ESPN exec conquers Everest

In March 2011, ESPN ad sales executive Leonardo McLean embarked on his second attempt to reach the summit of Mount Everest.

A climb of that altitude — at 29,028 feet the world’s highest peak — takes approximately two months to reach.

As you’ll see in the video above, McLean and his team reached the summit in May.

In reality, the Argentine’s trek started seven years ago when he began his journey to conquer the Seven Summits.

Front Row caught up with McLean, 50, to learn more about his adventurous ride to the highest mountain in the world and what it took to become the first Latin American amateur climber to trek all Seven Summits.

Although he just began mountain climbing seven years ago, McLean has reached the seven highest summits in the world: McKinley in North America, Aconcagua in South America, Vinson in Antarctica, Elbrus in Europe, Kilimanjaro in Africa, Carstens in Oceania and Everest in Asia.

“Mountain climbing is an unconventional sport, but one that has been calling me for years,” said McLean, who is ESPN’s Senior Director of Ad Sales for Latin America.

He recalls how motivated he became after hearing about Frank Wells, former Disney President, and how they shared a passion for climbing.

According to McLean, Wells wasn’t able to reach Everest’s peak even though he attempted twice. Wells passed away before he was able to accomplish this dream.

McLean found motivation in Wells’ story, marveling at his tenacity to want to accomplish such a feat.

McLean had tried to conquer Everest in 2010, but a health scare cut short the effort.

On ESPN South America’s internal web site ITK, McLean wrote: “Last year I was left with just my illusions and my wish to fight for the highest possible reach. . .but instead of going up to the summit I had to go down, very frustrated, due to a serious kidney ailment.”

Wells gave McLean the courage and the spiritual motivation to try again.

And so began McLean’s careful planning to conquer Everest.

He said there are many important factors that need to be taken into consideration before attempting to climb Everest.

First, you have to have the right team join you in the climbing.

McLean chose “The Patagonian Brothers,” Willy and Damian Benegas, saying “it was the easy choice as they too are Argentinean, and the second on the list of the most experienced climbers.”

Once the tour was arranged, they set a date and hired the right Sherpas — the Tibetan people from the most mountainous region of Nepal.

They are a crucial part of the climb as they prepare and transport all the pertinent equipment needed to reach the summit.

Out of all of the climbs he has experienced, McLean says Mount Everest was by far his toughest climb.

It took all of his physical strength to continue with the climb. Once you reach a certain level, he says, “nature takes over.”

At 15,000 feet, you have to take into consideration the pressure of the oxygen and the atmosphere changes that make it that much harder to continue.

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Winds of 80 miles per hour — and 50 degrees below zero temperatures — were also a challenge.

He recalls his first night on the summit, the temperatures were brutal between 3 am – 5am, and the weather was so cold that it affected one of his valves on his oxygen tank jammed, paralyzing his intake.

He said he couldn’t breathe and caught severe frost bite on the big toe on his left foot.

He’ll likely lose the toe.

McLean said, “I know that it is a risk you take to complete a dream.”

Finally on May 21, after confronting the rough Himalayan weather, unpredicted rescues, and health issues, McLean’s team reached the top of the Everest.

We asked McLean, married to Luisa Martin for 23 years and the father of three, about his next challenge.

McLean chuckled and said, “I’ve reached the top of the tallest summits in all seven continents, and have endured physical challenges and have learned about different cultures throughout my adventures.”

He now has his sights on conquering the North and South Poles.

McLean said: “I’ve learned so much from nature and have seen the beauty of it.”

He added: “We all have that ability to dream and the ability to make those dreams come true.”

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