
Exhaustion, yes. But no exultation.
“There was really no emotion,” Lakin said.
That soon changed, though. After getting down the hill and back to Zermatt, Lakin had a burger and fries, a Diet Coke and Cardinal beer.
Then he went to sleep. When he woke up, the mountain was still there, still a marvel. Only now he was not on it, but looking up at it from afar.
That’s when it began to sink in. He’d made it to the top of the The Mountain of Mountains.
“There was that, ‘I can’t believe I was up there’ moment, or realization,” Lakin said.
The next day, he flew home. He’s headed to Colorado next month for more adventures.
That’s Phil Lakin, folks. The man cannot be stopped.