From Vanguard to Everest - Stuart Smith, Class of 1977
A 320-mile trek along the Continental Divide trail from New Mexico to Wolf Creek Pass in Colorado — 16 days and 44,000-foot elevation gain — is merely a leisure trip for Stuart Smith(’77). After all, the retired Waco attorney has completed the Explorers Grand Slam, which includes climbing the planet’s seven highest summits — yes, Everest — and both poles. So when the world shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, Smith knew the best medicine would be continuing to explore the great outdoors.
“We just spent a month in Estes Park rock climbing, hiking and cycling,” Smith said, “but on the way up there I hiked 320 miles of the Continental Divide Trail in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado.”
Smith’s wife of 38 years, Elizabeth (‘77), retired Director of the Cooper Foundation, accompanied him for part of the adventure.
“Since there isn't a lot of travel that is feasible right now, I figured out I could get out to New Mexico a few weeks before our Colorado trip started and then get Elizabeth to pick me up on the way to Estes Park.”
He began the hike at Grants, NM, just west of Albuquerque, and then headed north along the trail to Wolf Creek Pass in Colorado where Elizabeth picked him up.
“I started in a hot desert and ended up in freezing mountains, Smith said. “I spent 16 days on the trail with resupply days in Cuba and Chama, NM. I had already hiked about 300 miles of the CDT in Colorado previously, so I decided I would work on finishing off the other 400 miles of the trail in Colorado that I haven't done and to do some of New Mexico.”
Returning to the CDT after five weeks of climbing, cycling, and hiking in Estes Park, Stuart finished another 90 miles section of the CDT with 20,000 feet of cumulative elevation gain over 4 ½ days. That made for 575 miles of the CDT this summer.
After graduating from Vanguard in 1977, Smith earned an accounting degree from Baylor University and then a law degree from The University of Texas. He clerked for the federal court of appeals for a year, Fifth Circuit. He taught school in Kenya for a year after that through the Episcopal Church program, before moving back home to work for the law firm of Naman Howell for 26 years, practicing civil trial law.
“I enjoyed studying business, but knew I didn't want to be an accountant,” Smith said. A legal career offered lots of flexibility, plus ways to use my business education.”
Smith said he enjoyed the interactions with clients and other lawyers and getting to learn about many subjects in depth.
“During the course of a lawsuit one would often need to become immersed in the field that was being litigated. I enjoyed learning about whatever subject it was that the client had spent his or her life pursuing. For example, at one point, I could tell you all about feed corn genetics and electrical generators and coal power plants.”
But Smith is probably best known for his sense of adventure. Along with being one of the small number of people in the world that has completed the Explorers Grand Slam, including the seven summits, Everest being one of those, and both the North and the South Pole, Smith has skied across Greenland, climbed six peaks over 26,000 feet and summited the highest peak in each state in the US. He has spent more than 1.5 years in Nepal with 18 trips total and has hiked more than 1,800 miles in Spain. He has also completed two full Ironmans and 10 half Ironmans.
“I love getting away for an extended break,” Smith said. “Most folks never get to take more than a 2-3 week trip. When you get into weeks 3, 4, 5, and 6, it is a different experience. You are more into pursuing whatever the purpose of the trip is rather than thinking about work.”
Pushing himself physically is something Smith enjoys.
“I enjoy the challenge of figuring out a way to accomplish the goal even though obstacles will appear during the course of the adventure. I mainly enjoy traveling on foot. I think it is the best way to experience a region and culture. I am happy to spend 10 hours a day walking for days on end.”
Going to the poles wasn’t an intentional plan, Smith said.
“I had always enjoyed hiking and climbing,” he said. “I grew up going to Colorado every summer and doing outdoor stuff. I just kept climbing as I started working and kept pursuing higher mountains, which meant South America and then the Himalayas. Along with the climbing, I saw long-distance skiing to the poles as something interesting and where I could use cold weather skills developed in mountains. Some people just want to check things off the list, but I continue to pursue climbing, just not at as high an altitude. I climbed a 23,700-foot mountain in Nepal last year.”
How does one train for the poles and Everest in the heat of Texas?
“I trained for the poles by dragging tires out in the grassy fields below the Lake Waco dam, he said. “I just ran a bunch of marathons to train for Everest and would climb the office stairs over and over with a pack.”
Smith said Vanguard prepared him for success — in work and his personal adventures — through rigorous academic education.
“Learning how to break the ultimate goal into pieces and then tackle and finish each piece,” he said.
Not generally into giving advice, Smith said one thing he would recommend is to take time from your career, when able, to pursue other interests.
“Work is obviously important but so is pursuing other interests,” he said. “I found work quite satisfying but most of us are going to have a long retirement so finding things that will interest one for many years is important.”