Faster Each Year

As peers retire, Kelly Andersen climbs and cycles mountains

Published in 2018 Oregon Super Lawyers magazine

By Andrew Engelson on July 24, 2018


Though Medford attorney Kelly Andersen has always loved the outdoors, he saved his biggest challenge—climbing 23,830-foot Aconcagua in Argentina—for later in life.

Age 64, to be precise.

That trip with his oldest son Drew is one of many mountaineering expeditions Andersen has embarked on with family members. It began in 1998 with Mount Shasta when Drew was 17. The peaks he’s climbed with four of his six children include Mount Whitney in California, Rainier in Washington and Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. 

But Aconcagua was on a completely different scale. The Western Hemisphere’s highest peak, it requires a 16-day expedition. Because you have to shuttle gear up in stages, you essentially have to climb the mountain twice. At one point, inside his tent at 19,600 feet after a blizzard had passed, Andersen tried to eat something: “I ripped apart a piece of jerky,” he remembers, “and just the act of chewing would leave me breathless.”

Andersen grew up on a ranch in Huntington, Utah, a town of just 900. “When I was a child,” Andersen says, “we herded cattle on horseback in the Manti-La Sal National Forest in Utah. That was always so beautiful; it gave me a love of the outdoors.” 

Upon receiving his J.D. from Brigham Young University, he took the advice of a friend and moved to Klamath Falls in 1979. After a short stint, he moved to Medford and never left. For many years, he shared a practice with Dennis Richardson, the current Oregon secretary of state; in 1993 he formed his own firm. 

Early in his career he was drawn to personal injury cases because of the one-on-one interaction. “A personal injury case really comes down to the most basic human level,” he says. “I love working with people and making a significant change in their lives.”

Living near the Siskiyou Mountains provides necessary relief from the rigors of law. “One of the ways I’ve been able to stay fresh,” Andersen says, “is having a healthy balance between the practice of law and being out in nature. I try to work out at least an hour a day, six days a week. I feel that I’m a better attorney because I climb mountains, ride bicycles and ride horses.” 

A runner in his 40s, Andersen took to cycling in his 50s. Now he pedals in numerous group events in the Cascades and Rockies each year—including three times on the LoToJa, a 200-mile ride from Logan, Utah to Jackson, Wyoming. It was during one of these rides that he realized age didn’t need to slow him down. On a rest break, Andersen chatted with a fellow cyclist who was 67 years old. “He said he’d only started cycling in his early 60s,” Andersen recalls. “I told him: I bet you’re just getting slower each year. And he replied: Well, actually, I’m getting faster each year.”

This determination to improve with each passing year led him to tackle Aconcagua with Drew in 2017. Accompanied by two guides and three other climbers, he, his son and another friend took the peak in stages, leapfrogging gear up to a higher level and then returning to sleep and rest. Water bottles had to be placed in insulators and then kept inside their thick down sleeping bags to avoid freezing overnight. “We had these beautiful views of glaciers below us,” Andersen says, “and the joy of doing something really, really difficult.”

That difficulty included carrying heavy packs over snowfields pocked with uneven 2-foot needles of ice called penitentes. After a grueling trek through two fields of these obstacles, Andersen stumbled and nearly fell into a deep ravine. But his son grabbed him by the pack and pulled him from the edge. “It was a tender moment,” Andersen says, “realizing that for years you raise your kids, and then at some point, your kids are taking care of you.

On the final push to the summit, at about 20,000 feet, Drew blacked out, suffering from high altitude cerebral edema, a potentially fatal altitude sickness. Now it was Andersen’s turn to help. He and one of the guides descended with Drew, and just 400 feet of lower altitude improved his son’s condition immediately. “He was laughing and joking right away,” Andersen remembers.

Even though they didn’t summit, the trip was a life-changing experience, and Andersen wants to return to Argentina to try again. He’s also contemplating ascending Denali, North America’s highest peak.

“When you’re climbing a mountain,” he observes, “it’s so easy to just sit down, to turn around and go back. Because it isn’t fun in the moment. It’s just brutal. But you just keep putting one foot ahead of the next, and don’t give up. And that has application anywhere in life.”



Kelly Andersen’s favorite cycling events in the PNW

> Seattle to Portland (STP): A 200-mile ride, best done in one day. 

> Crater Lake Century: From Fort Klamath, it ascends and circumvents the rim of Crater Lake.

> Tour de Fronds: This route begins in Powers and features 115 miles of beautiful mountain vistas and 11,000 feet of vertical climbing.

> The Wildcat Gran Fondo: A 129-mile ride ascends the mountains near Mount Lassen, California.

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