Heart Transplant Recipient Kelly Perkins Completes the Grand Traverse

Heart Transplant Recipient Kelly Perkins Completes the Grand Traverse

On 21 August Kelly Perkins became the first organ transplant recipient to summit the Grand Teton. On 22 August she became the first to complete the Grand Traverse. Kelly climbs mountains to raise awareness for organ donation. She was joined on the Grand Teton climb by the “Stand on the Grand” team of cardiac nurses who share her goal to raise awareness regarding the importance of being an organ donor. Nationwide, there are 111,493 individuals on the waitlist for organ transplants and 2,860 on the waitlist for a new heart.

The following is Kelly’s story, in her own words (all framed photos are copyrighted by Crux Photo and are used with permission):

The Grand Traverse…..and Standing on the Grand for Organ Donation

I climb some of the most recognized peaks in the world. When I do, I bring along climbing gear, warm clothes, food supplies, lots of enthusiasm and excitement and the heart of woman I’ve never met beating inside my chestKelly Perkins

The "Stand on the Grand" team approaching the Lower Saddle of the Grand Teton  Photo: Nate YoungMy initial goal in climbing the Grand was just that, to stand on the Grand in celebration of my health as a heart recipient, while spreading the word about organ donation.  However,  nothing about my climbs are “usual” and in learning more about the famous Tetons and Chelsea, a cardiac rehab nurse finishing the Golden Staircase pitch  Photo: Nate Youngvariations of traverses involving other peaks, I quickly embraced the idea of climbing  the entire traverse, all 10 peaks!

There is no more powerful or thrilling experience than the culmination of the hard work of climbing a mountain and then, finally…taking those steps to the summit, and embracing the accomplishment of my mental and physical effort!  I knew this would be a herculean physical challenge for me, but knowing that each summit provided a “shot of life”– 10 of them in total, took away the sting.

Kelly completing the infamous leap of faith off Wall Street to get on to the Exum Ridge  Photo: Nate YoungThe traverse is more expedition style, although short in length compared to many alpine climbs.  The flow of each day, although physically taxing, is rewarded again and again. The first day was by far the longest and for me, and because of my cardiovascular limitations, it packed a punch.  I fell into my sleeping bag at the end of the day, eyes shut in the motion!

Each day became Sarah, Mary and Chelsea nearing the summit on the Exum Ridge  Photo: Nate Youngincreasingly easier as the summits achieved began stacking in my favor.  The Grand was just that, made even more exciting with my company.  A  group of cardiac nurses  climbed alongside me for this one peak. They were enthusiastic participants, climbing as role models for their own patients/clients while  championing my cause, organ donation. The summit was a happy party scene as we all  joined  together to make wishes and blow bubbles!

Making Wishes and Blowing Bubbles on the Summit  Photo: Nate Young Finally the Summit!  Photo: Nate Young

Kelly and her husband Craig on Summit Number Seven  Photo: Exum Guide Kevin MahoneySix peaks were crammed into the last day. At least that was the plan. Could I make it?   I waffled in my confidence, my volatile  emotions ping-ponging between excitement and terrified at the prospect.   Our guides Ben Gilmore and Kevin Mahoney said, “If you like summits, it’s the very best day!”  That it was!  We arrived at our first summit at sunrise and this was just the beginning of what was the most rewarding day of all.

I am not inexperienced. I have skills for climbing and for mountaineering, however my most  valuable skill is knowing my limitations. This means placing my abilities against each individual mountain, assessing its personality and risks. As such, it is critical to my success of climbing the peak to go with a knowledgeable guide company.  This Kelly and Craig on Summit Number Nine  Photo: Exum Guide Ben Gilmoreis where Exum does “know it all”!  They have the resources and the wisdom earned by years past to make the right decisions on the fly.  And hey, that’s why we climb – not only to get to the top, but to be able to come back and relive that experience again and again….

In the early stages of planning, Mark Newcomb said to me, “The Tetons have a wonderful life force of their own”.  This is true and doing the traverse was truly a “life” opportunity that will always rate high among my achievements.  In this same spirit, I was totally exhausted after the climb – every muscle in my body ached….. except my heart! Kelly, Craig and their guides, Kevin Mahoney and Ben Gilmore  Photo: Kevin Mahoney or Ben Gilmore collection

All of us at Exum send Kelly heartfelt congratulations and we thank her for sharing this adventure with us.

About The Author

  • Arc'Teryx
  • Black Diamond
  • Virginian Lodge
  • Samsara
  • La Sportiva
  • Mammut
  • 4FRNT