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Lawyer Hikes Antarctica’s Highest Peak

On any week, Gary J. Nelson, a partner in Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie’s intellectual property division, tackles trademark infringement cases and domain name disputes in his Glendale office. But last month was not exactly routine: Nelson found himself atop Mount Vinson in Antarctica. At 16,050 feet, Vinson is Antarctica’s highest peak. It’s in the Ellsworth Mountains about 1,285 miles from the South Pole. Nelson has scaled six of the “Seven Summits” – the highest points on each continent – including Africa’s Mount Kilimanjaro and Russia’s Mount Elbrus. In 2011, he conquered Mount Everest, the world’s tallest mountain. For the Vinson expedition, he scheduled his $40,000 extreme vacation – not including round-trip airfare to Chile – for the slow holiday season and embarked on Dec. 15. It took 24 hours to fly from Los Angeles to Punta Arenas, near Chile’s tip, where another aircraft transported him and six fellow thrill-seekers to Union Glacier, a three-month “pop-up city” manned by Antarctic Logistics and Expositions. “It’s summer down there [and] ground zero for adventure tourism,” he said. Lugging heavy sleds and backpacks in continuous daylight and led by guides, the group set out along Vinson’s west face. Mid-climb, the guides could not find cached supplies because harsh weather had wiped away markers. The group established six tents and built ice walls, only to watch 90 miles-per-hour wind gusts rip their camp asunder. “We had nine people huddled in two tents,” Nelson said. When they finally reached Vinson’s summit on Christmas, minus 27 degree temperature and 25 mile per hour winds accompanied the “clear and gorgeous” view. The group spent only 15 minutes exchanging congratulatory hugs and taking pictures before starting the journey downhill. “Everest was a lot harder and more dangerous,” said Nelson, who caught a potentially fatal pulmonary edema on his 2011 trip yet recovered to reach Everest’s summit. However, outrunning Antarctica’s inclement weather with gear proved exhausting. “People always say to me, ‘You’ve climbed Mount Everest, you can do anything.’ Not true. Every mountain I’ve ever climbed has taken everything from me,” said Nelson, who returned to his La Crescenta home on Jan. 1. Mountain adventures complement his work as an attorney because climbs remind him that nothing is impossible if he puts his mind to it. “It keeps me sane. Climbing helps me remember that I can do things when I first encounter a problem,” he said. Nelson is not the first Valley executive to reach Antarctica’s highest peak. The late Frank Wells, past president of Burbank’s Walt Disney Co., also attempted the Seven Summits but fell short by one – Everest. Nelson has completed six, with his outlier being Australia’s Mount Kosciuszko. Will he try to conquer the final peak? “Absolutely!” he said. “Within the next two years, if not sooner.” – Michael Aushenker

Michael Aushenker
Michael Aushenker
A graduate of Cornell University, Michael covers commercial real estate for the San Fernando Valley Business Journal. Prior to the Business Journal, Michael covered the community and entertainment beats as a staff writer for various newspapers, including the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, The Palisadian-Post, The Argonaut and Acorn Newspapers. He has also freelanced for the Santa Barbara Independent, VC Reporter, Malibu Times and Los Feliz Ledger.
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