New Trier grad seeks higher education
Rick and Taylor Sweitzer trek to the summit of Aconcagua in Argentina. | Provided
Updated: March 7, 2013 10:12AM
After graduating from New Trier High School last spring, 18-year-old Taylor Sweitzer of Wilmette set out on a journey toward a higher education.
Instead of heading off to a collegiate institution like most of his classmates, Sweitzer set his sights on traveling the world to each of the seven continents to climb the world’s tallest mountain peaks.
Sweitzer left his comfort zone in the North Shore last summer and has since been all over the world to see some of the most remote and amazing places on the planet.
Still just a teenager, Sweitzer takes outdoor thrill seeking to a whole new level by setting jaw-dropping goals to not only summit the world’s highest mountain peaks, but hike dangerous and remote terrain and brave frigid ski trips through the poles.
Sweitzer has postponed college plans for a year for his whirlwind travel adventure, which started with a 43-day trip living in a tent while exploring the remote Alaskan wilderness before he flew to Patagonia for 90 days.
Sweitzer’s father Rick, the founder of Wilmette-based adventure company The Northwest Passage, said his son has spent 165 days out of the past seven months living in a tent, sometimes alone and other times with fellow adventure-seekers who purchase travel excursions through The Northwest Passage.
While out in the wilderness, Taylor Sweitzer is cut-off from communication with the rest of the world and often cannot even be reached by cell phone.
After returning to Wilmette for a week in December for some family time following his three-month trip to Patagonia, he was off once again, this time to the South Pole.
There, he helped guide a team of 14 international travelers on a ski and mountain climbing trip through the frozen tundra as part of an expedition led by the “Polar Explorers,” a division of Northwest Passage that leads trips through the Poles.
Rick Sweitzer often accompanies his son on expeditions, but now that Taylor Sweitzer is legally an adult Rick has allowed him to go on trips by himself.
In fact, the teenager has long been an avid outdoorsman. When he was 16-years-old he became the youngest person in the world to have skied the last degree of latitude to the North Pole, according to Rick Sweitzer.
It was during the South Pole trip last month when Sweitzer successfully summited his third of the world’s tallest mountain peaks,” the 16,000-foot Vinson Massif peak in the Antarctic Ellsworth Mountains.
So far he has conquered three of the seven peaks, including the 18,000-foot Mount Elbrus Peak in Europe and the 19,000-foot Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa.
In January, Rick Sweitzer flew to Argentina to accompany Taylor on his next adventure to climb his fourth of the seven summits, the 22,800-foot Aconcagua peak in the massive Andes mountain range.
The Sweitzer’s, along with two other Northwest Passage climbers, ascended the mountain for two weeks of what Rick Sweitzer described as “picture perfect climbing.” But two hours short of the peak, Rick Sweitzer had to make a gut-wrenching decision to turn around to help another climber in the group seek medical attention after he had become ill with a form of acute mountain sickness.
“I had to take him down the mountain to save his life,” Rick Sweitzer said. “You hear of people dying because of (sicknesses) like this, so we had to go back down — that’s just how it is on the mountain.”
Taylor Sweitzer and the other remaining climber continued on without the rest of the group, but had to turn around shortly afterward because of inclement weather, Rick Sweitzer said.
Rick returned home from the trip to Wilmette the second week of February while Taylor stayed back in Chile to continue climbing with a girl he met during his travels.
Rick said he doesn’t worry about his son while he’s out conquering the world because he believes he’s a “natural,” and that he’s experienced enough to know what he’s doing.
The Northwest Passage attracts adventure-seekers from all over the world who pay up to $80,000 for an excursion to the South Pole or a few thousand dollars for a week-long kayaking trip around the Greek islands.
The family-run business also serves Chicago land with kayak tours on Lake Michigan and weekend adventures up to Wisconsin and Michigan.
“$40 will get you a paddle at Gilson Park and $80,000 will take you up a mountain in the arctic,” Rick Sweitzer said.
During the 37 years Rick Sweitzer has been climbing mountains and leading expeditions, no deaths or serious injuries have occurred among his groups, he said.
So what’s next for the father and son adventure-seeking duo? They plan to team up to conquer Australia, Asia and Europe, where the three remaining tallest peaks lie, including the mighty 29,000-foot Mount Everest.
“We’re not home a lot these days,” Rick Sweitzer said. “In two weeks I’m heading to Peru to guide a group through Machu Picchu and then I’m off to a three-island Galapagos adventure.”
Taylor is expected to return home from Chile before the end of the month. After a short visit with family he plans to begin a 2,200-mile hike of the historic Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine.
“It gets addictive because it starts to do something to your body where you start needing it,” Rick Sweitzer said. “It’s a rock-solid physical and emotional feel-good feeling — kind of like getting high without the weed.”
For more information on The Northwest Passage go to www.nwpassage.com or call 1-800-732-7328.