Last Friday, Colin O’Brady did something rather peculiar after reaching the 29,029-foot summit of Mt. Everest. He muscled his way back down the ice-and-snow-covered mountain to base camp as quickly as his worn-out legs could carry him, then took a helicopter to Kathmandu, where he hopped a commercial jet for a 30-hour flight to Anchorage, Alaska.
And for the past few days O’Brady has been holed up in his sleeping bag on a 14,000-foot ridge on the side of Denali, North America’s highest peak, while his tent is battered by 50-mph winds and buried by drifts of snow.
“My body is pretty tired,” O’Brady, 31, tells PEOPLE, speaking on a satellite phone. “But I’m ready to get this done.”
Exactly what O’Brady is hoping to “get done” in the next few days is an epic odyssey that involves skiing to the North and South Poles, along with climbing the highest peaks on each of the seven continents. Known as the Explorers Grand Slam, only a handful of humans have ever attempted the feat and O’Brady, who previously survived being burned over 25 percent of his body and was told that he “may never walk again,” hopes to finish the feat in record time.
From the sound of it, the former nationally-ranked Yale University swimmer turned professional triathlete could shatter the former record of six months and 11 days by a staggering two months.
“I’ve just got one mountain to go,” he says of the 20,310-foot peak looming nearby. “I’m literally staring at the summit of Denali from my tent. That’s my finish line. I’m just waiting for the weather to clear.”
O’Brady started his expedition in January with the intention of raising $1 million for charity – and reducing childhood obesity and empowering kids to develop lifelong healthy habits – in partnership with the Alliance For A Healthier Generation.
“I just believe kids in our society are a little too plugged in,” says the adventurer as deafening winds howl outside his tent. “There’s a time and a place for all that. But there’s also a time and a place for health and well being.”
O’Brady, who made it to Everest’s summit on the same day two other climbers died on the mountain, is no doubt crossing his mitten-encased fingers that this final push of his adventure goes off without a hitch. “What happened on Everest,” he says, “is a reminder of just how close to the edge you are when you climb mountains. And Denali is a serious, challenging, big, bad mountain.”