Adventurer makes record trek across Nepal

Sean Burch '92 had the American dream: a good job, a house and a secure future. But he has found fulfillment by leaving the safety of the workplace to pursue his passion for extreme adventures.

The latest achievement for the 40-year-old alumnus was hiking 1,150 miles from east to west across the rugged terrain of Nepal in the fastest time ever.

The previous record was 68 days for a trek over the Great Himalaya Trail, which involves more than 500,000 feet of ascents and descents. Advisors told Burch his goal of doing it in 60 days was impossible, but he left them in his dust.

He navigated the trail in 49 days, 6 hours and 8 minutes.

And Burch doesn't just hike fast. He aids the remote places he visits.

The adventurer has had other impressive feats: first place in the 2004 North Pole Marathon, a 2005 record for the fastest ascent of Africa's Mount Kilimanjaro (broken in 2007), and in 2009 the fastest winter ascent of Mount Fuji in Japan. But the 2010 trek on the Great Himalaya Trail stands out.

"It was the most intense expedition I've ever done," Burch said in a telephone interview from his Warrenton, Va., home.

When he set off last August, Burch didn't know it was the monsoon season. That meant hiking through 30 days of rain and flooded trails.

He went through marshes where leeches attached to his feet. He fell into a river and got hypothermia. He got lost several times. He stayed with local villagers at night, but got sick more than a few times because of poor sanitation.

"Each of the 49 days was an intense expedition," Burch said. "It's 5:30 at night, you just want to get to the village, and then you see a river crossing."

He believes his mental concentration enabled him to push through the adversities. That skill is one he began to develop as a college student when he took up the martial arts.

"That's where I built my mental concept of how to live life, through the fortitude I got through martial arts," he said.

Burch also believes his focus and stamina were helped by an organic superfood drink he has developed along with four partners. He's working now on making it available commercially.

Burch began questioning how he was living his life after his grandfather told him on his deathbed that he hadn't done all the things he'd wanted to do.

"I said 'Is this all there is to life?'" Burch said.

Burch's adventures all have the goal of helping others. On his first hike -- climbing Mount Everest -- he took along medical supplies for isolated villages. The Nepalese government named him a goodwill ambassador for helping to raise awareness of the nation's remote areas in his latest trek.

Burch won't say where his next adventure will be, but there will be one. He's thinking about a warmer climate, to keep from exacerbating frostbite that has taken a toll on his body.

"There's always stuff to explore," he said.




Released: July 8, 2011