Former NBC Today health expert Dr. Art Ulene and his 13-year-old grandson Clay Skaggs, Plymouth Blvd., recently climbed the Ecuadorian glacier Cotopaxi.
It was not the 78-year old Ulene’s first high-altitude climb. Everest was so much easier than he expected, a year later he celebrated his 75th birthday at the 19,341-foot summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
“Cotopaxi was far and away the toughest climb so far,” he says.
“It was freezing,” adds Clay. “It was pretty difficult. We had to carry a bunch of stuff, and it was really windy, more than usual.”
High winds and falling rocks were a challenge on the last night of a six-day stretch to reach the 19,347-foot high Andes peak, whose name means necklace of the moon.
“Clay made it look easy,” says the proud grandfather of the Harvard Westlake seventh grader.
After Clay graduated from the Center for Early Education, during summer break, they set off from Quito, Ecuador on August 16. The next day they drove to a lodge at 12,000 feet near the base of the mountain, which is actually a dormant volcano.
They continued to 14,700 feet to begin an “acclimatization hike.” Clay’s grandmother Priscilla was with them, but suffering with an upper respiratory infection, stayed behind.
With three guides, the pair navigated the glacial’s accent to 17,300 feet. There, Dr. Ulene “wiped out, and concerned about being able to negotiate the very steep incline that was ahead,” opted out.
Clay forged ahead but 50 miles per hour winds—estimated to be 80 m.p.h. at the summit—dashed his hopes.
“We declared victory anyway,” said Ulene.
“In spite of not reaching the summit, the trek was a spectacular success. So was the rest of our visit: we spent two days in Quito, and then flew to Coca, where we started a four-day cruise on the
Ecuadorian headwaters of the Amazon river. It was a blast.”
Treks elsewhere in South America or Nepal are on Dr. Ulene’s to-do list. After all, he practices what he preached for many years as a TV personality.
“People don’t realize the extraordinary benefits. All they see is the work involved. Regular commitment to your health has a profound effect in later years,” Dr. Ulene said.
Clay’s dad is Dr. David Skaggs, chairman of pediatrics at Children’s Hospital, Los Angeles. Mom Valerie Ulene is co-founder of ClearHealthAdvisors.com, a service for patients who need specialized care.
Instead of following in his family’s footsteps, Clay plans to study finance.
“I love math,” he said.
But first there might be another trip or two with his granddad.