Mountain Men

Wednesday, January 02, 2019
James and Matt Robinson with Rose-Hulman flag at the top of Mount Kilamanjaro

Matt and James Robinson unfurl a Rose-Hulman flag atop Mount Elbrus, the highest point in Europe, in the summer of 2018.

What’s tougher, surviving finals week at Rose-Hulman or climbing the tallest mountain in Africa?

“They’re analogous,” says Matt Robinson, a civil engineering major who has tackled both tasks.

Over the summer, Matt and his dad, James, set out to climb the tallest mountains in in Europe and Africa. As a warmup, they first scaled the highest peaks in Colorado and Nevada.

The whole experience lasted several weeks, wrapping up in early August, giving Matt just a few days to prepare for football camp and the start of his junior year back at Rose-Hulman.

“A lot of this is proving to myself I can do anything,” Matt explains.

The idea of climbing four mountains in one summer came from Matt’s father. James Robinson is a “high pointer,” meaning his goal is to reach the highest peaks in all 50 states and on all seven continents sometime in his life.

Climbing Mount Kilamanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa, was the toughest leg of the Robinsons’ latest adventure. Getting to the top took five days and included scaling steep grades in the light of a magnificent blood moon, braving sub-freezing temperatures, bone-chilling winds and low-levels of oxygen. Close to the top, Matt recalls seeing someone in his party accidently drop a glove, and then watching as it floated into a seemingly bottomless void.

“Up there, if you take a fall, you don’t know where you’re going to stop,” he says.

Rose-Hulman’s challenging academics and being a member of the football team have been excellent preparation for climbing mountains and other challenges, Matt says.

“After two years of hard work here, I’ve become very comfortable with being uncomfortable, especially away from home,” he says. “This has blessed me with great confidence in stressful situations, such as staring down a 3,000-foot face on Mount Kilimanjaro.”

Matt’s physical accomplishments are even more remarkable given the fact he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 4. Rather than slowing him down, the disease has acted as a motivator, giving him an extra drive to achieve his goals, and, more importantly for him, to inspire other young people diagnosed with the disease.

While Matt has internship plans for next summer, he and his dad have their sights set on a new mountain-climbing challenge next winter: conquering Aconcagua, the tallest summit in South America. At 4.3 miles high, it will be their tallest climb yet by nearly 3,000 feet.

“The personal challenge is kind of reflective of what hard work can do for you,” Matt says. “I like to experience all I can.”