Climbing Exec Always Setting Route to Next Mountain

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Famed climber Sir "Edmund Hillary told me [that] when he stood on the top of Everest for the first time [in 1953], he was already looking out at the world's fifth-tallest mountain, Makalu, on the horizon, and tracing routes up it," says Robert Mads Anderson, VP-creative director of Modem Media. "Years later when I stood on top of Everest, I found myself doing the same thing."

This agency executive, who's managed to intertwine climbing and writing since he was 15, is always preparing for the next challenge. "I was apelike in my teens and 20s, and could crawl across roofs of rock hanging from my fingertips. My last year at university I began writing direct marketing catalogs for Forrest Mountaineering in Denver, so was able to combine the writing and the climbing right from the start."

As Mr. Anderson, 48, has conquered additional mountains, he's seen the equipment improve dramatically. "To make up for it, we are now doing much more difficult climbs," he said. "At the heart of the climbing experience is the challenge. Climbers have continued to push the limits of what they do."

So far, he's done 12 Himalayan expeditions, "climbing Everest as well as guiding groups to the summit of the sixth-highest peak in the world, Cho Oyu, and the 14th-tallest, Shishipangma, in Tibet," he said.

Mr. Anderson also said he is the only solo climber to reach the top of the so-called Seven Summits-the tallest peaks on each continent. Among the books he has written was "To Everest Via Antarctica," which relates his Seven Summits ascents. The obsession does come with a price tag. "When we put up a new route on the east face of Everest in 1988, I raised $350,000 for a group of four climbers ... My last Everest expedition in 2003, guiding 10 clients cost them $45,000 each."

To help with expenses, Mr. Anderson works "with sponsors like American Express Co., Kodak and Rolex." He recalled the headline from one of the Rolex ads: "They climbed Everest without oxygen, but not without Rolex."

Clearly, the euphoria of a climb keeps bringing the onetime Ogilvy & Mather executive back for more.

"The best climbs involve challenge and danger, which you seek to control and still achieve the goal. ... To be in a remote area of the world, climbing a route to the summit of a mountain that has rarely or never been ascended is a unique and unforgettable experience," he said. "At the time, the physical endeavors, the mental challenges and the physical rewards all align, and if perfection is possible on earth, it is in those moments."

Yet there's the danger to be weighed for this married father of two children who now commutes from his home in Connecticut to Modem Media's office in Norwalk on a Harley-Davidson Street Rod, reportedly Harley's swiftest, although Mr. Anderson only admits to ride at the posted speed limit.

Inescapably, danger is a constancy of every mountain.

"When I first started climbing bigger peaks, after completing a difficult first ascent [in the Peruvian Andes, I] was descending when my climbing partner slipped and fell to his death," Mr. Anderson said. "One second my living, breathing climbing partner was climbing beside me and the next second he was a broken-up dot on the glacier 1,000 feet below. I'd felt a bit invincible up until that point in my climbing career, but that memory has certainly helped me focus when I'm climbing back down again."

Still, he climbs. Dozens of mountains. But sometimes the best laid plans (an ascent of Everest typically takes a year of preparation) bring a smile to Mr. Anderson's face.

"I went to a very obscure peak in the southern Arizona desert called Baboquivari to try a new route on the east face. We wandered around in fog and a rare snowstorm, and eventually started climbing. Two terrifying days later, we reached the top and realized not only had we climbed a new route, we'd climbed another side of the mountain that had never been ascended before-completely by mistake."

Devoted to a worthy cause? Have a secret fishing hideaway? Crazed about the beginning of baseball season? Ad Age is looking for interesting Off Hours stories from marketer world executives. If you have a fascinating Off Hours activity, describe your passion in an email to Mike Ryan at

Robert M. Anderson

VP-creative director of Modem Media

What's in your backpack?

Greenland: Rifle (in case of polar bear)

Antarctica: Single malt scotch, the only liquid that never froze

Tibet: Yak steaks and Sampa pancake mix-ideal for snack

Africa: 60 lbs. of green bananas to roast on the fire for dinner at the end of a long day

South America: 20 kilos of coca leaves-for medicinal purposes only

Borneo: an umbrella
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