When Mark Pattison stands on the summit of Mount Everest in March of 2020, he’ll have achieved something few people have, and will be the first former NFL player to reach the milestone. Unlike most climbers that reach the highest point in world at 29,035 feet above sea level, this isn’t Pattison’s only goal; it’s just the final piece in his journey to climb the seven highest peaks on the seven continents.
Climbing has been in Pattison’s blood since the beginning. Before being drafted by the Raiders in 1985 and spending the next five seasons in the NFL as a wide receiver, Pattison first found his love of the mountains in the Pacific Northwest. “Growing up in Seattle, my dad and I would camp a lot and climb in the Cascade range,” Pattison said. “My dad climbed all the major mountains in Washington and Oregon. We even got to climb Mt St. Helens before it blew its top.”
Outside of the climbing and camping, Pattison took the normal route of playing Little League and football as a kid, which turned out to grow into something that most youth can only dream of. “I never had aspirations of playing as a professional, I just looked at the NFL as a far away dream. In high school things changed and I was fortunate to play on some good teams, and be on the receiving end of a good quarterback.”
From playing high school football, then on to college ball as a Washington Husky, the pyramid of success was instilled in Pattison, which simply boiled down to having successful people around him and a lot of hard work. He took that with him into the NFL and enjoyed playing for the Raiders, Rams, and Saints.
“It was my time to move on,” Pattison said of his NFL career. Yet, one thing that continued was his love for the mountains, where he would spend time with friends until about 7 years ago when he decided to use his climbing for something more than just enjoyment. “I moved to LA and needed to find clarity in life so I decided to put the seven summits ahead of me with the goal of reigniting myself and taking the focus off some of the negative things happening.”
His first official summit was Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro (19,341). Now, Pattison has checked off four more: Mount Elbrus in Russia (18,510), Mount Kosciuszko in Australia (7,310), Aconcagua in Argentina (22,838), and Alaska’s Denali (20,322). Now all that remains is Antarctica’s Mount Vinson (16,050), and of course, the big one, Mount Everest.
Even as much success as he’s had in progressing toward his goal one summit at a time, the going hasn’t exactly been easy. Pattison told us, “When I first started I figured one peak per year would be possible, but I forgot to factor in Mother Nature,” Pattison told us. “Last year I was on Denali and got up to 16,200 feet before being pushed back by negative 60-degree weather, so we had to pack it in. That mountain has many of the same elements of Mt Everest. It’s just something else. It was by far the most challenging climb but it helped build my skill set and this past May everything came together in a successful summit.”
The weather hasn’t been the only challenge either. The altitude plays in big role in what you’re able to eat during such caloric demanding climbs and with a pack already weighing 130 pounds stuffed with the necessities in order to summit Denali, there’s hardly room for numerous food options. ”The higher you get the more your appetite gets suppressed, so it’s important to have food that tastes good and you want to eat. Ever since day one Bonk Breaker has been with me, and fortunately I love the Peanut Butter & Jelly bar. Food gets really old, so it’s a luxury having something that can energize me.”
As Pattison turns his focus to January’s attempt on Mount Vinson, he’s now built a ton of confidence from what’s already been achieved, and he’s sharing it with the world. “Aconcagua in South America gave me the confidence that I could deal with the altitude after six of the 12 people we started with had to be flown off the mountain. After that, I decided to broadcast my journey.”
Through his Finding Your Summit Podcast, newsletter, and social media, Pattison has amassed a 300,000 person strong following. “People are intrigued by someone going after their dreams, and at 56 years old, I’m proving you don’t have to be a certain age to go after them,” Pattison said.
Beyond his own personal journey, there’s also something more tangible in the form of fundraising through the Waterboys foundation that builds wells to provide clean drinking water for villages in East Africa. Each well costs $45,000 and serves up to 7,500 people.
Be sure to follow along with Pattison as he completes his goal of reaching the seven highest summits on the seven continents. You can find him on Instagram at @nfl2sevensummits, and www.markpattisonnfl.com