David Schulman will tell you that one thing often leads to another. His decision to go into law came from time spent on Capitol Hill after college.
“I had always admired the profession, but being involved in the legislative process was a good prelude to going to law school,” he said. “I thought I might go back to Washington after law school, but Atlanta was a vibrant city, so I never looked back.”
Schulman practices intellectual property and technology law at Greenberg Traurig, when he’s not seeing the world from some of its highest peaks.
His decision to become a mountain climber grew gradually from his love of the outdoors, travel, hiking and exploring. Eventually, up was the direction he wanted to go.
Schulman has climbed to the summits of Kilimanjaro in Tanzania (19,340 feet), Rainier in Washington state (14,411 feet), Elbrus in Russia (18,510 feet), Whitney in California (14,505 feet), Gran Paradiso in Italy (13,232 feet) and Mont Blanc on the French-Italian border (15,782 feet), so far.
How did you catch the mountain-climbing bug?
In 2004, I went on a four-day group excursion in the Andes, which are relatively steep. The second day we walked from 10,000 feet to 14,000 feet. We slept in tents at night and woke up at 4 a.m. in order to get to the top of Machu Picchu [Peru] at sunrise. It was the most amazing experience. After that I was hooked on combining travel with physically challenging experiences.
My next big trip was to Kilimanjaro in 2007. We took the long way up and spent nine days on the mountain. Technically it’s a hike, but on summit day you go from 15,000 to 19,400 feet. It’s rigorous and the top is the rim of a volcano. We slept in the crater that night, which was the most unique experience.
You can do that mountain in five days, but I wanted to enjoy the outdoors and scenery, which was unlike any I’d ever seen. After that I decided to attempt technical mountain climbing. It has proven to be a great way to combine my love of travel and different cultures, while setting my physical goals.
What mountain did you decide to tackle first?
I decided on Mount Rainier in Washington. It’s not the highest, but it’s very technical and a lot of serious climbers have trained on it. I knew I’d have to carry my own gear for the two-day summit and learn how to climb on ice. I figured it would be a true test of whether I was built for mountain climbing or not.
How did you train?
I started training two months before I went up on Memorial Day weekend in 2008. During the week, I would run and swim to build up my lung capacity. On the weekends I’d go up and down Stone Mountain three to five times. I’d done that for Kilimanjaro, but for Rainier I climbed with a backpack full of books and water. Sometimes I hiked up Kennesaw Mountain, over to Little Kennesaw Mountain and on to Pigeon Hill and back. For later climbs, I wore a 40-pound weight vest and pulled a tire on a rope behind me.
Was Rainier a true test?
Yes, but I misjudged that mountain and it turned out to be my biggest challenge, for various reasons. A close friend had died three weeks before the climb, so I had to stop training for two weeks. I wasn’t in the best shape.
I had to learn to climb on ice, so I took a one-day climbing school between the first and second day of the climb. It’s a tricky mountain with a lot of crevasses.
On summit day, you start about 2 a.m. and aim toward reaching the top by 10 a.m. It’s safer climbing at night, since ice is more dangerous once the sun comes out. It was also early in the season, so we had to break trail all the way up and that takes extra effort. You’d like to stay at the top awhile and savor your accomplishment, but you don’t usually stay but about 10 minutes, because you need to get off the mountain as quickly as possible. It’s just as tricky going down.
Even with the challenges, you wanted to try other peaks?
Once you’ve had that experience, it’s hard not to want to do it again and again. I love the solitude, physical stamina and mental challenge of climbing, and I see scenery that few people see. I wouldn’t trade that for anything. And every climb is different, because every mountain is different.
At the top of Kilimanjaro, you see a volcano and blanket of clouds. On Mount Elbrus you look over the snowy caps of the Caucasus Mountains as far as the eye can see. From Mount Whitney, you’re looking down into the Yosemite Valley. You can see the amazing Swiss peaks of the Alps from Gran Paradiso. I’ve stayed in tents, wooded huts and an Italian chalet. I’ve had porters and roughed it—each experience was different.
It sounds like a costly sport?
Air flights can cost you $1,000 to $1,500 and you pay for a good guide company, because they know the mountain and you don’t. The guide company for Kilimanjaro was around $4,000. You do your research and choose a guide based on experience and safety rate, not price.
I add to my equipment with each climb. I’ve bought an ice axe, crampons, backpack, sleeping bag, climbing helmet, boots, a head lamp, other gear and lots of specialized clothing. I rent tents, an avalanche transceiver, [a signal transmitter for emergencies] and the plastic boots needed for glaciers.
Are you ever scared?
The night before going onto a mountain I get nervous. You are sleeping at a hotel or hostel at the base. All you can do is look up and wonder how you are ever going to get to the top. I’m always nervous on summit day, too, until I get started and realize it’s just taking one step at a time.
What has been your most enjoyable climb?
It was Mount Elbrus in 2008. It’s the highest peak in Europe, challenging, but not overly technical. There were four Americans, three Spaniards, two Germans and an Indian in our group. Not everyone spoke English, but we all worked together, sharing equipment and food.
On summit day, you get up at 2 a.m., layer up, put on your headlamp and know that you’ll have 10 to 11 hours of climbing ahead of you. The scenery could not have been more beautiful. It was a good team. I was in great shape and I got into a good rhythm.
You haven’t climbed this year. Why?
In 2011, I was climbing ice walls and jumping over crevasses and walking along narrow snowdrifts with 1,000-foot drops and I thought about my daughter. I now have two daughters under 2 years old. It was time to do the responsible thing and slow down for a bit. I will climb smaller peaks, backpack and just enjoy the outdoors until they are older.