Cumberland County woman prepares for the Seven Summits

By | December 20, 2023

CUMBERLAND COUNTY, Pa. (WHTM) – Five years ago, Julie McKelvey of Cumberland County climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, and since then she has traveled the world to climb the highest peak on every continent.

McKelvey’s journey of climbing these mountains, commonly referred to as the Seven Peaks, is about to come to an end when she reaches the summit of Mount Kosciuszko on December 29. McKelvey’s two sons, Jackson and Jacob, and her husband Bobby will complete the final climb with her.

“I want it to be about them because without them I could never have done this,” McKelvey said. “I know it was hard for them. . . and they know my mom felt guilty about it and my husband knew I felt guilty and all they did was support me 100% the whole time.

Fewer than 100 women have completed the seven-summit journey, and part of McKelvey’s mission with these climbs was to show women that anything is possible. McKelvey wants women to know they can raise a family while still pursuing their own individual dreams.

“Women . . . I think they just don’t believe in themselves enough,” said McKelvey. “They feel like they have to put all the parts of their lives together, put everyone else first and do whatever (they) want to do,” McKelvey said. “And you might not get the last thing.”

McKelvey is a mother, entrepreneur and mountain climber. Her life has taken many twists and turns to get her to where she is today and she says a big part of that is because she “just said yes.”

“This story about me coming from the background I came from, there was nothing pointing to that,” McKelvey said. “And yet I said yes. And I kept saying yes when things were put in front of me.”

McKelvey has used her journey of seven summits as an opportunity to help people access hearing aids. McKelvey started the ‘Summit for Sound’ campaign to raise money for her non-profit organization, the Miracle-Ear Foundation. She has raised money on every climb to donate free hearing aids to those in need.

To date, $248,000 has been raised since McKelvey began this journey five years ago.

“That’s hundreds of families that are directly affected by this,” McKelvey said. “This foundation, like any other foundation, like any non-profit organization, cannot function without money coming in. It’s amazing what we do to help people hear better. It’s life-changing for them.”

Although McKelvey has enjoyed the opportunity to experience every continent and challenge herself with the training for these climbs and the climbs themselves, she is ready for this part of her life story to come to an end.

For the past five years, McKelvey has trained aggressively every week. At her peak, McKelvey trained twenty hours a week. She currently trains 9 hours a week. Although she feels physically strong and has enjoyed the discipline, she is ready to rest.

“Every vacation for five years revolved around my training, down to which hotel (my family) stays in,” McKelvey said. “The activities are planned around my long session. (Now) we can just go on holiday. I can sleep in, we can go out to dinner. I never had breakfast with them because I was always training.”

McKelvey is looking forward to spending more time with her family once the trip is over and being able to experience what she calls the “simple things,” like being able to attend all of her son’s basketball games.

At 2,228 meters, Kosciuszko is the shortest of the seven peaks. The other six peaks, from tallest to shortest, include Mount Everest in Asia at 8,848 meters, Mount Aconcagua in South America at 6,962 meters, Mount McKinley/Denali in North America at 6,190 meters, Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa at 5,895 meters, Elbrus in Europe at 5,642 meters and Mount Vinson in Antarctica at 4,892 meters.

There is another variant of the seven peaks that alternates Mount Kosciuszko with the Carstensz pyramid at 4,884 meters. McKelvey originally planned to complete the Carstensz Pyramid version, but due to unsafe conditions for foreigners and COVID, the mountain is closed indefinitely.

However, McKelvey plans to complete the Carstensz Pyramid, completing both versions of the seven peaks, once it becomes accessible to the public again. For now, she is excited to complete this part of the seven summits with her family by her side, as they cannot climb the Carstensz Pyramid with her due to the technical challenges.

“There are rumors that the Carstensz pyramid is going to open and if it does, I will,” McKelvey said. “That’s what I’m going to train for and I’m going to do that because it’s a place that I’ve always really wanted to see and experience.”

After McKelvey’s family returns from Kosciuszko, they plan to celebrate by ringing in the New Year in Sydney during the opera house’s iconic fireworks display.

“I couldn’t have worked this out any better,” McKelvey said. “To walk up this hill with my husband and my kids and all of us together and then celebrate New Year’s Eve in Sydney with fireworks, it’s just incredible. I don’t think it will really affect me until I get there.

McKelvey is already planning her next adventures, as she strongly believes in the philosophy that the keys to a happy life include “something to love, something to do, and something to look forward to.”

McKelvey and some of her friends will be doing the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim hike in the fall, which is about 50 miles long. She noted that this will be a very different experience than these mountain expeditions.

“I’m better when I have a goal, I’m better mentally, I’m better physically, I’m totally better when I have something to look forward to,” McKelvey said. “I think that’s important for everyone in life.”

Read about McKelvey’s Everest experience here: Cumberland County woman completes her sixth of seven summits by climbing Everest

McKelvey has spent the past five years at the top of the world, climbing more than 40,000 meters, dealing with a broken foot, a broken mouth, multiple hernias and overcoming her own mental and spiritual challenges. Now it’s time to wrap up her big journey and end 2023 with a bang.

“I haven’t paused much to think about what’s going to happen, which is probably a good thing,” McKelvey said. “But (I’m) excited, I think more than anything, almost just disbelief.”

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