Each year on May 20, at 3:43 a.m., Dave Mauro is always awake. He is looking upward, into a sky that dawn has yet to touch, and imagining the moment when he stood on top of the world. He says it doesn’t feel like five years ago, but it has been. Five years since he stood atop the summit of Mount Everest and became just the sixty-fifth American to conquer the Seven Summits – the highest places on each of the world’s continents.
For Mauro, 55, Everest was not just a grand achievement, but an exclamation point on a seven-year journey filled with both real and metaphorical peaks and valleys in his life. That story is brought to life in his first book, “The Altitude Journals,” released May 1.
“Every one of us has known a very low moment in our lives,” says Mauro, sitting inside his downtown Bellingham office at UBS, where he works as a financial planner. For Mauro, his low moment came following a 2006 divorce. He’d basically given up on himself, but when Ty – his mountain climbing brother-in-law – invited him to summit Alaska’s Denali as part of a documentary, Mauro accepted the challenge.
Although his only previous mountain climbing experience was summiting Mount Baker in his early 30s, he ultimately made it to the top of North America’s highest peak in 2007. The next year, he conquered Africa’s Kilimanjaro, followed by Europe’s Mount Elbrus in 2009. In 2010, he climbed South America’s Aconcagua and Antarctica’s Vinson Massif.
A 2012 summiting of New Guinea’s Carstensz Pyramid left him with just Everest to conquer, which he did in May 2013.
Since then, Mauro’s kept his climbing exploits stateside, spending time “highpointing” – reaching the highest point in each U.S. state. In addition to Oregon’s Mount Hood and Washington’s Mount Rainier, he’s checked off New Mexico, Arizona and – most recently – Rhode Island, home to Jerimoth Hill – a “climb” consisting of a roughly five-minute walk over essentially flat ground.
Mauro plans to focus on more strenuous climbs soon, leaving other comically-easy high points, like Florida’s virtually flat Britton Hill, for a future in which he’s not so able-bodied. “As I find myself in a walker, then I’ll struggle up Britton Hill,” he says with a smile.
The Write Stuff
Mauro’s path to published author began after returning from Antarctica in 2010.
He began blogging his expedition exploits, as well as some of his backstory regarding the climbs, and by the time he’d climbed Everest, he knew it’d make for a good book.
“The blogs just started feeling really rich,” Mauro says. “Less like the quick, happy sort of blog entries that you try and do, and more like stuff that had some deeper exploration and some literary offerings to it.”
Mauro began by combing through the blogs to find common story threads among his adventures. He also found secondary story elements, and overarching messages he wanted to convey.
“I tried to think of it almost like a three-part harmony in a song,” he says. “I wanted to make sure each voice was heard, and it was with that concept in mind that I then sat down and started writing.”
Mauro wrote wherever he was: his second home in Arizona, on a month-long vacation in the Mediterranean; at coffeehouses throughout Bellingham. Writing the manuscript took about two years.
But even with a good story, the publishing industry isn’t easy for a first-time author to break into. After completing the manuscript, Mauro hired a Boston-based literary agent to shop the book around to several publishing companies, but none of them wanted to take a financial gamble on the story.
After about a year of working with the agent, he was told it might take three to four years to find a publisher. Mauro didn’t want to wait that long, and ended up going with his backup plan: self-publication.
Mauro worked with “Book in a Box,” a company that provided plenty of expertise and marketing help. While self-publishing requires the author to cover all costs, Mauro says it also provides a better profit margin when the book finally sells.
The entire process – writing, hiring an editor, going through multiple rounds of editing and re-writing, not to mention publishing choices like cover art, layout and distribution – was a real education for Mauro. For any other first-time authors, he stresses patience.
“Whatever the timeline is you’re imagining,” he says, “it’s much, much longer than that.”
Mauro also recorded an audiobook, and is touring REI stores from Alaska to California to promote the book. He’ll speak at the Bellingham REI Store on June 12.
The ‘Chuck It’ list
“The Altitude Journals” not only follows Mauro’s incredible adventures, but unpacks personal details of his life that become relevant to messages later in the book. Mauro doesn’t shy away from any of it, including his difficult relationship with his father, his struggles to find his place growing up and his fears of intimacy.
When Mauro thinks back on the person he was seven years ago, he notes that while he’s not a completely different person, the change is significant.
“When Ty asked me to climb Denali, I was playing defense with life,” he says. “And that’s not a great way to go through the years.”
Mauro says he misguidedly believed that reaching the top of Denali would help him believe in himself again. The real lesson, though, was much simpler.
“What I learned was: you don’t come to believe in yourself by climbing mountains,” he says. “You believe in yourself when you deal with your problems. And when I came back from Denali, I understood that.”
Today, Mauro says he is more non-linear, an offense player to his life and a listener to its instructions and creative voice. That voice, he notes, isn’t always easy to hear. “We all have our own bucket list,” he says. “But I think there’s also the ‘chuck it’ list: the list of things that you said ‘I will never do.’ And when we are speaking (to ourselves), we choose things from the bucket list. But when life speaks, it’s choosing from the ‘chuck it’ list.” And there’s a reason it’s telling you, ‘No, no, no; you need to do this thing that you said you would never do.’ And that takes a real leap of faith.”
While Mauro doesn’t recommend people try climbing mountains in order to create positive change in their lives, he sees his story as relevant to people considering all kinds of difficult challenges, whether it be health issues, career changes or getting into the right college.
“Everybody’s got their own Everest,” he says. “And I think the things that I learned in the course of this journey are just as applicable to all those situations as they are to mountain-climbing.”