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Trailblazing Mountaineer Takes On Seven Summits Challenge

With two peaks to go, Erin Parisi seeks to become the first transgender person to complete this daunting climbing event.

It was the day after Christmas, and Erin Parisi was in one of the most remote corners of the world, thousands of miles away from home in Colorado. The sun was beaming over a snow-covered landscape, and Parisi stood at the summit of Vinson Massif, the tallest mountain in Antarctica.

The excursion was the latest leg in Parisi’s quest to complete the Seven Summits, a mountaineering challenge that involves standing on the top of the tallest mountain on all seven continents.

Parisi is also hoping that by completing the quest, her story as a transgender person will help to inspire others to do the things they love.

“I’m excited to not only personally overcome the kind of the fear that came early on in transition, but also help others that might find themselves feeling alone and like they can’t be themselves,” Parisi said.

“If you’re any sort of person and a marginalized population, it’s easy to see all the negative that gets bombed on you,” she said. “You’ve got to find a way to feel confident in yourself and kind of drown out those voices.”

Climbing the tallest mountain on every continent also means braving societies around the globe that are unsafe for transgender people.

Erin Parisi holds a transgender pride flag at the summit of Guadalupe Peak, Texas, the highest point in the state. (Erin Parisi)

“Traveling through Russia when you’re trans is not easy, and traveling through Tanzania when you’re trans is not easy,” Parisi said. “They definitely have laws against my existence.”

After reaching a summit, Parisi often poses with the trans pride flag. However, her victory at Mt. Elbrus in Russia looked a bit different. Instead of raising the flag, she made a “T” symbol with her hands at the summit of Europe’s tallest mountain. Displaying the rainbow pride flag is a crime in Russia, so she did not want to take any chances with a trans pride flag.

Richard Bass was the first person to complete this momentous Seven Summits achievement in 1985. Since then, around 500 people have followed in his footsteps, according to NPR. Parisi on her way to joining this exclusive list of people, carrying a pink, white and blue flag with her during most of her journeys.

“Antarctica was no easy feat,” Parisi, 45, told AccuWeather in an interview. “You get sunburned and windburn and frostbite kind of all at the same time. It always feels like it’s snowing because the wind is picking up what’s on the ground and just kind of whipping it across your face.”

Despite Antarctica’s harsh weather conditions, Parisi was able to conquer Vinson Massif, a peak that rises to an elevation of more than 16,000 feet above sea level.

Now, standing between her and the prestigious accomplishment of completing the Seven Summits are just two mountains known for brutal weather: Denali in Alaska and Mount Everest along the border of Nepal and China.

First up is a rematch with Denali before a final face-off with Everest.

Since starting the challenge in 2018, Parisi has climbed Mount Kosciuszko in Australia, Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, Mount Elbrus in Europe, Mount Aconcagua in South America and Vinson Massif in Antarctica.

“During these expeditions, I faced a lot of weird weather,” Parisi said.

Parisi summited Kilimanjaro during Africa’s rainy season and battled a leaking tent and wet weather on a daily basis. Across the world in Australia, swampy conditions around Kosciuszko were a breeding ground for black flies and big mosquitoes that seemed immune to bug spray.

However, the most extreme conditions she has faced during the challenge occurred in 2021, during her first attempt at summiting Denali in Alaska, a remote mountain that juts more than 20,000 feet into the sky.

Erin Parisi traversed a snowy landscape with climbing and hiking gear. (Erin Parisi)

Part of the way up the mountain, the weather turned.

“We just got pinned with wind and [got] stuck,” Parisi said. “We couldn’t move forward, couldn’t move back at times, and then we weren’t able to fly out.” Riding out storms in a tiny tent is when mental endurance can prove to be as important as physical endurance.

Ultimately, Parisi and the rest of the people on the expedition had to turn around and head down the mountain when the weather finally cleared.

Parisi said that one of her keys to success has been surrounding herself with people who believed in her and supported her when she needed it most.

“Whatever you’re going through,” Parisi said, “don’t focus on all the people that sat you can’t do it. Figure out a way to tell yourself you can and get up there and do it.”

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