Two individuals, 46 mountains, one week: A climb to fight depression

Two Clarkson University students hike all 46 Adirondack High Peaks to raise awareness for suicide prevention.

Kolby Ziemendorf, a mechanical engineering alumnus from Clarkson University, lost his high school classmate Greg Lombardo to depression and suicide in 2010. Rattled by this tragic incident, Ziemendorf, 22, struggled to find answers.

While sitting in church one day, an idea came to him: a way to honor Lombardo’s life. He would climb 46 peaks of the Adirondack Mountains in seven days to help raise awareness on this sensitive issue.

“This climb is symbolic. A climb through the ups and downs of depression to remain firmly positive.”
- Kolby Ziemendorf

Catherine Zarnofsky, 22, an innovation and entrepreneurship alumna from Clarkson, joined him as his climbing partner. 46 Climbs became their mission to raise more than $10,000 for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

“This climb is symbolic," Ziemendorf said. "A climb through the ups and downs of depression to remain firmly positive."

The duo started their hike on Sept. 8, the first day of the National Suicide Prevention Week. Even before they started, they had raised the money they promised.

Ziemendorf and Zarnofsky were presidents of their campus outing club. Rock climbing, caving, ice climbing, caving, canoeing, backcountry skiing, kayaking and hiking were all second nature. But even this outgoing duo admitted that ascending 46 mountains is a daunting task.

“Ten minutes of running would easily tire me out,” Zarnofsky said.

Last year, after one-and-a-half years of dedicated work, they climbed 46 Adirondack peaks and earned the prestigious Adirondack 46er title. This time, Jan Wellford, who holds the world record for climbing the peaks in the fastest time, has acted as their coach and guide.

“Both of us have been training like ultra-marathon runners,” Ziemendorf said. “Every day this summer, we woke up before 6 a.m. to get two hours of exercise before work, and returned home to finish our double for the day. Then we drove down to the Adirondacks to practice on field every weekend.”

The two look forward to meeting their friends and family at Whiteface Mountain on Sept. 14. The Clarkson Outing Club members will act as Sherpas, managing base camps and supplies. The trek, if successful, will make Zarnofsky the fastest female Adirondack 46er.

Even though they are attempting the peaks for the second time, seven days is a challenge. The trails could be wet or dry; they could be injured or encounter coyotes or bears; and climbing in winters would mean carrying a heavier gear, they said.

“In moments of doubt, I tell myself that our cause is bigger than our nerves,” Zarnofsky said, adding that they work well as a team, motivating and pushing each other in moments of weakness.

“You are not weak in seeking help, and the distance to the top is not infinite,” Ziemendorf said. He said that 85 percent of people who seek treatment for depression are cured. They are supporting AFSP because it provides research, education, outreach programs and support to victims and their families.

On Sept. 3, a man jumped off the seven-story Harrison Street garage in downtown Syracuse. Zarnofsky and Ziemendorf’s 46 Climbs is an effort to reach out to that man before he stands on that rooftop, they said.  

Earlier this year, Zarnofsky injured herself while climbing Allen Mountain. She had to take a nine-week break and said she felt like giving up.

“But Kolby helped me accomplish a 28-mile day in ten hours,” she said. “Only if you have been in the deepest valley, can you ever know how magnificent it is to be on the highest mountain."

The two are already on their way, averaging 27 miles a day. Their longest day is 35 miles and their shortest is 17 miles. In seven days, they will cover 189 miles total. You can follow their trek through a spot tracker system on their website.

“Two individuals, 46 mountains and one week,” is Catherine and Kolby’s message to climb on. They hope to set up a nonprofit with the help of Clarkson University to address the cause and pass the torch to future student 46ers. 

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