Ain't No Mountain High Enough
Henry started climbing mountains in 1996
Published in 2006 Indiana Super Lawyers magazine
on February 14, 2006
Updated on October 5, 2016
It was 2 o’clock in the morning and Tom Henry was 18,500 feet above sea level in the Bolivian mountains, heading for the summit of Illimani on a ridge 2 feet wide. It was dark, so he had no idea that there was nothing between him and a 2,000-foot freefall. “We didn’t know what we were crossing,” says Henry. “The guides didn’t tell us.”
The trip down was in the daylight and when the climbers, who were all attached to the same rope, came back to that 100-meter-long ridge — dubbed the Chilean Ridge after three climbers from Chile plummeted to their deaths in the ’80s — their guide gave them a few instructions: “If you find yourself falling, yell ‘falling left’ or ‘falling right,’ because if you yell ‘falling left,’ the only thing the other people can do is jump to the right.” Henry, an IP attorney at Woodard, Emhardt, Moriarty, McNett & Henry, was in the front of the group. “You have nothing to brace yourself with. You’re literally standing there with nothing to hold on to,” he says. “So I thought, ‘Boy, this is not so much fun being in the front, because if I hear someone call out ‘falling left,’ I’d better hope they know what they’re saying.’
“I sort of wanted to get down on my hands and knees, but I knew that wasn’t appropriate. I’ve never even told my kids that story because they would probably tell me to stop climbing.”
Henry started climbing mountains in 1996 after seeing a televised series of Mount Everest climbing tragedies. “I know that probably turned a lot of people away from mountain climbing, but for some reason it demonstrated to me the technical challenges, the mental challenges of doing it,” says Henry.
His first climb was Mount Potofi in Ecuador, a 17,000-foot volcanic mountain. Most of his climbs have been in South America, including Argentina’s Aconcagua, the highest mountain outside the Himalayas at 22,834 feet. He was the only one of his six-member group tough enough, after nine days, to reach the summit. Two German climbers were already there. They took a picture for him and informed him, as they were leaving, that since it was winter in the Himalayas and there were no climbers there, he would now be the “highest man on earth.” Henry keeps that picture in his office. “If I ever think things are tough, I take a look at that picture and remember what it was like at almost 23,000 feet.”
To prepare for the climb, Henry would get up early in the morning, strap on his climbing boots, throw 40-pound weights in his backpack, and climb on his Stairmaster for anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours. “When people ask that usual question, ‘Why do you climb mountains?’ I usually tell them it’s the only way I know to get to the top. The food is awful. The weather conditions are awful. But I think it’s the challenge and exhilaration of doing some things that can get kind of scary at times.”
Henry’s favorite climb was to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in 2002 with his then-19-year-old daughter, Jessica. They took the road less traveled — the western breach route used by only 5 percent of the people who summit Kilimanjaro. His next climb will be to the top of Alpamayo, which “isn’t terribly tall,” but is much steeper and requires more ice climbing.
He’s ascended to many different peaks, but Henry has spent his 30-year career with just one firm. He was walking down the hall during his time at the Indiana University—Indianapolis Law School and the dean stopped to tell him of a Woodard Emhardt job posting for which Henry would be perfect. “That was on a Wednesday. On Thursday I interviewed with them and on Friday they offered me a job,” he says.
Thirty years and many mountains later, Henry sees a clear parallel between his hobby and profession. “They both require good preparation and organization. They require quick decision making,” he says. “And of course, you have to make the right decisions in both of them, or the consequences can be dire.”