Brothers Become First to Climb Highest Mountain in Every North American Country
Matthew and Eric Gilbertson recently became the first people in the world to climb the highest mountain in all 23 North American countries. On June 11th, 2015, the twin brothers successfully reached the summit of Cuba’s Pico Turquino (elev. 6,476’), which marked the culmination of a 5 year and 16 day quest that began with their ascent of the USA’s Denali (elev. 20,322’) in May 2010.
In pursuit of this goal, and while studying mechanical engineering in graduate school at MIT, the pair embarked on nine separate climbing expeditions to various corners of the North American continent: one to Alaska, three to the Caribbean, three to Central America, one to the Yukon of Canada, and lastly one to Cuba. Of the 23 country mountains (where ‘country’ is defined as a UN Member State), Matthew and Eric climbed 19 of them without guides. The only mountains for which they hired guides were St. Lucia, Cuba (both required by law), Nicaragua (due to the risk of land mines), and Belize (for protection from armed Guatemalan gold miners).
The pair considers the USA’s Denali and Canada’s Mount Logan (elev. 19,551’) to be the most challenging of the 23 high points, both of which required ski plane travel on and off the mountain, plus two weeks of arctic high-altitude glacier travel over heavily crevassed terrain to reach the summits. The third most difficult was Belize, which involved a thirty-mile tractor ride through knee-deep mud and two days of bushwhacking through pristine jungle with an armed military escort to reach the summit of Doyle’s Delight (elev. 3,688’). Cuba posed a unique challenge due to the fact that it is currently not permissible for US citizens to visit Cuba for the purpose of tourism.
They attribute much of their success and interest in mountaineering to the MIT Outing Club (MITOC). While at MIT, Matthew and Eric were active members of the MITOC, and held various positions including president and members of the board of directors.
Among mountaineers and other outdoor enthusiasts, climbing the highest mountain in all of a continent’s countries is the subject of much international competition. Peakbagger.com, a popular climbing website, lists more than fifty people who are also working to finish all of the North American country high points. The country high points of Europe were first climbed in 2000; Africa was first climbed in 2005 (and that climber received a commendation from Prince Charles). The Gilbertson brothers have now finished North America, and have submitted an application to Guinness World Records.
Including North America, together the pair has climbed the highest mountain in 82 countries and all 50 US states, and plans to continue working towards climbing the high points all of the world’s 195 countries.
For further reading, Matthew and Eric have published two books: one about climbing the highest mountain in all 50 US states and one about their adventures including hiking the Appalachian Trail.
Matthew and Eric Gilbertson were born in Berea, KY in 1986. The fraternal twins studied mechanical engineering at MIT for their undergraduate, masters, and PhD degrees. Matthew lives in Boston and Eric lives in Seattle.