WESTFORD, Mass. – Rob Gleich said even though he and his friends were the first to make it to the highest unclimbed peak in the world to date, they really don’t take themselves all that seriously.
In July, Gleich and his four friends from college reached the summit of Point 5318 in the Kyrgyzstan portion of the Himalayas. They banded together through their Boston-based group Vertical Ice Climbing Enthusiasts.
Gleich said the group was jovial and upbeat throughout their approximate three-week-long expedition, but on the 10th day of continuous climbing, their game faces were on. They were about to become the first to top this mountain of more than 13,000 feet, which so many before them had attempted and failed.
“It was definitely ‘game day,”‘ he said.
Since Gleich and his friends were the first to reach the summit, after six previous expeditions by others dating back to the 1930s, they were granted the honor of naming the peak. Gleich said most opt to name the mountains after their girlfriends but he said that’s “profoundly lame,” while adding in the same breath, “Don’t tell my girlfriend.”
Keeping with the less-than-serious spirit, they went with Gleich’s suggestion of a tongue-in-cheek moniker: They settled on “After You.”
LOOKING FOR ADVENTURE
Gleich’s friends are all in their mid-20s and he said more than anything, they were looking for an adventure.
“It’s nice in today’s world of computers and offices and such to sort of step outside that occasionally,” Gleich said in a telephone call from Yemen.
Hovering over her computer tablet in her Westford home, Rob’s mother, Tina Gleich, looked at her digitized son recently and checked in with him for the week through Skype. Her small dog, Buddy, sat on her lap while Rob’s father, Tom Gleich, stood a few feet behind her. They chatted before their son took off for Jordan on a quest to expand his worldly explorations.
Rob Gleich spoke of his time in Kyrgyzstan, and the days of preparation his friends went through before catching a helicopter to the base of the treacherous mountain. Tina Gleich said the two would check in whenever they could during his trip through Kyrgyzstan — Rob knew his mother would worry.
“I love you. I love you so much,” she told him with a laugh, while turning and saying, “But it’s just so hard being his mom.”
As the conversation continued, Rob Gleich let slip that while everyone made it to the summit safely on July 23, there was one terrifying incident. After their first and only failed attempt to reach the mountain’s peak, Rob Gleich said he made a wrong turn and watched as icy ground fell out from under him. He threw his ice picks into the side of an opening to stop himself from falling into the crevasse.
“Just descending after our failed summit attempt, we were walking back across the glacier fields and we’re, you know, just exhausted and not really paying attention,” he said. “Suddenly I just punched through …. usually, when it’s 5 or 6 feet across, that’s about 40- to 60-feet deep.”
Tina Gleich gasped as her little dog yipped at the news.
“You never told me this, Robbie,” she said in a motherly tone.
In spite of their harrowing adventure, all the men made it home safely. Gleich’s friends live around the country mostly, in North Carolina and New Mexico, with the closest living in Manchester, N.H.
Rob Gleich said they weren’t even halfway down the mountain before they began planning another climb. They have a reunion planned at the end of this year and hope to coordinate another pursuit, potentially again to the Himalayas.
“Even with our limited experience in these kind of large expeditions, it was something that was pulled off and we had a great time doing it,” he said.
PARENTS’ WORRY, EXCITEMENT
Tina and Tom Gleich said they will have to gear up for the next trip, worrying for their son’s safety, but they couldn’t be more excited for him. He’s decided to stay in the Middle East for the next few years mastering Arabic. He graduated from Tufts University with a degree in mechanical engineering and may return to that, or pursue teaching abroad.
“You’ve been that way since you were two years old,” Tina Gleich told her son, remarking at his adventure-seeking tendencies. “He was dropping off of roofs and running after snakes when everybody was running from snakes. You know, he’s just that way. I know he’s that way.”
Rob Gleich proudly boasted he beat out an elite group of mountain climbers from the United Kingdom, who had prestigious sponsors and the highest-grade equipment, yet arrived at Point 5318 too late to claim the fame. He said he texted some of the guys he knew to say, “Sorry. You’re about a week too late.”
“It’s something that anyone can do. None of us are professional climbers or professional mountaineers,” he stressed. “We had never done anything like this before, so we were prepared for all unexpected disasters and failures.”