When Andrew Hughes attended the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, as a lover of the outdoors, he discovered an indoor passion while there. A friend took Hughes to see the U.S. men's hockey team play, explaining the sport's rules and strategies over three periods.
"I was hooked from that game," says Hughes, proving a long-held belief that seeing hockey in person, especially at higher levels of the sport, unequivocally wins over fans. "My brother [who lives in Canada] is a huge Canucks fan, so we have seen games together too."
Growing up in Poulsbo and now living in Seattle, Hughes is true four-colors-blue-with-a-dash-of-red true to the NHL's 32nd franchise. In fact, he has the photos to show it.
Hughes bought a Kraken flag when the team's retail store at Chandler's Cove in South Lake Union first opened and was flying it two days later atop Mt. Rainier. And that's just for openers.
That lover of the outdoors thing? It's a lifelong swooning sparked by frequent trips to Olympic National Park's multiple ecosystems (Mt. Olympus, multiple rainforests, old-growth, pristine lakes, Hurricane Ridge). But let's agree Hughes takes it to a higher level-literally, figuratively and spiritually.
Three weeks ago, on the morning of May 23 in Nepal, Hughes and fellow Seattle-area native Garrett Madison (Hughes on right in photo above, Madison on left) were proudly holding that same Kraken flag at the peak of Mt. Everest. It checked off a number of milestones for Hughes as a climber. Madison, who grew up on Bainbridge Island, operates Madison Mountaineering, a mountain guide service specializing in climbing expeditions to the world's most formidable peaks.
"I kept that flag with me the whole way, right next to the St. Christopher medal," says Hughes in an interview earlier this week, five days back into his Seattle life. "I admire how the Kraken have already elevated community and diversity. One of my intentions for climbing is to help promote accessibility and inclusion for the outdoors. Flying the flags fits."
Hughes, 39, started ascending the globe's most challenging mountains in his early 30s after his first group climb of Mt. Rainier.
"It was more than just the climb," says Hughes. "I was moved by the community of it. Also the training. I was never the biggest, strongest, fastest [as an athlete in younger days].
"But with mountaineering I discovered such a mental and spiritual connection. It is not about conquering. It's about communion with the mountain. I find humility in it."
It's been quite a run in his 30s: Hughes has now reached the peaks of the "Seven Summits," the seven highest mountains on each continent. That's a feat accomplished by only 400-some humans ever.
There's more. In 2020, Hughes and his long-time climbing partner Roxanne Vogel (they met on an expedition and motivate each other living in different states) completed what's known as the "Antartica Trifecta, consecutively skiing, one, the Last Degree to the South Pole; two, reaching the summit of Mt. Vinson (the continent's highest mountain); and, three, Mt. Sidley (highest volcano).
With a planned 2022 trip to the North Pole, Hughes can join a rare group of people-less than 100-that have achieved the "Explorers Grand Slam." The adventurer feat includes reaching both poles of our planet plus the Seven Summits: Everest, Aconcagua, Denali, Kilimanjaro, Vinson, Puncak Jaya and Mount Elbrus.
Raising the Kraken flag atop Everest 29,032 feet above sea level withstood a list of obstacles unique to a 2021 climb:
- COVID-19 felling multiple teams with outbreaks, leading Hughes, Vogel, Madison and others in the climbing party to take the unusual but necessary step of not interacting with other groups of adventurers.
- Navigating the Khumba Icefall, a treacherous 18,000 feet-high ultra-challenge of walking warily on snow bridges and leaping over crevices ("climate change is absolutely impacting glaciers ... they crack open more than ever ... I punched through a couple times up to my thigh").
- The icefall trek was nearly six hours of walking in the middle of the night to beat the sun and its melting effect.
- Hughes says there were increased ice storms compared to past early seasons at Everest, plus multiple monsoons and cyclones along the way.
- May featured just two days when the peak was clear at Everest. The Kraken flag flew one of those two mornings.
"People go to church or their place of worship and keep going back to hear the sermon," says Hughes. "It reminds them what calls them to their faith. The mountains do that for me ... I am paying my respect, feeling a deep connection to the history of the mountain."
Hughes walks his talk about accessibility and inclusion, plus sustainability for his own climber's trifecta. He made videos and conducted q-and-a "Everest for All" sessions with schoolchildren in Seattle and Australia from the Everest base camp, talking about the adventure, along with the issues of climate change, buying more sustainable goods and services and eradicating single-use plastics.
He raised $20,000 during the Everest trip for Human Rights Watch, targeting the funds to support indigenous people disproportionately affected by climate change.
Back home and back in the gym - "I lost 20 pounds on the trip" - he is now looking for every opportunity to experience the "joyous feeling of nature" he gently and without judgment espouses to schoolkids and pretty much everyone he meets.
"Even a random stroll is your chance to find a daily moment," says Hughes. "I find that joyous feeling every time I am walking at the [Washington Park] Arboretum."