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CEDAR FALLS — Andy Anderson made a list of his life’s goals in his early 20s. At the top? Learn Chinese. Mission accomplished. Next? Get his doctorate. Check.

The University of Northern Iowa business professor soon will be able to cross off another item in his top five: Summit Mount Everest.

“I’m just chipping away at all the things that I think ‘If I could do anything, what would I do?’ I don’t know. Isn’t that how you’re supposed to live your life?” Anderson said. “I’m such a list person. I don’t get anything accomplished without my lists.”

True to his word, Anderson has a PowerPoint document that lists the steps, the camps, the little details that will help him and his cousin John Anderson to become the first Iowans to summit Mount Everest from its north side in China.

The cousins — who actually share the exact same name, John Robert Anderson III, but thankfully, the UNI professor goes by Andy outside of academic publishing — decided a little over a year ago, after years of hiking and climbing together, to tackle Everest. They leave April 7.

The pair decided to climb the Earth’s highest peak after getting an invite to climb Everest’s south side from a team they had joined in climbing Africa’s highest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro. But after talking about it, they decided to go their own way.

“We kicked around the idea of the more challenging north side of Everest, and we just kind of went, ‘Hey, we can do this,’ and so we just decided to do it ourselves,” said John Anderson, an electronics repair inspector in the Iowa National Guard and based in Minburn. “So, we put it (a plan) together and now we’re three weeks out.”

The trip, from leaving Iowa to returning home, is expected to take 60 days. Much of that time will be acclimating to the heights. Everest sits at 29,029 feet.

Climbing for a cause

That old adage about how it’s not the destination but the journey seems to ring true for both Andy and John Anderson.

They know their climbing endeavors give a sense of accomplishment, and do good for their bodies, but their passion for the sport is clearest when they talk about the emotional and mental good they get from their efforts.

“It’s not actually the ending; it’s the process,” said Andy Anderson, 33. “Doing these really cool endurance things in the purest style possible, I think is pretty cool. So, it’s not just doing it, it’s doing it in the right way, for me.”

John Anderson, 42, sees it as a “well-rounded activity and sport” that has physical challenges, mental challenges and, importantly, builds friendships and stresses teamwork.

“The bonding you can get out of the military and climbing are very similar,” John Anderson said. “Even the local, smaller (climbs), it just builds trust. It builds camaraderie.”

John Anderson said his experience deploying with a Guard unit is when the unit comes back, its members disperse and can lose that support network they had while posted elsewhere.

The two conjoining ideas of building a support network and getting an emotional release while climbing led the Anderson cousins to form Iowans for Everest, a support group for veterans that takes them on hiking and climbing trips.

Their Everest trip has adopted the cause of supporting veterans who are suffering from post-traumatic stress by raising awareness and dollars for their excursions.

The pair have been out on several outings since deciding to tackle Everest. But they are in hiatus as the trip approaches. They plan to pick up events again upon their return.

People interested in learning more can either like their Iowans for Everest Facebook page or email them at They also have a fundraising site at, where all the dollars go to the veterans trips.

Andy Anderson also will have a send off event — John Anderson will be climbing that weekend — at 9 p.m. Saturday at Urban Pie, 200 State St., in Cedar Falls.

Long time coming

Though the pair committed to climbing Everest more than a year ago, the trip has been much longer in the making. Both have been climbing and hiking and more for more than a decade.

Andy Anderson, a Boone native, has been climbing since a youth trip to a climbing gym in Kansas City. He came back and soon after built a climbing wall in a family shed. He has continued climbing but also focuses on endurance tests, including two cross-country bike trips.

John Anderson got into climbing in about 2000 after a trip to a climbing gym. He went on a deployment, where he realized he wanted to dedicate more time to climbing upon his return. He did just that, including spending about six years running a guide company.

Their first trip together was doing the full Exum Ridge at the Grand Tetons in Wyoming.

“We just kind of really clicked and were able to move well,” John Anderson said. “He led the way up the approach, and then once we hit the rock, I led the way up to the summit. We just kind of clicked.”

Both say they complement each other well in terms of their skill set. Andy Anderson has stronger endurance, and John Anderson has better technical knowledge needed to climb.

But it’s also a personality thing. As John Anderson explained, you can’t spend three days trapped in a tent on North America’s highest mountain Denali with just anyone.

Stepping up for Everest

Even though the Andersons have been in a sense training for Mount Everest for years, they both said they’ve stepped up their game since officially deciding to make the trek.

“It wasn’t real enough until probably about a little over a year ago. Probably a year and a half ago, I decided I was going to do it; it was just a matter of when,” Andy Anderson said. “From that point on, it was, ‘All right, one more for Everest’ sort of mentality. One more mile for Everest or whatever it was. Dig a little deeper than you would have otherwise because you now have a purpose for that fitness.”

Their training has more often than not been on their own, since both work and don’t live in the same town. But in a lot of ways, their training has been similar as they’ve focused on cardio and strength training.

“I’m putting the treadmill up to the highest incline it’ll go and throwing my 30-pound kit in my backpack, and putting cartoons on and just going for a few hours,” Andy Anderson said, adding he’s also been doing ultra marathons.

He has been venturing off on few distant travels to prepare in part because he has two young children at home. The semester also has been challenging. To fit in all the hours to end class April 6, Andy Anderson held night classes throughout February. But he said the students, mostly seniors, didn’t complain about the work, and the university has been supportive of his trip.

John Anderson climbs on weekends, including a recent trip to Mexico. But he also spent much of his Friday with a pack on his back and hiking up and down Iowa’s hills.

They also have been talking with the small but active number of climbers in Iowa, including those who have or have tried to summit Everest in the past. Because it’s a small community, and a small state, they all have a way of finding each other.

And the education goes both ways.

“I like passing on the knowledge and helping out people who are getting started, because honestly, I’m just an average guy, and if I can do this, pretty much everybody else can do it, too, if you put your mind to it and you train and you work at it,” John Anderson said. “Everest isn’t something that you just decide ‘I’m going to go do it tomorrow;’ you’ve got to build up to it. There’s steps to take.”

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Political reporter at the Courier

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