Hey kids, get off your screens! Says the man who scaled the 7 summits and sailed the 7 seas
Utahn Martin Frey is the only person to have climbed the summits of the seven continents and sailed the seven seas; now he spends his time helping youth
Martin Frey is a man who aims high. He’s the first person in history to climb the tallest peak on each of the seven continents, sail across all of the planet’s seven seas, ski to both the North Pole and the South Pole and circumnavigate the globe.
Now, the man who loves a challenge has set his sights on something even more daunting: young people and their screens.
Martin is of the opinion — and he’s hardly alone — that kids spend way too much time looking at their smartphones, their tablets, their video games, their TVs, usually when they’re sitting down or standing still.
To combat this sedentary trend, 31⁄2 years ago — a couple of years after the “Today” show surprised him on national television with a framed copy of the Guinness World Records certificate documenting him as the first human ever to do both the Seven Summits and Seven Seas — he founded Summit Journeys, a nonprofit dedicated to getting kids outside where nature lives so they can have real adventures starring themselves.
Martin’s wife, Kym, remembers his thought process: “When he got back he kept seeing kids on screens and phones and he thought, we’ve got to get them outside, get them to love nature the way I do, because these kids are falling prey to technology, that’s what’s bringing them happiness; and that’s not real happiness.”
Ever since, Summit Journeys (summitjourneys.org) has been showing people (besides youth groups, they also do corporate retreats) how to climb, kayak, mountain bike, hike, snowshoe, backpack, camp, sail and most everything else under the sun that works up a sweat. The pandemic slowed progress slightly, but each year the enterprise grows. In 2022, Summit Journeys hosted 110 adventures involving 1,600 kids. More are expected this year.
Any number of youth organizations and their leaders have signed on as partners, but it’s Martin who remains Summit Journeys’ COA: Chief Officer of Adventure. In addition to hands-on instruction and participation, he’s given “recruiting” speeches to tens of thousands of young people.
“If the kids look at me and think, ‘I could never do that,’ then I’ve failed as a speaker,” he says. “The goal is, look, let’s go on this journey together; if I can do it, you can do it.
“I just know that young people need more than they’re getting right now,” he continues. “We give them these big dopamine rushes every time they play with this stuff (video games, social media, etc.) and they’re sucked into it in a way that’s not letting them thrive.”
“I think a lot of people in Utah are trying very hard to do things like suicide prevention and worry about this massive epidemic we have in young people with anxiety and depression, so I’m trying to play a little bit of prevent defense and let young people see that they can do hard things and they can be the hero of their own journey.”
Martin knows from personal experience that outdoor adventures — the kind that get you out of your comfort zone and test your character — can provide that insight.
Growing up in New Jersey in the pre-internet dark ages of the 1960s and 1970s, Martin started sailing Sunfishes at a young age and made his first summit on Maine’s mile-high Mount Katahdin when he was barely a teenager. The resilience and confidence he learned set the stage for a most unlikely and accomplished life.
After joining The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at 18, he matriculated to college at BYU, where, interspersed with a Latter-Day Saint mission to Italy, he earned a degree in mechanical engineering. After that, he spent eight years in the defense contractor sector before he saw an ad from a company called Cisco in San Francisco.
On a whim, he applied and got the job. When he arrived in 1991 (two years before the World Wide Web was launched) the little computer-connection company was producing 60 routers a week. When he left 13 years later, the company was doing $23 billion in sales.
“It was quite a ride,” Martin understates — and also a touch ironic that it was the advent of the computer screen age that gave him the resources to afford his one-of-a-kind globe-trotting adventure odyssey.
He climbed the first of the seven summits in 2005 while on safari in Africa, scaling Kilimanjaro. But the idea of climbing the high point of each continent — a quest called the Seven Summits Challenge, conceived by former Snowbird owner Dick Bass in the 1980s — didn’t come until four years later while climbing Denali in Alaska, North America’s tallest mountain.
Martin and his climbing friend, Steve Gasser, were bivouacked on the side of the mountain for six days in a whiteout, enduring freezing temperatures and howling winds. During this interlude, it was Gasser who gave rise to the idea that they ought to climb the seven summits.
Just a few months later, Gasser, at 46, died unexpectedly of cardiac arrest during a bike race.
Martin carried on. As he subsequently climbed Aconcagua (South America), Everest (Asia), Elbrus (Europe), Carstensz Pyramid and Kosciuszko (Oceania) and Vinson (Antarctica) he carried a picture of his friend Steve to the top of every one.
After Mount Vinson, “when I realized I might not get back here,” he strapped on his skis and trekked to the South Pole.
It was while skiing that he came up with the idea to sail the seven seas, for two primary reasons: One, because it was a new challenge he hadn’t heard of anyone else doing; two, because he and Kym had a new daughter, Lily, who was born with a rare genetic disorder. A long sailing trip while she was still easy to transport would give them a chance to spend time alone as a family.
Martin purchased a sailboat via a satellite phone while on his skis and the Frey family took nine months to cross the South Pacific. After that, Kym and Lily returned to their home in Holladay and Martin got serious about the remaining six seas. From 2014-2016, he sailed the North Atlantic, South Atlantic, Indian Ocean, Arctic Ocean (becoming the 83rd boat to negotiate the Northwest Passage), Southern Ocean and North Pacific, amassing 35,000 nautical miles while circling the Earth.
As a final touch, he skied to the North Pole, a trip that required hopping ice floes because of global warming.
In 2016, when the “Today” show, among others, began lining up for their interviews, the world tuned into the fact that a 56-year-old retired computer router salesman had gone where Hillary, Amundsen, Scott, Peay, Bass and Magellan had all gone — one at a time.
Some might spend the rest of their days sitting on a bar stool bragging about all this. Martin came home to Utah to talk to the youth.
“The only way we progress is to reach and uplift others around us,” he says. “It isn’t about what I’ve accomplished, it’s what I can do to help others accomplish. What I’ve realized is climbing and some other things I’ve done have given me a platform to do that.”